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What’s Your Swagger Wagon?

Nothing could be better than a mom and dad rappin’, right?

Ok, maybe there are things better. Still, today’s guest post is this awesome, fun video from Toyota which has managed to get 3.8 million views as of mid-June 2010.

The point? To have a little fun with your marketing – while still getting your point across. Toyota stays on message for the Sienna product, rap or not.

PS: Yes, I meant to post this for Father’s Day.

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Business Resources Small Business Social Media Twitter Web 2.0

Who I follow on Twitter (and why) for June 2010

Happy Mother's Day
Creative Commons License photo credit: emma.kate

It’s #FF (follow Friday) again, which means it’s time to point you at a few folks that I find interesting on Twitter.

If you love bacon, or unique gift soaps and the like, give @SweetSoaps a follow. Their #1 product was spawned from a Twitter conversation. Yes, people *really do* use Twitter to make a living.

Simply by joining the conversation and prodding me a bit, @StoryBlox helped me past a bit of a mental block I was having, trying to find an allegory (or some such) for a community economic development project I’m working on.

@julien just makes you think. If you aren’t interested in thinking, don’t follow him.

Finally, for a little adventure, check out Ryan Jordan at @bigskyry. Ryan’s the publisher of Backpacking Light magazine and routinely runs around the Bob Marshall Wilderness with (or without Scouts) with a pack lighter than 20 lbs (usually *much* lighter).

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Blogging Business culture Competition Customer relationships Marketing Restaurants Retail Sales service Small Business Social Media Strategy Web 2.0 Word of mouth marketing

A conversation in the hall of your business day

Lots of small business owners struggle to get a blog going.

There are some technical challenges: geek stuff is huge for some and tiny for others.

But in almost every case, the tech stuff isn’t the hard part.

When it comes to business owners, almost every conversation about blogging tends to start with “What do I write about?”

It’s not a bad question, really.

The root of the problem is usually how owners perceive their blog.

If you view it as a formal trade publication (or a series of emotionless whitepapers written in corporate-speak), you’ll likely struggle to find meaningful topics to write about.

When you have to produce a formal article, suddenly that 2 minute conversation with your client doesn’t seem “worthy” of your blog.

I don’t see it that way at all.

Conversations

For me, the blog is an informal business conversation. It’s as if we met in the hall at your office or sat down somewhere for coffee.

If you approach it in that context, I’ll bet you can find lots of things to write about.

Fact is, that’s what shows people that you’re someone they’d actually want to do business with.

Think about the last 5-10-20 or 100 conversations you had with clients in your store, restaurant, on the phone, via email etc. Think about the questions you answered, the issues you discussed, the advice you gave, and the challenges you dissected.

Every single one of those could should be a blog post.

Finding your voice

Some days you might get a feel like I’m talking to you one-on-one.

Many times, I have picked out a client as my apparent conversation partner that day and I write as if I’m talking to them. Occasionally, I’m doing just that – sending them a public (yet private) signal that they need to do something.

Other times, it may sound as if I’m speaking to a small group of business owners, like at a “brown bag business lunch” or chamber seminar.

That’s completely intentional.

When we meet, I want our conversation to feel like the conversation we have here. I talk here (mostly) like we would in person. I do that so that there isn’t a shocking change in our relationship when we start working together.

Wouldn’t it drive you nuts to read my blog and then meet me in person only to find that you’re talking to a guy who spouts corporate-speak?

You need to make the same decision about how your blog “sounds”.

Stiff upper lips

One thing that is important when writing posts is not to talk in stiff, boring whitepaper-ese or corporate-speak – unless that’s really how you talk (ugh).

A blog is not a research paper or a doctoral thesis. It doesn’t have to pass muster with the United Guild of Boring Writers.

Its a conversation in the hallway of your business day. Not necessarily about American Idol, but in a friendly, collegial way.

Once you find your blogging voice, I think you’ll find it a lot easier to to find topics and have conversations.

I know it’s in there. Just be the person you are when you’re helping someone.

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Automation Business Resources Competition Creativity Customer service ECommerce Education Employees Ideas Improvement Internet marketing Leadership Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women planning Positioning Restaurants Retail Sales service Small Business Social Media Software strategic planning Strategy systems Technology Web 2.0

iPads for business? Yes. Start now.

Trust me on this. Your business needs an iPad.

I know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this:

Why does this Apple fanboy think I need this thing? It’s just like a dinky little laptop with no keyboard. I can’t even plug my USB thumb drive into it. There’s no camera.

