Three Time-Saving Reasons to Use Incognito (Private) Browsing

Jan 31st, 20131 Comment

Incognito private browsing If you’re concerned about Internet safety or privacy, you’ve probably tried incognito, private or “stealth” browsing. In incognito mode, once you close the browser, it doesn’t save your history, cookies or temporary Internet files, as browsers usually do. (Read Terence O’Brien’s post to see how to use this privacy feature in your favorite browser.)

There are at least three useful reasons to use incognito browsing – even if you’re the only one who uses your computer and you don’t have nosy family members or co-workers around.

1. You can easily switch to a different account when logging in to Twitter, email and other services.

For example, I tweet, check email and do other work on behalf of clients and Social Media Club Austin. Instead of having to log out of my own Twitter, Gmail or Constant Contact accounts to access theirs, I simply open an incognito window to get a brand new session.

Note: I love Chrome, and while it’s true that I could get this “new session” functionality by simply opening a Firefox or Explorer window, I’m more productive in Chrome, so I prefer to use its incognito mode.

2. You can test links to make sure they actually work before sending them to people.

Has anyone ever sent you a link that didn’t work properly? To prevent that, I often test links in a private browser before emailing or posting them to social media sites.

For example, I was using Eventbrite to promote a Social Media Club panel, and wanted panelists to see a preview before I published the event. But when I tested the preview link in an incognito window, it wouldn’t display (because apparently only the Eventbrite user can see previews).  Testing links like this prevents “oops, my bad” delays and rework.

Testing a link in an incognito private browsing session

3. You can check your website’s or blog post’s true search visibility.

I access my blog and website a lot. My browser knows this. As a result, when I search for some related topic, my own site often shows up highly in search rankings. But when I want a better idea of what the rest of the world sees when they search for those topics, I use an incognito window. It’s a sobering reality check.

private browsing gives you better visibility on your true search ranking

While incognito browsing comes in handy for security (consider using it whenever you use a public computer) and privacy (shopping for presents, planning a surprise, etc), private browsing is just as handy for everyday essential tasks.

Do you have other time-saving reasons to use incognito browsing?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Other posts you might like:

Social Media Jobs – Those Over 25 Need Not Apply?
Names Have Power
Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv Apply to Your Clients Too

Life Before Google, Courtesy of a 1997 Telephone Book

Jan 28th, 2013No Comments

While organizing and decluttering the house, I unearthed a bit of a relic – not Antiques Roadshow-worthy, but historically interesting from a high tech angle.

It’s a 1997 phone book from the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View and nearby Silicon Valley areas in Northern California. I lived there during part of the 80s and 90s.

Before heaving this brick of a book into the recycle bin, I thumbed through the listings looking for today’s Silicon Valley giants. What I found instead was a blast-from-the-past reminder of how much life has changed in the last 15 years, simply from an information retrieval point of view.

In other words, I remembered what life was like before Google and other search engines became essential to our daily lives.

Before Google, you perused an encyclopedia to find, say, the GNP of Canada or the capital of Vermont.  If you wrote a report for school, you hiked to the library and squinted at a card catalog or microfiche, and asked a sympathetic librarian for help.

Yellow pages exampleBefore Google, if you needed to find a plumber or a restaurant or the State Bar, you looked in the yellow pages. The phone book people (who are they, anyway?) began making a big phone book for your home and a smaller one, presumably for your car, so you could take it with you everywhere.

The phone book was a go-to source for tons of information, not just addresses and phone numbers. It had city, airport, campus and stadium maps, first aid tips, and a calendar of local events for the year.

Talklines in the Bay Area

Talklines were a "dial-a-topic" data dump.

 

For the truly inquisitive, the phone book listed Talklines, a kind of dial-on-demand information spiel for topics ranging from parenting to stain removal to auto repair. You just called and listened from the comfort of  your home.  (There were practically no mobile phones, and cordless phones were just getting popular.)

The most shocking part of this phone book was the listing of all known websites in the area.  Three whole pages were devoted to the URLs and email addresses of these early adopters of websites in the Silicon Valley. They were listed under “Internet – Web Sites” (right after Interior Decorating and before Investigators).

1997 listing of Internet websites in the Bay Area

1997 yellow pages listing of websites in the Bay Area

This was what life was like before Google, in the stretch of land that is now Google’s (and Facebook’s) headquarters.  Words like SEO, PageRank, keyword optimization, AdWords, link building and black hat tactics had yet to become part of our internet vocabulary.

