Blog Archives

The New Rules for Websites

I started Mountain Marketing Group in 2008. With several years of experience in the marketing departments at the City of Glendora, Azusa Pacific University and St. Bernardine Medical Center, and with a degree in communication with a minor in business administration, I tackled advertising the way most of my peers did, at the time. We focused most of our energy on print materials and created online brochures we referred to as websites.

Closeup shot of laptop with digitaltablet and smartphone on desk. Responsive design web page on their screen. Modern devices on desk at office.

Does your website respond to the device it’s being viewed on or does it shrink up so the text is illegible?

The process was time-consuming and complicated:

  1. I would work with a graphic designer to come up with several options for an original website.
  2. Our photographer would show up onsite for an entire day, to take professional shots for use on the website.
  3. We would take large, colorful storyboards to the client. And, once a final design was chosen, our programmer would work tirelessly to convert the design to HTML code.
  4. After the website was finished, we would work feverishly to decode the mystery of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Our programmer would carefully bury meta tags and use keyword software to make sure our client’s site landed on page one of applicable Google searches.
  5. Months of work and thousands of dollars later, we produced a static, attractive website that required lots of notice and additional funding in the unlikely event that something ever needed to be altered.
  6. Eventually, clients decided they wanted to be able to make changes to the websites themselves, so we started building Content Management System interfaces, which provided limited client-access to portions of the website.

Times have changed! 

What's Your Online Marketing StrategyOver the past several years, Google has switched absolutely everything up:

  • Half of the people who will visit your company’s website will do so using a mobile device. So the time for unresponsive, miniaturized websites has past. In fact, due to Mobile-geddon, Google will penalize the search engine ranking for your website if your site is not designed to be viewed on a Smartphone or tablet.
  • We work directly with programmers from the onset of every project.
  • SEO is built into the front-end instead of being added on after the fact.
  • Dreamweaver is a thing of the past.
  • Websites are not meant to be static. They need to be interactive and dynamic — the polar opposite of a static site.
  • WordPress has become the gold standard for website construction, because it is a content management system, which is easy to edit (with a little practice and time invested in watching free YouTube tutorials).
  • Original, applicable, valuable content must be offered via social media sites, tied to the website, on a regular basis, if there is any hope of gaining and/maintaining a foothold in SEO.
  • As a result of all of these changes, the cost to produce a website is greatly reduced, but upkeep is imperative.
  • Not unlike living organisms, websites require care and attention on an ongoing basis. They can’t be constructed and then abandoned like artificial flowers.
Helping You Reach New Heights

Helping You Reach New Heights

At Mountain Marketing Group, we use social media to drive traffic to our clients’ websites, with the goal of increasing the bottom line. But, unlike a typical website design service, we are expert marketers who consider websites to be one of many tools in an electronic arsenal. We work strategically with our clients, to come up with a plan that uses websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+, that fits their budget and produces results. So call today (909) 336-3333 if you would like us to help you reach new heights.

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

(This column first appeared on ROTWNEWS.com on January 1, 2011 and in The Press Enterprise on January 14, 2012.)

For our family, 2011 marks the year our daughter, Lauren, and her fiancé, Kyle, got engaged. Atop Coit Tower in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, Kyle proposed with an extravagant engagement ring wrapped in an unassuming Taco Bell hot sauce packet labeled Will You Marry Me?

The event melts my heart not just because I’m a mother who recognizes that the two of them are head-over-heels in love, but because, as a marketing professional, I appreciate the fact that advertising played a role in one of the most important moments of our daughter’s life. After all—consider the free word-of-mouth publicity their engagement story will generate over the course of their lives. You just can’t buy that kind of buzz. But you can try. And 2011 was filled with advertisers who did just that.

