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: Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Satisfaction Guaranteed

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 29, 2010 and in the Biz Press on April 17, 2010.

Several years ago, we stayed at an international hotel chain in Northern California. When we arrived, we were surprised that there were no pillows in our room. When we called the front desk to ask for a few, the staff informed us that they were out of pillows because, prior to our arrival, several other guests had requested extras. And, naturally, the maids thought it best to raid our room in order to meet the demand.

After we unpacked, we rode the elevator to the lobby. Brianna leaned on the metal railing, knocking it to the ground, slamming it against her exposed toes. Brent bent down to extract the fallen metal edifice from our daughter’s swollen feet and encountered screws and sawdust, which had apparently fallen from the disheveled elevator ceiling.

Ordering food in the restaurant was difficult because the waitress informed us the kitchen was out of, well, food…bread, fruit, coffee, lettuce and milk. Later, the combination of loud party-goers in the atrium and thin walls made us desperate to see the light of day so we could finally end the misadventure and check out of Hotel Hell.

While I don’t normally complain about poor service, when our trip was over, I wrote a letter to recount our experience to hotel management. In addition to a letter of apology, we received a refund for our visit as well as vouchers for a free two-night stay. The next time we were in the area, we threw caution to the wind and booked a suite. Construction was complete. A gift basket welcomed our return. All was right with the world.

I share this story because I believe the Holiday Inn Sacramento Northeast did things right. We live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Odds are if you are in business long enough, you will one day inadvertently provide less than stellar service or inferior products to unwitting clients, customers or donors. What matters is how you prepare to respond to the challenge.

For Free—

Establish a customer-centric procedure for handling complaints. Once upon a time, virtually every business man and woman adhered to the adage, “The customer is always right.” Since this is no longer standard procedure, your company will gain favor by letting potential clients know that they matter. For ideas, take a cue from brands that are known for superior customer service such as Nordstrom, Four Seasons, Apple and General Motors.

For what not to do, look to the third annual study done by MSN Money, the Customer Service Hall of Shame. AOL, Comcast, Sprint Nextel, Capital One and Time Warner Cable head the list for what avoid when it comes to handling customer concerns.

On a Limited Budget—

Once you develop superior customer service policies, leverage them in your advertising. Come up with a campaign slogan that includes the details of your customer satisfaction guarantee. Then repeat the slogan in every form of marketing. Add it to your business cards, website, stationery, and the signature line of your email.

Internet users who enter “100% customer service satisfaction” in Google search bars stumble upon otherwise little known companies such as Oak Plus Furniture, Cigna and Fieldhouse. If your business has yet to make its mark, what better way than by guaranteeing satisfaction to otherwise wary would-be consumers?

The Sky’s the Limit—

Entrepreneurs sometimes hesitate to guarantee satisfaction for fear the policy will be costly. But according to a recent study done by McKinsey & Company, “Companies that have a strategic approach to customer satisfaction and make technology investments to support specific business and financial objectives are likely to achieve high rates of customer retention, fast growth, and increased profitability.”

In other words, if you invest on the front end to guarantee customer satisfaction on the back end, you will reap the rewards of more traffic, repeat business and a better bottom line.

And with the increase, you will be able to pop for the little things that make a difference…say, for example, food for your restaurant or pillows for your hotel.

Until next week, 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: Invasion of The Pod People

Invasion of the Pod People

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 21, 2010

I’ve always been rather horrified at the sound of my own voice on tape. It’s not even close to what I hear when I’m talking. I wish it was raspy and sultry, or even just hoarse like actresses Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Turner or Sophia Bush. Instead, in recordings, I sound like a slightly older, less feminine version of Potsie from Happy Days.

And though I didn’t used to mind posing for pictures, in recent years I’ve noticed that cameras no longer catch my actual likeness. Maybe it’s due to changes in digital technology? It’s a mystery to me. But, whatever the reason, cameras add wrinkles, gray hair and weight to my reflection. So whenever someone shows up with photographic equipment, I flee the scene.

All that said, despite my profession, it’s little wonder I have been reluctant to jump on the podcast and video broadcasting bandwagons. If you share any of my phobias, I have a simple suggestion for us both. Get over yourself and join the revolution!

Whereas blog writing demands at least a cursory understanding of how to string together words in order to form a complete sentence, with only a modest investment in time and equipment, virtually anyone with a larynx and carcass can run a podcast or a video blog.

