Category Archives: Social Networking

Bowling for Business: Set Yourself Aside

Consider your target market's perspective.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 30, 2010 and on the Business Press on September 1, 2010 and the Press Enterprise on September 4, 2010.

It was a bonehead move for my counselors at Summer Fun Day Camp to take a van full of impressionable seven and eight-year-old kids to see the 1971 Vincent Price horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Filling my nightmares for years, the film featured a disfigured physician methodically killing the surgeons who had failed to save his wife following a car accident.

One scene in particular sent me repeatedly running to my parents’ room in tears. Dr. Phibes juiced Brussels sprouts and drilled a hole through the ceiling above his victim’s bed so he could pour liquefied vegetables all over her body. Then, he sent a swarm of hungry locusts to crawl down a tube, where they devoured her entire body.

I recently purchased the movie so I could face my fears some 40 years later. Instead of a hideously scary, realistic portrait of terror, as I had recalled, my second viewing revealed a hokey, campy farce. The Brussels sprout scene, in particular, is absurd. The locusts ate all but a cheesy plastic skeleton and her entire head of hair. It was all so preposterous that, as an adult, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

It all boils down to perception. Teenage counselors probably didn’t realize the movie choice would freak out their campers. To select more suitable fare, they should have looked at the field trip from our perspective. This is a concept I share with clients, who often choose advertising campaigns based on their own opinions and experiences instead of the needs, ideas and prejudices shared by potential clients and/or donors.

“I like this kind of advertising. So I’m sure my clients will like it, too,” explained one Mountain Marketing Group client.

“That’s fine,” I told him. “But let me ask you something. If you didn’t own the company, would you be in your own target market? Is this a product that you would buy?”

“Well, I have an iPod.”

“Yes. You have an iPod. But is your best customer a middle-aged white male who will buy one or two sets of headphones in his lifetime, or is it someone else?”

“I’m not selling to the end consumer. I’m selling to wholesalers who buy in bulk. And most of the buyers are girls in their 20s and 30s.”

It was then that he had his aha moment, realizing that the methods that persuade him may not be the same as strategies designed specifically to reach potential customers in his target market. A typical entrepreneur, intimately involved in every step of the business, from conceptualization to manufacturing to marketing, Rick found it difficult to set aside his own frame of reference. But once he agreed to do so, we were able to launch an effective social media campaign that catered to his customers instead of to him. And you can do it, too.

For Free—

To gain fresh perspective, ask for outside input. You can do this even if you run a one-man (or one-woman) show. Just make sure you ask the opinions of people who fit your Ideal Client Profile (ICP).

In The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber says business owners are often too close to their own enterprises to accurately identify the best overall picture of their own ideal clients. So make sure you ask around. It might take some detective work. And bear in mind that it’s entirely possible your current customer list does not yet include your ideal client.

On a Limited Budget—

When funds are tight, take advantage of books on tape, DVDs and webinars, which provide ready access to the best business and marketing minds in the world. Here are a few authors I recommend:

Ken Blanchard: The One-Minute Entrepreneur

Seth Godin: Free Prize Inside

Guy Kawasaki: The Art of the Start

The Sky’s the Limit—

With effective market research, you can determine the need for your service, a product’s likelihood to sell, target-market demographics, and desirable storefront locations. There are numerous ways to uncover this information—from online research to focus groups to counting customers. When money is no object, the most effective method for determining and catering to your ideal client is to hire a market research firm to compile data and prepare a report.

Here are a few options:

Market Research.com claims they have the best research offerings and expertise to make sure you get the right report every time. They do.

Vizu offers a full suite of customer-focused online market research survey solutions.

Polldaddy—software for data collection, which is more affordable than hiring a market research firm to handle everything for you. Polldaddy gives you the ability to collect data about virtually everything, from how to promote your product or service to evaluating age-appropriate entertainment options for skittish seven-year-old campers.

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

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Bowling for Business: How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying

Why networking is a "no-brainer."

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 13, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 15, 2010.

At 18, I didn’t understand the subtleties of the musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. So I unsuccessfully lobbied our director to produce the far more popular and ever racier show, Grease. As a senior in high school, I related more to the naïve, love-struck Sandy than to the part I begrudgingly landed… matronly secretary Miss Jones. Ironically, I now realize I should have taken notes from my role.