The Top 11 Hits and Misses that made 2011 a Banner Year:

Misses

  1. FAX Spam. Messages that come through FAX machine tie up phone lines, not to mention valuable ink and paper. Whoever invented this method of advertising should be shot.
  2. Text Spam. Ditto.
  3. Ashton Kutcher. It is an understatement to say that Kutcher made a poor choice to comment about the Penn State scandal on Twitter. In so doing, he emerged as the poster boy for why social media is best left to professionals.
  4. Charlie Sheen. Ditto.
  5. Groupon. Although some would argue that online coupon groups like Groupon and Living Social belong in the “hit” category, I argue the point based on the controversial Timothy Hutton ad which ran during Super Bowl XLV. Taking pot shots at suffering humanity is never a good advertising strategy.

Hits

  1. Viral Videos. 71 million YouTube clicks of an amateur video of a wedding party dancing up the aisle convinced marketers of the unprecedented potential of the viral video. Now professionals spend billions producing spots they hope will capture the imagination of the public, such as the case with Volkswagen’s tiny Darth Vader to the New Old Spice Guy Fabio.
  2. Flash Mobs. Because of their potential to go viral when recorded (see above), flash mobs have become big business, evidenced by the T-Mobile Flash Mob Video to the success of the T-Mobil Royal Wedding to the wink of the “flash mob canceled” commercial by AT&T.
  3. Television. Although I specialize in stretching advertising budgets, so rarely recommend TV ads to clients, there is something to be said for sinking a boatload of money into a well-conceived, top-flight campaign. Take Allstate’s “Mayhem like Me” series or the catchy new “We Are Farmer’s” jingle. You don’t have to spend billions on marketing. But if you can afford it, why not?
  4. Product Placement. While we’re on the subject of spending big money on advertising, I feel compelled to mention the method which has seemingly become the default for creative directors on Madison Avenue. Case in point? The 2-1/2 hour Tom Cruise commercial for BMWs, Ghost Protocol. Sorry, Morgan Spurlock…but Mission Impossible 4 was obviously The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  5. Pinterest. Admittedly, Pinterest was not created as an advertising medium. But, take note…neither was Facebook. Already the number one source of traffic to the virtual consignment shop Etsy, Pinterest will likely emerge as a major advertising player in 2012.
  6. Kyle’s proposal—especially if we could figure out a way to get Taco Bell to pay for the wedding…

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

Bowling for Business: How to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 19, 2011.)

One of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. For the uninitiated, the cruel process goes something like this:

  1. Purchase a gift worth $5.
  2. Wrap it up so it looks like a million bucks.
  3. Draw a number to determine the order you will be allowed to select one of the gifts.
  4. When your number is up, choose from the wrapped gifts or steal a previously opened gift from someone else. (Once the item has been swapped three times, it is “dead” and can no longer be stolen.)
  5. Drool over the “dead” gifts.

A game also referred to as Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swamp Thing, or Pollyanna, it never ceases to amaze me that, on a holiday honoring the birth of the One whose very life was an act of lavish generosity, we celebrate by joyously stealing trinkets from family and friends. I broach the subject because I believe the reason we covet the popular white elephant gifts is not because of their inherent value but because of something which is extremely precious in the field of marketing—buzz.

I’ve written about buzz in previous Bowling for Business columns. But, since my last post, several new social media channels have emerged…the most popular of which is an image-based site called Pinterest. Named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2011, Pinterest is a virtual online bulletin board (called a pinboard), which enables members to organize and share web-based images. People use pinboards to plan weddings, decorate homes and organize recipes. Often described as addictive, the site allows users to browse pinboards to discover images from people with similar interests. And, once invited, you can create pinboards of your own in subjects from soup to nuts (literally).

Although purists shudder at the thought of turning any mindless free-time activity into a marketing tool, as business owners, it is our job to figure out how to convert addictive free-time pursuits into tools for generating interest in our products and services. If this was not the case, there would be no such thing as product placement, television commercials, newspaper display ads or pay-per-click campaigns.

Of Pinterest, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, wrote: “Smart marketers are starting to wake up to the buzz and branding power of the growing Pinterest community.”