The first system to enable the selection, automatic downloading and storage of serial episodic audio content on PCs and portable devices was launched in September of 2000. But podcasting might never have hit critical mass were it not for the near simultaneous release of a free music-sharing program called Napster.  Motivated by a desire to procure and share free music, millions of people tapped into their inner geeks to learn how to upload and download MP3 (Audio File Format/Extension) content.

In late 2000, the courts ruled that Napster had to restrict access to copyrighted files. While this was a death-blow to the young network, it buoyed the Apple Inc. introduction of iTunes in 2001, at Macworld. The rest, as they say, is history. According to an article in CnetNews, by 2005, as many as 22 million American adults, or about 11 percent of the U.S. population, owned iPods or other MP3 players.

Once MP3s became main stream, it didn’t take long for video to follow. Three former PayPal employees created the now infamous video sharing platform, YouTube, in February, 2005, and, in 2006, sold it to Google Inc. for $1.65 billion. YouTube did for video what Napster did for audio. Suddenly, anyone and everyone could, and did, create and share video files.

Today, entrepreneurs and nonprofit directors can use these platforms to create and share their messages regardless of budgetary or technological limitations.

For Free—

Blog Talk Radio is probably the easiest way to enter the podcasting arena. All you need to join the ranks of podcasters like Vehicle Vibe and FlyLady is a password and a cell phone. Once you create your online account, you call to login with your cell phone and speak directly into the microphone to broadcast your show. Sound easy? It is. But bear in mind that the sound quality of a podcast done using this method leaves a bit to be desired.

On a Limited Budget—

For under $300, you can buy all of the equipment you need to turn a rank amateur show into a professional podcast or video program. Miniature cameras like the user-friendly $129 Flip Camcorder or a $149 USB condenser microphone can be used to record and effortlessly upload to video broadcasting sites like YouTube or Vimeo.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The hottest ticket in the world of Internet marketing today is the viral video. The first video to go viral was a webcam recording of a stout young man singing Numa Numa, which has been viewed more than 35 million times. The popularity of unprofessional, humorous videos on YouTube gave advertisers the idea to create short video commercials to try to capitalize on the growing trend. The first company to do so on a grand scale was Blendtec, with their viral video campaign, Will It Blend?

The only drawback to creating a viral campaign is that it takes a lot of money and talent to make a video appear to have been produced by rank amateurs. Also, since the public is fickle, it’s not easy to predict what they will embrace. Might I suggest a thin, throaty-voiced columnist discussing the Invasion of Potsie and the Pod People?

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

Bowling for Business: SEO—The Bot Stops Here

SEO: So easy, even a baby could do it!

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

When our daughters were young, we made sure our home was childproof. We plugged the outlets with plastic covers, latched cabinets and bundled electrical cords. We placed a menacing plastic gate at the top of the stairs which pinched our fingers when we opened it and tripped us when we tried to step over it.

As the girls grew, baby-proofing became less necessary. Seventeen-year-old Lauren hardly ever tries to lick the outlets. Thirteen-year-old Kaitlin no longer lives to pull pots & pans out of cupboards so she can play with them on the kitchen floor. And 20-year-old Brianna is busy baby-proofing her own house for our 10-month-old granddaughter, Avery.

When they visit, I realize that our home is no longer child safe. An expert crawler, Avery heads straight for full trash cans, fireplace tools and dog toys. So I spend a lot of time trying to redirect traffic. I dissuade her from sucking on splintery kindling, heavy ceramic coasters and prickly decorative pine cones by making it easy for her to find more suitable targets. In other words, I optimize my granddaughter’s search.

We do a similar thing for clients of Mountain Marketing Group. By optimizing their websites, we help dictate Internet traffic patterns.

Wikipedia defines Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results as opposed to search engine marketing (SEM) which deals with paid inclusion. Typically, the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

In other words, if you want potential customers or donors to spend time on your website, you need to make it easy for them to find it. The best way to do this is to find a way to get your site to return top results in the top three search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing. Internet Bots, also known as Web Crawlers or Spiders (A frustrated science fiction writer must have coined these terms), continuously monitor Internet content to match it with search entries. Several SEO strategies can help land you at the top of the list.

