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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.

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Bowling for Business: The Sky’s the Limit

How to get your company in the news.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 1, 2010, in the Press Enterprise on August 7, 2010 and in the Business Press on August 16, 2010.

The first time I saw my photograph in a newspaper, I was mortified. I was eight years old. My brownie troop produced a float for the Christmas parade in Englewood, Colorado. And after dutifully decorating for weeks, I was chosen to ride on top of the float instead of walking next to it.

To prepare me for the cold three-mile route, my mother insisted I cover my beautiful fairy princess costume with a humongous white down coat and a giant furry hat. When a picture of the event landed on the front page of The Denver Post, I looked like a tiny Russian immigrant who had been swallowed by the Michelin Man.

So it’s somewhat ironic I would enter the field of public relations, which is all about generating media coverage. In the early days as an intern, I wrote press releases in long hand, using felt tip pens on yellow legal pads. Once the copy was approved, I submitted it to the office secretary, who would type the document to be mailed to media outlets.

Since press releases were directed to newspaper staffers, the only way to successfully solicit exposure was to curry favor with members of the media. In the glory days of the newspaper, editors had the luxury of tossing aside submissions that failed to follow the right formula. Releases had to be written using an Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws. At the time, the most a media relations’ manager could hope for was to catch the attention of an editor, who would assign the story to a reporter. By the time any given story made it to print, creative control was lost.

To the dismay of the newspaper industry, times have changed. The Internet has effectively stripped publishers and editors of their roles as gatekeepers and given it directly to anyone with a word processing program and access to the Internet. That’s good news if you are a business owner or nonprofit director who has a product or service to promote. Instead of laboriously searching for a newsworthy angle to pitch, you can write and publish just about anything you want. Here’s how:

For Free—

To create a Social Media Press Release, start by setting up a free account with an online distribution service such as PR Log, PR.com or Free Press Release.com. Requirements vary depending on the service you use. But, generally, here is what your press release should include:

  1. Headline—interesting, relevant information to attract your target market. Grab their interest with the headline and deliver what you promise in the body of the release.
  2. Subheading—further details relating to the headline
  3. Summary—press release contents in short order. This can be written in narrative form or broken up into bullet points.
  4. Body—the meat of your release. Here is where you can use the Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws if you are a traditionalist. But even if you opt for a more conversational style, make sure all essential information appears in this section.
  5. Multimedia Links—directs Internet traffic to photos and videos. The surefire way to generate lots of interest is to attach a video link. If you don’t yet feel comfortable creating media of this type on your own, point visitors to one of the millions of videos already available on YouTube.
  6. Relevant Hyperlinks—Internet links that relate to your article. Include your company’s website, social media accounts and other relevant information.
  7. Tags—often neglected, this step is probably the most important for generating traffic to your release. Whereas old school press releases were written for editors, social media releases should be directed to end users.

On a Limited Budget—

If the above list overwhelms you and your budget will allow, hire a professional writer. Most freelancers charge between $35 and $125 per hour. But bear in mind that, at this price point, distribution will fall to you.

Full-service social media release agencies are pricey but effective. So, if you can swing about $500 per release, use a service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or Marketwire. These companies produce, distribute and store social media press releases. But since they specialize in making anything and everything buzz worthy, be prepared to see your image splashed across the Internet…whether you like it or not.

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

Bowling for Business: Take my word for it.

Shout your message from the rooftops. Word of mouth works!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Monday, March 8, 2010.

A stray Labrador Retriever we found sitting quietly in front of the dog pound, Maggie was beautiful, loyal, intelligent and, unfortunately, quite destructive. She met me at the door when I came home from school; sat on top of her doghouse instead of inside of it, dumped over the trash cans inside and outside of our house and routinely opened the gate so our other pets would run away.

Fed up with her antics, my parents reluctantly decided to give her to my friend, Lori, and her family. Since Lori lived in the country, they explained, Maggie would be happier and less hyper. Devastated, I sobbed into my faithful companion’s shiny black coat the entire drive to Lori’s house. I’ll never forget Maggie’s sad brown eyes staring back at me when we left. I was certain she felt abandoned, forsaken and betrayed.

The weeks that followed were difficult. Usually a happy, bubbly kid, I was inconsolable, moping around as if I had lost my best friend. So the day my dad drove by Cherrylynn Elementary School during my lunch break, with Maggie in tow, remains one of the highlights of my life. It also marked the first and only time I got into trouble and had to stay after school.

When lunch was over and we went back to our classrooms, I was too excited to contain myself. Regardless of my classmates’ interest or lack thereof, I told everyone the news that Maggie was back in my life. Mrs. Tomasini repeatedly warned me to be quiet. But I was, literally, incapable of biting my tongue.

As punishment, I had to write “I will not speak out in class” 100 times on the chalkboard. Not exactly scared straight, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes, news is just too great not to share. And that is the essence of word of mouth marketing.

Word of Mouth is defined by Wikipedia as the passing of information from person to person. Originally the term referred specifically to oral communication (literally words from the mouth), but now includes any type of human communication, such as face to face, telephone, email and text messaging.

Any time you form an opinion and share it using your mouth to speak or fingers to type, you are engaging in Word of Mouth. Where you share the information determines how many people hear what you have to say and whether or not it is passed on to others. Until now, my story about Maggie was heard only by a small group of third graders at an Englewood, Colorado elementary school. But when content catches on and travels, it’s referred to as buzz or going viral.

