“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

Lesson in marketing from pop singer Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, after watching the Grammys I wrote a posted titled: “Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele”. So after catching Taylor Swift on 60 Minutes this past Sunday I decided it was time for a similar follow up. Who knows, perhaps I’ll position these pop music inspirations as another series in the AU blogging lexicon. Time will tell.

Watch the video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7411988n

Read the transcript:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57451731/taylor-swift-a-young-singers-meteoric-rise

Note: Some of these thoughts might be slight repeats from the Adele article. To me this confirms that great minds think alike.

—It’s never too early to start. Ms. Swift has sold millions of downloads, tickets and CDs and she’s barely into her twenties. The 60 minutes piece goes back to her pre-teens. In short, she’s been working towards this for quite some time. How prepared are you and your brand for the long run?

—Be fearless and relentless. Ms. Swift had such a strong vision and belief in herself that she was willing to tell her record company to take a hike. It was they who needed her, not the other way around. Go Taylor! No one loves a wishy-washy brand with no character. On top of that, as a teen she played bars and other venues that were probably less receptive to her and he type of music. None the less, she played though and built strength and confidence. Lesson: The beaten path is for the beaten. A true champion isn’t afraid to build character, learn from that and then press on.

—Be true to yourself and authentic to the world. Rather than sing songs someone else wrote, Ms. Swift insisted she sing her own. How could she be herself if she was merely puppeting someone else? Perhaps this is a lesson Mitt Romney could stand to learn?

—Be engaged with your fans and followers. There are few pop-stars who are successful enough to hide behind the curtain of super-stardom. Clearly, Ms. Swift is one of them. But does she hide? Nope. Before, during and after shows she’s directly engaged with her fans. Are there times she would prefer not to? Of course. But successful brand building isn’t about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what you need to do to get the job done. Shaking hands might suck but having no hands to shake sucks even more, eh?

—Be engaged with your own brand. Perhaps 60 Minutes was kind to her and edited out shades of control-freak, micro-manager, etc. I don’t think that was the case. Ms. Swift, despite her youth, embraces the fact that no one understands and defines her brand better than she does. She could certainly afford to outsource such things yet she takes the extra time and in turn reaps the benefits. I can think of quite a few adults I know who aren’t this wise on this matter.

—Quality still matters. If tired manufactured controversy sells best and mindless pop fodder is what the people want to hear, then someone please explain Ms. Swift (and Adele). Be wary of those who champion short cuts for they are probably doing so because they lack the wherewithal to stand alone at the top. Simply put, there are no short cuts to being the best. Gimmicks are like cigarettes, one by one they will shorten the life of your brand.

—Be humble. This one I know is a Adele repeat. Great as these two artists are you would never know it. They let their talent, accomplishments and their fans do the talking. There’s not need for excessive bravado and the usual PR cliches. While I don’t want to come across as sexist, I have to wonder if this is a natural advantage women have that testosterone types do not.

Whatever happened to business common sense?

“Disruptive Innovation Made Easy” by Paul Michelman (Harvard Business Review, 7 June 2012). Since launching my work-streamy Chief Alchemist website (http://ChiefAlchemist.com) I’ve tried to reserve Alchemy United for more “original” proactive content, and less in-response-to content. This post actually started on CA but as it developed I decided its thoughts qualify as Alchemy United material. I hope you agree.

This is the comment I left on HBR:

“Each industry has practices that drive customers crazy,” write the authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. Take technology providers’ technical support, with its long hold times “hopelessly complex interactions.” Is there something companies in your industry do that’s just as stupid? “Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.”

With a fair amount of certainty I believe I can say we’re all in favor of innovation. With that being said, it’s still no substitute for good old fashion execution. Execution that meets Guest (aka customer) expectations. Forget “wow”, today I’m just shooting for “thanks, that’s great.”

Let me give you a perfect example. A couple days ago I was on the deals site Slick Deals (http://SlickDeals.net) and spotted a product at a particularly great price from Adorama (http://Adorama.com). For those who don’t know, Adorama is a well established retailer of (mostly) camera gear. I was so impressed with the price that I ordered ten—shipping was free.

In the end, they only shipped me one (out of ten) and for some reason they charged me for shipping. Other than the traditional “your order has shipped” email I received no out of the ordinary communications from Adorama with regards to my order. This morning I returned to the SlickDeals thread to find I wasn’t the only one who was short shipped as well as mistakenly charged. The short shipping is acceptable. Adorama elected to make more people (probably) less happy. I’m not selfish, I understand. (Note: Some others might not be so kind.)

On the other hand, clearly Adorma knows about the shipping charge glitch, or should know. My (read: everyone’s) expectation is simple…if you want me to want you, don’t make me take time to ask for something that you (the brand) should be proactive to acknowledge and provide. Surely HBR is not suggesting that such things require innovation? Would anyone like to bet that this was not the first time Adorama encountered an exception in their process? Yet, there’s nothing in place to catch that exception and resolve it? Really?

To top is off, I did notice that Adorama had taken liberties to start including me in their email blasts. Again, unacceptable. How about a “You should have received your order by now. Is everything alright? Is there something we can help you with?…” email first? I mention this because my company did just that when I owned a small (seven figures in revenue) e-comm company.  Every new customer got a follow up a day or two after they received their order. Note: That was something we did ten-plus years ago.

My point is, when business common sense is being passed off as innovative then we are all in a lot of trouble. Customers aren’t patting themselves on the back for clicking the Order Now button, or dialing a number on their smart phone. I think it’s time companies stop glorifying themselves about ideas and “innovations” that in 2012 should be as ubiquitous as air.

Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele

While it was highly uncharacteristic of me, I somehow managed to watch a good portion of the Grammys last night. To say that the young English soul singer Adele (full name: Adele Adkins) stole the show would be an understatement. Her six wins tied her with Beyoncé for the most wins by a woman in a single Grammy evening. Without out a doubt Adele’s album is outstanding. A one or even two hit wonder she is not.

