Saturday, July 31, 2010

Social Media, ROI, and Stinky Cheese

I'm going to throw Blogging best practice on its head here and ask a question at the start of my post. Do you think ROI can be measured for a Social Media initiative?

I believe it can, but I think it's going to be a completely different equation. It'll be kind of like the difference between the US Gross Domestic Product and Bhutan's Gross National Happiness. Most of all, I think that measuring the ROI of Social Media will have to depart from a numbers-based system. The "investment" is going to have to be refigured as the investment in Social Media is a) often not financial and b) does not remain the same for any duration. That'll be kind of tricky. But the really tricky part will be measuring the new "return." Let me use myself as an example to illustrate that point.

What is that SMELL?

When I reformatted my personal blog into a professional blog, I decided to add Google Analytics so I could monitor my progress. I won't say this is a user-friendly process. It's doable, but there may have been a bit of swearing involved. Anyway, when I first started blogging, I would check Analytics every day. Since I was starting from, well, nothing, anything that happened showed as progress on that mesmerizing blue graph. And if you want to talk about influence, you don't need to go to Fast Company. I was very lucky at the beginning of my blogging days to have some very gracious heroes of mine retweet links to my blog, and boy did my Google Analytics love those days!

As I got more involved in conversing and sharing and less involved in pure stats, I stopped checking Analytics as often. In fact, quite a bit of time elapsed between my check-ins to my Analytics page. So, two weeks ago I decided to see how I was doing. Two letters describe what I saw. P. U.

These stinky results were quite a surprise to me. My blog seemed to be getting more comments, I was receiving a lot of really nice and gracious compliments, and people were generally telling me that I had a good thing going here. But this was Google Analytics. I mean, GOOGLE! They can't be wrong!!

What Means More To You?

I decided, especially after receiving some very good thoughts from the lovely Ann Handley (aka marketingprofs), that there were a couple of things to consider.

First of all, Analytics systems are not perfect. They are really really good, and they give you building blocks on how you can improve things, but they are not perfect. I can say this with 100% confidence because my Analytics once told me that I had zero visitors two days in a row, two days that I actually received a handful of comments. How could people comment if they weren't there? This made me a little suspicious.

The other thing, though, is that my Google Analytics numbers don't really matter to me a whole lot anymore. I mean, if I see that the average time spent on my blog dives to negative 7 seconds or something like that, I'll take it seriously. I still like to monitor what kinds of posts people seem to find the most interesting. But even if I didn't have access to these Analytics, I would feel that my blog has become successful because I am getting out of it what I want. I am having good conversations with people, I am sharing ideas, and again, thanks to very gracious people with more pull than I, I'm even getting seen by people who are not directly tied to me, which is pretty cool.

Fans and Followers and Connections, Oh My!

This logic carries across all of the big Social Media sites. Are you unhappy with the number of followers you have on Twitter? Are you lusting after 29,999 more contacts on LinkedIn? If so, have you asked yourself why you're unhappy with those numbers? If you had 150,000 followers on Twitter instead of 50, how would your life be different?

It's easy to think, from a business perspective, that the more followers you have, the "better" you are doing, or the more likely you are to increase sales. I must humbly disagree. There are currently about 500 people following me on Twitter. I follow around 370 of them. What is that margin of difference about? Not everyone who follows you is really going to further your business success or provide for you the kind of experience you want. You might have someone following you because they follow anyone who says the word "dog." You might have a few spam-bots following you. Those sure aren't going to help you. And then you have people who follow you solely because they want you to follow THEM. That's why numbers don't equal influence. Numbers do not lead to Social Media success.

What is the Social Media ROI equation?

Back to my original question. Can you measure ROI in Social Media? I can tell you that so far, the return on my investment, which has been lots of time, has been a massive amount of education, meeting and getting to communicate with truly brilliant and inspiring people, sharing really enjoyable conversations, being able to benefit from graciousness shown to me by others, and building connections that might lead to friendships, partnerships, collaborations, or all of the above. If you are a business, you might be building a team of brand evangelizers.  You might be spreading the buzz.

Compared to solid things like "clicks" and reader response cards and actual in the pocket sales, these things can seem pretty darned fluffy. But I think this is the new currency when it comes to Social Media. Social Media moves fast for a long time. It takes awhile for a flower to bloom, even when time lapse photography is used to speed things up. It takes awhile to build new relationships and new networks, too.

Do your Social Media stats stink by your standards? It really only matters if this is preventing you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish. How do you measure that? Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

Image Credit:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you a meat and potatoes person?

It seems like these days, everyone wants to be Oprah or Dr. Phil. Every day on Twitter, I see literally hundreds of people sending out inspirational or motivational quotes out to the world. The preference is for people to tweet out happy and brave things. Sound byte sort of things. This is an odd juxtaposition to commercials that are on the television every day (you remember commercials, right? Those things you fast forward through on your DVR?). Perhaps you have seen or heard about this one:

If everyone is so inspired and motivated, why are there so many commercials for anti-depressants? Why is there a commercial about a woman who is so depressed she has to talk about herself as if she is a wind-up doll?

Maybe a lot of these quotes and inspiring words are genuine, but sometimes I wonder. Look at Oprah. Look at Dr. Phil. If you say the same kinds of things they do, then you are on your way to becoming a star. You'll get retweeted. You'll build a fan club. Right? It doesn't matter if your area of expertise is marketing, business, fitness, or something people can't really quite put their fingers on.

Meat and Potatoes versus Filet Mignon and Asparagus

Personally, and it is a personal preference, I don't really try to emulate these superstars of motivation and chipperness. That's not to say that I go around like Eeyore trying to drag people down. However, when I talk to people, when I am conversing with someone or trying to help someone, I don't try to wow them. I don't try to create a retweet or a few moments of "Wow, she just said that!" There's nothing WRONG with that approach. It's not bad. I view it like one of those super fancy meals at a really high brow restaurant. The kind of restaurant that might serve a "deconstructed something or other." The kind of restaurant where you get a giant plate with a nickel-sized piece of meat that has a sprig of mint on top of it. It tastes great, divine even, but you're going to be wanting a hamburger and fries on your way home.

Yes, this is the part where I say that I want to be a burger and fries. I want to converse with people in ways that are genuine, authentic, and really truly meaningful. If I happen to help someone with something, I want it to be noticeable if not tangible. I want it to last. I want to be the person who teaches the poor man how to fish rather than just throwing him some truffles now and then.

Back to Basics

You've heard it a million times. In today's world, authenticity, being human, being yourself, counts. MarketingProfs announced a study today that stated that personal voice, not brands, rule the roost on Twitter. What does that mean?

To me, it means being a meat and potatoes kind of person. When I talk to someone about business, when I talk to someone online, when I'm participating in a chat or posting here to my little world of writing, I would much rather get my point across and start a conversation in lieu of being quoted a few dozen times because of a nuanced little turn of phrase. If I meet you in person, I'm probably not going to introduce myself via a quotation from Nietzsche. Similarly, I don't try to introduce myself that way in other scenarios. I don't like trying to talk in sound bytes. I like just talking. I like a "stick to your ribs" conversation that leaves you feeling a little more full than you were before. And that's how I like to be talked to as well, just for the record.

How Do You Relate?

How do you communicate with people online or in person? Are you maybe a filet person online but a meat 'n taters person in real life? Maybe it's the other way around. I used to look at the retweets on Twitter or the shared Facebook status updates and I think, "Man, if I could just come up with something so clever and refined, I could get retweeted 20 million times." But my own personal experience is that trying to do so feels like trying to walk down the street in a tutu. It just doesn't feel right because it just isn't me. As I've gotten more used to Twitter, getting retweeted is about the last priority on my mind. I'm conversing, passing on other peoples' thoughts, and listening. Meat and potatoes kind of stuff. It's not the right way. It's not the wrong way. It's most certainly not the most exciting way. But it is my way. What's yours?