We didn’t know it, but getting the information we needed was a very slow, very manual process. People relied on phone books like this ancient artifact, and books, newspapers and their friends and family to keep them up to date and get their questions answered.

Life was simpler, but not easier.

Do you remember life before Google?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

The Best Digital Marketing Podcasts (And Why)

Nov 25th, 20124 Comments

The best digital marketing podcasts are both entertaining and full of useful information. Listening to them makes your commute whiz by in a blur of productive learning. Each online marketing podcast below is informative and interesting, and produced on a regular schedule.  (Consistency in podcasting is a big challenge, as there are a number of good podcasts out there with spotty schedules).

As a bonus, each podcast has supplemental web-based resources you can dive into when the material covered deserves more than just a cursory listen.

Best digital marketing podcasts1. Marketing Over Coffee with Christopher Penn and John J. Wall (weekly, 20-30 minutes long)

I enjoy listening to these two because they’re both extremely knowledgeable and simpatico. Imagine Siskel and Ebert if they had liked each other. John Wall acts as host, everyman, color commentator and well-informed straight man to Christopher Penn’s nerd-in-the-know.  They discuss everything from analytics to SEO, email marketing, mobile, PPC, social media and copywriting.

What’s great: Wealth, breadth, and depth of information; supplemental LinkedIn group; helpful links on the website; video accompaniment when necessary for demos.

Heard often from Christopher:  How valuable Google Analytics is, often with quick demo examples.

Heard often from John:  How important mobile is; quirky, often-in-jest transition to sponsor promo; “I’ll throw the link on the website”.

Deserves an award for:  Best Digital Marketing Podcast, Best Social Media Podcast, Best Host and Co-Host Repartee, Best Podcast Titles

2. Social Pros by Jay Baer of Convince and Convert (weekly, 25-35 minutes long)

Jay Baer must have had a 2012 new year’s business resolution to create a successful podcast, and that, he did – with Eric Boggs of Argyle Social.  Their description of Social Pros: “We shine the spotlight on social media practitioners: real people doing real work in social media.” I see Social Pros as a collection of “slice of life” conversations with diverse, in-the-trenches people who are actually using the best practices presented in Marketing Over Coffee.  So the two podcasts are quite complementary.

What’s great:  Informational Q&A with a social media manager working in the real world. Also, Jay’s friendliness, quick wit and extensive industry knowledge make him a great host.

Heard often from Jay:  ”There needs to be a social media management solution in the midsize business space.”

Deserves an award for:  Fastest Ramp-Up of a Solid Social Media Podcast, Rookie of the Year Marketing Podcast, Best Real Marketing Pros Podcast

3. Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel of TwistImage (weekly, 30-60 minutes long)

Mitch Joel described himself in a recent podcast as having a “passion for and deep repugnance for” marketing – and this defines his approach. He asks tough, insightful questions of his guests, and takes them to task if necessary in his polite, Canadian way. (Side note:  his opening music reminds me of one of my favorite shows, Arrested Development.)

What’s great:  Consistent high quality over the years, longevity, staying power (332 episodes since 2006!)

Heard often from Mitch: “So… Who are you and what do you do?”

Deserves an award for:  Longest Running Successful Marketing Podcast, Best North American Marketing Podcast

4. Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch (bi-weekly, 20-30 minutes long)

John Jantsch interviews various authors and entrepreneurs, so you hear thought leadership not only on marketing-related topics, but on small business matters in general.  John, obviously a voracious reader, asks thoughtful questions from both the audience’s perspective, as well as from his own very informed perspective.

What’s great: John is very knowledgeable and asks tough, non-softball-type questions. On his website, he does the heavy lifting by summarizing the author’s main points; so if you’re pressed for time or need a review, just read John’s synopsis.

Heard often from John:  Mannish giggling.

Deserves an award for:  Best Small Business Marketing Podcast, Best Small Business Podcast

5. Marketing Update by Hubspot (format is changing)

This is a newbie to my repertoire, so I’m not as familiar with it, but Hubspot produces such fantastic content in general, that I have the highest hopes for this podcast.  Hubspot recently changed its podcast/videocast format from a live audience to a recorded version, which is much better for a wider audience. The current two hosts, Karen Rubin and Mike Volpe, work well together, and I am happy to finally hear a woman on a marketing podcast.

What’s great:  It’s a quick wrap-up of timely digital marketing highlights.  The website has a comprehensive, link-rich summary of each podcast.  The twitter hashtag is #MktgUp, but now that the videocast is no longer live, I’m not sure how active the hashtag will be.