However, the reality is it’s also highly unlikely that anyone familiar with American pop music would have predicted last night’s landslide months ago when the album “21” was first released. Yet now it all makes perfect sense. Here’s what I think we can all learn from Adele:

—Content is still King or in this case Queen. She didn’t sell hype, endorse soda, manipulate Google SERPs, spew excessively on Twitter, wearing clothing made out of meat or stage a fly-by-night marriage. No, actually Adele did it the old fashion way. She and her team created something of true value. Mind you, I am sure she benefited from social networking. But it was quality work that fanned those organic flames. It wasn’t spin, hot air and spammy tactics.

—Quality is important, very important. The efforts of her team was put into creating something beautiful, crafted, exquisite and memorable. It was not a case of let’s half-ass it and then pull out every trick in the contemporary marketing playbook to try to pass off a stale doughnut as French pastry. In short, it’s more cost effective and smarter to get it right from the start than to try to fix a train wreck with smoke and mirrors.

—Be mindful of spot on execution. What they did they did damn well. Some would say, myself included, to the point of perfection. Would anyone call Adele an innovator? I don’t think so. Her style is timeless classic soul. And when she performs she is 100% committed. Adele sings purely from the heart. But then again, perhaps in the context of today such conviction and a willingness to go against the grain is innovative? The question is, how much are you faking it? And maybe paying greater attention to execution would fall under being innovative as well?

—Show some class. Show some restraint. Respect who you are. While the majority of the other performances were over the top, Adele nailed “Rolling in the Deep” with minimal excess. Mind you, I understand it’s pop music. There’s always a certain amount of frivolity. But perhaps your brand shouldn’t part-take in sugar-coated contests and such just to get people to Like your Facebook page? Perhaps there’s actually more value in being yourself (i.e., something of value) over the long term than trying to be something else in the short? Quality over quantity, right?

—Even in 2012 there is no I in team. Award after award Adele mentioned her producer and thanked her fans. She consistently tried to shift the spotlight way from herself and pull her producer/co-songwriter into the mix. In spite of being sold as a one-woman show, Adele was transparent and shared her moment with her team. Which leads me to my last point.

—Be humble. I don’t watch such award shows often but I’ve seen enough to know that Adele was humble and authentic. She didn’t come off cocky, like she deserved it. Instead she was restrained, natural and nearly embarrassed at all the attention. In other words, she acted like a true professional. That said, you got a sense that deep down she wasn’t surprised. Obviously, their goal was to do a high-quality work of art. They achieved that goal. I am certain she knew this. If she was surprised, it was that so many others had noticed. So, is your brand acting like a giddy one-hit wonder or when you stand in the end-zone do you look like you’ve been there before? That that’s where you belong?

Kudos to you and your team Adele. You’re a beacon of hope for those of us who still believe in quality.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

Welcome back. Quickly, let’s recap. By the end of Part 1 you understood and embraced the value of tagging links with Google URL Builder. In Part 2 I drilled down, spread out and discussed the various tagging parameters. In addition I made suggestions and recommendation on developing a strategy for implementing those parameters within the context of how you might wish to measure your online marketing efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Before I continue I want to emphasis that this level of thoroughness with the links you share does admittedly entail time, effort and dedication. At this point I presume you’ve also noticed in your social media marketing travels (since read Part 1) that the majority of links shared by brands—both large and small—are in fact not tagged. Conclusion: If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, as well as a deeper understanding of your online marketing efforts then there’s plenty of opportunity right in front of you. Like it or not, victory does not always come easy. Whether online or off the adage, “No pain. No gain.” is as true as ever.

Good news: After Part 3 we’ll be past the half way mark.

More good news: In Part 3 we move away from (what could be considered) the theoretical and into hands-on execution.

Still more good news: Part 3 is somewhat shorter than either of the previous two parts.

Today’s “insider secret” will add a tool know as a URL shortener to your toolbox of tricks for executing and measuring your online marketing efforts. For example, bit.ly and TinyURL.com are both URL shorteners. Chances are you’ve seen shared links using both of these shorteners. It doesn’t matter which URL shortener you use as long as the platform you select offers analytics on the links you shorten. In other words, we want to have access to data that tells us which of the shared links—whether back to your own site, or to any other site—has been clicked. My primary focus for the sake of this discussion will address using bit.ly.

“Why bit.ly?”

There are plenty of free/low cost URL shorteners. I’m going to focus on bit.ly mainly because of bit.ly pro. Wih pro, for the price of a domain name you can have your own vanity URL shortener. For example, Alchemy United’s AUtd.us is done via bit.ly pro. You don’t have to go pro. Nor do you have to go bit.ly. Perhaps I’ll do a round up of URL shorteners sometime soon?

By the way, yes it’s a lower case b in bit.ly. Also, please keep in mind that the only difference between plain vanilla bit.ly and your own bit.ly pro domain is the domain name. The back-end functionality and features are exactly the same. Think of your own domain when using pro as a “mask” or “alias” that just sits in front of  standard bit.ly. Therefore, when I write bit.ly, it’s really just short for saying, “bit.ly and bit.ly pro.” For all practical purposes they’re the same thing.

Now for the tip, tricks and caveats:

(1) When you shorten URLs with bit.ly the stats on that URL are accessible to anyone, not just you. All you or anyone has to do is take the bit.ly URL and add a “+” (without the quotes) to the end. For example, if the shortened URL is http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt then to see the stats page you would use http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt+. When bit.ly sees the “+” at the end it will redirect that request to the analytics page for that URL instead of redirecting you on to the web page of the de-shorten URL.

The concern is your competition could monitor your shortening activity pretty closely. That is, provided they know about the “+” trick. Frankly, most people don’t seem to be aware of this feature. It is however an important “feature” to consider.

(2) You do not own your data, bit.ly does. You get a free service. They get to monetize your data. It’s a fair trade?

(3) Getting your analytics data out of bit.ly isn’t easy. You can not simply export all the links you’ve shortened (with the associated click data, etc.) and then crunch that data locally. This means you have to look up each URL individually. I agree, in some/many cases that might not be practical. Sometimes using the free version of a service isn’t ideal, but in this case it’s a start and it’s better than nothing. bit.ly does give you day by day click stats at the link level so if you have nothing now at least a broad view at 50,000 feet is better than guessing in the darkness. It’s just not easy to get aggregated data without visiting the stats page for each link you’ve shortened.

