Category Archives: Social Media

The New Rules for Websites

I started Mountain Marketing Group in 2008. With several years of experience in the marketing departments at the City of Glendora, Azusa Pacific University and St. Bernardine Medical Center, and with a degree in communication with a minor in business administration, I tackled advertising the way most of my peers did, at the time. We focused most of our energy on print materials and created online brochures we referred to as websites.

Closeup shot of laptop with digitaltablet and smartphone on desk. Responsive design web page on their screen. Modern devices on desk at office.

Does your website respond to the device it’s being viewed on or does it shrink up so the text is illegible?

The process was time-consuming and complicated:

  1. I would work with a graphic designer to come up with several options for an original website.
  2. Our photographer would show up onsite for an entire day, to take professional shots for use on the website.
  3. We would take large, colorful storyboards to the client. And, once a final design was chosen, our programmer would work tirelessly to convert the design to HTML code.
  4. After the website was finished, we would work feverishly to decode the mystery of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Our programmer would carefully bury meta tags and use keyword software to make sure our client’s site landed on page one of applicable Google searches.
  5. Months of work and thousands of dollars later, we produced a static, attractive website that required lots of notice and additional funding in the unlikely event that something ever needed to be altered.
  6. Eventually, clients decided they wanted to be able to make changes to the websites themselves, so we started building Content Management System interfaces, which provided limited client-access to portions of the website.

Times have changed! 

What's Your Online Marketing StrategyOver the past several years, Google has switched absolutely everything up:

  • Half of the people who will visit your company’s website will do so using a mobile device. So the time for unresponsive, miniaturized websites has past. In fact, due to Mobile-geddon, Google will penalize the search engine ranking for your website if your site is not designed to be viewed on a Smartphone or tablet.
  • We work directly with programmers from the onset of every project.
  • SEO is built into the front-end instead of being added on after the fact.
  • Dreamweaver is a thing of the past.
  • Websites are not meant to be static. They need to be interactive and dynamic — the polar opposite of a static site.
  • WordPress has become the gold standard for website construction, because it is a content management system, which is easy to edit (with a little practice and time invested in watching free YouTube tutorials).
  • Original, applicable, valuable content must be offered via social media sites, tied to the website, on a regular basis, if there is any hope of gaining and/maintaining a foothold in SEO.
  • As a result of all of these changes, the cost to produce a website is greatly reduced, but upkeep is imperative.
  • Not unlike living organisms, websites require care and attention on an ongoing basis. They can’t be constructed and then abandoned like artificial flowers.
Helping You Reach New Heights

Helping You Reach New Heights

At Mountain Marketing Group, we use social media to drive traffic to our clients’ websites, with the goal of increasing the bottom line. But, unlike a typical website design service, we are expert marketers who consider websites to be one of many tools in an electronic arsenal. We work strategically with our clients, to come up with a plan that uses websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+, that fits their budget and produces results. So call today (909) 336-3333 if you would like us to help you reach new heights.

Bowling for Business: Drown Out the Competition

Don't cut business essentials to save money.

(This column first appeared in The Press Enterprise and on January 12, 2012 and on ROTWNEWS.com on January 14, 2012.)

Resist the Urge to Cut Back on Advertising Despite the Economy

Planning a wedding is a little bit like drowning. As a future mother-of-the-bride, I often feel like I’m in over my head. And you know what they say about people who are drowning: Don’t get too close or they might pull you under. It isn’t that we want to kill prospective rescuers–we are just flailing about in a desperate attempt to survive.

During the past four years in a difficult economy, I’ve watched entrepreneurs thrash around and kill the very thing that could potentially ensure their small business survival: marketing.

The silver lining to a recession is that it focuses business owners’ attention on cost control. And keeping overhead low and profit margins should be a priority regardless of the financial environment. But, in many cases, there are much better ways to boost your bottom line and improve cash flow than blindly cutting costs. Like it or not, there is no getting around the fact that you have to spend money to make money. So, as important as knowing which costs to cut, you should make sure you understand which ones to protect.