In the climatic show-stopping scene, Brotherhood of Man, lead characters J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones sing about the common business practice of networking by joining groups like the Elks and Shriners. If “How to Succeed” were written today, the lyrics would likely also include references to social networking websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

In the two and a half years that I have owned my own advertising agency, I’ve learned one indisputable fact: If you want to succeed in business, YOU HAVE TO TRY. My take on the best use of your time and talent might come as a surprise. As a marketing professional, of course I believe in the power of a well-conceived advertising and public relations’ campaign. But, when it comes to business success, in the real world as well as cyberspace, there is no substitute for networking.

By networking, I mean more than attending mixers or posting status updates on Facebook. Real networking involves investing yourself in the lives of those around you. Only this kind of venture will produce dividends in business as well as life. But don’t take it from me. Some of the best business minds in the world agree:

Jeffrey Gitomer:

How important is networking? If you’re trying to be successful, it’s the difference between mediocre and big.

Dale Carnegie:

You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in your own success.

Keith Ferrazzi:

You don’t just network when you need it. You don’t network just to get something from someone. The goal is not to get from others. It is to give.

Dr. Ivan Misner:

Networking minus follow-through equals a waste of time.

If you are ready to raise the stakes with your business—to really try to succeed—get started networking today. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to get you started creating and contributing to communities, in the real world and online.

For Free—

Check out Free Networking International, which provides information about networking opportunities across the globe. But this organization heavily promotes a $40 course to teach you how to network. So you might be better off heading to the park and striking up a conversation with strangers.

Though some have tried charging for access to community websites in Cyberspace, the best the Internet has to offer is still available to everyone for free. So if budget is a concern, take advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which allow you to fan, friend and follow folks who share your interests, goals and religious or political leanings. And when you join communities, do so as a thoughtful collaborator instead of as a bombastic broadcaster.

 

On a Limited Budget—

Hire someone to establish and maintain your social networking accounts so you can use your time to attend events in the real world. Make sure you are a fixture at chamber of commerce mixers, community events and networking get-togethers. One group I recommend is BNI, which is the largest business networking organization in the world, offering members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and business referrals on a weekly basis.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t just attend networking events. Sponsor them. Take a cue from the Business Press, which hosts the annual Inland Empire’s Largest Mixer as a service to the local business community. This year’s effort is especially intriguing as reporters will conduct and record brief interviews with interested business men and women and provide participants with a flash drive for upload to their websites. By taking an active interest in and providing for the needs of their target market, the BP is building a network that would even make J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones proud.

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

Bowling for Business: Stop the Hype

Halt the Hype

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 15, 2010

Under-promise and Over-deliver

Before the advent of the Internet, cable television or PlayStation, as a five-year-old, I was over the moon with excitement about my kindergarten class’s upcoming field trip to Albertson’s. In the weeks leading up to the outing, Mrs. Dale would remind us to turn in our permission slips and then she would recount the following highlights of our impending journey:

  • We would be greeted by the store manager, who would give us an official “Albertson’s uniform.”
  • He would usher us to the back of the store, where we would be given an exclusive “behind the scenes” tour of the market.
  • Then, the produce manager would show us where the deliveries arrived and how the fruits and vegetables were processed.
  • Next, the bakery manager would take us into the magic room where all of the breads and pies were created.
  • And, finally, to cap off the exciting event…we would be given a special treat, created exclusively for us.

After what felt like several years, the morning of our field trip finally arrived. To kill time (and evidently drive the rest of the bus crazy) on the 45-minute journey, my friend and I sang an endless loop of Grandma’s Feather Bed. (Don’t ask me why we didn’t visit a grocery store nearer to our school. Even in the 1960s, there were markets on every street corner. Also, don’t ask me why we chose that particular song. Even at five, I wasn’t a huge John Denver fan.)

Unfortunately, our arrival at the store marked the end of the adventure. No one greeted us at the front door. Instead, we wandered back to the meat counter, where a gruff butcher gave us paper hats in lieu of uniforms. Mrs. Dale and the room mothers were told to occupy us by pointing out the food. Mind you; while we were easily amused in the 60s, walking up and down the aisles was hardly entertaining, much less educational. And, our exclusive “treat” was a small, stale cookie…the kind that each child gets at every bakery department in America, when accompanied by an adult.

As we rode home that afternoon, I made a silent resolution. “I’m just a kid right now. So they think I don’t matter. But, someday, I’m going to be a grown-up who shops for groceries. And I am never going to spend my money at Albertson’s.”
Somehow, despite the loss of my business, some 40 years later, Albertson’s remains a viable entity. And, looking back, I doubt any field trip could have lived up to the hype. But I learned a valuable lesson that day which has served me well in my own business. Whatever your product or service, target market or budget: under promise and over deliver.