I would like to mention that bit.ly does offer an API for accessing their data. However, (at this time) I do not know of any service that lets you upload a list of URLs, uses the API to grab the data for those URLs, and then returns what’s been grabbed to you in a consumable format (e.g., .CSV file). Perhaps I should add such building such a service to my to do list?

(4) Since harvesting the analytics data is less than ideal I recommend you use two different bit.ly accounts. One account would be specifically for links back to your own site. The other account would be for links to other sites. This way, when you log into each account your apples won’t be mixed with your oranges. This won’t get you to ground level granularity but at least it’ll drop you down to 40,000 feet from 50,000. Again, not perfect but certainly better than the guessing game you’re playing now.

Technically, your Google Analytics will be tracking any traffic that comes to your site from your tagged and shortened links. Therefore, the bit.ly stats might not be necessary. None the less, I still prefer to use bit.ly to get a quick bird’s eye view of what’s been shared and what’s been clicked. Let’s face it, shortening is good internet manners too. Nobody wants to be faced wit a long winder URL. Therefore, if you’re going to tag, shorten and share links not to your own site, you might as well shorten the tagged links to your site as well. What’s nice is shortening will to the untrained naked eye mask the fact that you’ve become a connoisseur of link tagging. Perhaps this is something you don’t wish to telegraph to your competition?

(5) When you take a shortened URL and post it directly on Facebook, Facebook will automatically de-shorten it (i.e., make it long again). This means that the page request won’t pass through bit.ly since it’s not really a bit.ly URL anymore. In other words, you won’t capture any click stats in bit.ly for those shares.

Not to worry, there’s a workaround for this. It’s simple. Don’t do your page’s updates (with shared links in them) directly on Facebook. Instead, you can sidestep the de-shortening problem by posting updates via the API (e.g., using a service like Postling.com) or by using the update via email option FB provides to pages. (To find the send to email address for your brand’s FB page, log into your page as the admin and then look under the mobile tab.)

(6) There are a couple other minor points but I am honestly trying hard to keep this brief. If possible, I’ll fit these other tips & tricks in before the end of this series.

Conclusion: If 1, 2 and 3 are a major concern then I recommend you strongly consider hosting your own URL shortener. For example, as an “experimental” side project, AU implemented VT802.us using the open source URL shortening PHP script from YOURLS.org. The primary advantage of setting up your own YOURLS.org install is that you retain complete control. It’s your site, your data and only you will see the analytics. You’d also have direct access to the backend database for exporting and more extensive crunching of your data.

Frankly, if I knew about YOURLS.org when I was signing up for AU’s bit.ly pro I probably would have gone with a YOURLS.org based solution. In my defense (if you will), it wasn’t until after using bit.ly for a while did some of these it’s-free-but-it’s-not-quite-perfect caveats come to light. As they say, live and learn. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share these insights. Obviously, if you’re interested in a YOURLS.org based shortener then you’ve come to the right place. We can do that. Else, run with the free version of bit.ly and make the best of it. bit.ly is a viable solution and it’s free. YOURLS’ is great but there are set up and maintenance costs involved.

If your social media marketing budget is $15,000 – $20,000 or more a year than the benefits (read: ROI) of a private YOURLS.org base shortener is in all likelihood easily justified. (Note: The budget figure includes time and well as hard dollars. If you value your time at just $50 per hour that’s approximately $1,500 per month. I trust you can do the math.) After all, if you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing, yes? The internet and social media marketing is here to stay. The competition for people’s attention online is forever increasing. It’s going to take quality (and occasionally quantity) effort to rise above that fray. The analytics insights from a self-hosted shortener have the potential to be the difference between good and great.

Of course you could also market your public facing URL shortener as a branding tool. With some enhancing YOURL.org could be configured to disallow the stats of selected URLs from being exposed to the public.

So there you go. Imagine that…You share a link that goes to a site other than your own and you can tell how much engagement it pulled with your followers. If you tag that link—and we know you should—you’ll also be able to measure which platforms pulled best, which topics or end sites pulled best, or what day of week and/or time of day pulled best, and so on. It all depends on the parameters you use for tagging. Tagging and shortening adds time but it also adds significant value. On the other hand, not doing so tells you nothing. As they say, you can’t get something for nothing.

The tools are there. Now it’s up to you to use them. Please add your questions and comments below.

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea of link tagging (and Google URL Builder), why it matters to your website analytics, and how these tools are essential in the context of social media and measuring online marketing effectiveness. I also ended Part 1 suggesting the more curious check out these two Google resources:

Tool: Google URL Builder

Google Analytics Help: How do I tag my links?

Well, now the party is over. These two links are now required reading. No problem, I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s go…

In short, by setting the various URL tagging parameters “correctly” you’ll be able to better analyze the traffic your link sharing efforts pull in. While Google only specifies that three of the parameters are required, I typically suggest you try to take advantage of all five. It’s rarely a bad idea to do so. Setting more of the parms means more data details to analyze.

What’s open to interpretation here is “correctly.” Let me explain. In order to tag your links correctly you have to develop a game plan for how you want to analyze this traffic once it arrives to your site and the resulting data into Google Analytics. Not ever business has the exact same needs. This is why correct is subjective and as much art as it is science. For example, do you want your Campaign Source to be social_media or perhaps you want Campaign Source at the social network platform level (e.g., facebook, twitter, etc.). It all depends on your reporting needs and how you might what to aggregate or dis-aggregate your traffic as it relates back to Source.

I’d like to mention that Google Analytics has many powerful custom reporting features. In many cases, the only limit is your imagination and your time. However, these power-user capabilities often require an added level of expertise. So (for example) while in theory it’s possible to aggregate multiple Sources into one or two buckets the process for doing so isn’t always as transparent (read: easy) as you might like it to be.

Therefore, I recommend you spend a reasonable amount of time upfront thinking about your tags, as well as doing some exploring of Google Analytics and how it lets you manipulate, pivot and parse the data from your website’s traffic. The better your tagging strategy is structured upfront, the easier it will be to pull the information you need from your GA data.

Important: If you’re looking for quick & easy then you might want to stop reading now and resign yourself to being yet another member of the legion of wanna-be online marketers who still believe you can fake it to make it. On the other hand, if you want to do this correctly (or at least strive for a higher level of thoroughness) and you appreciate the ROI from making the investment then please continue reading.