I hear you, but I ask that you think forward a bit. The iPad available today will seem like a lukewarm joke in 5 years. Your kids won’t even touch it.

If you wait 5 years until “the space is ready”, you’re gonna be 5 years behind – maybe more.

Maybe the winner in 5 years will be an Android-based GooglePad. Maybe it’ll be a Windows-based GatesPad. Maybe it’ll be one of the tablets from the folks at CES this summer. But…

IT. DOESNT. MATTER.

What matters is that you shift your thinking.

This stuff is going to impact your business and your life (and the lives of your clients) – and I can say that not knowing what you do for a living.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

First off, don’t worry about what it won’t do. Focus on what it *can* do for you instead.

There are at least five areas that need some strategic thought on your part:

  • How your staff will use the iPad
  • How your customers will use the iPad (and iPhone/iTouch)
  • How a phone-enabled, GPS-enabled tablet (generally speaking) will change your work, your clients’ work, your clients’ personal lives and so on.
  • How this “intelligent”, connected form factor will change how people consume information – which includes information that brings them to your business.

Note: The same things will apply to the HP Slate and other touch devices already in the pipeline.

Portable, connected – and finally, capable – touch-based interface devices are here to stay. You can either take advantage of them or watch someone else and then whine about the competition.

Answer this 27 part question

The iPad gives you a way to show your clients and prospects touch-navigable information that is *already available* but often poorly presented. That info is rarely displayed in context with anything else.

That’s gonna change.

Here’s an example:

“Show me a map with the locations of the three best italian restaurants on the way to the bed and breakfast we’re staying at tonight (it’s just outside Glacier Park). Include an overall rating from previous reviews, an option to read those reviews, directions to each restaurant, menu items with photos of the food, prices and eliminate the ones that don’t have a table for six at 7:00pm. Oh and a photo of the front of the place so we don’t drive past it.”

27 phone calls or visits to websites later, you *might* have a decent answer. That’s one of the simple, easy to understand examples. There are a TON more. If you’re a client, ask me how you can take advantage of it.

The difference with the pad isn’t just the always-on internet and the GPS/location-enabled functionality. Those are huge, sure.

What changes things is that you get a touch interface that a 5 year old can operate. Don’t discount the impact that has. Most people don’t truly understand it until they use it – I had the same gap in experience with the iPhone/iTouch, despite being a geeky, computer-toolhead kinda guy. This time, I know better.

I have so many ideas about this thing, my head is spinning (some might say it did that before the iPad).

If yours isn’t, think a little harder.


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Business Resources Community Entrepreneurs Marketing Montana Public Relations Small Business Twitter Web 2.0

Who I follow on Twitter – and Why

I‘ll likely start updating this list with a new post every week or 3, but you have to start somewhere.

I follow…

@ElijahManor because he always has amazing jQuery (and related webdev) links.

@MatthewRayScott for a couple of reasons. He not only makes my marketing head twitch, but he has a sense of humor that resonates with mine.

@WriterAM because she’s a Rotarian who talks about dog sledding and airplanes. What else do you need to know?

@outsideHilary because she’s a local, but also because I enjoy the combination of craziness at the Outside Media office and watching her work her PR magic on Twitter.

And of course, props to @ChrisBrogan for suggesting this was a far better way of talking about folks on Twitter whether they challenge your thoughts, engage you in thought/conversation or simply because you enjoy listening to their wisdom. All the reasons are right on target. And of course, for prompting better thoughts on ways to engage clients, prospects and folks you want have a convo with.

More next time. Enjoy.

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The Social Media Scoreboard

dirt
Creative Commons License photo credit: shoothead

You’ve probably seen people on Twitter or Facebook yammering about “Wow, I only need 17 more followers or fans to hit 2000” (or  10000 or whatever).

If you’ve used Twitter, you know that there’s a curve there and when you round it, it’s like drinking from a firehose.

Stowe Boyd talks a little about the social media scoreboard in today’s guest post, stating that quality rather than quantity is the important factor.

Remember that each of those fans or followers are people. They have needs, wants and presumably they followed/fan’d you because they thought you had something to say. “I’m having a waffle” just isn’t it.

@BillGates doesn’t have 400-500k people following him on Twitter after just a few weeks because they want to hear him talk about Windows or MS Office. Bill is engaging to follow nowadays because he talks about poverty, disease and education – and then puts his money where his mouth is. Lots of it. Almost $300 million for polio, for example.

Engage. Have a *meaningful* conversation.

Think about the folks on Twitter or Facebook whose posts you look forward to. How are they different from yours?