First Image by Hanka Lehmannova.
Second Image by Jean Scheijen.

Is a failure to integrate inhibiting your success?

A couple of weeks ago, the results from the 2010 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study were released. The major take-away from the study was that companies that show high alignment between sales and marketing tend to experience greater success. These companies, for example, are more likely to see increases in qualified leads, retention percentages, and customer billings.

Finding this study was a bit serendipitous, at least from my perspective. For the last couple of weeks, I have been encountering what I consider to be a false dichotomy. "Sales or Marketing." Who is responsible for Social Media? Who is responsible for lead management? Who is responsible for guiding product managers? Sales or marketing echoes at the tale end of all of these questions. I keep feeling like I am missing something when these dichotomies are presented. Shouldn't it be sales AND marketing?

The Miller Heiman Study makes me wonder how much success companies of all sorts are missing because of a failure to integrate employees and their efforts. Marketers have been talking about integrating marketing initiatives for a long time now, but somehow, the fact has gotten lost that a company's success rests upon the ability of its people to work together, support each other, and strengthen each other.

Why does integration lead to success?

It doesn't take long to realize the advantages of integrating the efforts of everyone under a company's roof. Why, for example, would companies experience more success if their marketing and sales people were aligned?

• The marketing team could target the audience that the sales team feels has a high potential
• The sales team could report to marketing when sales or leads spike-marketing could take note of what initiatives correspond with the success
• The marketing team can deliver leads. The sales team can run with them
• The sales team can ask marketing for marketing pieces that would assist in nurturing leads and retaining customers

What if the PR department was integrated into this mix? What about the company's leadership? What happens when these bridges of communication and shared knowledge don't exist?

The Corporate Culture of Competition

I understand that in some companies, people or departments are pitted against each other. Some executives may believe that this kind of culture breeds stronger individuals or more efficient workers. In these kinds of environments, it is easy for people to equate knowledge with power. The more you share, the less power you have.

We are no longer in an era when this mode of operation is remotely beneficial.

Customers are needing service and support 24/7. Social Media is live and connected 24/7. The world is perpetually changing. Technology is perpetually changing. Is a silo culture really the best way to interact with that environment? Is it not better to come together, merging talents and experience so that changes can wash over the company like waves rather than tsunami?

It's not a black-and-white world

People seem to be really excited about dichotomies these days. In Social Media, oppositional concepts are great ways to start conversations or to get replies. The reality, however, is that the perpetual "this or that" antagonistic perspective is unhealthy and very likely detrimental for a company. If you must envelope yourself in dichotomies, how about this one:

Silos or sales?

Social  Media is not the only place where information should be shared. The process needs to start within company walls and conference rooms. You might not know exactly what benefits you'll see from this new approach. Do you know what you are losing by passing it up?

Image by Miles Pfefferle.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What is your heart made of?

Let me take you to a hopefully entirely hypothetical place.

Some giant computer virus has managed to do the unthinkable. It has wiped out Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, all of the sites that have been the darlings of marketers for the last few years.

You go in to work. The show must go on.

What do you do?

Where is your compass?

If the essence of your company has remained unchanged in the face of perpetual change, the answer to this question should not be difficult. In fact, the presence or destruction of the entire Social Media world should not inexorably alter how you interact with your clients or customers. It should not alter your company's mission statement or philosophy.

Think about Zappos (it's hard not to these days). Granted, they are getting a lot of buzz via Social Media, but do you think the entire heart of the company would crumble if they couldn't tweet anymore? Social Media is not the way to happiness there. Taking care of customers is.

Are you resting the entire future of your company on this new networked revolution? Have you taken key words like "Listenomics" to heart to the point where little else is left?

Take a company EKG

Here's an idea to try. Sit everyone down (or just sit down yourself) and tell them that you need a short write-up that will be your profile description on your company's Facebook page. If you have a solid company mission and soul, the descriptions should be pretty close. There should be similar verbiage there. Here is what we do. Here is why we do it.

If you have your corporate heart intact, Social Media can certainly accentuate your positives. You know what keywords are important to you, so you'll be able to optimize for them in sites like Facebook and Twitter. People will be able to find you easier. You'll use the same language across all of your Social Media accounts, so your brand will become more familiar to people regardless of what site they are using. There won't be a disconnect between reaching your company online or reaching your company by phone.

On the other hand, if this exercise explodes in your face, my recommendation would be to back away from Social Media until you get sorted out. You see, Social Media is kind of like a mirror. If you are together and on message, it will reflect positivity back to you. However, if your message is muddled, Social Media can not only fail to benefit you, but it can also become a corporate nightmare. Questions that are key to using Social Media, like "what is the voice of our company?" will be a mystery to you. Branding your company in Social Media will be well-nigh impossible if you don't know what your brand is or means.

Social Media is like a Siren. Beware!

Social Media and all that goes with it can certainly seem very compelling. "Everyone's doing it!" "You must do this now or your company will fry!" To some extent, these whispers could be true. If a competitor is on a Social Media site where you are not, they have free range. But is this really anything new?

If a competitor advertises in a magazine that you aren't advertising in, they have free range over that audience.

If a competitor has a radio spot and you do not, they are the only voice that audience will hear.

It's really not that revolutionary. In the past, you would look at a publication or a radio station or a newspaper and analyze it. "Is this for me? Is this worth my money and time?" You had your company goals in mind, most likely. Your mission statement. Your brand.

Social Media can suck you in with promises of treasures untold, but like a siren, it can also be very dangerous, especially if you aren't prepared. A single careless exchange can spell doom. Are you prepared for that kind of instant karma?

Like the heroes of old, before you venture forth into the wild frontier, you need to know who you are. You need to know what you stand for, what you are trying to accomplish, what the perils are, and what you are hoping to achieve. You need to have a compass. You need to know what your heart is made of.

I'm not saying don't do Social Media. I'm just saying that if you know what your company's heart is made of, you can survive when the new hot thing goes down. If you don't know what your company's heart is made of, you will crumble with whatever you tie yourself to. Beware. Be careful.

Image by Cecile Graat.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Where will you be 50 years from now?

Once upon a time, a man who had been working at a shoe store went back and told his bosses that he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that he was leaving the shoe store. The good news was that he was starting an advertising agency, and he wanted the shoe store to be his first client.

The year was 1954. The man was my grandfather.

Fifty-six years later, my grandfather's bet is still alive and well. However, we are functioning in ways that no one could have imagined in the 50s. All work done on computers, including illustrations, for the most part? Email? Getting emails on these amazing smart phones? Who could have predicted any of what has become our day-to-day reality?

The elephant in the room

Right now, society is in a mode of instant gratification, and this really shows through when you start networking with people in the Social Media realm. I'm not just talking about the fact that people want answers immediately (which they do). But what is everyone talking about? The latest thing. How can you beat the Twitter game? How can you market with Facebook? A few months ago Foursquare was the hot topic, but already, Foursquare is starting to be overshadowed by Gowalla.

How fast are things moving? In the first Iron Man movie, at the beginning, there's a shout-out for Myspace, not for Facebook.

There are a lot of experts who are telling companies how they can succeed right here and now. Social Media is the revolution and you have to decide how you're going to participate. There are Facebook experts, Blogging experts, Twitter experts, and I'm sure Foursquare experts will be surfacing soon.

But what is not being talked about? How can you make these things work for you for 10 years? 20? Not to mention 50. There has to be something more to the game.