Ironic, isn’t it? To understand your marketing ROI, you have to invest time & effort in using and understanding the tools for doing so. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

Aside from Source, below are some ideas on the other link tagging parameters available. While it’s certainly not rocket science, there’s plenty to keep you busy and thinking hard as you’re developing your social media/emarketing URL tagging strategy. Trust me, it’s worth it. If your current employer doesn’t appreciate the attention to detail, your next one certainly will.

Campaign Medium – You could go with social_media_update for all links posted to any social media page (in the event you share a link to your site but the share is not on your own page). But in all likelihood you’d want to differentiate between links posted on your brand’s pages/accounts and links posted elsewhere. The nature of the traffic certainly could be different.

There’s also the possibility—which I’ll cover in Part 3—of shared links that go to other sites, not just your own, and being able to track engagement with your followers at a link clicked level for those shares. Obviously, that traffic isn’t going to show up in your Analytics. None the less, I’d still recommend you use different a Campaign Medium (or some other tagging parameter for identifying shared links pointing to other sites).

Note: The set of values for Campaign Medium is probably going to be selected from a finite and fairly static list. The same applies to Source. That is, there’s always room for a new value as your business needs evolve but you shouldn’t be making new ones up on the fly every time. It’s best to think about how you have been posting updates and sharing links and then reverse engineer those experiences into your URL tagging process.

Campaign Name – In terms of required parameters this is the third and final required tagging parm. Typically, I envision Campaign Name as being some sort of code. For example, you sell clothing and have an annual Spring Sale in April. A few weeks prior you rev up your marketing engines and begin to seed awareness. Those status updates and shares would be coded for that particular marketing effort (read: campaign).

Once you assign a unique code also be sure to log it somewhere. You not only want to be consistent as you’re running various campaigns but you’ll also need to matrix the code to your analytics data later. Yes, it’s certainly possible to have multiple campaigns running at the same time.

On the other hand, an example at the other extreme of granularity are the social media updates pushed out from the Alchemy United website. In this case, each article is treated like a unique marketing campaign. As a result, along with the other parms, Google Analytics is able to show which article via which social media channel pulled best. On another site I work on, blog article author ID and article category are both added to this mix. As you can imagine the vectors for crunching the data across just those various parameters is both robust and insightful.

Campaign Term – Again, sticking with the clothing example. Perhaps you’d like to track incoming traffic by the nature of the post. For example, gender, type of clothing (e.g., pants, tops, shoes, etc.) or nature of the post (e.g., new arrivals, sale, clearance, fashion tip, etc.) On the other hand, I’ve also seen Campaign Term assigned the time of day (i.e., morning, afternoon, etc.) an update was posted. The idea being, most social media updates have a very brief shelf-life. The client felt that time of update might be valuable to track. The jury for time of day is still out. It all depends on the project, the audience and what the you/the client believes is going to help them answer most of their marketing analytics question better.

Campaign Content – Similar to Campaign Term this too is fairly open ended. In one case we assigned (an encoded version of) the customer’s ID from the client’s database and used that to tag links via a mail merge over a series of mail blasts. As that campaign (of emails) went on, we were able to glean an understanding at a very granular level.

Another example might be for Campaign Content to be the product ID of the product/service mentioned in the post/update. Perhaps promoting Widget Q on social media has zero engagement. Perhaps promoting Widget X as increases (or decreases) sales of Widgets Y and Z. Or maybe mentioning Widget X leads to more conversions (e.g., sign up for email list). The point of setting any of these parameters is to attempt to turn parameter value into Google Analytics data, and then that data into useful marketing and business information. If you’re flying blind at the moment then things can only get better, right?

Finally, while it would be nice to think otherwise, this series is by no means capable of being the be all and end all on the subject of link tagging. Hopefully it’s raising your awareness, increasing your curiosity and inspiring you to progress beyond the usual social media guru cliches. You’ve made it this far, so please spend some time (between now and the next article) doing some digging on your own.

Also, as I mentioned, take inventory of your current social media usage and other online marketing initiatives up until this point. Consider the URL Builder parameters, how those relate to who, what, where, when, why, how, etc., and then mash that up with your marketing efforts and the questions you’ve been needing to answer. With each twist, iteration and jotted note your tagging strategy will take form. Social media ROI happiness is just around the bend.

In Part 3 I’m going to discuss how using a URL shortener (e.g., bit.ly) is going to supplement your linking tagging efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social media and online marketing in general continue to be the blessing and the curse of marketers big and small. The change is constant and the noise ever increasing. New this. UI change that. It’s endless—and exciting. If Sisyphis has a modern day cousin it’s the 21st century marketing aficionado. Yet regardless of who, when or where there is one question that seems to remain constant: How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media marketing well as other online marketing efforts?

The answer is simple: Tag your links using Google’s URL Builder*.

Before we continue let me add some additional context that should help make embracing this extra step a no brainer. In the pre-social media days, link tagging (with URL Builder) was primarily intended to help measure the effectiveness of banners ads on third party sites, as well as for email blast tracking. For example, you might have placed a number of banners across a number of different “partner” sites. By properly tagging the links associated with those banners you could slice & dice your website analytics to see which banners drew the most clicks, longest visits, most conversions, etc.

Think about it. What are links shared via social media but banners ads without the banners? Right? Right! They’re across different sites. Check. Over time they are advancing different messages and pages/content. Check. People (hopefully) click on them. Check. And finally, you’d like to understand the nature of those visits. Check. Check. Check!

True, there’s a loss of context with social media. That is, in most cases you won’t know gross impressions for a given shared link (i.e., status update). None the less, at least you’re gaining an understanding of the effectiveness your social media efforts are generating. Are you getting 5 clicks or 500 per status update? Is that traffic leading to 1 conversion of 100? Which status updates are getting the most clicks? Chances are that (even without the context of impressions) answers to these questions are a lot more than you know now.

Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve of mine—and a major emarketing faux pas—when brands will highlight a particular product, service or article and then try to lead me to it with a simple, “Check our website” and a link to their home page. No! I will not check your website. If you want to read a particular section of a book would you just toss the book at me and say, “Find it”? Of course not.