So how might you use Pinterest for your business? The good news is that you can use it to regardless of your marketing budget:

For Free–

Before you pursue any avenue for advertising, I suggest you get to know the platform inside and out. Otherwise, you will run the risk of intruding instead of investing, which would undermine your credibility in the online community. So spend some time browsing Pinterest. Once you find a subject of interest, you’ll be hooked. I love perusing categories like holiday cookies, home décor and humor. Unless you are somehow able to secure an invitation to Pinterest without being wait-listed, you will have little choice but to browse instead of create. And browsing is free.

On a Limited Budget–

Once you are invited to create a Pinterest account, figure out how to convert your offering to a compilation of beautiful images. The thing that sets Pinterest apart from Google Images is the quality of photography. So don’t create a board unless it features high-quality, low resolution, web-friendly pictures. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional photographer once you’ve developed a marketing game plan. The images you pin should hyperlink to your website or social networking hub. If you can’t tell the tale with images, go a different route.

The Sky’s the Limit–

Pinterest has become the number-one source of traffic to the online sales site, Etsy.

But a beautiful online bulletin board with hundreds of followers on Pinterest will only be effective if it is part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. So, hire someone who knows what they are doing to set up and maintain your Pinterest account. That way, you will be able to ask them to photograph and post pictures of the White Elephant Gift you steal this year from Grandma.

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something–Stand There!

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 6, 2011.)

One of the reasons we moved to Lake Arrowhead is because we love the snow. But dealing with it poses a myriad of associated problems, including (but not limited to) getting stuck on mountain roads. Last winter, my husband and I were driving separate cars up the hill one winter night when we became trapped behind a line of cars that were stuck in a snow bank on Highway 330.

Legend has it that the first car to get stuck was not equipped with 4-wheel drive or chains. And instead of waiting patiently for someone to help push his vehicle out of the way, he repeatedly gunned the engine, which only managed to dig the wheels of his Smart Car more firmly into the snow. His actions resulted in a 30-car pileup that shut down the road for hours and generated thousands of dollars in local tow-truck revenue.

I deal with the same type of fallout virtually every day in my work as a marketing director. Instead of starting fresh with advertising and social media campaigns, I spend much of my time digging clients out of messes they create before bringing me on board. So, I implore you; if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to marketing your small or medium business, please—don’t just do something; stand there!

You might wonder just how much trouble an unprepared entrepreneur can get himself or herself into when it comes to advertising. You might be surprised. Let me share a few real world examples:

Websites—although it took awhile (especially on the hill), most business owners finally realize that a website is a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. But with budgets tight, hiring a web developer is not always an option.  To wit, my team and I are often brought on board when functionality is compromised, homemade sites crash and/or metrics reveal low traffic patterns.

One client recently called us in a panic, when the e-commerce site he built himself froze immediately after the first order came in. He ended up paying a rush fee to have us build him an entirely new site that could handle plenty of hits. Had he come to us at the onset, we could have built him something fantastic at a fraction of the cost.

Social Media—more often than not, we devote the first several weeks of clients’ social media campaigns undoing the damage unwittingly done by well-meaning folks who set up accounts without knowing what they’re doing. Here are some common mistakes:

1. Facebook

  • Setting up personal profiles for business accounts. When Facebook was new, people tried to circumvent the system by setting up business accounts as personal profiles. One Mountain Marketing Group client initially registered his hair salon “first name” as The Loft and “last name” as Hair for Men & Women. While the maneuver tricked the Facebook robots at first, eventually, many such accounts were locked. The good news is that Facebook recognizes honest mistakes and now offers the option of easily converting erroneously created personal profiles to business pages.
  • Creating a group page instead of a fan page. Facebook groups are for organizations and clubs, not businesses. So if you want to promote your company, don’t set up your Facebook account as a group instead of a page. The problem with group accounts is that most are scheduled to be archived. And once a group has members, the only way to delete it is after all of the members leave the group. And convincing busy group members to leave groups is difficult, if not impossible.

2. Twitter

  • Forgotten usernames and passwords. Since Twitter is a free service, when it comes to customer service, you get what you pay for. And, all too often, clients forget usernames, passwords and associated email addresses and then set up secondary accounts with alternate business names. So, by the time we come on board, we are left without options.
  • Abandoning an account after setting it up. It is just as foolhardy to set up a new Twitter profile and leave it unattended as it would be to lease a suite, hang a sign and then ditch the office.