Fifty years hence

How does a company survive through an era of great change? How did factories survive the transition to automation? How did agencies like us survive the transition from markers to Macs? The secret is not just staying up on the hottest trend. The secret isn't even how to master the hottest trend. The secret is to understand the business well enough that no matter what comes your way, you'll be able to stay true to your company's mission. You'll stay true to the kind of service you've always given your clients. I don't see a lot of "buzz" about this issue, and it worries me.

Where will you or your company be 50 years from now, when your kids or grandkids are laughing at you about how you used to use that old fashioned Twitter? What will you have to offer when your expertise on the "latest thing" doesn't matter anymore because that latest thing is now old?

It may sound dire, but it doesn't have to be. But if we only focus on the here and now and mastering what is right in front of us, we're going to be in big trouble. It takes a different kind of fuel to create a long, steady burn. Do you have that fuel right now?

Image by Markus Huth.

Monday, July 26, 2010

SEO and Social Media Search: Two Different Animals

"So now if you have a book called "How To Take Care Of Your Pet" and it includes information about cats and dogs, are you going to catalog it as a cat book, a dog book, or a pet book?"

It's about 9 years ago and I am sitting in a cataloging class, part of my journey towards pursuing my Masters in Library Science. The professor has posed the question above. As one might expect, a heated debate followed.

In the world of Library and Information Science, catalogers are like a hybrid mix of website developers and SEO experts. Their job is to enter data about books, documents, videos, and the like so that people who would want those items can actually find them. The trick is that you have to guess what kinds of people would want those things and more to the point, how they would go about looking. In the case above, the issue was complicated because the choices were so similar, yet a wrong categorization could mean that one group of searchers would not be able to find the information they needed. For example, if the book was categorized as a "pet care" book, a person interested in just cats or just dogs might think it's too general. Naturally, categorizing it as a cat book would leave out the dog people.

Back then, the stakes weren't very high. It was a hypothetical situation, after all, and no money was on the table. But in the marketing world, these kinds of questions prevail, and there is a lot on the line. That's why I find the recent trend of grouping SEO and Social Media search functions together very disconcerting.

Search Engine Optimization

There are two games at play when optimizing a website. First, you have the fun task of trying to win at the game of algorithms, especially with Google. That feat must be balanced with the equally important task of making sure you are in a place where your customers and prospects would expect to see you. There are lots of ways to reach both goals simultaneously, but it takes some careful crafting and a lot of research, not to mention a fair amount of due diligence and a willingness to update copy as needed.

When people search using Google, Yahoo, or Bing, they tend to want information or answers. You need to figure out what answers your company can provide. If you manufacture pet food, what questions would your existing or potential customers ask? "Which food is more nutritious?" "Is this food safe?" By carefully analyzing how words that drive traffic to your website intersect with words that show high prevalence in the search engine, you can usually get a pretty good read on how to position your company.

Social Media: Aka, the conversational crapshoot

In the ever-growing world of Social Media, the main thing that can be predicted is that things will be unpredictable. This is because rather than being based on just algorithms or link quality, Social Media search functions are contingent on what people are actually conversing about. On Facebook, you aren't likely to see a status update that reads, "I have pain and pressure in the occipital region of my cranium. How can I relieve these symptoms?" You're going to see updates that say, "Man, my head is killing me." Going back to our hypothetical pet food manufacturer, it's possible that someone might ask questions about nutrition or safety. However, it's also possible that someone might just say, "I need to remember to go to the store to get Pickles more food." Is your website optimized for the word "food?" Probably. How about "Pickles?" Probably not.

Is it impossible to place well in Social Media search functions if you're a company? No. But it's a very different process from optimizing a company's website for search engines. People think and research one way. They talk and share in another way. A company must be ready for both.

Getting Found in Social Media

In order to get found in the world of Social Media, you need to become a bit less scientific and a bit more, well, yourself.  What words do you use when you describe your job or your company to a friend who isn't in the business but seems interested? What kinds of questions does your customer service department or sales team get on the phone? What words do people use in conversation when they are talking to you in real time?

The best way to get found in Social Media is to go out there and join the conversation wherever it is happening. Look for groups, forums, people, chats, or blogs that talk about things related to what you do. Become a part of those communities. Learn to talk to your existing and potential customers in the ways that they define. And don't depend on sites like technorati or Google Alerts to do all of the hard work for you. These sites are based on single words or phrases. Often the context is lost and the use of a word that happens to be important to you is completely irrelevant. Talk to people. Listen. It isn't called Social Media for the fun of it.

Research Before Search

Whether you are engaging in Social Media, SEO, or both, research is the key and mantra. Google might tell you that a certain word is off the charts in traffic, but if it doesn't have anything to do with your company, does it matter? You might be first on the Search Results page based on the keywords you used in your site, but if no one is using those words on Facebook or Twitter, you won't get very far in those search results.

For SEO, make sure that the words you are using to optimize your website reflect how you want to be found. For Social Media search, make sure that you are using words that will help you find your customers.

It's a subtle difference, perhaps. But then scientists say there is only a subtle difference between human and chicken DNA. Two different animals indeed.

A Suggestion Box

During blogchat last night, someone mentioned that she uses a "suggestion box" widget so that people could offer their feedback.

Well, I don't have such a widget, so I thought I would just make a post here and say, "Hey folks, do you have any suggestions on how I can improve this blog?"

In particular, I'd like your thoughts on the following.

1. While I like my background aesthetically, do you think that it works with the content of my blog?

2. What kinds of subject matter would like me to cover if you pop by here on occasion?

3. How can I improve? Any recommendations desired and appreciated!

If you are of a mind, I'd be happy to return the favor and pop over to your blog if you are looking for suggestions or feedback.

Thanks in advance for your help and time!

Image by Ivan Prole.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thoughts on Brogan's Painter & the Window Post

One of the awesome yet frightening things about my professional social network right now is that I am following people who are far more brilliant, far more successful, and far more experienced than me. The blog posts that these folks make are always deep, always causing me to think and roll their ideas around in my head. Having recently begun to follow my 300th person on Twitter, you might imagine that my brain has a full-time job just trying to digest what all of these folks are saying.

It is with that preamble that I mention Chris Brogan's recent post called The Painter and his Window. Now, on one level, I can't really relate to this post at all. Sadly, and for reasons that I certainly don't understand, I don't have a ton of admirers who wait to talk to me and get my insights (I know, I know, I'm working on it!!). On the other hand, however, the post gets at an issue that I'm sure tons of people experience even beyond the realm of marketing and business. That issue is that passion doesn't pay the bills.

The fine line between helping and sacrificing

When I was in college and graduate school, my great passion was learning. I wanted to learn everything in the universe. I wanted to be challenged. One of the great first experiences I had my freshman year in college was walking down the street and hearing a couple of guys jousting about existentialism. I thought, "Wow! This is amazing!" All through my academic career, I read every page of every book about 95% of the time. I took notes on every book. This seemed odd to a lot my peers. You can get a jist of an argument by reading the first and last sentence of every paragraph, so the legend goes. But I didn't care about getting things done quickly. I was soaking up that knowledge because I loved it.

Part of the academic environment is peers helping each other, just like part of today's marketing environment is peers sharing knowledge. I wasn't the valedictorian or anything, but I was smart enough that people would sometimes ask me for advice on their papers, or I'd be asked about a book we were reading. Little things. I always obliged. I'm a nice person, plus it gave me a chance to talk about things I liked. Win-win proposition, right?

Of course, the problem with these scenarios is that they can get out of control. Sometimes people will say, "Hey can you help me?" when really they mean, "Can you do this for me?" The other problem that can arise is that you can end up getting behind on your own work because you are spending so much time helping other people. "Oh, I can whip up my paper in no time," I used to say to myself. And most of the time it would work out, but sometimes it became a pinch.