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attitude Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Employees Leadership podcast Positioning Small Business Social Media Software business Web 2.0

Are you building bridges or moats?

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BridgesAndMoats.mp3]
Leeds Castle
Creative Commons License photo credit: raindog

Look closely at your business and think of each thing you do that interacts with other vendors, competitors, customers, prospects and your community.

For each interaction, consider whether it builds a bridge or a moat:

  • A bridge allows someone on one side of a chasm or river to get to the other side. Bridges are welcoming (toll gates notwithstanding) and encourage interaction and cooperation.
  • A moat keeps others out.

A moat says “I’m scared of what’s out there, it might get me.”  Moats are often built by companies that fear the future, if not the present.

Moat builders often think in terms that are the antidote to improvement – and that “C word”, change. Their moat makes it appear that they fear change and the future because the future often brings changes to “the rules” (you know – “the rules that got us here”).

Working together

Many companies design interoperability features into their product.

In other words, they make their product easy to integrate with other products or standard services. In the software world, interaction with systems like Growl (a universal notification system) or SOAP (a web-based way to send data in the context of a description of that data) are a good example.

They make their product “talk to” and/or “listen” to other products.

Interoperability (making stuff work together – even with *competitor’s stuff*) is a bridge.

Others are in their own little world and refuse to interoperate, or do so far less than most. They sometimes ignore standards or recreate their own because they think they know better (and sometimes, just sometimes, they *do* know better – but do they share that knowledge?).

In most cases, refusing to make your product interoperable is a moat.

Communities have bridges and moats too

When the investment in participating in user communities becomes so frustrating that it isn’t worth it anymore, who suffers?

The company. Long time community members. New members of the community. Everyone, really.

Without a community tie-in, there’s less inertia to keep you from trying other products, much less switching to them. Kennedy talks about “putting an iron fence around your herd” – meaning keep your customers close by doing things that prevent them from even *considering* using another vendor.

Community is a big part of that.

Different companies handle this in different ways.

These days there are web forums, community-building environments like Ning.com, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, old-school newsgroups, Google groups and many other options that allow you to build a place for your customers to meet and talk shop.

Once you get them there, then the challenge really begins. Do you encourage it to take on a life of its own, or do you spin it, control it and stunt its growth? Are the members of the community like a herd of cows, moving where you drive them, or are they gazelles?

Enable and Empower

Back in my software biz days, there was no social media other than BBS systems or email lists. Most customers were non-technical and spending more time on the computer didn’t interest them (there were exceptions, of course).

We saw a substantial uptick in sales, referrals and hard-to-measure/value “customer goodwill” when we started having day-long training sessions at trade shows. We’d just stick everyone in a room and go over what was new, what the group wanted training on and more often than not, the day also turning into a rich interactive resource for everyone in attendance.

There were benefits for us as well, but that’s not our topic for today.

How you manage – no, no – how you *enable and empower* your user community to become an asset to themselves, your services, your products and your business is critical. How you view that asset (the group/community) and how you nurture it says a lot about your company.

It’s not just a community for now, it’s a sales tool, a testimonial and many other positive things…if you allow it and encourage it to be.

What’s yours?

In your world, is that asset being used as a bridge or a moat?

The mindset of digging a moat around your business infects your staff, your services and your products with thoughts like “We know better”, “We don’t need you (or them)” and “We can do it all ourselves.”

Even if true, the deeper and wider the moat between you and your customers become, the easier it’ll be for someone else to convince those customers to head for a bridge.

The problem with moats is not just that they keep others out, but that they keep you trapped inside.

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Advertising Competition Creativity Customer relationships Employees Management Marketing Public Relations Retail Small Business Web 2.0 Word of mouth marketing youtube

Where black people and white people buy furniture

We’ve talked about having fun with your marketing, not just for entertainment but because you’ll stand out from all the stodgy, boring stuff out there

These guys stepped out there and set quite an example. Do you think they generated conversation in their market?

Are you having fun yet? I’d like to hear how you bring fun into your marketing.

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Automation Blogging Business culture Customer relationships Employees Productivity Small Business Social Media Twitter Web 2.0

Overheard in the frozen food section: What’s all that crap you post on Facebook?

Last night in the grocery store, 2 moms stopped me in the frozen food section. I thought I was safe since their kids swim with mine on the Columbia Falls Swim Team.

As I stood embarrassingly close to the frozen sausage and egg biscuits and pre-fab hamburger patties, they did it…

They asked me a question about Facebook.

If I remember accurately, it went something like this:

“Mark, What’s with the gibberish-filled crap you post on Facebook?”