Heard often:  ”The marketing takeaway is…”  Hubspot ends each news segment by summarizing the main marketing lesson, which is helpful.

Deserves an award for: Podcast with Enormous Potential, Best Web-based Summary of a Podcast

Those are my favorite, don’t-miss, top podcasts.  What would you add to this list?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Other posts you might find interesting:

Live Tweet Checklist – Best Practices for Conference and Event Planners
Social Media Jobs – Those Over 25 Need Not Apply?
Tina Fey’s rules of Improv Apply to Your Clients Too

For Facebook Business Page Admins: 5 Easy Image and Photo Posting Tips For Your Fan Page

Oct 31st, 20122 Comments

Good images and photos are key to engaging your fans on Facebook.  This is especially true for visually oriented businesses, such as restaurants and food, clothing and accessories, furniture, cars, retail in general, and almost any business-to-consumer products.

How do you optimize your image content on Facebook? First, check out this handy infographic by graphic designer Louise Myers. It’s a one-stop shop for all the Facebook image dimensions you’ll need.  Once you’re happy with your basic images – cover photo, profile pic, custom tabs – it’s time to improve, revamp and refine your regular photo-posting routine.

These 5 easy tips will make you a Facebook image-posting pro:

Facebook pinned post with image1. Pin important posts to the top of your timeline, and be sure to include a compelling image. Most Page admins know you can pin any status update to the top left of your Page, which is prime real estate for Page visitors.  A pinned post (you can have only one at a time) stays pinned for 7 days at the top left of your Page, and is typically used to showcase a contest, upcoming event, or welcome video or image.

I like how Tocquiny, an Austin ad agency, has a simple “We’re Hiring” message to communicate, but instead of a ho-hum text update, they created a simple image which attracts more attention and which also appears as the top photo in their custom tab section.

2a. Use the star to highlight important posts.  A highlighted post expands across the width of your timeline, taking up the space in both columns.  Highlighted posts are good for all-hands photos, new product announcements, panoramic shots, or any other majorly horizontal photo. It will display at 843px wide by whatever height it is, up to 403px. Killer image tip: Put each customer testimonial in its own 843px-wide image and “sprinkle” these testimonials throughout your timeline by using the post scheduler to either backdate or schedule them.

2b. Easiest tip ever:  Highlight your best photos in your photo collection.  You have a ton of photos lounging in your Photos tab.  Find your favorites or your fans’ favorites and click the star to quadruple their size.  For example, BerryAustin can choose to highlight its popular, artistic catering van.

Facebook image posts - highlighted photo

3. Promote your blog post on your Page by posting a larger image, not just a link and thumbnail. Facebook’s default way of displaying a link is to show the title, some text and a tiny thumbnail. Your awesome blog post deserves more real estate than that!  So take a couple of minutes to screenshot the top of your blog article and then post that image, along with a short intro and the all-important link to the article.

Caution: Remember that this image will show up in some of your fans’ newsfeeds, so don’t go overboard and make a really long screenshot image to clutter up their feeds. I try to make as close to a square image as I can. See tip #4.

Facebook photos - posting screenshot image of blog article post

4.  When creating/editing images or snapping photos, think square. Photos that appear on your timeline wall display as a 403px square image. If your image is a larger square, Facebook will typically shrink it to fit.

If your photo is the common 4:3 aspect ratio of the default iPhone/Android camera app, then Facebook usually displays the topmost part on the timeline wall – vertical photos appear as if the bottom is cropped out. The good news? Once a photo is posted on your timeline wall, you can reposition it. Also, users who click on the photo will see it in its entirety; and when the photo appears in your fans’ newsfeeds, it will also appear in its entirety.

Facebook image displays at 403 pixels wideHorizontal photos wider than 403 pixels will have the edges cut off. This emoticons image was 500px wide, so Facebook cropped off the edges to display it as 403px wide.  Now users who visit the Page will need to click through to get the left side of the emoticons.

Facebook images - use square photos to display best on your timeline wallOne easy way to think square for mobile photo uploads is to use Instagram for most of your smartphone photos. Another way is to use an app like Pic Stitch (iPhone) or Photo Grid (Android) to make your default camera photo square before you post it.

When you create an image from scratch – again, think square, especially if the image is wider than 403px.  Bazaarvoice used a square image to display this quote about CMOs being brand stewards.  Page visitors will get the message at a glance without getting confused or having to click through.