When I translate this to a professional situation rather than an academic one, I see the problems inherent in being passionate about your job in this newly networked world in which we live. It's not just folks like Brogan that have people looking in the window. If you have a friend who's a doctor or nurse, it's hard to avoid talking to them when someone in your family is sick. You want just one little piece of advice, and you're friends, so they shouldn't mind. We expect our teachers to stay after school or to work at all hours because our kids need to learn, and after all, teachers love what they do. A lot of people have good hearts and they want to help as many people as they can in whatever way they can. But when you have to start choosing between self-preservation and helping people, it can put you in a real pickle.

Passion is Priceless. Knowledge is Free.

We're at a really interesting crossroads in our society, and I think Chris's post illustrates this in a unique way. Everybody is all about passion right now, right? Lots of people love Ty Pennington because he is so passionate about helping people on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. People love "foodies" like Emeril because they so love their work. People love Jillian Michaels because of her passion for helping people.

Admiration, though, is starting to have a "chaser." If you admire someone these days, the next step is to find out how they do what they do. If you admire Emeril, you want to learn how you can cook like him. If you admire Jillian, you want to learn how to motivate and look like her. If you admire folks in business or marketing, you feel like you should be able to learn how your role models did what they did.

The really interesting twist is that most of these folks today are sharing exactly that information. Advice, tips, step-by-step guides, videos, television shows, are all full of ways that we can become the people we admire. What worries me is that there is a growing sense that if someone is successful, they are OBLIGATED to bring other people up with them. And that's just not the way it works.

My window

Brogan ends his post by asking people what their window looks like.

Well, my window looks into a classroom. I've got a pad of paper in front of me, hundreds of professors talking to me, and I'm surrounded by people who are trying to learn the same stuff. Sometimes I'll ask questions, not just for me but so all of those other students can learn too. Sometimes a student will ask me questions, and I try to answer. But I am not making my living answering those questions right now, whereas my "professors" are.

I am in a mode of learning, building, and trying to apply what I learn. I do this so that I can be the best possible representative for and of my company's clients. Ultimately, my success will only be measured against how successful our clients are. I wouldn't have it any other way.

These "professors" are helping me achieve that success by teaching me things they have discovered or learned through experience. They offer an awful lot of this information for free. An incredible amount. So if they have a book out, I'm likely to buy it, not just because I know it'll be great but because I know that that's how they make their living in the world, at least in part. And I am willing to support that. If my fellow students find success, I will support them.

I think some people, though, stand outside that "painter's window" and fully expect the painter to talk to them whenever they demand it. Not only that, but if they want to know how to do that brush stroke, or how that shading effect works, they feel that the painter should pass along that information.

To the experts out there, whatever your field may be, I say, only give that from which you are okay to part. And to all you crowds outside the experts' windows, remember that if we are all experts, than no one is.

Image by Fred Kuipers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Be More Than A Borg. Be Human!

I ventured out into 94 degree heat today to hit a store because I needed to look for some little baskets (I'm trying to organize my possessions). This store is the kind where you can leave having spent $100 on items that don't cost more than $2, or you can leave having spent $100 on something that you know is ridiculously overpriced but "it's just so darned cute." As it happened, I found exactly what I was dreaming about, so I grabbed 6 $3 square, colorful baskets off the shelf and then  I commenced with my excursion. Suddenly, an employee of the store, who was walking by, asked me if I wanted a basket to carry my, well, baskets. And then she helped me put the baskets into the store basket.

Now, I would have been okay carrying my baskets around. It was a bit of an awkward load but I wasn't walking around like a sad puppy dog. And contrary to all signals that may point otherwise, I would have been quite capable of placing my baskets into the store basket. Despite these hopefully assumed truths, the store employee was helpful and even nice. For no real reason. It was clear I was going to buy things. She had nothing to gain from the encounter.

We are the Social Media Users. Resistance is Futile. You Will Be Assimilated.

Lately I've had these vivid images of humanity actually becoming the Borg, especially us business type folk. Isn't the Open Graph kind of like the Borg Collective? You share all of your thoughts, you receive everyone else' are wired 24/7 so that their thoughts are always your thoughts? I mean, it's kind of creepy. So often, we concentrate on sharing online and we forget that being nice in real life actually can have longer legs and make a bigger impression's so darned rare!

This is not to say that being nice online is worth a grain of salt. Even that kind of humanity seems hard to come by sometimes. The online assistance we may get is something we can link to, something that's easy to promote, and let's face is often helpful. Help in real life, however, is so much more tangible. It can literally take a load off your shoulders. It can help you feel connected. It can help you carry an awkward load of items. And while you might not be able to retweet it, you still can tell your friends, family, and your Social Network all about it.

Bring a little mushy to your work

Think about your clients or your customers. When was the last time you did something totally kind, totally unnecessary, and totally without expectation or motivation to increase business? If someone is pregnant, have you asked how they're feeling? Have you picked up a tab, sent a reference for someone's kid? I'm not saying that you should spend a week wining and dining. But as opportunities arise, make sure you are being a human, not just a business person and not just a Borg. A little humanity -- a little kindness -- can carry much more weight, much more differentiation, and much more loyalty than any other thing you might do.

Just look at how happy that one little gesture made me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

How do you know I'm not Milli (or Vanilli)?

Yesterday I read a really fantabulous post by Stanford Smith (aka @pushingsocial on Twitter). Go ahead and read his post about why smart people like dumb bloggers. Then come back!

See, I told you it was an extremely thought-provoking article. That's why I'm a little surprised that a day later, what came to my mind in response to this amazing post was...Milli Vanilli.

I Need A Bridge

Okay, so let me explain how I got there. A lot of Stanford's post is about the fact that smart people tend to be a little...didactic. Maybe sardonic. In short, smart people have the capacity, nay the tendency, to do kind of stuffy posts. And everyone, smart people and dumb people (so called), find those posts to be pretty boring. My question is this, though. Given the wacky world of Social Media, how do we really know that the person we are reading is really that way? How do we even know if the person we are reading really wrote that post? How do we know who our readers really are?

We don't.

And that brings me to Milli Vanilli. For longer than 15 minutes, a lot of people thought Milli Vanilli was the best thing next to maybe MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. You know that if you were able, you danced a little to "Blame it on the rain." It was amazing that non-native English speakers could speak English so well. It was amazing that 2 guys could look that good and also sound that good. It was almost too good to be true. And then it turned out it WAS too good to be true. Nobody remembers the name Frank Farian today, but he was the actual mastermind behind those pretty faces.

A similar thing happened with that dance-a-licious C&C Music Factory video, "Gonna Make You Sweat" (Everybody Dance Now). Zelma Davis, a gorgeous, thin woman, appeared instead of the actual singer, Martha Wash. Blues Traveler ended up parodying this in their video for "Run Around."

Who is singing for me, Argentina?

So I was thinking about Stanford's comments about smart bloggers and then the mysterious regions beyond our computer screen where all of these contacts of ours live out their day-to-day lives, something we probably have no idea about. And I realized that ultimately, we really have no way of knowing if blogs are emanating from a person's regular way of talking or if people slave over these things for months at a time, plucking words and phrases from various sources. We have no way of knowing if blog posts are being plagiarized, in fact. We have no way of knowing if we are looking at the writings of a Frank Farian or a Fab Morvan.

As you read this, you really don't know much about who I am as a person. You know the things I have posted to this blog. Maybe you follow me on Twitter, so you might know that I have at least a couple of interests that expand beyond the world of marketing. You have no way of knowing if I am really smart or not. Maybe someone else takes a pool of thoughts I verbalize and they make it sound good. Or maybe I am a ghost writer for someone else. And who are you, my readers? The only way I know is if you leave comments, and even then, that is just a snippet of who you really are.