Among the first to successfully systemize word of mouth marketing was Trip Advisor. Founded in February 2000, the free website provides a forum where customers can write reviews and share opinions, favorable or not, with Internet users. Amazon.com and eBay were also early adopters of the practice of publicizing unbiased customer reviews.

Of course, there are inherent risks associated with allowing folks to share their opinions. People expend effort to communicate only when they are passionately driven to do so for one of two reasons—a great experience made them fans or a negative incident turned them into foes.

In the Gas Pedal book I highly recommend, Word of Mouth Marketing, author Andy Sernovitz examines how the world’s most respected and profitable companies get people to talk about their company, their causes, and their stuff through the power of word of mouth. The nice thing about this particular form of advertising is that you can implement it regardless of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Make it easy for folks to share their opinions about your products and service. To do this, first, make sure you provide excellent products and superior customer service. And then, add a public forum to your website. But don’t censor negative feedback or you’ll appear disingenuous.

On a Limited Budget—

Have your webmaster add plenty of links to “share this post,” “comment,” “subscribe,” “follow us”, “join our community,” “tell a friend,” and “share your experience.” The easier you make it for visitors to participate in your online community, the more invested they will be.

The Sky’s the Limit—

While you can’t pay for word of mouth, you can hire someone to help you publicize legitimate comments from your existing fan base. People trust people. Professional communicators know how to gather the best feedback, give full attribution and strategically position testimonials to let existing customers advertise your offering. Take my word for it.

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

Bowling for Business: Confessions of a Professional Spinster

All effective public relations is based firmly on the truth.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2010

While I was growing up, my best friend, Lori, and I used to play in the woods near her home in a small rural suburb of Denver. We would leave her house in the morning and stay out all day, trying to make it back home before dark. But sometimes, our vivid imaginations would carry us away, causing us to lose track of our play-time curfew. On such occasions, when we finally arrived at Lori’s house, we were greeted by her very unhappy mother, who had quite a set of lungs for a woman of such an advanced age. (Everyone seems old when you’re in grade school. At the time, Judy was all of 28.)

To try to ward off the lectures, Lori and I manufactured elaborate cover stories on our way back to her house. On one such occasion, we told her mom that we had been kidnapped by factory workers at the abandoned DuPont factory in Louviers. An impressive sleuth, Judy somehow saw through our tall tale and promptly called my mom to ask her to pick me up. Lori and I learned a valuable lesson that day. No matter how creative the spin, a lie is a lie.

As a public relations practitioner, I try to disassociate myself with unscrupulous folks in my field who have yet to learn the message. Popular culture portrays us in shades of gray, with television shows like Spin City and SPINdustry and movies like Thank You for Smoking and The Hoax. The prejudice can probably be traced to our predecessor P.T. Barnum who had a knack for finding and exhibiting people, animals and a range of oddities, many of which were hoaxes, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid.

But leaders in our field know that the only way to successfully pitch anything is to make sure all promotions are based firmly on the truth. Wikipedia defines Public relations (PR) as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics, which gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement.

What sets PR pros apart is our knack at taking any given company or individual’s reputation, activities or incidents, and reinterpreting them from the Point of View (POV) of the client to the POV of the intended target market. A timely case study of this is the recent public relations’ nightmare faced by SeaWorld Orlando. Global news coverage started shortly after the attack when an animal trainer drowned after being dragged underwater by a 12,000-pound killer whale during a show called (of all things) Dine with Shamu.

Further complicating the incident is the fact that Shamu is the name generically used for the killer whales at the theme park, according to Steve Baker, president of a theme park consulting and management company called Baker Leisure Group.

Shamu is the SeaWorld icon. Shamu is SeaWorld.

So how do you convince potential park guests that Shamu won’t dine on them? I believe the order of the day for SeaWorld is honesty. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a management consulting firm, concurs,

The big task (for SeaWorld professionals) is to be honest with the public and the media as they conduct their forensic study on why the accident happened, because that will determine how SeaWorld is perceived in the future.

If I were on the public relations team for SeaWorld, the first order of the day would be the prompt removal of the tagline currently posted on the Dine with Shamu section of the theme park website. “It’s exclusive. Intimate. And unforgettable.” no longer seems appropriate. It will be interesting to watch the actual SeaWorld PR team in the weeks to come. No doubt they’ll be pulling out all the stops to get SeaWorld back on track. Tools at their disposal include the same ones your company or non-profit group can employ.

For Free—

Dust off your phone book and call an editor to introduce yourself. If you take time to get to know their editorial needs (without wasting their time in the process), they might give you an idea or two for potential coverage. The most important advice I can give you about press relations is to learn to be a resource instead of a pain in the neck.

And, on June 15, the Public Relations Society of America’s-Inland Empire Chapter, is hosting a free event, Speed Consulting at the Speedway, for businessmen and women in need of pro-bono PR.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelancer to write a press release about a new product or event you want to promote. Then, subscribe to a free or low-cost electronic press release service such as E-Releases, I-Newswire, BusinessWire, PR Log or PR Newswire. The social media releases we post get clicked an average 215 times. Those clicks lead to valuable press coverage.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire an agency. Only a trained public relations professional will be able to skillfully speak on your behalf, work with the media, handle crisis communications, manage social media and oversee effective employee communication. And that’s not spin.
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: 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: 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.