If you own a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t consider reducing overhead by cancelling your wholesale order for food. Intuitively, you know that you can’t sell gourmet fare if you don’t have fresh ingredients. Advertising, on the other hand, is a less obvious necessity since it isn’t directly traceable to active income. But the best meals on the planet won’t sell unless potential patrons know where to find them.

I’m hardly alone in my belief that no matter how strapped you are for cash as a business owner, advertising is absolutely the last thing you should eliminate from your budget. The key is to look at your marketing dollars as an investment instead of an expense. The Harvard Business Review maintains that advertising during a recession contributed to profits:

“The rationale that a company can afford a cutback in advertising because everybody else is cutting back [is fallacious]. Rather than wait for business to return to normal, top executives should cash in on the opportunity that the rival companies are creating for them. The company courageous enough to stay in the fight when everyone else is playing safe can bring about a dramatic change in market position.”

A 1979 study done by ABP/Meldurm & Fewsmith revealed that:

“Companies which did not cut marketing expenditures experienced higher sales and net income during those two years and the two years following than those companies which cut in either or both recession years.”

In fact, some remarkable marketing success stories emerged during times of economic difficulties:

  • Procter & Gamble pushed Ivory Soap during the height of the Great Depression. It’s no coincidence that P&G has made progress during every major recession. While competitors cut ad budgets, this company increases spending.
  • FedEx started doing business in 1973 during the gas crisis-led recession. In spite of relying on gas-guzzling trucks and planes to ship packages around the country, they succeeded and grew not only because they could deliver packages overnight, but because they clearly communicated their ability to do so.
  • Kellogg’s and Post were tied for market share in the cereal category in the 1920s. Post cut their advertising budget while Kellogg’s increased theirs by one million dollars. After the recession, Kellogg’s profits improved from $4.3 million a year in the 1920s to $5.7 million in the early 1930s, leaving Post profits in the dust.

In tough times, resist the tightwad tendency to cut advertising. Instead, increase your budget and be thankful if your competition cuts theirs. When rivals cut back, your message will stand out all the more. And that way you’ll ensure at least your company stays afloat.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

(This column first appeared on ROTWNEWS.com on January 1, 2011 and in The Press Enterprise on January 14, 2012.)

For our family, 2011 marks the year our daughter, Lauren, and her fiancé, Kyle, got engaged. Atop Coit Tower in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, Kyle proposed with an extravagant engagement ring wrapped in an unassuming Taco Bell hot sauce packet labeled Will You Marry Me?

The event melts my heart not just because I’m a mother who recognizes that the two of them are head-over-heels in love, but because, as a marketing professional, I appreciate the fact that advertising played a role in one of the most important moments of our daughter’s life. After all—consider the free word-of-mouth publicity their engagement story will generate over the course of their lives. You just can’t buy that kind of buzz. But you can try. And 2011 was filled with advertisers who did just that.

The Top 11 Hits and Misses that made 2011 a Banner Year:

Misses

  1. FAX Spam. Messages that come through FAX machine tie up phone lines, not to mention valuable ink and paper. Whoever invented this method of advertising should be shot.
  2. Text Spam. Ditto.
  3. Ashton Kutcher. It is an understatement to say that Kutcher made a poor choice to comment about the Penn State scandal on Twitter. In so doing, he emerged as the poster boy for why social media is best left to professionals.
  4. Charlie Sheen. Ditto.
  5. Groupon. Although some would argue that online coupon groups like Groupon and Living Social belong in the “hit” category, I argue the point based on the controversial Timothy Hutton ad which ran during Super Bowl XLV. Taking pot shots at suffering humanity is never a good advertising strategy.