For Free—

If you can’t do it, don’t say that you will. While this sounds like common sense, the concept sometimes evades sales reps intent on landing new clients. This is especially true of mountain folks, who are, unfortunately, notorious for saying they will start and finish projects in unrealistic timeframes. If you can’t start a project for three weeks, tell the truth. If you do what you say you will do when you say you will do it, your business will grow. And this is true regardless of the location of your company.

On a Limited Budget—

If circumstances arise which make it impossible for you to hold up your end of any business bargain, hire someone to help you out. While this might negatively impact your bottom line in the short run, in the long run, it will pay dividends where they matter most…in satisfied customers and glowing referrals.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you can afford to promise the moon, then do it. There is nothing wrong with promoting the superior products that you provide. If you can afford to give away exclusive gifts, then, by all means, let your target market know about the perks. Just remember that if you fail to live up to the hype, you will most likely lose their business for life. Because that’s the way the stale grocery store cookie crumbles.

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

Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on and in the Biz Press on February 18, 2010.

Clearly convey your intended messag

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free–

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

  1. Personalize your message and involve readers.
  2. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  3. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  4. Prominently feature testimonials.
  5. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.” 
  6. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  7. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  8. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  9. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  10. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget–

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit–

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Armchair Figure Skater

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 8, 2010, in the Biz Press on March 4, 2010 and in the Press Enterprise on March 6, 2010.

Social Media success is more a marathon than a sprint.

I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, in kindergarten, I had such a difficult time climbing the thick, giant rope that dangled from the ceiling in our gym that, when I finally achieved the goal, my PE teacher invited me to perform at Parents’ Night. The other invitee was a sickly girl named Lisa who didn’t have eyebrows, skin pigmentation, or stamina.

My lack of athletic prowess is probably the reason I’m such a die-hard fan of figure skating. The polar opposite of me, figure skaters demonstrate power, artistry and precision in everything they do. I’ve been watching every televised figure skating event since Dorothy Hamill won gold at the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. I was one of the few who didn’t tire of endless news reports about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in 1994. And I’ll probably see every Olympic figure skating event held this year in Vancouver.

But, along with other Olympic fans, thanks to advances in technology, the way I watch the games this time will be different.

  1. TiVo—instead of enduring countless commercials, I’ll be using our DVR to tape events. If I watch any advertisements this time around, it will be because they catch my attention as I fast-forward.
  2. Website—rather than relying on NBC producers to spoon-feed me the information they believe most relevant, the Olympic website offers information, ad infinitum, about every athlete, venue, competition and affiliated sponsor.
  3. Interactivity—if I’m so inclined, I will be able to connect with the athletes by reading their Tweets, perusing their blogs or watching videos on YouTube. And I won’t be hampered by location or previous commitments since I can access it all, 24/7, on my Smartphone.

So what does any of this have to do with marketing small businesses and non-profit organizations? Just this. Contrary to our cultural training as consumers in a society that expects on-demand entertainment and instant access to anything and everything, when it comes to advertising in 2010, we have to be willing to wait.

Instead of blasting our message to a passive audience, we must recognize that we are on the supply side of the equation. To learn what our target market demands, we have to be willing to listen, engage in relevant conversations, and earn a share of the voice. Social media success is less a sprint than a marathon because social media is all about relationship. And, in the real world as well as Cyberspace, it takes time to build relationships.
For Free—

Ironically, when it comes to social media, the most important step is the one most often overlooked. Unless you take time to listen to what people are saying about your organization, you won’t know what you can offer to the conversation. To do this, do a keyword search for terms relative to your field. Then, when you find the sites where folks gather, put away your keyboard and read. Once you understand the neighborhood, resist the urge to lecture. Instead, engage and contribute so that you become a trusted member of the community.

On a Limited Budget—

If funds are tight, hire an intern or junior staff member to monitor social media conversations and report back to you. But save the heavy-hitting for the folks who understand your brand. To succeed in social media, you have to become an expert in sharing whatever interests your target market. So teach your employees how to take advantage of blogs, wikis, Facebook, or YouTube. A great resource for this is a social media book I’ve touted, before, Groundswell. In it, Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff provide plenty of social media case studies, along with proof they work.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Instead of joining a social network community, start one yourself. One of the first high-profile companies to do this was Dell. In the early days of social media, Dell turned a deaf ear to complaints lobbed by a customer named Jeff Jarvis, who started blogging about “Dell Hell.” But Jarvis’ discontent struck a chord. Within months, the highest ranking Google search term for Dell was Dell Hell.