For Free—

If you want to boost traffic to your website, make sure you include plenty of backlinks, which are inbound links coming from other relevant websites back to your own. Early on, link farmers artificially drove search engine traffic by creating worthless links to unrelated sites. Since Internet robots now recognize, disqualify and even ban sites that link like this, the best way to create legitimate backlinks is to:

  • List your website on Free Directories, like the one available on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net.
  • Comment on Forums and Blogs. But shy away from software that generates links. Google is very much aware of spamming techniques like these. If they catch you using them, you run the risk of being de-indexed.
  • Provide RSS Feeds to websites that interest you. (When your RSS feed gets published by the other site, you will get a legitimate inbound link to your site.)

On a Limited Budget—

One cost-effective way to improve SEO is to use keyword research tools to discover untapped market niches, get inspiration for new products and create compelling content that distinguishes your site from the pack. Once you find out what your target market is looking for, be sure to include it on your website…not just in tags, to get traffic to your site, but in rich, valuable content.

This might sound like common sense, but you might be surprised at the search engine tactics some desperate people try. If your product is lemonade, don’t add “USA Women’s Hockey,” to your website even if it is the hottest Google search term (as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 14, 2010). Deliver what your keywords promise.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Keep the content fresh. If the information on your site is stagnant, you will return lower results than if you change the copy and images on a regular basis.

The easiest way to do this is to hire someone to build a customized Content Management System (CMS) website, which is simple to add to, edit and manage. Keeping content dynamic using a CMS site without HTML knowledge is straightforward because CMS sites convert HTML programming code into WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which may not be easy enough for a baby to configure. But, take it from me. If a doting grandmother can handle it, so could you.

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 Write Stuff for Website Copy

Mean what you say, say what you mean/One things leads to another.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 18, 2010.

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.

  1. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  2. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  3. Prominently feature testimonials.
  4. 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.”
  5. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  6. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  7. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  8. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  9. 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: Clear the Clutter

Clear the Clutter from your Marketing Strategy with Pay Per Click

This column appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 10, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 20, 2010.

Cleaning House with Pay Per Click

On the heels of the holiday season, our house looks a bit like a war-torn country. Half-eaten plates of cookies, broken candy canes and stale cinnamon rolls crowd the kitchen counter. Torn tissue paper and abandoned gift bags pepper the living room floor. Opening a cupboard is like preparing for a bomb blast, requiring deft “duck and cover” maneuvers to guard against plastic Del Taco cups and Tupperware that fall like mortar.

The reason for the disarray is simple. We have too much crap. (Sorry for the vernacular. But there is really no other way to describe how much junk my small family somehow manages to accumulate.) Every January, to combat the onslaught, we schedule an informal “Clean up the Crap Day.” We spend hours sorting through our possessions and arranging them into piles to throw away, donate or stow. And whenever we take on the task, I wonder how, in a single calendar year, one family could have possibly made so many trips to Wal-Mart.

After clean up day, we breathe a collective sigh of relief and vow never again to repeat the practice of letting things spiral out of control. We agree to live simply, cut out the clutter and streamline our household so that we won’t have to spend needless energy sifting through excess in order to find what we really need.

In this economy, the same might be necessary for your current advertising strategy. It might be time to clear the crap. And if you’re going to get down to brass tacks, consider implementing one of the best advertising options available today, Pay Per Click.

Also known as Pay Per Ranking, Pay Per Placement, Pay Per Position or Cost Per Click, Pay Per Click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model used on websites, in which advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. When you enter a word or phrase in the search bar using an engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, two different sets of results are returned… organic (or natural) and sponsored (or paid). When I explain this phenomenon to Mountain Marketing Group clients, I’m surprised at how few are aware of these two very different categories.

Organic results are purported to be completely non-biased—meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of an individual site. This is quite the opposite of paid advertising which appears in “sponsored” or “featured” search engine results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor. You can tell the difference between the two types of search results because sponsored keywords appear in shaded areas just under the search bar and at right.

The nice thing about PPC is that you pay only when a searcher clicks on your listing and connects to your site. By using PPC, you pre-qualify your audience, since they were actively searching for your product or service or they never would have found it in the first place.

For Free—

Although it is not possible to advertise for free using PPC, I have managed campaigns for clients who have set campaign limits at $10, just to see if their keywords generate any activity. When you consider the cost of advertising using other mediums, where you have to pay regardless of the effectiveness of the ad, PPC is a great alternative. There are simply no hidden costs.