So, what’s a budget-conscious business owner to do? Nothing! I implore you: if you don’t know much about electronic advertising, resist the urge to act. Instead, wait! Save your money and invest a little at a time instead of digging yourself in…that is, unless you enjoy supporting the tow truck industry.

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

Bowling for Business: When it comes to social media, what qualifies as TMI?

Circles of Google Plus Friends

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 15, 2011.)

Long before anyone realized the potential business applications, I created a Facebook account to reconnect with high school friends. The official label for those of us who signed up before anyone understood the platform is early adopter, which is just another name for what we really were—social media guinea pigs.

In those early days, I didn’t understand the subtleties of Facebook features like the wall or messages. I learned the difference the hard way when I posted something to my wall which was meant as a message for one of my closest friends:

I FORGOT TO MAKE A DEPOSIT. SO OUR ACCOUNT IS OVERDRAWN BY $1,000!

Any regular readers of Bowling for Business know that I am pretty transparent when it comes to sharing details about my personal life. But revealing the balance, or lack thereof, of my checking account to hundreds of business associates is not something I routinely do. That type of disclosure definitely qualifies as TMI (too much information).

Several years later, we are all constantly faced with decisions about what to share and what to withhold from our various online contacts, connections, followers and friends. Is Google+ the answer to our prayers or another way to sacrifice our privacy at the altar of electronic transparency?

When I first got word of, I tried to sign up but was directed to a screen that informed me:

Google+ is in beta testing. We will keep your email address on hand and send updates.

In the meantime, friends and colleagues were posting about the fun they were having experimenting with Google+ while Mountain Marketing Group clients forwarded articles about it, asking my opinion. I didn’t have a clue.

Desperate, I finally did what I should have done in the first place—I turned to my own social networks. I tweeted my frustration about #GooglePlus, which fed an update to my Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Within minutes, several friends and business associates offered to send me invitations. Google emailed me a personal invite. And some of my Twitter followers sent hyper-linked invitations.

In hindsight, it’s all quite simple: If you want to play the game, you have to follow the rules. I wasn’t successful trying to sign up using traditional communication methods because the platform, like social media itself, is all about engaging, interacting and sharing.

In the interest of transparency, I have to admit I’m still a Google+ newbie. But, so far, the application seems promising. Here is how social media guru Pete Cashmore of Mashable explains the application:

Google+, a social network operated by Google, Inc., launched on June 28th, 2011 with integrations across a number of Google products, including Buzz and Profiles. One key element of Google+ is a focus on targeted sharing within subsets of your social group, which are what Google calls Circles. Circles are simply small groups of people that you can share to, each with names like friends, family, classmates and co-workers.

Google’s new app allows subscribers to manage connections by corralling them into groups. This is helpful because it will keep users from inadvertently sharing business content with friends and personal posts with associates. The downside is that Google+ uploads anything and everything to users’ streams.

One of my Google+ connections had this to say about the caveat:

The Google+ app instantly uploads photos my camera phone took to my account. I’m not sure if I like that or not—convenience versus automatic upload to the internet?

Another downside to Google+ is that, at least for now, you have to create personal profiles instead of business accounts. Also, since Google ranks search engine results based on the account holder’s associated email address relative to online engagement, involvement and interaction, it virtually precludes ad agency ghost-writing and ghost-posting.

So, at least for now, I can’t examine the tool through the lens of my usual three categories of marketing for free, on a limited budget and when the sky’s the limit. For the time being, Google+ won’t do you any good unless you’re willing to do the work yourself. If you want to tinker around with the tool, email me Kathy@MountainMarketingGroup.net, and I will gladly send you an invitation. And don’t worry—I won’t post your request on my wall.

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

Bowling for Business: Yelp Yourself

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on June 5, 2011.)