Hits

  1. Viral Videos. 71 million YouTube clicks of an amateur video of a wedding party dancing up the aisle convinced marketers of the unprecedented potential of the viral video. Now professionals spend billions producing spots they hope will capture the imagination of the public, such as the case with Volkswagen’s tiny Darth Vader to the New Old Spice Guy Fabio.
  2. Flash Mobs. Because of their potential to go viral when recorded (see above), flash mobs have become big business, evidenced by the T-Mobile Flash Mob Video to the success of the T-Mobil Royal Wedding to the wink of the “flash mob canceled” commercial by AT&T.
  3. Television. Although I specialize in stretching advertising budgets, so rarely recommend TV ads to clients, there is something to be said for sinking a boatload of money into a well-conceived, top-flight campaign. Take Allstate’s “Mayhem like Me” series or the catchy new “We Are Farmer’s” jingle. You don’t have to spend billions on marketing. But if you can afford it, why not?
  4. Product Placement. While we’re on the subject of spending big money on advertising, I feel compelled to mention the method which has seemingly become the default for creative directors on Madison Avenue. Case in point? The 2-1/2 hour Tom Cruise commercial for BMWs, Ghost Protocol. Sorry, Morgan Spurlock…but Mission Impossible 4 was obviously The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  5. Pinterest. Admittedly, Pinterest was not created as an advertising medium. But, take note…neither was Facebook. Already the number one source of traffic to the virtual consignment shop Etsy, Pinterest will likely emerge as a major advertising player in 2012.
  6. Kyle’s proposal—especially if we could figure out a way to get Taco Bell to pay for the wedding…

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 19, 2011.)

One of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. For the uninitiated, the cruel process goes something like this:

  1. Purchase a gift worth $5.
  2. Wrap it up so it looks like a million bucks.
  3. Draw a number to determine the order you will be allowed to select one of the gifts.
  4. When your number is up, choose from the wrapped gifts or steal a previously opened gift from someone else. (Once the item has been swapped three times, it is “dead” and can no longer be stolen.)
  5. Drool over the “dead” gifts.

A game also referred to as Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swamp Thing, or Pollyanna, it never ceases to amaze me that, on a holiday honoring the birth of the One whose very life was an act of lavish generosity, we celebrate by joyously stealing trinkets from family and friends. I broach the subject because I believe the reason we covet the popular white elephant gifts is not because of their inherent value but because of something which is extremely precious in the field of marketing—buzz.

I’ve written about buzz in previous Bowling for Business columns. But, since my last post, several new social media channels have emerged…the most popular of which is an image-based site called Pinterest. Named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2011, Pinterest is a virtual online bulletin board (called a pinboard), which enables members to organize and share web-based images. People use pinboards to plan weddings, decorate homes and organize recipes. Often described as addictive, the site allows users to browse pinboards to discover images from people with similar interests. And, once invited, you can create pinboards of your own in subjects from soup to nuts (literally).

Although purists shudder at the thought of turning any mindless free-time activity into a marketing tool, as business owners, it is our job to figure out how to convert addictive free-time pursuits into tools for generating interest in our products and services. If this was not the case, there would be no such thing as product placement, television commercials, newspaper display ads or pay-per-click campaigns.

Of Pinterest, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, wrote: “Smart marketers are starting to wake up to the buzz and branding power of the growing Pinterest community.”

So how might you use Pinterest for your business? The good news is that you can use it to regardless of your marketing budget:

For Free–

Before you pursue any avenue for advertising, I suggest you get to know the platform inside and out. Otherwise, you will run the risk of intruding instead of investing, which would undermine your credibility in the online community. So spend some time browsing Pinterest. Once you find a subject of interest, you’ll be hooked. I love perusing categories like holiday cookies, home décor and humor. Unless you are somehow able to secure an invitation to Pinterest without being wait-listed, you will have little choice but to browse instead of create. And browsing is free.

On a Limited Budget–

Once you are invited to create a Pinterest account, figure out how to convert your offering to a compilation of beautiful images. The thing that sets Pinterest apart from Google Images is the quality of photography. So don’t create a board unless it features high-quality, low resolution, web-friendly pictures. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional photographer once you’ve developed a marketing game plan. The images you pin should hyperlink to your website or social networking hub. If you can’t tell the tale with images, go a different route.

