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.

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

This column originally appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Sunday, September 13, 2009

blogWhenever I’m tempted to drone on in blogs and columns, I remember a particularly disturbing episode of the Twilight Zone called The Living Doll. In it, a talking doll named Tina has it out for her owner’s father, played by Telly Savalas.

Maybe her hatred is due to the fact he is bald. Or maybe it’s because he has a hideous mole on his face. Or perhaps it’s because he’s the only one who can hear her deliver eerie lines that are not a part of her programmed vocabulary. No one knows for sure.

Whatever the reason, Talky Tina spends the entire episode making Telly angry. In fact, by the end of the show, in a desperate attempt to shut her up, he forces her tiny plastic head into a vice grip and cranks away.

If nothing else, the show serves to remind me to stick to the script when it comes to writing or speaking in public. After all, the inspiration for the doll was Chatty Cathy.

But it’s hard to find the balance in blogging. The word “blog” sounds a lot like “blah, blah, blah.” And that generally communicates the idea that you should keep talking regardless of whether you have anything valuable to say.

In the early days of the blog, pioneers staked their claims with long, verbose diatribes. At the time, only a few writers were contributing to the blogosphere. Content was scarce. So people were patient.

In the intervening years, an era most social media pundits refer to as Web 2.0, the blog has became the quintessential tool for personal and business communication.

According to Wikipedia, in December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs. At the speed of web, that number is probably into the billions by now. So how have the rules changed? Is it still important to blog? Why bother? How can that many people have so much to say?

When it comes to electronic communication in 2009, it all boils down to this:

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

The Good

I believe it’s still important to maintain a blog in today’s business climate. Where business owners once hired professional website developers and designers to create state-of-the-art electronic brochures of their companies, and allowed those six-figure sites to rot in Cyberspace, the new order of the day is to slap something together and post it before the URL has time to rank.

Good is no longer measured in terms of a pleasant aesthetic. Today, most people are comfortable surfing the web. In fact, World Internet Usage Statistics puts the number of active Internet users at 1,668,870,408.

True, it may have taken most of us awhile to catch up with the early adapters. But we learned. And, now, we recognize that highlighted words are hyperlinks and widgets are click-able windows that whisk us from one world to another. So, we are no longer content to spend time on a single site. I call it Digital ADD.

The solution? If you can’t beat them, tweet them. Set up a website or blog as the hub of all of your information. And then, create several smaller sites that point back to the hub. In our advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we explain the strategy like this.

Your blog should serve as a large body of information, like a lake. Social networking sites are like tributaries and streams that ebb and flow back to the lake, which is the source of your information. Since people want to click, let them spend their time clicking inside your site. And while they’re there, the best way to share your point of view is with a well-constructed blog.

The Blog

How do you write a blog that people will actually read? When she first started blogging her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, now acclaimed author Julie Powell said that it felt as if she was sending her initial posts into a giant abyss. Was anyone reading? Did anyone care?

This is the litmus test for whether or not you have anything worthwhile to say. Is your heart beating? If so, then you have what it takes to create content. You are uniquely you. Only you can tell your story. Only you can sell your product.

So be bold. Blog. Be short and sweet. Talk to your readers as though they were sitting across the table from you. Tell them what you would if you were chatting in person. My clients hear this charge, often.

Be who you are in the real world. Just do it in Cyberspace.

The Ugly

Now that I’ve (hopefully) emboldened you to blog, let me touch on what not to do.

  • Don’t pretend to know everything. You don’t. And everyone knows it. When they read your blog online, they are only a click away from checking every detail that you share. So be authentic.
  • Don’t write long narratives without breaking up the copy with images, videos, hyperlinks and bullet points. If all your readers see is a sea of copy, they will quickly click away.
  • Don’t forget that your words will live on in infamy. One of the authors of groundswell, equates trying to remove something from the Internet with attempting to retrieve pee from a swimming pool.

Don’t ignore your readers. Provide a place for comments. And when readers write, give the courtesy of a reply.

Whatever you do (and this is probably the most important tip of all), don’t irritate Talky Tina.

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