I know when it’s time for a manicure or pedicure without even looking at my hands or feet. But when it comes to tires, I’ve long relied on strangers to inform me when I need new wheels. And inform me, they do—in parking lots outside the post office, gas stations, grocery stores and church. The reason strangers concern themselves with the condition of my vehicle accessories is beyond me. But why mess with a system that works?

In November, someone noticed the sad state of my Michelins and suggested I head to Costco for replacement tires. But I believe in keeping business on the hill. So, instead of supporting a big box store in San Bernardino, I paid $598 to Tony’s Repair Shop in Crestline and proudly drove my Mastercrafts around the mountain, confident that strangers would approve.

Imagine my surprise when someone stopped me in the Village last week to ask why my vehicle was sporting Nascar Slicks. I was horrified that he was right! After only six months and 8,000 miles, the tread pattern was completely absent on all four of my tires.

A little research revealed that Cooper Rubber & Tire Company warranties the Mastercraft line, but Tony (who also owns Action Auto in Running Springs), refuses to stand behind the products he sells. So, this time around, I had no choice but to head down the hill to buy replacement tires at Costco.

My reasons for sharing this story are threefold:

  1. If we want our mountain community to survive, we have to buy local.
  2. If we buy local, merchants need to show their appreciation for our support by going the extra mile.
  3. As consumers, we should take advantage of electronic forums to share positive and negative experiences about merchants near and far.

It breaks my heart to see San Bernardino Mountain businesses fail. This month alone has ushered the closure of several small shops. In the Village, scantily-clad mannequins try in vain to distract shoppers from the empty storefronts that pepper the local landscape. And while the economy is at least partially to blame, the onus falls on us.

With a vested interest in our community’s success, we need to count the cost before driving down the hill to buy everything from toothpaste and toilet paper to furniture and life insurance. By the same token, business owners should value the commerce that comes our way by delivering a caliber of service and quality of products that is a cut above anything available in the valley below.

Entrepreneurs used to carefully guard their reputations because they understood the power of the people. Because news traveled fast in small towns, an investment in one customer paid dividends with the next. But as populations grew and technology introduced anonymity to the mix, some business owners stepped away from the old ways of doing business—to the detriment of us all.

Ironically, in some ways, the Information Superhighway allows us a return to the days of old, where, on sites like Yelp and Epinions, we can make sure that consumer news travels fast. And, good or bad, online reviews have a long shelf life. So flex your consumer muscle by taking the time to submit reviews.

Please allow me a departure from my regular column format so I can share the ways that one small local business is getting it right. (Disclaimer: Blue Jay Nails & Spa is certainly not the only store on the hill that employs good business practices. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa is not a client of Mountain Marketing Group.)

10 Lessons from a Successful Small Business

1. Go the distance to find business

Manicurists at Blue Jay Nails & Spa live down the hill. They commute up and down each day because they are willing to go where the business is. Are you willing to go out of your way to develop new leads?

2. Touch base early and often

A chorus of chipper voices greets everyone who comes in the door. You don’t have to immediately be available to everyone who inquires. Just let them know you care about their business and will help them as soon as you are able.

3. Involve clients in the process

To help pass the time, the happy staff at Blue Jay Nails & Spa directs customers to select their nail polish. Later, they instruct patrons to choose an empty spa chair. The activity fools customers into believing that the wait is shorter than it actually is. Involve your clients in the process to foster buy-in.

4. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work

Just watching them bend over makes my back hurt. I am impressed by how diligently everyone at the salon works. At the end of the day, hard work pays off.

5. Invest where it matters

A large flat screen TV keeps customers entertained. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa stocks so many bottles of nail polish, they could paint a Tacoma.

6. Pamper your peeps

Luxurious leather spa chairs line the entire left side of the salon. Decorative floral murals and soft music make it easy to relax. Happy people are more likely to spend money than their uptight counterparts.

7. Supply the demand

While manicures and pedicures are their specialties, Blue Jay Nails has answered customer demand by adding extras like massages and eyelash extensions. Why not increase your offerings to include additional products or services that interest your clients?