Eventually, Dell had no choice but to address the nightmare. Their solution was to create a social networking site called Idea Storm, where customers post ideas and vote on products. The transformation didn’t happen overnight. But, in time, Dell went from cautionary tale to the benchmark for successful business communication, proving that flexibility and persistence pay off for anyone trying to climb the corporate ladder (or a giant rope).

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: The Trouble with Trifle

In baking and marketing, be careful with substitutes.

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 28, 2009.

By Kathy Bowling

Several years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I followed the Food Network Paula Deen’s recipe for Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle for a holiday get-together. Not only was the delicacy beautiful, but it was well-received by our Christmas guests. So, this year, foolishly, I decided to try to recapture the magic of that festive dessert.

To prepare, I sent my husband on a mission to fill a laundry list of ingredients. Despite the fact he had to go to three different stores to find Cardamom, he victoriously returned with paper grocery bags filled with $7,000 worth of cake mix, Cool Whip and vanilla pudding. After baking, cooling, mixing and layering, Lauren and I were sure that this year’s Christmas treat would rival our best efforts.

And that might have been true, if only the trifle had been edible.

It turns out that there is an important difference between pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. While pie filling is yummy, full-bodied and sweet, pumpkin is nasty, runny and bitter. In fact, it turns out that, unadulterated, the resemblance between canned pumpkin and primate excrement is more than just visual. And as I scooped the entire contents of the crystal serving bowl into my aunt’s trash can on Christmas night, I vowed never to repeat the mistake of confusing canned pumpkin contents.

In baking and in business, small substitutions can lead to big mistakes. So, as we close the book on 2009 and strategize about how to succeed in 2010, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the three tools for which you should accept no substitutes.

Marketing Tools for 2010

1. Electronic Communication

If you’ve put off building or upgrading your website, make 2010 the year that you join the 21st century by investing in an easy-to-navigate, direct response Content Management System website. Unlike pricey printed materials that become outdated as soon as they roll off of the press, a CMS site is exceedingly cost effective for sharing your message in real time. And since 74% of people who live in the United States use the Internet prior to making any type of purchase, making the most of Cyberspace will keep your company connected and current.

Even if, until now, you’ve somehow managed to escape the inevitability of carrying around a Smart Phone, 2010 is the year of the PDA. Readily accessible and affordable, this tool will keep you constantly connected to the office, like it or not. Although you might be trying to buck the trend, your competitors’ availability in a downed economy will give them a leg up on anyone who irrationally tries to maintain a distinction between work and family life. Now that you can buy one for less than $100, it’s time to make the jump to a hand-held.

2. Public Relations

It would be impossible to talk about marketing in 2010 without referencing social media. However, despite the fact that most businessmen and women are desperate to turn it into a direct marketing tool, in truth, most professionals agree that social media belongs to public relations.

As noted by pundit Brian Solis, “(Social media is owned) by your customers and influencers (who) own and define it. And, without guidance or participation, they steer the impression and perception of your brand.” So, by all means, use social media. But put down the bullhorn you’ve been using to blast your message and, instead, join the conversation. If you use social media networking sites to provide valuable content to your target market, you will gain trust and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

3. Networking

Although there are countless ways to network, in Cyberspace, arguably the most important professional networking tool is LinkedIn. Although developers of other free sites like Plaxo and Xing try to pretend to offer the visibility and benefits of LinkedIn, to date, there is no other professional social media website that offers the ease of use, search engine optimization and networking afforded by LinkedIn, which launched out of the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman in the fall of 2002. According to Nielsen Research, LinkedIn has grown a whopping 319 percent since 2007. More importantly, LinkedIn is where the influencers are. The largest percentage of users boast six-figure incomes, are college graduates and have portfolios valued above $250,000.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine other business essentials. But, in the meantime, implement the above, being careful to avoid substitutes, and your professional life might be a trifle better than the rest. Happy New Year! Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk

Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

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

Bowling for Business: Everything but the Kitchen Link

Full Spectrum Unity Holding Hands

The Top 10 Steps to Use LinkedIn for Business

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 10-05-09

I’m often on the Internet for work. Really…it’s for work. So it isn’t my fault that I was so engrossed in posting to social media accounts last week that I failed to wake up my 13-year-old daughter for school. At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Unfortunately, the argument didn’t hold much weight when Kaitlin bounded up the stairs at 9:30 with both barrels loaded, screaming, “Mom, what are you doing? Did you forget about me? You made me miss the bus.”