5. Spruce up your Facebook Page with a wider variety of images.  If you’re bored with the types of images you’ve been posting to your Page, consider something new:  adding text to your photos, combining or “collaging” several photos into one, newsjacking a meme, using “prefab” e-cards, or putting quotations on a background canvas.  For more details on how to do these, see 5 Easy Apps to Improve and Customize Your Images and Photos.

Question:  What’s one of your tried-and-true image posting apps or tips?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Promote Your High Tech Event in Austin – For Free

Jul 11th, 20121 Comment

The high tech scene in Austin is abuzz and swarming with meetups, happy hours, Startup Olympics and other fun, educational and networking events.  How do you break through the cacophony to reach tech-savvy pros and wanna-be geeks?

Corral a crowd with these tried-and-true tips, which are based on my experience promoting Social Media Club Austin panels and on great advice from fellow well-connected SMCAustin board members.  Note that some of these to-do’s are aspirational, as in “we fully intend to check off each of these items for every event, but seriously, there are only so many hours in a day”.

Let’s start at the very beginning

High-tech folks spend much of their lives online, so we focus the lion’s share of energy there.  Start by creating and publishing your event online, whether on your website, blog, Eventbrite or other event software such as Constant Contact’s.  Some fine tuning tips:

  • Craft a mini-description which you’ll use later for Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  If you keep this description < 500 characters, you can also use it for Austin360.
  • Also put together a 250-word description for Community Impact News, The Austinot and all other Hubvine particpating calendars (see below).
  • While you’re at it, compose a micro-description of less than 140 chars for Twitter and the Austinist.
  • Arm yourself with relevant hashtags and Twitter handles of presenters and sponsors.

Start your engines – the fun begins!

1. Cue your community of members, friends and followers

Begin with your own community, where you’ll get the best attendance – and the most word of mouth.

  1. Email – Got a house list of opt-in subscribers?  Congrats – email is one of the most effective vehicles to reach your audience, and you also get the benefits of metrics on the backend.
  2. Facebook – Post the direct link and description of your event on the wall of your Facebook group or fan page.  At-tag your presenters because they’ll often chime in and talk up your event.  If it’s an educational event, as ours are, drum up interest on your wall by soliciting questions ahead of time.  Side note: We avoid using the actual Facebook Events feature, because 1) Facebook changes its feature set so often (sometimes you can message members/fans, sometimes you can’t) and 2) you don’t have a lot of control of event virality and attendance (see 10 Facebook events gone wrong).
  3. TwitterAt-mention your presenters so they can retweet and promote to their own followers.  Use hashtags to reach an even wider audience. Our hashtag is #SMCA and we sometimes add #austin or #atx.  On other tweets, we’ve use subject matter hashtags, such as #npo for the nonprofits panel and #socialrecruiting for – you guessed it – the social recruiting panel.  Also at-tag and thank your sponsors in advance of the event, so that they too can promote the event.
  4. LinkedIn – We have our own LinkedIn group, so of course, we post there.  I also post the event as a personal status update on LinkedIn.
  5. Google+ – We post publicly, and again, call out presenters so they can add to the conversation.

Important:  Don’t post and ditch.  After promoting an event to your community, be ready to respond to any questions or other feedback.  I’ve set up Twitter mentions of @smcaustin to come to my phone so I can respond quickly, and Facebook, LinkedIn and G+ posts come to my email.  Timely responses increase engagement; and in the case of Facebook, your post’s Edgerank improves, which in turns further increases visibility of your post.  It’s a happy circle of engagement life.

2. Branch out to the Austin high-tech arena

  • While you’re in LinkedIn, consider posting to other active groups that might enjoy your topic, such as Austin High-Tech.  This group is actually the work of Matt Genovese, founder of Door64, a 25,000-member hub for Austin’s tech community.  Be sure to register on Door64, and post your event to his Tech Events Calendar.
  • Omar Gallaga writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman in his Digital Savant blog.  Every Thursday or Friday, he posts a “linkdown” of tech events and good reads.  Emailing Omar a week or two in advance is the best way to get event listed; add the word LINKDOWN to the subject line.  If you have a major tech event on your hands, contact him directly at ogallaga@statesman.com or 512-445-3672, and if it’s open to the public, also email the Life & Arts Best Bets folks at bestbets@statesman.com.
  • Silicon Hills News is a start-up tech and biotech news outlet focused on the San Antonio and Austin area. Contact Laura Lorek and/or post to her Tech Calendar.
  • Consider using Hubvine, an Austin-based creator of collaborative community calendars.  You sign up, create an event on your own calendar, then submit your event to others’ calendars. I submitted our latest panel to the calendars for Tech Ranch Austin, Austin Entrepreneur Network, AustinIsIt – City of Austin Emerging Technology Program, AustinStartup.com, Sharp Skirts and the Austinot.  (At the time I submitted, only AustinIsIt and The Austinot had any other events posted.)