The Sky’s the Limit–

Pinterest has become the number-one source of traffic to the online sales site, Etsy.

But a beautiful online bulletin board with hundreds of followers on Pinterest will only be effective if it is part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. So, hire someone who knows what they are doing to set up and maintain your Pinterest account. That way, you will be able to ask them to photograph and post pictures of the White Elephant Gift you steal this year from Grandma.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something–Stand There!

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 6, 2011.)

One of the reasons we moved to Lake Arrowhead is because we love the snow. But dealing with it poses a myriad of associated problems, including (but not limited to) getting stuck on mountain roads. Last winter, my husband and I were driving separate cars up the hill one winter night when we became trapped behind a line of cars that were stuck in a snow bank on Highway 330.

Legend has it that the first car to get stuck was not equipped with 4-wheel drive or chains. And instead of waiting patiently for someone to help push his vehicle out of the way, he repeatedly gunned the engine, which only managed to dig the wheels of his Smart Car more firmly into the snow. His actions resulted in a 30-car pileup that shut down the road for hours and generated thousands of dollars in local tow-truck revenue.

I deal with the same type of fallout virtually every day in my work as a marketing director. Instead of starting fresh with advertising and social media campaigns, I spend much of my time digging clients out of messes they create before bringing me on board. So, I implore you; if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to marketing your small or medium business, please—don’t just do something; stand there!

You might wonder just how much trouble an unprepared entrepreneur can get himself or herself into when it comes to advertising. You might be surprised. Let me share a few real world examples:

Websites—although it took awhile (especially on the hill), most business owners finally realize that a website is a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. But with budgets tight, hiring a web developer is not always an option.  To wit, my team and I are often brought on board when functionality is compromised, homemade sites crash and/or metrics reveal low traffic patterns.

One client recently called us in a panic, when the e-commerce site he built himself froze immediately after the first order came in. He ended up paying a rush fee to have us build him an entirely new site that could handle plenty of hits. Had he come to us at the onset, we could have built him something fantastic at a fraction of the cost.

Social Media—more often than not, we devote the first several weeks of clients’ social media campaigns undoing the damage unwittingly done by well-meaning folks who set up accounts without knowing what they’re doing. Here are some common mistakes:

1. Facebook

  • Setting up personal profiles for business accounts. When Facebook was new, people tried to circumvent the system by setting up business accounts as personal profiles. One Mountain Marketing Group client initially registered his hair salon “first name” as The Loft and “last name” as Hair for Men & Women. While the maneuver tricked the Facebook robots at first, eventually, many such accounts were locked. The good news is that Facebook recognizes honest mistakes and now offers the option of easily converting erroneously created personal profiles to business pages.
  • Creating a group page instead of a fan page. Facebook groups are for organizations and clubs, not businesses. So if you want to promote your company, don’t set up your Facebook account as a group instead of a page. The problem with group accounts is that most are scheduled to be archived. And once a group has members, the only way to delete it is after all of the members leave the group. And convincing busy group members to leave groups is difficult, if not impossible.

2. Twitter

  • Forgotten usernames and passwords. Since Twitter is a free service, when it comes to customer service, you get what you pay for. And, all too often, clients forget usernames, passwords and associated email addresses and then set up secondary accounts with alternate business names. So, by the time we come on board, we are left without options.
  • Abandoning an account after setting it up. It is just as foolhardy to set up a new Twitter profile and leave it unattended as it would be to lease a suite, hang a sign and then ditch the office.

So, what’s a budget-conscious business owner to do? Nothing! I implore you: if you don’t know much about electronic advertising, resist the urge to act. Instead, wait! Save your money and invest a little at a time instead of digging yourself in…that is, unless you enjoy supporting the tow truck industry.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Party on with Pay Per Click

Improve sales by using pay per click.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 9, 2011.)