And then the bombshell, “Are you playing on your computer again?”

Now, admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my laptop. And when I’m not on it, I’m usually developing arthritic cramps in my fingers by typing on my tiny Crackberry keyboard. But there’s a reason for my obsession. Like most boutique advertising and public relations agencies, our firm is all about communication. We help people connect with current and potential customers and business associates by linking them with tools of the trade such as brochures, fliers, press releases and websites.

But my favorite method for communication is social media. I look forward to updating and reading posts and checking out photo uploads from friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. And, when it comes to business, it’s all about LinkedIn.

“What is it you do all day on the computer, anyway?” Kaitlin continued her somewhat justifiable tirade, while looking over my shoulder, “Are you on MySpace?”

“No. This is for professionals. It’s called LinkedIn,” I countered.

“Looks like MySpace to me,” she said. “Photos, groups, comments…”

“Well, it’s not for teenagers. Most of the people on LinkedIn are 40 years old and have household incomes of more than $100,000 a year,” I explained. “Besides, look at the pictures. People are wearing suits. Their posts are boring. And very few of them are smiling.”

“True,” she admitted. “So it’s sort of like MySpace for old people.”

To end the argument, I relented, “Exactly.”

But, in reality, there is a lot more to LinkedIn than my daughter’s rudimentary assessment. Launched in May, 2007, the site is the largest professional network in the world, with 25 million members representing 150 industries.

According to Krista Canfield, public relations manager for LinkedIn, “Basically what LinkedIn does is [to] help professionals accelerate their success.”

Consider this assessment of the site by the folks who brought us the Social Media Bible, “Anytime there is a tool that millions of people in one place at one time all with common interests are clamoring to use, you, as a businessperson, need to understand and take part of it.”

But where do you begin?

The Top 10 Things You Should be doing on LinkedIn

  1. Create a profile. Like other networking sites, LinkedIn has a user-friendly platform. So you don’t have to be a computer prodigy to follow the step-by-step tutorial in order to set up your free account. Just login to LinkedIn and get started.
  2. Complete your profile. Incomplete profiles send the wrong message. Make sure you list current and previous employment, education, honors and awards, even if you are not looking for a job.
  3. Invite friends and associates. LinkedIn is all about connections. Remember the classic Faberge Organic Shampoo commercial where Heather Locklear (yes, it was her) asked us to tell two friends about our shampoo so they would tell two friends…and so on, and so on? With LinkedIn, you will be able to connect with “first-tier” associates as well as connections’ connections, and so on, and so on…
  4. Seek Introductions. People debate the ideal number of connections. Some say that a list of more than 100 is too difficult to manage while others argue the more, the better. While the jury is still out, according to noted author and social media guru, Guy Kawasaki, “People with more than 20 connections are 34 times more likely to be approached with a job opportunity than people with less than five.”
  5. Write Recommendations. Take a few minutes to recommend your colleagues. When you post your referral, LinkedIn will send it for approval, asking the person you recommended to write a recommendation for you. This is worth the investment because, as I’ve learned from my membership in the SBBE chapter of BNI, the largest networking group in the real world, givers always gain.
  6. Join groups. Whatever your expertise or interest, a LinkedIn group exists. And you can join up to 50 of them. I recommend you connect with a couple of key professional groups as well as alumni groups, both from college as well as high school, as well as past companies. When your membership is approved, you get to display the group logo on your profile. How cool is that?
  7. Invite group members to join your network. Once you’re admitted to a new group, seek out strategic connections inside that group.
  8. Micro-blog. Called “Status Updates,” LinkedIn allows for short posts. Most people learned, early on, not to use this feature to report their breakfast menu. Instead, use it to provide industry info and relevant links. Posting once or twice a day is generally considered polite etiquette in LinkedIn Land.
  9. Look for a job, a sale or a partnership. According to communications guru Guy Kawasaki, “Most people use LinkedIn to “get to someone” in order to sell their product or service, form a partnership, or land a job.
  10. Participate in discussions. Follow group discussions. This is your chance to share your two cents and to learn from others. You can also take advantage of your connections by asking for advice.

