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.

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Bowling for Business: Show and Tell

For maximum marketing impact, use copy as well as images.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 3, 2011.

My favorite day of the week in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade was Friday because that’s when we got to do Show and Tell. Since we had three dogs, a turtle and several fish, and because I loved having an excuse to bring pets to school, I was set for weeks. But my love of the activity extended to other classmates’ treasures as well:

  • Brian made a belt out of paperclips, which he fastened to his chair as a sort of makeshift restraining device.
  • Dawn had a watch with interchangeable face plates and bands, to match every outfit in her extensive closet.
  • Chad routinely forgot to bring anything from home, so he often stuffed part of his lunch into his boot before recess so he would have something to share later in class.

As we begin marketing in 2011, I contend the most successful advertising and public relations’ campaigns will hearken to this elementary-school standby. After all, it is widely believed the use of pictures along with words increases brain activity and aids learning.

  • According to Head First Labs, “When words appear within a picture, or there is a combination of words and a picture, our brains try to make sense of how the words and the picture relate. When more neurons are firing, there are more chances for your brain to get that this is something worth paying attention to.”
  • Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that pictures allow patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease to better recognize and identify a subject compared to using words alone.
  • Swish Video contends that people remember merely 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see and an incredible 70% what they hear and see. So, to effectively promote your product or service, no matter your audience, make sure you do both—show and tell.

For Free—

If you are handling your own marketing and public relations, make much of pictures. Many entrepreneurs understand their own products to a fault. Don’t forget to “dumb down” technical jargon when marketing your product or service so it makes sense to the buying public. One way to do this is with pictures:

  • With blog posts, for example, upload an image and restrict copywriting to a caption. This will remind you to be brief. As a rule, blog posts should contain a maximum of 700 words.
  • Include a photo or illustration with every press release you write. If you have not yet mastered the art of uploading a jpeg from your desktop to an online platform, figure it out. Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So don’t let technology stand in your way.

On a Limited Budget—

  • Pay a little extra to include artwork in your advertising. It will be worth it. In fact, if you only have enough cash to buy a small ad, ax the text. No one has time to sift through a sea of words anyway.
  • Experiment with video. You can get a hand-held video camera for about $100. Buy one. Take it to work and start filming anything and everything. Then, edit and upload short, educational bits to YouTube.
  • If the idea of making a video is overwhelming, start with a slideshow. Use a platform like Vimeo, Animoto or Kizoa, which will enable you to use still photos to create short video pieces set to music.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Zappos.com recently reported a 6 to 30 percent increase in sales on items that are accompanied by a video. Quality video content, with correct tagging and intelligent distribution online, has tremendous power to reach wide audiences for two reasons:

  1. Video is a powerful medium for contacting and communicating on a human level.
  2. Video is a powerful tool for engaging search engines.

So hire someone to produce, tag and post short, professional videos for use with press releases, ads, websites and social media platforms. But make sure you keep the clips short or they will likely go un-clicked.

Still unconvinced? Imagine how much more interesting this particular column would have been if it had been accompanied by a video of Show and Tell in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade class circa 1969.

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: 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: 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: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: The Trouble with Trifle

In baking and marketing, be careful with substitutes.

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 28, 2009.

By Kathy Bowling

Several years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I followed the Food Network Paula Deen’s recipe for Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle for a holiday get-together. Not only was the delicacy beautiful, but it was well-received by our Christmas guests. So, this year, foolishly, I decided to try to recapture the magic of that festive dessert.

To prepare, I sent my husband on a mission to fill a laundry list of ingredients. Despite the fact he had to go to three different stores to find Cardamom, he victoriously returned with paper grocery bags filled with $7,000 worth of cake mix, Cool Whip and vanilla pudding. After baking, cooling, mixing and layering, Lauren and I were sure that this year’s Christmas treat would rival our best efforts.

And that might have been true, if only the trifle had been edible.

It turns out that there is an important difference between pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. While pie filling is yummy, full-bodied and sweet, pumpkin is nasty, runny and bitter. In fact, it turns out that, unadulterated, the resemblance between canned pumpkin and primate excrement is more than just visual. And as I scooped the entire contents of the crystal serving bowl into my aunt’s trash can on Christmas night, I vowed never to repeat the mistake of confusing canned pumpkin contents.

In baking and in business, small substitutions can lead to big mistakes. So, as we close the book on 2009 and strategize about how to succeed in 2010, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the three tools for which you should accept no substitutes.

Marketing Tools for 2010

1. Electronic Communication

If you’ve put off building or upgrading your website, make 2010 the year that you join the 21st century by investing in an easy-to-navigate, direct response Content Management System website. Unlike pricey printed materials that become outdated as soon as they roll off of the press, a CMS site is exceedingly cost effective for sharing your message in real time. And since 74% of people who live in the United States use the Internet prior to making any type of purchase, making the most of Cyberspace will keep your company connected and current.

Even if, until now, you’ve somehow managed to escape the inevitability of carrying around a Smart Phone, 2010 is the year of the PDA. Readily accessible and affordable, this tool will keep you constantly connected to the office, like it or not. Although you might be trying to buck the trend, your competitors’ availability in a downed economy will give them a leg up on anyone who irrationally tries to maintain a distinction between work and family life. Now that you can buy one for less than $100, it’s time to make the jump to a hand-held.

2. Public Relations

It would be impossible to talk about marketing in 2010 without referencing social media. However, despite the fact that most businessmen and women are desperate to turn it into a direct marketing tool, in truth, most professionals agree that social media belongs to public relations.

As noted by pundit Brian Solis, “(Social media is owned) by your customers and influencers (who) own and define it. And, without guidance or participation, they steer the impression and perception of your brand.” So, by all means, use social media. But put down the bullhorn you’ve been using to blast your message and, instead, join the conversation. If you use social media networking sites to provide valuable content to your target market, you will gain trust and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

3. Networking

Although there are countless ways to network, in Cyberspace, arguably the most important professional networking tool is LinkedIn. Although developers of other free sites like Plaxo and Xing try to pretend to offer the visibility and benefits of LinkedIn, to date, there is no other professional social media website that offers the ease of use, search engine optimization and networking afforded by LinkedIn, which launched out of the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman in the fall of 2002. According to Nielsen Research, LinkedIn has grown a whopping 319 percent since 2007. More importantly, LinkedIn is where the influencers are. The largest percentage of users boast six-figure incomes, are college graduates and have portfolios valued above $250,000.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine other business essentials. But, in the meantime, implement the above, being careful to avoid substitutes, and your professional life might be a trifle better than the rest. Happy New Year! Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk

Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

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