If all you can judge a person by is his or her writing on blogs and other social networking sites, you are also at a great disadvantage. Some of the brightest people I have met in my life are terrible spellers. Some of the best ideas I have seen have come from people who, despite their best efforts, mix up there, their, and they're. Some of the seemingly least intelligent people I know actually are rivers that flow deep. They might not be able to string two words together in person, but in writing they reveal a brain full of knowledge that is beyond most people.

I agree, but everyone has a big but

In short, I agree with the crux of Stanford's post, as I'm sure most people would. If you are smart, it's easy to get preachy or "high and mighty." If you choose not to write with a particularly intellectual bent, it's easy to get disregarded by some and adored by others for your accessibility. But I just want to throw a word of caution out there.

It's possible that some of your "smart" readers are also "dumb" bloggers. It's possible that some of those "dumb' or easily accessible bloggers are some of the most critical and well-read commenters out there. All we have at our disposal, for the purposes of judging, is some written words on a flashing screen, written in a particular style, with particular choices of words that may or may not reveal the real person behind them. We can't even depend on definite identification since may people have many different usernames at their disposal. Social Media is a thick curtain, and all of us could be Wizards of Oz. On the other hand, we could all just be Toto too. Don't be too eager to assign people to one category or the other. It's not a smart thing to do.

Are you an offender? My Top Ten Twitter Pet Peeves

Granted, Social Media is something that in the end each individual must own his or herself. A Twitter account, a Facebook account, or anything else can be or do whatever the person wants, and it is really not appropriate to tell someone how they should or should not do something.

However, there are some things that people do that drive me personally batty. Rather than leaving a snarky message or just complaining about these things, I thought I would give a brief word about why some of these practices might be detrimental to the health of your account - especially if you are tweeting for business. These are just my opinions, and I'd be happy to hear arguments to the contrary!

1. Post the same 2-3 links 2-3 times a day every day: There are a lot of people just in my little corner of Twitter who engage in this practice. Usually it's 2-3 blog posts or Facebook notes. The links are described with the same teaser every single time. This goes on for weeks and weeks at a time. There are two major problems with this. First, it ends up becoming white noise. You stop looking for that person to post anything new. Second, this practice, at least to me, makes the person look like they don't have any new ideas. That makes them seem less engaging and less interesting. Especially if you are tweeting for business, that's a chunk of bad news.

2. Flashing, pulsating avatars: It's possible that you are the most brilliant business person ever. Unfortunately for me, if you use a flashing avatar, I am going to assume you are spam. They get my attention, but in a bad way.

3. Nothin' but Retweets: This is pretty similar to #1. I think a lot of people take to heart the idea that you should promote others 10x more than you promote yourself. However, retweeting is not the only way this can be done. Making responses to people is also a way to get a person's name in front of your followers, and it makes you seem more "human" and accessible. It also shows that you aren't just regurgitating other peoples' ideas. Express yourself!

4. Nothin' but Complaints: Everybody has that moment when they use Social Media as a cry for help. However, even in cases where the person might be our best friend in the world, this can get tiresome. If you are tweeting for business, a surge of negativity can make you like a sourpuss, and people generally don't want to start new relationships with downer types. Up up up is the way to go. A complaint now and again is okay (that human thing again), but make sure you pepper in some humor or wit or happy thoughts!

5. Trying to be a jerk on purpose: I've encountered a few people who I can tell are really bright, but they adopt this persona of being mean on purpose. At times, I've seen it work for people. A snarky comment will sometimes get a lot of "ha ha" responses and retweets. But again, if you are tweeting for business, I think this is a dangerous road to hoe. You can be snarky at times, but if you are nothing but snarky, what kind of message does that send to potential customers?

6. Talking at, not with: This really holds true for any Social Media site. There are some people who do a lot of posting, but it's not really intended to be conversational. These folks might send out 5 quotations a day, or statements that have that "I'm really deep" aura about them. Again, these things are fine, but if that is all you do on Twitter, you run the risk of becoming white noise again. People like to converse, generally. It's Social Media, after all. If you like posting quotes, try to find a way to ask a question afterwards. "Do you know any quotes of a similar jist?"

7. Foursquare: I know that I have an inherent bias against Foursquare because I see possible dangerous ramifications for our youth, so maybe this isn't fair. However, ever since foursquare became integrated with Twitter, my Twitter stream has become filled with check-in notifications. On a personal level, I just find these similar to clutter. However, if you are tweeting for business, these can also be dangerous. Did you call in sick but you're now checking in to a spa? Were you late for a meeting because you had "checked in" to a restaurant? Project pending but you're checking in to your fitness center? These things can send a very bad message to potential and existing customers, not to mention employers.

8. Promoting the same person(s) over and over: It's always nice to promote individuals, especially if they are friends are co-workers. Much like tweeting the same link over and over, however, this methodology gets very old. I have seen some situations where co-workers will tweet praise of each other and then retweet each others' posts. My gut response to this kind of activity is "get a room." Not what you want to get across when tweeting for business. Probably.

9. Sending someone a direct message whom you don't follow: I have been on the wrong end of this several times. Someone would send me a direct message, and I, being the obliging type, would go to respond. Only I wouldn't be able to respond because said person was not following me. Speaking for myself, I found this kind of irritating, plus it certainly put a decisive end to any conversation or interaction.

10. Today is Friday. Are you retweeting your #ff mentions?: Every Friday on Twitter there is a trending topic called "follow Friday." It's a nice sort of idea at heart. You recommend to your followers people whom you think are worth following. A lot of people mishandle this idea. They'll #ff well nigh all of their followers, for example. Some people don't even give any commentary. Just #ff name name name name. That is not my worst pet peeve, however. My big Friday pet peeve is retweeting mentions for #ff. I have only done this once, and I did it because someone handled their mentions in blog form, so I figured I could drive traffic to their blog. But there are many people on twitter who just automatically retweet any mention of them tied to follow Friday. Again, little commentary added, if any. Why is this annoying? Well first of all, if I follow the person who did the original post, then I get to see that follow Friday post 2-3 times instead of just once. But also, it just does not accomplish anything meaningful, at least from my perspective. My preferred method is to say thank you to the person and maybe add the #ff tag to tell them what I am thanking them for. It's human, it's not automated, and it's genuine. Their name still gets in front of my followers, too.

So there you have it. Do you disagree with any of my pet peeves? Are there major advantages to these methods that I am just plain missing? I'm happy to hear about it!

Image by Iker.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jerk or a Superstar?

Justin Kownacki, a fellow blogchatter, posted a really interesting blog post today about Social Media Myths. Justin said something in a comment response to me that really got me thinking:

There's a whiff of entitlement and a delusion of equality in some
social media conversations that I find detrimental to a more coherent
(and, ultimately, more beneficial) understanding of how social media
(or any other system) works. If a person can't honestly evaluate his
or her own contributions, or tell the good (or relevant) apart from
the bad (or irrelevant), how can s/he expect to identify what needs to
be improved? 

See? Thought provoking. Here's where my thinking took me. 

On Libraries and 9/11

When I was pursuing my Masters in Library Science 10 years ago, the news seemed pretty darned bright. To listen to Library and Information Science professors was to hear that people would virtually beg for you to work for them once you got an MLS degree. Librarianship was generally speaking an aging profession. Tons of people were going to be retiring. There were going to be so many job openings it was actually going to become a serious problem.

Folks in the post 9/11 world met a very different reality. The money libraries used to get was now going to Homeland Security. People were still retiring, but those jobs were being merged with other existing jobs. Nobody was hiring new and inexperienced MLS grads. A lot of people who graduated around the same time I did felt deceived and betrayed. Some even accused their professors of lying.