8. Don’t be afraid to up-sell

I usually budget $25 for a pedicure but end up spending closer to $40 because the technicians at Blue Jay Nail & Spa aren’t afraid to offer upgrades like paraffin wax, French manicures and flowers. Don’t be afraid to offer additional service lines to current customers.

9. Smile

Maybe it’s because they work all day with Acetone. I’m not sure. But the one thing you can always count on from the staff at Blue Jay Nails is a smile.

10. Advertise

Of course, I’m biased when it comes to this particular business strategy. But one of the reasons Blue Jay Nails succeeds is because they employ a multi-pronged marketing strategy including prominent signage, word-of-mouth marketing and phone calls to regular customers to remind them when it’s time for a wax or a fill. Makes me wonder if they’d be willing to remind me next time it’s time to rotate my tires.

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

Bowling for Business: Chamber Made for Marketing

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on May 8, 2011.)

The TLC show Extreme Couponing kind of freaks me out. I mean, who has 60 hours a week to clip and organize coupons, much less storage for 72 boxes of detergent and 433 tubes of toothpaste, even if the net cost for the items is 12 cents? Don’t get me wrong. I love a bargain as much as any other red-blooded American. But my own forays into the coupon game have proved far less successful.

On the few Sundays a year I actually remember to haphazardly tear coupons from the newspaper, I inevitably leave them at home only to realize the mistake while standing in line at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean I am throwing in the towel. I’m determined to save money any way I can.

The economy has made it necessary for most of us to carefully measure every single purchase. If it doesn’t cut the mustard, it gets axed. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. After all, why pay for something unless it actively improves the bottom line?

When it comes to marketing, one expense that almost always makes sense is membership in a local chamber of commerce. Services included and fees charged vary from chamber to chamber. So check with your local organization for specifics. But some features are standard:

  • Listing in an online and/or printed directory
  • Hyperlink from the chamber website to your own
  • Networking opportunities at mixers, luncheons and special events
  • Advertising partnership opportunities. (The Lake Arrowhead Chamber, for example, allows members to pay a nominal fee for targeted email blasts.)
  • Access to accurate contact information for B2B marketing
  • Entry to educational classes such as business seminars and economic symposiums
  • The ability to contribute to your local business community. Run for an appointment to the board of directors or volunteer to help pull off a big event.

For some, chamber membership can mean the difference between the successful survival of your business and abject failure. Take Lake Arrowhead, for example. Marketing Director for the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce, Leslie McLellan, maintains that “social media saved Lake Arrowhead.”

In The Social Media Examiner, blogger Casey Hibbard recounts the way McLellan and the Lake Arrowhead Chamber has used social media since 2009 to bolster business activity at a time when advertising budgets were slashed. Since the chamber used social media to promote the Lake Arrowhead area on behalf of member businesses, the entire community benefited.

Whatever your marketing budget, don’t miss out on opportunities to leverage your chamber membership to even greater effect.

For Free—

Consider combining your own social media efforts with the activities of your local chamber by hosting a social media summit. If the movers and shakers in your community can agree to use common Twitter hashtags for promoting community events, cross-promoting via Facebook Fan Pages and dividing and conquering blog topics to market community events, everyone will benefit.

 

On a Limited Budget—

Instead of acting as if you live on an island, collaborate with leadership and members of your local chamber to save costs and multiply the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Sharing costs for production, printing and distribution of traditional marketing materials for community events will stretch your advertising budget. And, maybe even more importantly, the more creative business minds who gather to brainstorm, the better.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

If your business is located in a metropolitan city, take a cue from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber, which recently developed a formal training program they call the Supplier Network, which has business members gushing:

Without this program, I never would have expected to get my foot in the door with a Citizens Bank or Comcast, let alone secure a contract with the Delaware River Port Authority.

I developed an invaluable mentor relationship with an SN instructor from Astra Zeneca.

The series has been indispensable in my company’s development.

If your firm has resources sufficient to sponsor such a program, give it a go. The possibilities are endless. For example, why not host an educational seminar, tweet about it along with your local chamber and share costs to produce discount coupons? I would follow the tweets and might even clip the coupon myself…not that I would remember to bring it with me to the event.