I enjoy hosting parties. But I have to be honest. It isn’t so much that I like to prepare food, decorate the house and entertain guests as it is I love having an excuse to get my family on board with cleanup before everyone arrives. Intuitively, my usually clutter-prone kids and husband understand that we should put our best feet forward where visitors are concerned. So, pre-party, no one argues with me about embarking on an archaeological dig to remove dirty laundry so we can rediscover whose room is whose. When company is due, everyone is on board.

Are you careful to put your best foot forward where advertising is concerned? I pose the question because, left to their own devices, it’s common for entrepreneurs to make the mistake of creating marketing campaigns from their own points of view instead of from the perspectives of their target markets.

In a recessed economy, where budgets are tight and maximum return on investment is critical, you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional to manage your marketing efforts. But if you go it alone, you’ll need to find a way to make sure the money you decide to spend is actually reaching the people who are most likely to purchase your products or services.

One of the most popular promotional avenues of late is pay per click (PPC). So, although I’ve written previous posts about it, I think the topic is worthy of additional attention. Depending on the way it is used, PPC can either quickly suck your bank account dry without delivering a single paying customer or effectively direct scores of sales to your online or physical store.

Since there are dozens of ways to use PPC campaigns, how can you be sure to use the right platform in the right way to produce the right results?

Here are a few PPC providers. (But the list is by no means exhaustive):

So which platform should you use? Since most PPC campaigns operate in much the same way, the trick is to advertise where your prospects go instead of where you do. Clients often tell me they don’t want to use one platform or another because they “never visit that website.” Unless you fit into your own target market, that isn’t the parameter you should use.

Instead, research to determine where your best potential customers are spending their time. Then, use that place to put your best foot forward. For instance, if you provide a service, consider advertising on review sites. According to a survey conducted by eMarketer: “Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted—nearly 12 times more—than descriptions that come from manufacturers.”

Another survey, done by Econsultancy, showed that 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions of unknown users. So, if you provide a service that can be reviewed, consider advertising on a review site. Since you can’t legally solicit positive reviews, the best way to take advantage of review site traffic to promote your own product is to purchase PPC on review sites. Here are a few to consider:

For Free—

Although you won’t likely be able to employ someone to do market research for you without spending any money, you can always do research on your own. To find out which websites your customers rely on, ask them. And take advantage of the free listings available on virtually every review site.

On a Limited Budget—

If money is tight, you might want to use the resources you have to hire a research firm to determine which PPC site to try. These firms can determine where you would find the most bang for your buck. Another option is to experiment on several sites at once to determine which sites provide the highest click-through rates.

The Sky’s the Limit—

In a perfect world, you should find a company to research your target market and manage your campaign. Pay per click is time intensive. The Facebook ad team advises running at least10 campaigns concurrently to experiment with different combinations of messages and images. Imagine the potential time drain of managing multiple campaigns on several sites at once. If you can swing it, getting as many people on board as possible is a party.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Getting Your Advertising Feet Wet

When it comes to marketing, have yourself committed.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 12, 2011.)

My family and I survived another move. Although we’re still unpacking boxes and, in the process, have uncovered more junk than the professional organizers on Hoarders, things are finally returning to normal.

It was just a year ago we last lived the nightmare of packing up everything in one home and toting it to another. So we were reluctant to relocate yet again. But as soon as we saw the location of the condo, all four of us were sold. After eight years of living in Arrowhead, we finally have access to the lake. And we aren’t about to let little things (like lack of a boat, canoe or kayak) keep us from diving in.

All too often, entrepreneurs dabble instead of committing to comprehensive advertising strategies. But, in today’s competitive market, your campaign won’t succeed if you just dip your toe in the water. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge.

I recently met with a gentleman who wanted to hire my firm to handle his advertising. But he barred us from using Facebook, Twitter or a blog. He said that he would turn over the keys to his social media kingdom after we generated media attention for his brand.

“I’m not sure I buy into this whole social media thing,” he explained. “So I’ll let you set up those platforms after you get us on The Rachel Ray Show or Good Morning America. You can do it the old-fashioned way by writing press releases, running newspaper ads and making phone calls.”