A lot of the talk in the world of Social Media reminds me of my heady days in Library School (there's a phrase you might not have heard before). Everywhere you look, including here in this blog, there are posts, articles, tweets, status updates, and more telling you how to gain 5,000 followers, 2 million "friends," and a blog that will make sites like Mashable drool. All you have to do is 5 steps, or 3 steps, or 8 steps, or 2 steps. This information is out there because for somebody, those steps worked. Really well. But they won't and can't work for everyone. And that might cause some people to feel a little left out. Maybe even a little deceived.

Not everyone can be a superstar

One interesting thing about Justin's post is that he pointed out a sad truth that you don't hear a lot these days. Not everyone can attain the status of a Chris Brogan, a Seth Godin, a David Meerman Scott, a Mari Smith, a Denise Wakeman, or other marketing geniuses. This, indeed, might be difficult for some people to tolerate, and there are two reasons for it.

1) Marketing superstars like the aforementioned are accessible and willing to help, making one think that you might just be at that person's level, or that that level is easily attainable

2) You might be doing all of the same things. You're twittering, Blogging, answering questions on LinkedIn, promoting yourself but not too much. As Bill Murray says in What About Bob, "I'm doing the steps! I'm Baby Stepping!" In walking the same path as these superstars, it's natural and easy to think that you will end up at the same superstar destination.

If you consider the millions of people who use Twitter, for example, and then count the number of superstars that come to mind who use Twitter, you will see that statistically, your chances of attaining the same status are rather small.

Being a superstar does not mean you're a jerk

A lot of people have been kind of snipping at these leaders of the marketing world because they don't follow many people, they don't always comment back, or they seem to only reply to a select few. "They say they want to help but I can't get nary a one to guest post on my blog."

Ok, now it's entirely possible that some people who have become successful actually are jerks, or pretend to be nice when really they are quite mean at heart. However, in my own personal experience, this is not the case. When I see Social Media or marketing superstars, I see the following:

1) They are being demanded not only in the places we see (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs) but also in places and in ways that we don't see, like telephone calls, their full time jobs outside of connecting with everyone, speaking engagements, preparing for speaking engagements, etc.

2) They didn't attain their status because they were easy to like. They all worked their butts off. We know them and of them because they are trying to teach everyone else how they did what they did. That, in and of itself, seems to tip the scale away from "mean," but I could be wrong.

3) With such limited time, for every comment or reply that is made, there are likely dozens if not hundreds of others that get passed by. I worry about problems like that and my follower list on Twitter is like a pebble compared to Jupiter.

4) Superstars are, generally speaking, human beings. If you come at them with criticisms (or tons of buttkissing that is inauthentic) you will probably not succeed in communicating. All humans, no matter how successful, need a little give and take.

5) Sometimes superstars want to banter with friends and family online, and they might do that instead of bantering with someone they don't know. Maybe that makes them a jerk. I generally think not.

What do you want to get out of Social Media?

If you're engaged in Social Media because you are shooting to be the next superstar, you're probably going to have a bad experience. If you're looking to get famous or position yourself to write a New York Times best seller, you're probably going to find yourself dumbfounded at your lack of success.

I am engaged in Social Media for 3 reasons. I want to learn. I want to share knowledge as I get it. I want to help people market their products, and I believe that I, with the company I work for, can help make that happen. I am not shooting for a specific number of followers or fans. I don't need 27 comments per blog post. I don't need to be a superstar, but I know I don't want to be a jerk.

My realistic expectations, I hope, are that I can help someone work a problem, tell someone something they didn't know that might help them out, and learn the same way from other people. To that end, based on my goals, I'm already quite content with where I am. And I have to say that I have never had a moment where I thought these geniuses we all talk about were jerky. In fact, I have found their kindness to be authentic, their knowledge to be rock solid, and their friendliness to be genuine.

I know that I will not be the next superstar, and I am quite fine with that. Are your expectations on a level with where you are in life? Are you shooting too high? Are you expecting too much? It's difficult to become a superstar. It's easy to become a jerk. We should all make sure we stay far away from the latter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A quick note about ambition and time

Eight years ago, I was a graduate student, pursuing my Masters in History. I was 24, looking at 25. I was convinced, for some reason, that 25 was the age at which someone officially becomes "grown up." Thirty, of course, is the marker for when you have to have everything figured out. Added to that self-inflicted pressure (and needless pressure) was the fact that I was working on my thesis.

Let me pause here and say that I have always been an ambitious person. When I was a little kid watching Live Aid, I decided that I would try to save all of those starving children. My plan was to make those woven loop  potholders and sell them. Lots of them. When I was in seventh grade, I decided that getting straight As in school every semester would be the only thing I would find acceptable. In high school, I wanted to make the top ten at graduation.

For some people, the wackiness that results from gratuitous ambition and immaturity results in mad amounts of success. You've seen those stories. And there are more and more of those stories, it seems. Accidental mammoth success like JK Rowling experienced. Stories of people who sit down at the piano, decide they are going to compose a masterpiece, and then do so, as if everyone can do that.

Needless to say, my pot holder plan did not pan out.

When I started work on my thesis, I was passionate, excited, and of course, ambitious. I wanted to have the entire thing outlined before my fourth semester of graduate work commenced. I'd have it done early. And it would achieve every academic goal I had set out.

I thumbed through my thesis for the first time in a couple of years today. I revisit it every now and again. And I laughed at the me of 7-8 years ago. Each chapter in the thesis would have been a good thesis in and of itself. Each chapter, therefore, needed a lot more detail, a lot more research. As it was, my thesis ended up being 169 pages. If I had really done every chapter the way it should have been done, well, I might have had the first multi-volume Master's Thesis ever. Not surprisingly, I burned myself out. Between the pace I was trying to set for myself, the sheer girth of what I was trying to do, and the fact that I also had many other things on the burner, this was not a surprising conclusion. Finishing became the reward, but I was not, and am not, pleased with the final result.

A lot of motivational speakers will tell you not to look back but only to look forward. I see what they mean, but I have to say that if approached in a healthy way, the past can teach you a lot. From thumbing through my work of a few months ago or a few years ago, I can benchmark where I am going and where I have been. I also can learn really important lessons. For example, unchecked ambition doesn't really get you anywhere unless you are completely lucky.

I think the successful ambitious person of today reaches success because they are slow and steady. They are willing to be patient. They are willing to hear the adage that success is preparation meeting opportunity, so they are always preparing. They don't put arbitrary, meaningless goals on their shoulders as an added burden. They also don't look around to see where other people are.

Nowadays, I think of ambition as if it were a campfire. If you try to build a huge, raging fire right away, you might succeed, but pretty soon all of your tinder and kindling will burn away, and you'll have a tough time getting that nice big fire to come back. However, if you feed the fire slowly, if you let it catch first on the firestarters, then on the kindling, and then finally on a nice dry log, your fire will burn intensely and for a long time. It might not reach the heights that you initially hoped for, but it will carry you through a lot of s'mores.

I see a lot of people around trying to skip to the end where their ambition meets a happy ending. I see people trying out on shows like American Idol or America's Got Talent. I see stories of book deals being made based on people posting books to blog sites. The Fast Company Influence Project is kind of a sign that this ambition is running wild. But I would caution people to meter that ambition. Time doesn't really matter when you are building something really good, but quality does matter. Getting to the finish line first is great, but getting to the finish line and being able to still stand up is awesome. Pace yourself.

And by the way, if someone looks at you crazy when you say that you have a great idea regarding how to take over the world in 30 seconds, don't chastise them for holding you down. Thank them for keeping you from burning out.