Perhaps for you it’s a given. You are already particular about the URLs you share. If not, in 2012, it’s time to stop being that brand. The one that still thinks it’s okay to waste my time, as well as screw-up their own analytics. Because if you’re not measuring then you’re not really marketing.

If it helps, think of link tagging as a way to make your analytics more granular and more filterable, if you will. So instead of just gleaning, “We got 500 visits from Facebook” with link tagging you’ll be able to segment that 500 by the status update (i.e., link shared) and when done correctly, even the social media platform that update was shared on. Sounds good, yes?

Finally, this is the first part of a series of articles on the topic of URL Tagging and how to use it in the context of (mostly) social media. If you’re the type who likes to explore and wants to get ahead of the curve a bit then you might want to check out these two links:

Tool: URL Builder

How do I tag my links?

Else, just sit tight and wait for the next release in this series. I’m going to drill down deeper, as well as share a spreadsheet I use for making the link tagging process easier. Naturally, if you have questions and comments in the meantime you can leave a comment below.

*Note: This article presumes you’re using Google Analytics as your website’s analytics tool. That said, similar tools often have some sort of equivalent tagging methodology. These concepts should still apply. You just might have to implement in a slightly different manner.

How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success

We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.

First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,

And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.

Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.

Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?

Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?

Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…

Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.

The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway—as most entrepreneurs do—just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less  worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.

The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.

Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Advice-Strategy/As-first-time-entrepreneurs-what-part-of-the-process-are-people-often-completely-blind-to

Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?

Launched: VT802.us

Every now and then an idea/project comes along that’s too good to pass up. Maybe the appeal is its off-beat nature. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the potential for fun. Maybe it’s the chance to shine. Maybe it’s the bragging rights. Maybe it’s more productive than Big Bang Theory reruns on TV. Our homegrown VT802.us is all of the above and then some.

Background: Some months ago, in the process of purchasing some other domain names, I grabbed VT802.us. Call it pennies for a rainy day if you will. But at the time I had no idea how I might spend that cash cow. It just seemed like a good idea. Oh! Let me explain: VT is for Vermont and 802 is the telephone area code up there. Yes, they only have one area code. Make sense so far?

Long story short, I passed on the idea of a bit.ly Pro account. That was too mundane and too obvious. I waited. Then approximately six months ago I came across YOURLS.org. YOURLS is an open source project—thanks Ozh!—for doing your own URL shortener. Before you could say bazinga, a brand was born.

VT802.us – The World’s First Vermont-centic URL shortener.

Key Features & Innovations:

  • Submitted URLs that are already “shortened” will be unshortened and then reshortened with the VT802.us base domain name. This includes redirects. In other words, if a URL is a redirect to another URL, VT802.us will get to the end point and then shorten using the actual final destination URL.
  • Along with the to-be-shortened URL a short message for sharing to social networks can also be entered. Once the shortened URL is returned, the Guest has the option to share to any service supported by AddThis.com. Shorten once, share many. Neither bit.ly nor TinyURL offer this feature.
  • The AddThis code was heavily customized. In fact, in the process of trouble shooting a couple of bumps in the web development road even AddThis.com’s tech support admitted that the innovative configuring was an “unanticipated use” of their service.
  • Contact form (icon in upper right) is AJAX and jQuery. The main form and the contact form also use the jQuery Validation plugin.
  • Screen resolution is detected using Javascript in order to display the appropriately sized background image. Image dimension and quality helps them to load faster while not compromising the UX. (Note: Our photographer friends insisted we accept a bit of load time for a higher quality image.)
  • Images are selected randomly on each page load from a pool of files and meta data managed via the admin config.
  • The admin config has a number of fields for each image including: title, description, photographer and others.
  • Top message bar is done with the free version of HelloBar.
  • Banner ad is served with Google’s Doubleclick for Publishers. This feature enables us to analyze impressions, as well as allows advertisers to A/B test their banners. Pursuing advertisers is a Phase 3 pursuit. For now it was a matter of getting to play with Doubleclick again. That said, better to be ready sooner rather than later.
  • Logo and website design is also by Alchemy United. The markup uses HTML5 and is best viewed in Firefox or Chrome.
  • VT802.us also has its own Twitter account and Facebook Page. Please feel free to follow as well as Like. Thanks.
  • And yes, of course, Google Analytics too.

In short, VT802.us is a full-service end-to-end project, envisioned and realized by Alchemy United. As short and simple as it might appear to be this project still entailed quite a bit of attention to detail as well as thoroughness across a number of disciplines. Please let us know what you think about our “little” work in progress. Thanks.

Special Thanks:

I would personally like to thank Burlington, VT photographer/photojournalist Seth Butler (SethButler.com, @SethButler) for embracing the VT802.us vision.

Not only was he the first volunteer shooter to license a couple of images to the project but it was also his idea for the longer more detailed descriptions for the images. As a result, not only does VT802.us promote the visual side of the Green Mountain State but there’s a bit of education/insight as well. He also inspired AU to add the Image & Photographer information “page” (icons in the upper left).

Well done. Thanks Seth!

Relevant Links:

Maximizing The ROI From Your FB Fan Page

“70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook For Marketing” by John Paul Titlow (ReadWriteWeb.com, 8 March 2011). It’s safe to say I spend quite a bit of time online. Reading, looking, analyzing, working, searching, testing, conversing, evaluating, collaborating, etc. I am a champion of technology and innovation as a means to enabling David to take on Goliath. Or at least to let David be less of a dull boy in the sense of what all work and no play can do.

That said, I am also a believer in the fundamentals—both online and offline. My philosophy is that technology and innovation are tools. They are a means to an ends, not the ends itself. While occasional they can be panacea-esque game changers, the majority of the time using any given means is much more basic than that. Often it comes down to two things: finding the right tool and using that tool correctly to its full potential.

Based on my experience of interacting with brands on Facebook, I am willing to say that the title of John Paul’s article should instead be, “70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook for Messaging. 10% of Those Are Actually Marketing. The Other 90% Are Probably Wasting A Lot of Time.”

Coincidently,  a couple days ago I decided to check up on the FB Page of a local e-commerce company that I have had some discussions with over the last year or so. The initial meeting centered on technical changes they were making to their CDN and from there they were planning to ramp up their marketing. “We want to be in the Internet Retailer Top 100,” I was told by the owner of the company. A noble and impressive goal indeed.