I told him that his request was akin to asking a plastic surgeon to improve the appearance of a patient’s nose without using a scalpel. I doubt many doctors would be willing to accept the challenge.

Professional communicators have enough obstacles to garnering media attention and public interest in our clients’ products and services, as it is…let alone taking critical tools off of the table. Companies that don’t stand a chance of getting on Rachel Ray can still make a respectable name for themselves, faster and less expensively, using social media. Besides, any successful campaign incorporates a multi-pronged approach.

No matter how little or how much you have to work with, you can cover all of the advertising bases even if you’re doing everything yourself. This is my own short list for managing our clients’ comprehensive campaigns:

  • Print—Although you might not have access to Madison Avenue copywriters, professional graphic designers or funds to purchase big media buys, you can do print advertising as long as have access to a computer and a printer. Start small but aim high. After you’ve built your business one customer at a time, you will be able to hire someone to help refine your strategy.

In the meantime, don’t neglect alerting folks about your brand by using paper and ink. No matter how popular the Internet becomes, there is something to be said for putting your message in writing and getting it into the hands of your target market.

If you can afford to hire a graphic designer and a copywriter, do it. Coming up with a catchy turn-of-phrase and adding visual interest will serve you well.

  • 3-D—Participate in the real world. You need to rub shoulders with folks to get them interested in your products and services. Think chatting with folks at chamber of commerce mixers, networking groups and your son’s Little League games. Get involved in your own community so people have a reason to support your small business.
  • Online—Strange that a relatively new business phenomenon is now compulsory. But it is. Pew Research reports that 58% of people do some type of online research before making a purchase of any kind. Is your company easy for them to find?

For free, you can add your business to review sites such as Google Places, Yelp, Merchant Circle, and Service Magic. You’ll be amazed at how much interest a free listing can generate. And for a modest fee, you can upgrade to a premium listing.

Don’t be worried about the potential for negative reviews. The nice thing about these sites is that you can address concerns and complaints immediately and publicly by posting them directly beneath positive notes or less than favorable comments. So go on in. The water’s fine.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Share and Share Alike

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 31, 2011.)

As an only child, I was a little late to the sharing party. Playing at home, there was no need to go halves or wait my turn. So when my classmate, Charlotte, grabbed the Colorforms from me during playtime, I smacked her in the face. Confronted about my selfishness by a kind and gentle preschool teacher, I quickly recognized the error of my ways and apologized to my shell-shocked peer.

When it comes to social media, sharing is caring.

As an adult and marketing professional, I now make sharing an important part of everyday life. And if you are an entrepreneur or nonprofit director, I recommend you do the same…in the real world as well as online. More than just posting your own opinions, promotions and experiences for everyone in your network to read and admire, sharing should always engage, enlighten and entertain.

Online and in the real world, you should listen as much as you talk—carefully considering the receiver before sharing any message. This is especially important since Google has recently re-calibrated algorithms to weigh interaction in addition to quantity of raw content to rank search results. Although the X-Robots that crawl across programming code can’t subjectively evaluate content, they now calculate the value of posts and associated authors based on how people respond to them.

Are you unsure about whether your content is valuable? If so, take this brief quiz:

 

  1. Do people “like” your Facebook status updates?
  2. Are connections asking for your input on LinkedIn?
  3. Does anyone retweet your Twitter posts?
  4. Is anyone commenting on your blog?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, consider the adage:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If your online content falls on deaf ears, are you posting anything at all?

The new gold standard in social media is engagement. That’s why you see so many share-widgets displayed near videos you watch, songs you listen to and articles you read. But when should you click on them to share with your own network and which sharing icons and hyperlinks should you include on your own website and blog platform?

The following is hardly an exhaustive list. But these are currently the most popular ways to share (in alphabetical order). I suggest you select a few instead of cluttering your website with dozens of icons:

AddThis

Delicious

Digg

EVERNOTE

Facebook

Google+, which is currently in beta-testing

LinkedIn

Quora

Reddit

ShareThis

StumbleUpon

Technorati

Twitter

Forward only what you consider valuable. If you can’t find time to read an article, don’t assume your friends and colleagues are less busy than you. Also, resist the urge to forward cat videos unless you own a pet store.