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

Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

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

Bowling for Business: About Face(book)

Hey Culligan Man

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 9-28-09

Every September 24 since I could talk, I’ve told anyone within earshot that it was my birthday…family, friends, the Culligan Man. Typically, the polite, sometimes somewhat perplexed response was, “Well, then…Happy Birthday.” With that wish, I would merrily go on my way, eager to share the message with the rest of the world. In the early years, cashiers, waitresses, tax attorneys and used car salesmen would ask my age.

Thankfully, I no longer field that particular question…probably because I am old. But maybe it’s also because I no longer blurt out my birthday. This year, thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to. When I booted up my laptop this September 24, I was greeted by dozens of well wishes from Facebook friends who responded to the Facebook-generated birthday notification. With that simple application, I became a bona-fide FB fan. (Admittedly, not everyone is a fan of this particular feature.)

According to the Facebook Factsheet,  Facebook was founded in February 2004 as a “social utility designed to help people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers…in a trusted environment.” Five years and more than 300 million active users later, Facebook is the second most-trafficked PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) site in the world, running thousands of databases and serving millions of queries a day. Also of note, the fastest growing FB demographic is people who are at least 35 years old.

The reason FB is popular is that it is exceedingly user-friendly. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of how to type on a keyboard and upload a photograph can use it. And, like all successful social networking websites, Facebook is free. Although it might have initially appealed mostly to people who wanted to reconnect with faraway friends, it has slowly emerged as one of the premiere ways for business men and women to exchange ideas and share information.

According to the Social Media Bible, the reason for the transition is all about networking, “By developing and cultivating networks, your organization can create an opportunity to develop the trust that may result in more sales.” Just like in the real world, relationships that start off social in Cyberspace sometimes lead to business deals.

Consider one of our clients at Mountain Marketing Group. He set up a Facebook account about a year ago, at the urging of a high school buddy. “At the time, I had no ulterior motive for setting up the account. But it was easy and free. So I figured, ‘Why not?’”

Initially adding people to his network only if he knew them in the real world, Dave eventually started broadening his horizons by including friends of friends. Within a few months, his network numbered in the hundreds. Since many of his Facebook friends have hair, they sometimes need cuts and color. By casually mentioning a fundraising cut-a-thon on one of his posts, he said the “accidental advertisement” convinced several people to make the leap from casual Facebook friend to real world hairstyling client. And Dave is hardly alone.

Consider the sitting president. Many pundits attribute the success of his campaign to the way he and his team leveraged social media. According to his publicists, “The goals of the campaign were to increase our number of Facebook fans; raise awareness of NYTimes.com as an interactive news center; and engage the Facebook community in a conversation about the election outcome.”

What’s more, Obama’s social media strategists said, “We increased our number of fans more than three times in just 24 hours — from 49,000 to 164,000 — and in the process far exceeded our 2008 goal of 100,000 fans. Possibly the greatest success of this campaign, however, is that our fans continue to rapidly grow…into a powerful, free word-of-mouth network that we will leverage for future marketing messages.”

Facebook has been equally effective for apolitical non-profits. According to a recent post by Rob Bergfeld’s  SmartBlog on Social Media, the online director of the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), Wick Davis, said that LFA’s Facebook strategy increased donations by 790 percent. Yes, you read that right…790%.

By setting up a simple Cause application, Davis said, “When I took over as the admin for the Lupus Foundation of America’s cause in Facebook in mid-January 2009, our cause had less than 3,000 members, and had raised $630. Since I had no idea when our Cause was created, I had no idea how long those figures had been at that level. I’m pleased to share that as of today (6 months later) LFA’s cause now has more than 21,200 members. And during that same 6-month timeframe, we’ve raised a total of more than $5,700. And those figures only represent LFA’s ‘official’ cause in Facebook.”

So, whether your goal is fund-raising, building a virtual farm, poking people just for the heck of it, generating traffic for an industry event, or announcing your birthday to the world, the answer is at your fingertips. Just do an About Face.

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