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.

Bowling for Business: Website Monkey Business

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on 9-07-09 at 4:13 p.m.

By Kathy Bowling

I grew up in the 70s. So, in my children’s eyes, that makes me roughly the age of dirt. Considering how much change I’ve witnessed in the field of technology over the past 30 years, I see their point. Consider the evolution of communication.

In the “old days,” if you wanted to contact someone, you had three options. Send a letter, place a call, or get up off of the couch and travel to meet them, in person. As a young girl, I lacked resources like postage stamps and a driver’s license; so I grew up with a rather pathetic dependence on the phone.

So, when my best friend, Lori, found out she was moving to the country, to a town that was a 30-minute drive away from my house, we panicked. How would we stay in touch?

Apparently deficient in our ability to reason, we came up with a sure-fire plan. We would adopt a monkey, which we would share. Our strategy was simple. Joint custody would mandate that our parents drive us to each other’s homes on a weekly basis.

Even then, I was surprised that my mother allowed us to peruse the phone book in our quest. After all, neither of us had any money. And primates are not exactly known for being easy to control.

What my mother knew that I did not was that there were only three pet stores located in the Metro Denver area. And, as Lori and I quickly ascertained, none of them carried simians. So, we had no choice but to abandon the scheme.

Had the situation unfolded today, things would have been much different. A Google Search on “Cheap Monkeys for Sale” returns 33 million hits in .26 seconds. If Lori and I had access to the Internet, the two of us might still be sharing custody of a 145-pound chimpanzee.

monkey business pic

Thanks to the World Wide Web, information is instantaneous. Location is moot. Possibilities are endless. If you want to buy a product or service, you will have more trouble narrowing your search than uncovering options. If you want to sell a product or service, the world is your oyster.

In our Lake Arrowhead advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our clients to strike while the iron is hot. Whether you want to share a political perspective, recipe, timely message, or a new invention, the best way to do so is by posting it in Cyberspace.

So why doesn’t everyone advertise online? The following are the objections I most often hear:

I don’t have enough money to invest in a website.

If you are waiting until money flows like honey so you can build a state-of-the-art website, you are losing valuable time you could be using to build your brand. While you sit on the bench, your competitors are already in the field, establishing a seasoned Internet presence that you will be hard-pressed to catch.

You don’t have to develop the “be-all-end-all” website on your first attempt. In fact; whatever site you create, you should always consider a work-in-progress. Instead of a static corporate brochure converted to an electronic medium, your online persona should be dynamic, interactive, and constantly evolving.

There are thousands of inexpensive, user-friendly, template-based website hosting-services available, like the one I used to get my feet wet.

If free is the only budget that works for your company or ministry, set up a basic blog using either Blogger or WordPress. And don’t let the word, “blog” scare you away. While a blog is a weblog or journal (which we’ll discuss in future columns), these free blogging programs are really just simple, user-friendly websites.

I think most people still use the phone book.

According to an August 13, 2009 report released by Marketwire,  a WhitePages’ survey found that 78.5 percent of US adults prefer using online directories, their inner network of friends and family, search engines, and social networks over the white pages phone book.

Even though ads in the phone book/real estate magazine/newspaper /fill in the blank are ineffective and expensive, it’s the way we have always done it.

I can’t make pot roast without thinking about the well-known parable of a young housewife who cut off both ends of the meat before roasting. When her husband asked her the reason, she didn’t know. So she called her mother to ask.

Her mom told her, “I don’t know. That’s how Grandma used to make it. Let me check with her.”

When the grandmother was asked, she explained, “I had to cut off the ends because our pan was too small for the roast.”

Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be intentional with your advertising strategy. If you’d prefer to sit back and wait for the “next big thing,” take notice. Social media IS the next big thing. And you can’t join the conversation until you’ve set up a virtual shop.

Take it from Forrester Research executives and authors, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, in the social media book I highly recommend, groundswell.

You cannot ignore this trend. You cannot sit this one out. Unless you are retiring in the next six months, it’s too late to quit and let somebody else handle it. The groundswell trend is unstoppable, and your customers are there. You may go a little slower or a little faster, but you have to move forward. There is no going back.

Thirty-eight years later, Lori and I remain friends. Although neither of us owns a pet monkey, we keep in touch, mostly, via the Internet. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

This article was first published on RimoftheWorld.net Friday, September 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm.

Bowling for Business: To Push or Pull, That is the Question

Since the nature of a blog is to point to valuable content threads, found anywhere on the web, I’d like to provide my readers and clients with information about the most common question I recently hear, “What exactly is social media and how can I use it? Should I use it?”

FB linkThe short answer is that social media is the new vehicle for communicating with any number of people. It’s pull instead of push, which means that content is not just pushed by editors to listeners and readers without an invitation.
For this reason, some refer to it as “Invitation Marketing.” The longer answer is that, for the same reasons the practice of public relations was best left to professionals, so is social media. But if you want to handle it yourself, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Login and create a persona on several social media websites. Which ones? Take your pick. Some of the most popular are LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, Diggit, Reddit, Flickr, Plaxo, StumbleUpon, Plaxo, Twitter and PhotoBucket. This list is by NO MEANS exhaustive. The number of social networking sites multiples by the millisecond. So try to choose the ones you find most convenient and most compatible with whatever product or service you are trying to sell.
  2. Keep your user names consistent from site to site. One of the main reasons for creating online personas is to boost search engine optimization. When meta crawlers search for the number of hits relative to your username, it will only tabulate consistent names. If your preferred username is not available on any one site, go to another. They are a dime a dozen. So it should not be difficult to find another suitable platform.
  3. Provide content. Make your point as quickly as possible. Then politely sign off.

To that end, let me take this opportunity to end my post. If you want to read some more suggestions about easily implementing social media, follow the leader.

Life in 3-D

I just got back from a PRSA seminar. For the uninitiated, that is a professional networking group for public relations’ practitioners where people actually sometimes meet in the flesh instead of over bits of data on the Internet.

While I was there, I ran into several people I met in previous monthly PRSA luncheons and events. And, because we have been Tweeting each other for awhile, I actually felt more connected to them today than I had prior to all of my seemingly aimless social media networking.

When I got back to my office, I logged onto Twitter. And I stumbled across several tweets that actually interested me. Mind you, in the weeks and months since I started tweeting, I have been doing so almost like a blind squirrel crawling across a pile of acorns. My intentions were good. But I had no real idea of what I was doing.

Chubby And Cute Fox SquirrelTrying to follow streams of conversation on Twitter, at the time, was a bit like trying to watch Sabado Gigante on Telemundo for a gringa. A lot is apparently happening. But none of it makes sense to me.

Apparently, I was not alone in my confusion. For, even at social media seminars, most speakers couldn’t communicate the actual reason, method or need to use these new platforms. They only said that use them we must!

So, today, I feel a bit of vindication about my confusion. And I’m glad I faked it until I made it. I finally the conversation. If you want to join the madness, follow me. Together, we might just uncover a few nuts.