Image Credit:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Using Twitter for Business

I started my Twitter account round about November of last year. I didn't do much with it because I wasn't getting much out of it, and I didn't understand why. Spam Bots had 20 times more followers than me and some of them even seemed to get retweeted. Meanwhile, I did 1-2 posts a day, posting my opinions about business stuff (it was that general) and posting links to some things that I thought were chock full of good information.

As far as how that plan worked, I seemed to get more followers during the phases when I wasn't posting at all.

As time has gone on, I've settled into Twitter. I would not say I am even remotely close to learning everything I need to learn, but I've learned a lot. For example:

It's okay to be informal sometimes: When I first started using Twitter as a professional tool, I thought, "Oh, well, I need to be button down all the time and only talk about business stuff. That's what I'm using it for, that's who I want to connect with, so there you go." Although talking about your business, whatever it may be, is the primary way that you network, Twitter is a lot like real life. If you talk only in links to articles, people are going to start to assume you're an automated link poster. I have discovered that it's okay to ask someone how they liked a movie you're thinking about seeing. It's okay to pick on someone when they tell a funny story about themselves.  When you see all the talk about "being human" what it really means is "be yourself."

Find mentors: One advantage I had when I joined Twitter is that I knew a lot of my role models were already there. In looking at some of those role models' Twitter accounts, I also saw that my chance to see them build up their followers had come and gone a LONG time ago.

Most of the people whom I consider my mentors have hundreds of thousands of followers. However, the number of followers is not what made me consider them my mentors. Rather, it's how they treat their followers, including me. It would be easy to forgive someone for never responding to your mention or to your post since they have 299,000 other people posting things to them and at them.

The amazing thing about my "mentors" is that they actually find ways to share their love quite a bit, and I think that's pretty fantastic. No, they won't respond to every single thing every single person posts, but I have been impressed at how many times I've been able to communicate with these folks through Twitter. It makes them and what they are saying seem accessible. Finding folks like that is really, really important.

Find chats: So I had nary an idea about chats when I first joined Twitter. I was checking out the latest tweets when I saw something called #blogchat popping up from a lot of the new people I was following. I decided to check it out. Best thing I've done on Twitter. No matter what your business is, chats on Twitter can be beneficial, and there's one reason for that. Out of the millions and millions of people using Twitter, a chat divides out that people who are interested in chatting about something you all have in common. I'm aware of about 150 chats on Twitter as of now, and the topics range from parenthood to association news.

Even though a chat group can be a small piece of the Twitter pie, it can still move fast and it can be a little intimidating your first time. However, if you are legitimately interested in learning from other people and offering your insights as they come, I guarantee you will find it not only really rewarding but also really fun!

These are the first major things that come to mind when I think about what I've learned about using Twitter so far. There are tons of other little things. Being gracious is key, for example. Saying thank you is a really good idea. Posting to and about other folks more than yourself is better than just promoting yourself. Things like that.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing I've learned about Twitter is that sharing is the name of the game. When you learn something you share it. When you have some success, you pass it around. It's for that reason that I'm hoping to start a chat called #Twit4Biz this Thursday. It's not to say that I'm an expert and I'm now going to tell everyone how I figured everything out. What I'm hoping is that it will be an opportunity for people to talk about the delicate dance of using Twitter for professional reasons.

There are so many questions that I want to explore on a personal level. For example, if you're really passionate about politics, let's say, can you reveal that through your professional Twitter account? How personal is too personal for that kind of account? How do you balance responding to friends who might have found you, who will talk about things not related to business, with the folks you are connected with because of business? More than all of that, I would have truly found a resource like that beneficial when I first signed into Twitter. Maybe there are folks who are where I was 6 months ago, posting links and not getting any response. Maybe these chats will give them ideas and help them out.

Twitter is a weird animal. It seems so wide open, and there are so many people who have experienced success with it that when you embark on your journey you almost expect a "handicap" of 1,000 followers to drop in your lap. There are so many intricacies when using Twitter for business. It certainly is a game well beyond "that thing that teens use on their phones."

What has your experience been with using Twitter for business? What have you learned? Do you have mentors like I do? I'd love to hear your stories!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Analytics for Offline: The "Other" White Meat?

Back in the day, there was a television campaign that has since been parodied to death. "Pork: The Other White Meat," the ads drilled into our heads.

These days, using analytics to measure online marketing efforts is something on everyone's minds. Even technophobes are starting to familiarize themselves with phrases like "exit rate" or "bounce rate." Using analytics to measure web campaigns might be today's marketing chicken.

Like the ads of yore, I am here to talk about something that is similar in a lot of ways to measuring online tactics. It's just the "other" thing you can measure with analytics. Today's marketing pork. That would be everything you do "offline."

This concept was brought to my attention about a month ago when I watched a presentation by the incomparable Avinash Kaushik. Kaushik, if you have not encountered him yet, is a master of Google Analytics. He can make reading the program seem like "reading" Amelia Bedelia, and he can inspire you to measure anything and everything you do. In this particular presentation, Kaushik was preaching about the value of using Analytics programs to measure marketing tactics that are not happening in the online world.

A novel concept, to be sure, but the fact is that even though a lot of people are not talking about this as a key to success, programs like Google Analytics can measure the effectiveness of campaigns that go nowhere near a computer. Here are some examples of how offline marketing efforts can be measured using Google Analytics.

Print Advertising Campaign: There are two ways Google Analytics can be used to measure the success of a print advertising campaign.

For a general, impressionistic idea, take a benchmark of your stats at the beginning of a month, then look again after your ad hits. Keep an eye on your stats for the next week or so. Does your traffic spike? If so, then you are probably effectively engaging your customers with a strong call to action.

The other way to measure a print ad campaign's success is to create specific landing pages on your site, knowing that any traffic to those pages will be from your ad campaign. In this latter scenario, you can not only track how much traffic comes to that page, but you can also find out if people are interested enough to visit other pages of your website or if they simply bounce out of your site entirely.

Trade Show: Google Analytics can be a really effective way to measure the impression a trade show has made on your prospects and customers. We recommend measuring at three different stages:

Leading up to the show. Are your promotion efforts working? Does your traffic spike after sending out a pre-show direct mail piece, for example?

During the show: Are people finding your booth and your sales materials, along with your message, interesting? Benchmark your statistics before you leave for the show, then take a look after the show. Did your efforts seem to pay off? Again, a landing page or a promotion can really put a fine point on your measuring in these cases.

Don't forget about those post-show follow-ups. Scanning a person's name tag does not a lead make. Send a nice folder stuffed with your finest literature pieces along with a link to your website. Does your traffic spike a few weeks after the show has ended?

News Release: In the case of a news release, take a look at your stats for specific pages that would be affected, namely anywhere the new product or feature is presented. Although you can look for a spike immediately after a news release is sent, that won't really tell the whole story. It can sometimes take months for a news release to get published in a leading publication. When you find out that your story has been picked up, keep an eye on you analytics for 2-3 days after that. Does it move?

Direct Mail: Much like an ad, a direct mail piece can be developed so that it entices recipients to visit your website. A call to action or a promotion of some type is especially effective in these cases. Again, take a benchmark of your overall site, but a specific landing page can be a big help in tracking a direct mail campaign in the same way it can help to track a print ad's success.

Google Analytics is not perfect, of course. A campaign should not be panned or made the one and only focus based on the rise and fall of the traffic graph. However, Google Analytics can give you a pretty good clue as to how offline and online campaigns are performing, and actionable items can follow.

Have you had experience measuring offline campaigns using Google Analytics? I'd love to hear about it!

Image by Anna Moderska.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Checklist: Launching a Website

Today's checklist: 25 Things to consider before launching that website!