Pikimal and Google+ Circles will make it easy to cherry-pick recipients, since they will enable you to share with friends while sparing business associates. But both are currently in beta-testing. So unless you’ve been invited to take a trial run, your posts will go to your entire network. And over-posting could land your email address in spam folders.

For Free

The best thing about sharing is that it doesn’t cost a thing. Anyone can take advantage of free sharing-icon software, which is easy to download and embed on websites and blogs. Here are a few great options:

On a Limited Budget

Hire a graphic designer to create custom icons to complement your brand identity. Talented artists should be able to use your logo for inspiration, so the social bookmarks won’t clutter your webpage. But be forewarned that if you go this route, the icons won’t be immediately recognizable. If you post the light blue Twitter image, or even just the iconic “T,” everyone knows what it stands for. If you alter the color and style of sharing networks to match your website, you could potentially lose a few “shares.”

 

The Sky’s the Limit

Rather than using someone else’s sharing application, create your own. The only reason so many applications exist is because it pays to keep people logged onto your system instead of clicking on and off of it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook, for example, are profitable because they deliver impressive traffic patterns. Just thought I’d share…

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Rules of the Mobile Road

Should you use QR Codes to promote your business?

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 18, 2011.)

Overall, I’m a very safe driver. In fact, if you ask my kids, they’ll eagerly tell you how irritating it is that I so closely follow the rules of the road. I drive the speed limit, observe stop signs, obey traffic signals, use my turn indicators at intersections—the works!

But I have to admit I have a pet peeve while driving on San Bernardino Mountain roads. My husband explains it like this:

If you can’t run with the big dogs…get off the dang road!

While I was on Grass Valley last week, I had the misfortune of encountering a woman who chose to ignore the posted speed limit of 35 and opted, instead, to drive 5 MPH…for several miles. But heck, this is a free country. So she has the right to drive whatever speed she prefers. Let’s face it—few and far between are the drivers who are ticketed for driving under the speed limit. But I have one small request: if you insist on driving at a snail’s pace, please have the decency to turn out so others, who actually have a pulse, can pull ahead.

When the slug finally reached her destination and turned right, I made the critical error of accommodating my passengers’ requests to lay on my horn. As soon as I did, the turtle finally discovered the location of her gas pedal and made a 180-degree hairpin turn until her silver BMW pinned my green Kia to the shoulder. For several minutes, we rode two astride in the very narrow right lane, like battling chariots in Ben Hur.

I finally pulled into a driveway and jumped out of my car to face my nemesis. I tried in vain to raise my voice above the cacophony of obscenities she yelled so I could tell her to learn how to drive! In hindsight, I realize that both of us were at fault…she for driving under the speed limit and I for using my horn to communicate road rage. The entire situation would have been avoided if we had followed the rules of the road.

As licensed drivers, we can either make sure we understand and implement changes and updates to California DMV Code or suffer the consequences of our ignorance. This is also true when it comes to advertising in the digital age. We have the choice to bury our heads in the sand and refuse to adopt modern marketing strategies or do whatever it takes to stay informed.

Case in point? Mobile Tagging. As a business owner in 2011, do you know what it is? Do you care? Should you take the time to figure it out?

Initially designed as a method for tracking inventory at a Toyota subsidiary in Japan in 1994, the most popular form of mobile tagging is the QR Code. These codes are similar to the barcodes used by retailers to track inventory and price products at points of sale. QR Codes store addresses and URLs and may appear in magazines and newspapers or on signs, buses and business cards—in fact, virtually anywhere.

Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a webpage in the phone’s internet browser. QR Codes are free and easy for advertisers to create and customers to access.

I should also mention that Microsoft has created a convoluted, personalized mobile tagging platform called Microsoft Tag which has yet to take off. But unless makers retool the complicated instructions, I doubt it will threaten the QR market.