The time had come to check on their progress.

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 1Sadly, this outfit is a text book example of the 90% who are not actually marketing. At the very least they are not using the tool to its full potential in spite of having a significant number of Fans (i.e., people who Like them), as well as (from what I recall) sizable revenue.

It’s time for a free AU makeover:

Recommendation #1—The Page’s profile image should always be the brand’s logo. That image, as small as it might be, is what catches people’s eye when Page status updates show up in a fan’s News feed. Marketing 101: The logo should be consistently associated with every message delivered by the brand.

On the other hand, if the primary image is always in flux then there is no easy and consistent way for a FB News feed skimmer—we skim updates in Facebook, and then we read, don’t we?—to pick out this brand from that stream.

Recommendation #2—Don’t assume that people are taking the time to visit your page. It’s better to assume most people are digesting their fire hose of updates via their News feed. That is, what FB plops in front of them once they login. When they spot something worth stopping for they do, else they just keep scrolling. Unless there’s a good reason for them to go to your actual Page chances are good they aren’t going to make that extra effort. It’s just not necessary.

Here is a representative sample of Status updates I pulled from the Page:

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 5Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 4Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 3Recommendation #3—Always provide a link back to the specific page/product being mentioned in the message. Since this company uses Google Analytics on their website they should also be using Google URL Builder to tag their links. I am of the belief that each URL that is pushed out is a “campaign” and should be treated as such.

As it stands now it is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of their Facebook Page as a sales/marketing tool. Analytics might show Facebook at the source but that’s too vague. By definition, no measuring means they are not marketing. At best they are merely messaging. (Note: In the not to distance future I am going to do an article on how I like to use Google URL Builder.)

Recommendation #4—Stop doing Status updates and instead post Photos. The caption to a photos doubles as status update. The benefits are two fold. First, when you post a photo to a Fan Page, Facebook also includes the Share link when that photo shows up in a fan’s News feed. Making it easy for people to Share your brand’s message forward to their friends is one of the most powerful tool of social media in an online marketer’s tool box. Second, this is where flyers and other special one-off images can be distributed (instead of using the page’s profile photo). For example, in the first Status update above, there should be a photo of the Everywhere Knit Pant.

Recommendation #5—Adopt the usage of a third party tool (e.g., Postling) so Status updates can be scheduled to be pushed out throughout the day. One and done isn’t ideal. It appears as if someone is doing an update first thing in their East Coast morning and then that’s it. It easy to imagine that a fairly high percentage of their fans probably aren’t even seeing their messages.

Also, depending on how they decide to use URL Builder, this company could make the hour scheduled one of the tag values. This would allow them to identify the most productive time(s) to post. Maybe lunch time and/or evenings maximize results? Maybe there’s a time of day that generates less clicks but more sales?

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 2

Recommendation #6—I would give serious consideration to reducing the number of times the exclamation point is used. I am a passionate and excitable person by nature and even I found the excessive usage to be tiring. Based on what I understand their target market to be I would add that exclaiming almost everything is probably inappropriate as well.

Recommendation #7—There’s got to be a more inspiring tag line than, “Happy Shopping!”

Recommendation #8—Also adopt the use Twitter. It certainly can’t hurt. Worst case it would add a minute or two per message being sent. Yes, those URLs should be tagged such that Twitter campaigns can be differentiated from FB campaigns. That extra step takes some time but it’s the different between truly marketing and merely messaging.

As you can see there is significant opportunity for improvement. The good news is, most of these recommendations can be done with minimal additional investments in time. That said, an outfit of this size and brand of this stature should probably have someone dedicated to being responsible for their social media marketing efforts. I’m not suggesting that this is worthy of a full-time position. At this point there’s probably not enough incremental sales to justify that amount of budget. On the other hand, I am suggesting that just winging it for a couple minutes a day is leaving quite a bit of sales on the table.

Happy Birthday Robin’s Nest Rhythm & Blues

Screen shot of RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.comCongratulations! Alchemy United client Robin’s Nest Rhythm And Blues recently celebrated their one year anniversary*. RNRB is a Linden, NJ based Blues club, or as they like to call themselves, a juke joint.

AU designed and built RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.com. We also developed their social media infrastructure and strategy.

Highlights of Phase 1

—All of the RNRB’s content, including home page slideshow, is maintained directly by RNRB via ExpressionEngine (EE). EE is a robust content management system (CMS) that some even consider to be a framework. The programming for RNRB makes considerable use of EE’s categories functionality. Categories enables the CMS to be programmed to deliver the right content at the right time. With EE the idea of a traditional page is replaced with “widgets” of content being pulled together on demand, assembled on the fly, and finally pushed down to the browser making the request.

—SEO-friendly design and architecture: Every page has a unique URL, page <title>, meta tags, etc. These too are defined by RNRB via ExpressionEngine.

—The website is not an island. Instead it serves as the hub in RNRB’s broader social media strategy.

—Notice how the colors and the box shapes are randomized on page refresh. A subtle but fun feature that also helps keep the site feeling fresh.

AU’s Contribution

—Project management.

—Analysis of business needs and defining of business requirements.

—Wireframes, as well as recommendations on UI and UX.

—Website design by Stephanie Bayard (StephanieBayard.com). Stephanie is a member of The AU Collective.

—HTML and CSS coding.

—Expression Engine architecture and development. Pages are defined through a collection of custom coded widgets. This modular approach makes the site easier to maintain and enhance as RNRB’s business needs evolve. For a complete list of EE’s features please click here.

—Selection and incorporation of jQuery plugins.

—Development of the RNRB social media infrastructure and strategy.

*AU recognizes and acknowledges that RNRB should have been added to the AU portfolio sooner, rather than later.

Dispelling Myths About Facebook Fan Pages

“Facebook Fan Pages: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for effective Community Development” by Dimitris Zotos (WebSEOAnalytics.com, 24 January 2011). A couple days ago this article popped up in an RSS feed. I read it, left a somewhat skeptical comment, and moved on.