So, on my next status update, I’m going to pose a question, “Where is the best place to buy an alarm clock for a sleepy teenager?”

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

Bowling for Business: Getting My Tweet Wet

This column first appeared on 9-21-09 at RIMOFTHEWORLD.net

Twitter bird announceWhen it comes to games of chance, I’ve never been particularly lucky. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve won contests on one hand. So it isn’t difficult recalling the win that meant the most.

I was just five years old. My favorite television show was a local children’s program called Noel & Andy. Noel was a talented artist; Andy, her puppet counterpart.

I got up early every weekday morning to watch Noel & Andy because, as a kindergartner, my social calendar was pretty light. What’s more, this was long before the days of cable or satellite. Thus, there were only four shows to choose from at any given time.

So I was eager to enter a contest to win an invitation to Andy’s televised birthday party. The morning Noel randomly chose my entry, I ran to the kitchen to tell my mom the great news. In my world, Noel & Andy were bona fide stars. This was the big time.

The day of the taping, I was anxious to meet my television idols. But I never got the opportunity. Twenty other lucky Denver-area schoolchildren and I met the producers, who led us into an empty studio. They told us to have fun, eat cake, and smile at the cameras. Noel & Andy couldn’t be there, they explained. But they would want us to celebrate. Then, they turned us loose. The result was cacophony.

When the birthday party aired, it looked like a scene out of Plant of the Apes. Unlimited sugar and lack of supervision had turned otherwise mild-mannered five-year-old kids into an angry mob. At one point, I was standing on a table, singing and waving at the camera.

To this day, I’ll never understand why Andy didn’t attend his own birthday party. But the event reminds me of my journey on Twitter…full of promise, chaos, and opportunities to rub shoulders with important people and puppets.

Twitter Promise

I first heard about Twitter at a seminar sponsored by the Inland Empire Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Speakers Brian Solis and Sally Falkow, recognized thought-leaders in my field, invited us to follow their tweets. It sounded exclusive and, admittedly, a bit odd.

But I was curious. Imagine having access to valuable industry tidbits, in real time?  With this kind of connection, we wouldn’t have to wait for the next professional development luncheon for inside information.

So, like many of my peers, I rushed back to the office to boot up my computer and join the conversation. Mind you, this was before resources like The TwitterBook and TwitterPower hit the market. So I didn’t know that it is better to set up an account with your actual name instead of a pseudonym. That’s why you won’t find my tweets if you do a search for Kathy Bowling.

Twitter Chaos

As @bowlingirl, I searched for @briansolis and @sallyfalkow and followed them. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Millions of disorganized people seemed to be yelling into the Twittersphere, much like my wild Noel & Andy party-going friends. One user posed a question,

“How can I syndicate my blog?”

But instead of an answer appearing next, random, un-related comments streamed by.

“I hate Wednesday mornings. Hump day should be abolished.”

“State politics blocks budget. It is playground politics.”

“We cannot do great things – only small things with great love- Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was going on.

This is Wikipedia’s definition,

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website or external applications.

In other words, Twitter is controlled chaos. It’s a place for people to share their philosophies, sell their wares, deliver news, develop a fan base, and converse…all at the same time.

Twitter Opportunities

At Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our PR clients to dive right in by setting up a free Twitter account. The next thing we advise is that they take time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people who are chatting and interrupt them all by loudly announcing that you want them to buy your product, it is not considered polite to tweet first and listen, later.

As noted by one of the most influential Tweeps today, @joelcomm,

“Twitter is a two-way communication tool—and that’s very important.”

In his book, twitter power, he observes,

“Twitter provides instant access to smart people 24/7.”

By listening and getting a feel for the flow, you will understand what, if anything, you have to contribute. In this age where Internet users actively search for the information they want instead of being force-fed (pull instead of push-technology), providing valuable content is tantamount to establishing a credible voice in Cyberspace. You can’t play if you don’t bring anything to the game.

After you observe, find people to follow who have something to offer. I follow PR and marketing influencers like @mashable and @chrisbrogan so I can distill relevant information to share it with my friends, family and clients with a direct quote, retweet or link. Evangelizing is something I’ve done my entire career. But now, I am able to share what I learn with a wider audience.

Joining the conversation on Twitter has broadened my horizons, which makes me more valuable to my target market. More importantly, by underlining the biblical instruction to be quick to hear and slow to speak, it has made me a better person. And that’s the best win of all.

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