To create a QR Code:

  • Create a call to action so people know what to do once they access your advertising content.
  • Use a free QR Code Generator to enter a destination URL that connects to your content.
  • Out pops a personalized digital two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. Post the barcode anywhere you want existing or potential customers to find it.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

To access a QR Code:

  • Download a free Apple or Android QR Code Reader application to your Internet-enabled mobile camera phone.
  • Scan any QR Code with your QR Reader.
  • Enjoy the content.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

But is the relative ease of creating a QR Code reason enough to do so?

Consider this: in the United States, the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%. Since QR Code Readers are free and hip and trendy (for the time being, at least), mobile tagging is an efficient method for marketing on virtually any advertising budget. In fact, the Social Media Examiner reports:

Storage capacity and ease of use makes QR Codes practical for small businesses.

If you remain undecided and would like a few moments to consider whether the use of QR Codes is right for you and your small business, I have only one request: please don’t ponder it while driving on Grass Valley Road.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Digital Identity

Like it or not, your online activities will link to you forever.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 3, 2011.)

In the checkout line at Costco recently, one of the customer service members noticed that the contents of my cart could feed a small country. So he suggested I upgrade my membership to executive status. I immediately regretted my decision to do so when I arrived at the counter and saw something that rocked my world…a camera. Looking into the lens, it hit me that I hadn’t had time to shower, brush my hair, or apply makeup that morning.

“You aren’t going to take my picture, are you?” I asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Bowling,” Click. “You look fine.”

In addition to wild hair and a greasy face, my new card revealed dark, black circles under closed eyes. My mouth was open. A shadow blocked two of my bottom teeth. I looked like a crazy, drunken hillbilly. And until I am willing to wait in the Customer Service line again for three hours to have another photo taken, like it or not, my ill-fated trip has been recorded for posterity

In much the same way, whatever you do online will be linked to you and your business forever…for better or worse. Long before the advent of the Internet, pop-artist, Andy Warhol coined the oft-misquoted phrase: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Social media has flipped this expression on its head, to something like: “In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of privacy,” or says Scott Monty, who oversees Global Digital Communications for the Ford Motor Company.

In the final analysis, we will all have to weigh the need to promote our business ventures against our desire for privacy. This is particularly true now that executives at Google confirm they have altered search algorithms to factor results heavily on social media. In other words, if you want your website to draw traffic, you can no longer rely solely on keyword research and tagging. You simply have to participate in social media.

Mashable writer Lee Odden explains the interrelationship between SEO and social media like this: “Advertisers that fund social media campaigns can continue to realize the traffic benefit from keyword-optimized interactive content long after the campaign has ended.” In other words, social media can extend the life of your search engine optimized web content. So, whatever it takes, make sure your online campaign includes both.

 

For Free—

Set up a blog. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, a blog is the foundation of any successful social media campaign. So take advantage of the free platforms available and set one up! I recommend WordPress, because content posted to it is search-engine friendly. If you can’t afford to hire a writer or social media manager, you will have to find a way to come up with content on your own. You won’t be able to compete unless you bite the bullet and join the social media revolution. Consider it the new cost of doing business.

 

On a Limited Budget—

If you aren’t a natural born writer or if you don’t have time to write content yourself, hire someone to produce relevant, original blog posts on a regular basis. Once your blog is set up, connect social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to it. This might sound complicated. But it isn’t. All you have to do is create usernames on Twitter and Facebook that somehow relate to the title of your blog and then post short status updates and tweets relative to the blog posts. The more content you come up with, the faster your efforts will impact search results.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t underestimate the importance of online interaction. Mountain Marketing Group clients who choose to write their own blog posts hire us to monitor and participate in online conversations and react to reviews posted about their business. This type of research is essential as well as time consuming.

Monitoring the Internet keeps us on top of industry-related news so we can share relevant information with our clients as well as their target markets. Checking the pulse of information posted about them helps us to protect their online images. After all, we wouldn’t want want anyone to come across as a crazy, drunken hillbilly.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.