However, over the last couple days I realized that wasn’t enough. In my quest to rid the world of misinformation and myth as generated by “social media gurus” I felt a more thorough response was in order. Please note, I’m not trying to discredit Dimitris as much help others not be misled. With that said, let me run right down his list:

7 DOs for Facebook Community Development

1. Focus on the Content – Upload images, videos, texts and other media types around your brand, focusing on the interests of the community you want to build.

Yes of course. Focus on keeping it relevant and don’t over do it. Yes Virginia, you can tweet too much. If you’re a smaller one-man/one-woman show don’t mix personal with business. For example, if you the person wants to tweet then have a separate account for that. Business feeds that chatter about the weather, lunch, etc. are annoying.

2. Encourage Discussions – Try to engage users by asking and answering on various updates. People are more likely to interact to a human tone of voice instead of a cold corporate talking. Tip: Use @ before a user name to mention specific users –like twitter).

Yes, but again don’t over do it. For example, Mashable uses the old ask a question trick with each and every update on Facebook. After a while that gets tired and in turn counterproductive. If your public wants to chat they’ll chat. But don’t judge success by the amount of small talk you inspire. If people are following you to satisfy certain information needs and you’re doing that, they very well might not have anything to say. They’re busy too, remember

3. Setup Contests and games – Be creative! Motivate people to participate and add entertainment value to their online experience.

Again, another overused cliche so be careful. If you elect to try this out make sure you stay true to your brand. Make sure the contest/game is relevant to your brand and the expectations of your community. People might not embrace your brand to be entertained.

4. Reward your fans – Why should I hit the “Like” button? Do you offer only information for your company and products? A way to attract more “Like” thumbs is to offer something special for your fans. (Vouchers, special offers etc).

I strongly disagree. A Like is ubiquitous and vague as it is. If you want to trade Likes for some special offer that’s fine. Just understand that that changes the meaning of Like. If you start to get disLikes will that mean they don’t like you? Or is it someone you baited to Like you and now they’re just returning to where they should have been in the first place? Don’t believe the hype, a Like is a pretty meaningless measurement.

5. Promote your Fan Page – Add your Fan Page’s link in your website, blog, e-mail signatures newsletters and printed media.

Yes, of course. But also be mindful that Facebook might not be around forever. For example, look at MySpace. A lot people invested quite a bit of time and energy in their MySpace presence. Once that bottom dropped out that investment was gone. You should have an overall web presence with a hub (i.e., your own freestanding website) and social media should be the spokes that feed that hub. Not the other way around.

6. Create Custom Tabs – Create custom tabs with compelling images or videos. This could be a presentation of your company, a contest announcement or even an application.

See point #1 about content. This might be a great idea, or it might be a waste of time. Add value, not novelty.

7. Be prepared to respond to negative reviews – These days people are more likely to express their negative reviews and comments straight to the brand. You should always be prepared to respond a negative review and you should not just try to hide it by deleting the post. This requires a specific policy and the right.

The better recommendation would be, “Be prepared to listen.” The new paradigm is about conversation. Naturally, there are going to be things you’re not going to want to hear. Should this happen then learn from that interaction. Chances are good that if the person was truly dissatisfied they wouldn’t have said anything to you/your brand at all. They have something to say so listen. In most cases you’ll be happy you heard from them.

7 Don’ts for Facebook Community Development

1. Don’t invite all of your friends – You should not invite all of your friends but only the ones you believe that are interested in the page. It is really annoying to receive notifications and invitations from things you are not interested in or even dislike.

Actually, not really. First, in the context of some of the Dos it sounds awkward. Baiting with a contest is okay but inviting friends is not? Aside from that, the beauty of FB, etc. is that the receiver is empowered to decide. In other words, invite them and let them Like you, or not. Or maybe they’ll Like you today and then unLike you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter since an invite is far more authentic than baiting.

2. Don’t leave the spam posts – Don’t let spam posts and links within Fan Page’s wall. This kind of moderation is not against freedom but it ensures that users will respect the community members.

Translation: Use a service like Posting (www.Postling.com) to help monitor and manage your Internet presence.

3. Don’t post from the same source – Don’t keep on posting only your website’s feed, even if you have a news media website.

Do what you feel most comfortable with and let your fans be the judge. Ultimately, quality and relevance is more important than source.

4. Don’t spam your users – Don’t send promotional notifications every day. It is not effective but annoying.

Agree 100%, finally.

5. Don’t forget the Privacy issues – Don’t upload images or videos and don’t tag users without a given permission. Privacy is a sensitive part that you must be extra careful.

Yes, it’s a fine line. But again, people can police when they have been tagged and detag themselves. If the photo is of questionable value (read: it’s risqué) then maybe your brand shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.If you’re not sure how your community might react just tag a couple photos and see what kind of feedback (or not) you get. And of course, if you do decide to be proactive expect an occasional complaint.

6. Don’t create fake accounts – Don’t create fake accounts to represent or support brands. Your target in a social media campaign is not to collect tons of fans or friends but to build relationships.

Should you have faux identities to post on your own page? No, of course not. On the other hand, be aware that when you are the admin of a page you can not interact with that page as your own identity. For example, if a small biz owner sets up a page for his/her business then that owner’s comments on the Page will always appear to be coming from the Page (not the person). If that person/brand promotes “personal service” then the expectation might be to see interaction coming directly from the owner. If that is the case then a second faux account should be used to set up the Page. Note: Faux accounts are a violation for the FB terms of service so be careful. Maybe your “newborn” or “great great grandmother” needs a page. Understand?

7. Don’t be so serious – For the community managers: Don’t take yourself so serious. People always enjoy a cool attitude.

Disagree! What you should be is brand appropriate. Humor is similar to politics and sports, in that it can be easily misinterpreted. The goal is to be authentic, and don’t confuse “business casual” with bogus attempts at being “cool”.  I certainly wouldn’t want my lawyer or my doctor to be focused on having a “cool attitude”. Would you?

Bottom line…Once you jump into the social networking and social media pool there are plenty of “experts” out there with snake oil to sell. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. But also be aware of the fact that there is plenty of noise as well, and don’t assume that just because you read it on the Internet that it’s true.

