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Bowling for Business: How Not to Suck at Social Media

Take steps so you won't be a social media spoil-sport.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 27, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 30, 2010.

For reasons I will never be able to explain, in seventh grade, I joined the girls’ basketball team. I was just 5′ 2″ and about as athletic as an armchair. But, all the same, I woke up every morning while it was still dark and walked to Goddard Junior High School to stumble through drills and miss free throws. Although I sat on his bench the entire season, the head coach never learned my name. In fact, he even called me Jackie at our end-of-the-year banquet. Looking back, I wonder why my parents didn’t tell me I sucked. Didn’t they realize it is sometimes necessary to be Cruel to be Kind?

The same is true of social media. So please allow a departure from my regular column format this week. At risk of offending, I would like to share tips intended to keep you from missing the mark in your efforts to engage in social media.

Top Five Mistakes to Avoid in Social Media

1. Don’t ask connections to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn.

Sure, the option is there: “Can you endorse me?” But there is also a poke button on Facebook. That doesn’t mean you should use it. Instead of fishing for referrals, why not proactively write unsolicited recommendations for your own connections, thereby guilting the recipients into returning the favor? Once they see your glowing review, they will likely respond in kind.

2. Don’t tweet about what you’re eating.

If you aspire to leverage social media for business, eliminate the mundane. When it comes to your meals, unless you’re dining with Anthony Bourdain or ARE Anthony Bourdain and you’re trying deep fried monkey toes (eaten off the bone), your menu probably isn’t worthy of a post. That’s not to say it isn’t relevant to tweet or post about a good restaurant, an interesting dish or a great recipe. But, “had meatloaf again” doesn’t cut the mustard.

3. Don’t complain about your job, your boss or your relationships.

You might have had a rough day. But unless you want to be Debbie Downer, get over yourself. Using social media websites to complain is not only in poor taste but it can actually cost you your job. The now infamous Cisco Fatty incident is a cautionary tale about loose online lips sinking ships. A 22-year-old at UC, Berkeley, tweeted:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

A Cisco employee saw the post and responded with his own tweet:

Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web.

To keep yourself in check, assume everyone you know is parked in front of their computers reading your status updates and Tweets in real time. They probably are.

4. Don’t use your social media accounts to SPAM.

Does anyone really think that a constant stream of impersonal tweets that address half a dozen Twitterati saying, “Hey, you, check out this product,” will really attract anyone who cares? Have you ever read such an ad and clicked through to buy the product?

Abusing social media channels is as offensive as spamming email inboxes. At the risk of being redundant, let me remind you that social media is about engagement. You need to interact and react instead of blasting your message. Pay attention to what others in your network are saying. Be part of the community that cares enough to share. The most important thing to remember is that social media engagement takes time, just like building relationships in the real world.

5. Don’t be a lurker. Vote for your social media pet peeve.

This column was never meant to be a one-way conversation. So I would love to take the opportunity to invite you to participate in the discussion by suggesting point number five for this article. Please comment with your own social media horror stories. I would love to hear from you. What irritates you the most about social media?

Come on. You can do it. How else will we figure out how not to suck?

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

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: 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: 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.

Crowding in Cyberspace


Micro-blogging
So as I grow more comfortable with blogging and micro-blogging, I’ve ventured out lately to post comments on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Today’s LinkedIn E-Marketing Group discussion interested me because the first post was written by a guy who I think must hail from Sweden or something. His name is Hans. And he is a prolific LinkedIn microblogger.

Swedish Blogging
The reason I appreciate Hans is because he posts comments without regard for the use of insignificant language articles like “the” and “a.” I am confident I would unintentionally eliminate such non-essentials were I to learn Swedish and then post blogs for Swedes in Cyberspace. So I have to give Hans props for writing in his un-native tongue.

Cross-Cultural Communication
Whether or not Hans hails from the USA, I give him props for posting. And I thank him for allowing me to join the conversation.

Follow me on Twitter
And if you have not yet found me on Twitter, please give me a follow. You can find me here.

Twitter Me Confused

So, at first, this whole social media thing was intriguing. I took some time to sign up for a few social media networking sites, in an effort to learn the medium so I could share my findings with clients. But no sooner had I started trying to locate these sites than I realized that communicating via all of them would be more difficult than scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro.

FB LinkThere is Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Reddit, De Licious, Diggit, Flickr, Reddit, Plaxo, Spoke, Squidoo…a seemingly endless stream of sites all begging for my profile. Once upon a time, I didn’t even know what an Internet profile was. Now, I spend my days linking, clicking, posting, updating and tweeting. No sooner do I complete the list than the sites beckon me for more posts. When will it end?

Sometimes, I have to admit, I wonder if there is really a future in all of this? After all, if they continue to grow at this pace, I will have to sit in front of the glow of my screen day in, day out, like a character out of The Net.

In the meantime, I choose to focus on a few. In fact, I usually recommend the same social sites for my clients. The reasons are simple. You can’t possibly communicate on all of them. I doubt any of us could even pretend to be able to FIND all of them.

In fact, now that I think of it, it’s time to attend to a few posts.