Specifically, they asked about posts like “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0“, specifically wondering if I was speaking Klingon or some other language that few people speak here in Northwest Montana.

They asked because most of the stuff I post on Twitter (anything that isn’t a reply or a direct message) is automatically reposted to Facebook. And then they called me a geek. Ouch.

There’s a business lesson here, so keep up, will ya?

Twitter lingo

Twitter has its own lingo that you pick up pretty quickly if you use it. For example, RT means “retweet”.

When you “Retweet” someone else’s post, you are saying “Someone else posted this and I think its important / funny / stupid /sad / amazingly cool / etc enough to repeat to the folks who read what I post”.

The @ sign is also Twitter-speak (mostly). @WSJ, for example means “The Twitter user named “WSJ”, whose posts you can find at http://www.twitter.com/WSJ

I don’t think I need to explain HTTP://, but the rest of the URL looks weird and it’s easy to either think it is a typo or a link that no one in their right mind would click on.

Normally you’d expect a .com, but a lot of these URLs coming from Twitter posts end in .ly, .me, .gd and other really short abbreviations rather than .com.

No way am I clicking on those“, you’re thinking.

These sites are URL shorteners – though it does pay to be careful…

URL shorteners take a really long URL like this: http://ittybiz.com/customers-cant-afford-it/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Ittybiz+%28IttyBiz%29&utm_content=Google+Reader and turn it onto something rather compact like this: http://is.gd/4WLix

The reason URL shorteners are used so much is that Twitter only allows 140 characters in posts placed there. That URL above is longer than Twitter’s message size limit, so my Twitter program automatically shortens it using free services like http://bit.ly, http://is.gd or http://tinyurl.com.

Yeah, but what did you REALLY say?

We’re getting there.

The bit.ly URL in that “RT @idealfool Lakecam now!!!: http://bit.ly/pfsn0” post goes to http://www.nps.gov/ns/featurecontent/glac/webcams/popup-lakemcdonald.html, which is a glorious view of the mountains of Glacier Park as viewed from the south shore of Lake McDonald (cloud cover and darkness notwithstanding) – which is obviously what the original poster means by “Lakecam now!!!“.

@idealfool is the alter ego of Barry Conger, the volunteer Executive Director of the First Best Place Task Force, a seriously cool community organization here in Columbia Falls. Yes folks, Barry is one of those community organizer folks – and he’s read Hildy’s book, so now he’s really becoming dangerous.

Anytime you see an @ followed by a reasonably short name, it’s usually someone’s Twitter name. If you were around during the heyday of CB (citizens’ band) radio, the @idealfool part is pretty much the same as a person’s “handle” on the CB.

And the lesson?

Don’t assume that your wicked cool lingo from one context, group, environment, industry, peer group, media (or whatever) will be crystal clear to and perfectly understood by people in another.

Communication is critical. Don’t assume.

No, I’m not sure how to resolve that in this case without turning off the automatic repost of Twitter messages to Facebook. Yes, I’m thinking about doing exactly that.

Update: Today’s Freakonomics post in the NY Times is another fine example of a message that means one thing in one group and something vastly different to another – the term “Shovel ready”.

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Business culture Competition Customer relationships customer retention Entrepreneurs Marketing Marketing to women Positioning Small Business Social Media Strategy Web 2.0

Seth, Harvard and understanding social network users

Today’s guest post comes from Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski from the Harvard Business School.

HBS’s Sean Silverthorne summarizes of the article:

Many business leaders are mystified about how to reach potential customers on social networks such as Facebook. “Understanding users of social networks” provides a fresh look into the interpersonal dynamics of these sites and offers guidance for approaching these tantalizing markets.

Key concepts include:

  • Online social networks are most useful when they address failures in the real world (Mark: Note the city pairs mentioned in the article).
  • Pictures are the killer app of social networks.
  • Women and men use these sites differently.
  • Businesses shouldn’t consider social networks as just another channel.

The biggest discovery: pictures. 70% of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.

Knowing that (you really should have known that already, think about it), how does this alter how you present yourself online?

That it isn’t just another channel is something that even some legendary marketing experts still don’t seem to get.

What do I mean? You’ve probably noticed it before but you (like me) maybe didn’t think to say anything about it. 

As you might expect, Hildy said something.

Earlier this week, she commented that even Seth Godin, the Seth that we’ve all learned so much from, doesn’t allow comments on his blog. How is that serving his Tribe?

Even Seth should know (and I’m sure he does) that it’s a conversation, not just a broadcast channel.

Which makes the situation even more curious. Do what Seth says, not what Seth does – at least in this instance.