To Blog or Not To Blog

In the event that you haven’t been following my more granular work stream site Chief Alchemist (ChiefAlchemist.com), I’ll recap a bit. A couple months back I was commissioned by Trenton, NJ based Association Business Solutions (ABSNJ.com) to do a guest blogging series. The topic? Blogging. Yes, blogging on blogging.

Below is Part 5, the final chapter in the series. To read the prior four chapters just follow the linked titles back to the ABS blog.

Blog or Not To Blog: Part 5 (It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4)

Hard to imagine that you started down this road to blogging bliss less than two months ago, isn’t it? What once seemed to be an insurmountable unknown has evolved into a 2011 must-do. In the spirit of you have to start somewhere, just embrace your inner athlete and as Nike says, “Just do it!” But maybe you’re feeling just a bit under-inspired? If that’s the case then how about a quick recap?

Part 1: The Four Letter “B” Word?
The best place to start is at the start. What we learned here was that blogging isn’t as bad as many interpret it to be. In fact, blogging is just another fairly simple way to communicate.

Part 2: Self-Publish or Perish
Things picked up a bit on Part 2. I explained that as marketing evolves from being one directional to conversational a blog is the perfect way to embrace your public, and they you. Regardless of simplicity, for those organizations that want to reap the benefits, blogging is becoming the new business card. That is, it’s a necessity.

Part 3: Social networking friends with blog benefits
You asked for more benefits and you got ‘em. The content in a blog can be instrumental to improving your website’s SEO (search engine optimization). In short, Google’s bots and algorithms like blogs. A blog is also a great way to disseminate information by harnessing the power of social networks and the “share culture”.

Part 4: They say, “Everyone has at least one blog in them.”
And then in the previous chapter we resolved your final set of fears. “I don’t know what to write about,” and “I’m not that good of a writer,” and “I’m too busy,” were all resolved. Another answer was the soft sell – contact Karla or Paula at ABS and they’ll work with you to develop a solution to meet the needs of your business. Done deal!

Regardless of what your personal feeling are about the Internet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s here to stay. It’s certainly not going to go away just because you ignore it. Whether it’s blogging, using photos & video, tapping into social media or whatever other innovative trend or staple is ahead, your brand is going to have to participate in some way. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself, just chip away at it. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. And of course there are also resources such as myself to guide you along the way.

When it comes to business and marketing what I like to say is, The Internet. You can figure it out now, or you can figure it out later. But you will need to figure it out.

The Guest Defines The Experience (Not The Brand)

“Your Club Experience Is Your Marketing” by Denise Lee Yohn (ClubIndustry.com, 4 November 2010). This is yet another solid article that falls under, “it doesn’t just apply to gyms/clubs.” Much of Denise’s philosophy is similar to my own. That said, there are a handful of things I’d like to tight up a bit.

“That means the key to continued robust sales is less about attracting new members and more about retaining the ones you have.”

— Yes and no. First, the problem I typically have with the club industry’s view of retention is that it’s rarely seen as a marketing issue. That is, it’s rarely addressed that maybe you attracted the wrong customer in the first place. Some people are going to leave. Maybe it’s best that you let them go as quickly and as quietly as possible? Else, your brand could become the victim of online “bad mouthing”.

Second, there’s no reason to believe there aren’t new customers available. Sure, you might have to be more creative about attracting them and smarter about motivating them to buy, but they are there. If you ignore them now, that could come back to haunt you later. Don’t give up on attracting the new. You don’t want that muscle to go soft. (Pun intended.)

“Customers also are becoming more knowledgeable and discriminating. They’re swayed less by savvy salespeople and cool promotions, and their brand preferences are formed more by what they experience when they do business with your company. People also rely on the actual experiences of others…

In this environment, traditional sales and marketing tactics are becoming less important—and your club experience is emerging as your most powerful marketing tool.”

— The first bit is (obviously) very true. Stop whining and deal with. Someone said to me last week, “No one steals your clients. You lose them yourself when you don’t do your job to a level that matches their expectations.” True, very true.

As for the second bit, be wise and put heavy emphasis on “becoming less important”. That said, the traditional channels can still be effective. They are after all just channels. However, how you used them (read: the messages you send out) should be under review at any give moment. If you’re in set it & forget it mode then please don’t expect dynamic results. We no longer live in a set it & forget it world.

And finally, Denise’s list of action ideas is good but I believe she missed a key one. That is, speak/interact with your customers (and make a habit of it). Find out where they’re at. See how *they* define “experience”.

No matter how hard they might try, the brand is extremely biased and therefore should not make decision without consulting with The Guests. My point being, what the brand emphasizes as key to the “experience” might not be relevant to The Guests. A brand’s message(s) will only be as effective as those engagements actually connect to real Guest motivators. A point of differentiation is meaningless if The Guest doesn’t care about that point.

In short, look before you leap because The Guest defines the experience, not the brand. Assume otherwise at your own peril.

A Tweet Is Not A Like

“5 Winning Social Media Campaigns to Learn From” by Zachary Sniderman (Mashable.com, 14 September 2010). Full disclosure, this isn’t Clearing The Editors’ Hurdle as much as it’s Shameless Self-Promotion. But we don’t have a category for SSP. Maybe we should?

The point to be made here is not in the article itself. It’s more or less well…um… crap. None the less, if you have a moment, please read it so that that comments that follow will have the necessary context. I don’t remember exactly but I must have eaten my take no prisoners Wheaties that day. It’s the only way I can explain how I ended up ranting a bit. It happens but it’s not something I usually do, especially on Mashable.

That said, that’s not even what the bottom line is here. What is  interesting is that one of my comments got 5 Disqus Likes and the other 2.  In other words, I hit a chord with others. What’s even more interesting is the article itself had over 2,300 tweets and about 350 FB Likes/Shares. Ultimately, an opinion is subjective. On the other hand, when reading that article as an objective profession it still has a fair share of stink about it.

One has to wonder how many of those Twitter and Facebook people actual read the article. And then from there, how many actually bothered to think about it. My belief is, not many. Actually, all the tweets could very well have been similar to my “This is crap” but we can’t tell. Come to think of it, am I the only one who assumes that a tweet is synonymous with a FB Like? But it’s not, is it?

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

Just plain damn interesting. As found on TED.com. Watch, listen, ponder a bit and enjoy.

A trillion hours is a lot of hours, eh?