On a Budget—

Keywords cost anywhere between .05 per click and several dollars, depending on competition. The most expensive keywords relate to the mortgage industry, where people pay up to $40/ click. Our clients pay an average .75 per click. If your product or service is highly competitive, there are still plenty of ways for you to utilize PPC without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. One is via Facebook, which offers PPC ads which are different than Google AdSense, Yahoo Search Marketing or Bing Search Ads. On Facebook, you can create an ad, which includes artwork, for free, set campaign limits, handpick your audience and leave thousands of impressions for only a few dollars per month.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients spends $2,000 per week on Pay Per Click advertising. The reason he is willing to invest so much is because he is happy with the results. If an advertising strategy had the potential to change the game for you, would you consider it? PPC might not be the best marketing method for everyone. But, for many, the strategy is the single most cost-effective way to hunker down and cut the crap.

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

Bowling for Business: Trimming the Fat

Cut the Fat from your Advertising Strategy

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 2, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 13, 2010.

Make Sure You Have the Right Advertising Strategy for 2010

Like most other Americans, on the heels of holiday indulgence, I spend January exploring diet trends. When I find one that sounds promising, I head to the grocery store with a laundry list of weird, expensive food substitutes. Last year, I tried the Flat Belly Diet. It appealed to me mostly because it allowed rather large quantities of dark chocolate and peanut butter. And here’s a shocker—it didn’t work! But it did manage to give me acne.

For no discernable reason, I decided to share my dilemma with a chubby checker at Stater Bros. She recommended I purchase a Wii Fit since she’d owned one for a week and was certain it would work. So, I convinced my husband that the magic bullet for sustained weight management was to spend $300 on the at-home convenience of a Wii Fitness system. And I actually used it for several weeks before pulling a muscle doing virtual yoga.

Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much every diet and fitness regime. And while you won’t likely see my face on the cover of Prevention Magazine or Muscle and Fitness, I do manage to trim a few pounds every time I lead my family into nutritional purgatory. And I shudder to think of how large my frame would be were it not for my annual January dietary ritual.

My business partner and I take similar steps when it comes to trimming the fat from the advertising strategy for Mountain Marketing Group. At year end, we redo brochures, order giveaways and finish advertising contracts, with an eye to re-evaluating and re-prioritizing after the first of the year. I must admit that doing so is about as much fun, and as necessary, as dieting.

For Free

When times are tough, some entrepreneurs make the mistake of ceasing all advertising. While this may, initially, appear to improve the bottom line, it’s a lot like shooting yourself in the foot. Unless you plan to shutter your business, lean times call for more, not less, decisive advertising action. If your business is in trouble, make 2010 the year you turn things around. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Place an ad on Craigslist. You might be surprised at how much interest a free advertisement on this website may generate.
  • Include your company on every available free directory listing. Since funds are tight, you need to be diligent to stay on top of these sites, since new ones pop up daily.
  • Consider affiliate advertising. Assuming you maintain a credible website and/or blog, (which are mandates for anyone in business in the 21st Century), you might consider allowing affiliates to advertise on your site.

For example, CollegeRecruiter.com pays affiliates a $100 commission whenever a visitor to one of their sites clicks through and buys something— anything— within 365 days of that initial click-through.

On a Budget

When cash flow is tight, carefully evaluate your Return on Investment. It is possible to completely revamp your entire advertising strategy without spending a penny more than you already do. Just make sure you see a direct response from each of your efforts.

One of our clients was shocked when we pointed out that his $300 monthly Yellow Pages’ outlay yielded a meager 2 calls per month, which meant he was paying $150 per lead. By shifting his budget to pay per click ads, we multiplied his ROI tenfold.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you have cash on hand, take advantage of new media. Imagine the advantage that business owners had when they first realized the potential of advertising on television. The USA’s first television advertisement was broadcast on July 1, 1941. The watchmaker Bulova paid $4 for a 10-second spot, accompanied by the voice-over, “America runs on Bulova time.”

By today’s standards, the $4 price point is laughable. The same will likely one day be said about the current cost of digital advertising. So, instead of waiting for everything to shake down before you make your move, go for it. After all, even if your results are not typical, advertising online won’t likely lead to acne.

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