1. Who will be hosting my website and why am I choosing that option?
2. What expectations have my competitors already established for websites in this industry?
3. What will my URL be, and should I purchase other domain names for protection?
4. What keywords do I need to incorporate into page titles, meta tags, and body copy?
5. Will the tone of my website be "you," "us," or "we"?
6. What are my calls to action going to be?
7. How will I drive traffic to this website once it launches?
8. What do I need to get across on the homepage?
9. How will I create internal links between pages?
10. How will I present my sales network?
11. How will I create an opportunity for interaction for visitors? Is that important to me?
12. What analytics system will I use to measure the success of my site?
13. What would I consider a successful launch of the website?
14. What functionality do I want visitors to notice when they visit the site?
15. What is my plan of attack if analytics shows a high bounce or exit range from certain pages?
16. Who will be responsible for maintenance, like adding news releases, trade shows, etc?
17. Whose contact information will be made available on the site? Is there corporate agreement about that?
18. Will the design of the site revolve around a corporate logo or a leading product?
19. Will there be e-commerce capabilities?
20. Will there be special programming needs like image galleries, forms, or videos?
21. How will the look and content of the new website be filtered through all channels of the organization?
22. How will the sales force be able to use the site as a selling tool?
23. Will there be a blog built into the site? Who will be the voice of that blog?
24. Is there room for the site to grow?
25. Should the site be translated into different languages for international visitors?

Believe it or not, this is just the beginning of what goes into the launch of a website, and these are the basics. If there are steps that are important that you do not see here, feel free to add them!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Check? Check 1, check 2...

This week feels like a checklist kind of week, so I thought I would ride the wave. Every day this week, I will post a checklist of things to consider as you approach different marketing tactics or strategies. If I missed something, feel free to add to it!

Today's checklist: 25 Things To Consider Before Blogging

1. Am I blogging as an individual or will the blog be a team effort?
2. If a team, how will I choose my co-bloggers?
3. Is this blog going to be personal or work-related?
4. What am I hoping to accomplish with this blog?
5. Who is my audience?
6. If business related, does this blog fall within the parameters of my business/company/corporation?
7. What platform am I going to use, and why?
8. What voice am I going to use? Will I be professional and "button-down"? Casual?
9. How often do I want to post a blog?
10. Is my answer for #9 feasible?
11. What are keywords that I want to emphasize in my blog?
12. What will I say in my profile?
13. What will I use for my user picture?
14. What will the name of my blog be?
15. How will I promote my blog?
16. What would I define as a successful blog?
17. How will I measure the success of my blog?
18. Will I include a "blogroll" on my blog?
19. Will I include a "search" function on my blog?
20. Will my blog be monetized?
21. Will I import my blog into LinkedIn or Facebook (or both?)
22. What will I do if I get negative or little reaction to my blog or post?
23. If a team blog, how will the dynamics work? Will the posts attributed to individual writers?
24. Will you include video blogging or podcasting on your blog site?
25. How will you control and encourage comments and commenters?

Anything I missed? Let me know and I'll add to it!

Image credit:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What is influence?

 As you may have heard, Fast Company has begun a little experiment on Twitter called The Influence Project. The concept is pretty simple on paper. You sign up on the Fast Company site and you see how many people you can motivate to click a link that you post. The more clicks you receive, the more influential you appear. The folks at Fast Company have promised that the most influential people will have their pictures shown on the cover of the November 2010 issue (Go ahead and check out Fast Company's definition if you're interested).

Not surprisingly, the reactions to this project have been all over the board. Experts like Alltop's Guy Kawasaki and Facebook Queen Mari Smith are for it. Lots of other folks are furious at Fast Company for creating a project that seems to give spam the green light. I don't know where you stand, but me? I can see both sides of the argument.

The question at hand: what is influence?

Whether or not it's the intended objective, all of the noise about this project has made me ponder what influence truly is. It also makes me wonder if influence can be made tangible by people clicking on some links. My gut instinct is to say that if influence is something that can be measured in clicks to a website from Twitter, there are going to be a lot of disappointed and confused people out there.

So what is influence, really?  If you go to, you'll find this as definition one:  

"The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others."

I guess that's a serviceable definition. You can't really argue with it. And by this definition, The Influence Project is not a misnomer. You're compelling people to click on a link, and the number of people who do that are metrics for your influence. Fine.  But doesn't that sound kind of hollow? Even in the world of Web 2.0, which is kind of seeming like the flower child when compared to advertising, making people just click a button does not an influential person make. And by the way, you could post till the cows come home that people should click a link, but if you post a tweet and you have no followers, is there really a chance to be influential?

Satire or Science

There are some who say that The Influence Project is in part meant to be a sort of satire or parody of what the online world is like. It's meant to show how easy it is to get people to click things, how easy it is to game the system. The problem is that it's also kind of presented as a science project or a rational scientific experiment. In the case of the latter, there are a few flaws that I'd like to point out.

1. As already mentioned, you already have to have some influence in order to show how influential you are. If you have 500,000 followers and you post a link, statistically speaking you're going to have a better chance at being "influential" than a person who has 30 followers. 

2. If you are already influential (if you measure influence in number of followers, which is a really bad idea), you have probably built up a lot of credibility (or you're really durned famous). In either case, you can afford to be 100% straightforward. "Hey guys, please click this link and vote for me to be influential. I've got a book coming out in October and the extra PR exposure would be GREAT! Love and kisses!" On the other hand, if you've got a kind of shaky base or not a lot of followers, this would be hinging on a breach of trust. That's a big no no. 

3. In the Social Media world, it's easy enough to get people to click things. Heck, a person with minimal HTML knowledge can mask a link to the influence page under an H-Ref tag and no one would be the wiser. Real influence is what you do with those clicks. In the marketing world, influence would be how many people ask for a quote after clicking. In the Social Media world, maybe you see how many people donate to a charitable cause after clicking, or how many people download your e-book. Getting folks to click a link, openly or not, is not really the strongest measure of influence.

4. Pulling on someone else's influence: Let's imagine the following scenario. I sign up for The Influence Project and I post to Twitter saying, "Oh, such and such expert or celebrity just posted a great blog. Click here!" You click the link and end up at my Influence Project page. Now, did you click because I posted the link or did you click because you wanted to hear what that OTHER person had to say? I won't be offended. It's hypothetical :) But this is a problem. Is the Influence Project truly measuring everyone's influence? It's an easy way to cheat, right?

5. And speaking of cheating, it's really easy to load the game to win. Now Brogan and Smith might say that like any game, the rules are made to be adapted, but I worry that this is kind of setting a dangerous precedent. "Oh, I see, so getting people to click to MY website would REALLY show how influential I am. So how about if I mask my links with misleading information. "Here's a breaking news story." "Here's a quote from LeBron James saying that he has changed his mind." Click click click. Away goes your credibility. Is it worth it?

Who Wins?

In the end, Fast Company is the ultimate winner in the Influence Project, not the people whose pictures get into the November issue, not even Guy Kawasaki. The publication is being discussed all over the place, as is the project. I've driven traffic to their website, and everyone who is participating is doing the same thing. There is build-up for a November issue, which as we media types know can be a tough month for magazines. 

As for the people who might be the most "influential" based on this project, will they really be winners? The assumption of a lot of people will be that they either spammed their friends or otherwise ruthlessly gamed the system. It will be a means for the rich to get richer in terms of followers and Twitter influence. And I'm not really sure a lot of people will look at these folks, once the whole project is explained, and say, "Oh Okay. I need to follow all of them right away."

In the end, those winners will just have proven that they got lots of people to click. I tend to unfollow those types of people pretty quickly myself. 

What do you think of The Influence Project? Do you have pros for my cons? Are you participating? Let me know!