Of course, there are tech meetups aplenty in Austin, from CocoaCoders to Austin Brogrammers.  If you’re an active member of one or more meetup groups, consider posting your event there as well.  Always check with the Organizer first, so you don’t run the risk of spamming the group.

3. Reach out to the Austin business scene and community at large

So many great outlets, so little time!  List your event on some of these community events calendars, and later have your registration people ask attendees where they heard about your event.

  • Austin Business Journal – Register then create your event (less than 600 characters), 14 days advance notice, $99 for business events but can be free for nonprofits.
  • Austin360 – Register then create your event (less than 500 characters). Categories we use are 1) Business and Tech – Networking and 2) Community – Talks and Lectures.
  • Austin Chronicle – Geared toward the Thursday print issue, and deadline is the Monday before the week prior to the Thursday (so 10+ days in advance). For events that repeat on a regular basis, submit a Community Listing.
  • The Austinot – A great blog about all things Austin.  We have a special place in our hearts for Austinot founder Eric Highland, a regular at our SMCAustin panels and a great live-tweeter.  Submit events to The Austinot by using Hubvine above.
  • Austinist – A news and culture website about Austin, published by Gothamist.
  • Community Impact Newspaper (Central Austin) – The central Austin version of this fast-growing, hyper-local newspaper.
  • News 8 Austin
  • KVUE-TV (ABC)
  • KEYE-TV (CBS)
  • KXAN-TV (NBC)
  • KTBC-TV Fox 7 News – No apparent calendar link, just a contact form.
  • KUT Radio - To have your event considered for on-air public service announcements, send a press release to psa@kut.org.
  • KLBJ-AM 590 News Radio – Submit events to newsroom@emmisaustin.com.
  • KGSR-FM 107.1 – Submit events to cedge@emmisaustin.com.
  • KOOP-FM 91.7 – Submit events to info@koop.org.

Any ideas on optimizing, automating or otherwise improving this?  Would love to hear your comments!

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Helpful links:

Social Media Event Marketing E-Book by cvent
UT’s Event Guide from the UT Office of Public Affairs
Pre-Event Publicity from the UT McCombs School of Business

Related posts:

Are Your Facebook Fans Even Seeing Your Posts?
Do’s and Don’ts of Community Manager Rock Stars
10 Ways to Integrate Your Email and Facebook Marketing

My Love Affair With Evernote

May 21st, 20121 Comment

Evernote, light of my life, is my new productivity BFF. I use it every day.

Why I love Evernote

How do I love Evernote? Let me count the ways.

Evernote is a Harry Potter-caliber notebook that can store almost anything and is accessible almost anywhere.

Specifically, it can store anything digital (text, active URL links, images, documents, emails, audio clips) and then synchronize across your various devices (PC, Mac, iPad, smartphone) and the web.  It’s everywhere you want to be.

Did I mention it’s free?

Keeping track of everything (or why their logo is an elephant)

How do you keep track of interesting articles you want to read later, killer slides that whiz by during a webinar, receipts from Amazon or the handyman, your to-do list, frequent flyer numbers, travel plans, party and event ideas?

What I used to do:

  • Cut out or print out articles and file the hard copies in a file drawer
  • Save tons of useful links in an email draft
  • Copy and paste screenshots and other images into photoshop, powerpoint or email draft

Often, I’d forget how I categorized or where I even saved these items.  And if I were lucky enough to remember, I was often away from the device or file cabinet that held my precious info.

Enter Evernote Evernote logo

Evernote drop-kicks these problems and makes me feel happy, organized, Earth-friendly, and most important, productive:

  • It’s super easy to add and arrange the crazy quilt of information that I want to keep.
  • I save paper and my workspace is less cluttered because I’ve stopped printing so much.
  • I’m now a regular bloodhound, finding what I want just by searching on keywords or tags.
  • I can access my stored information anywhere – on my workhorse desktop PC, and my on-the-go MacBook, iPad and smartphone, and on the web.

How I use Evernote

I spend a chunk of quality time with Evernote every day.  I use it for:

Webinars – I’m in constant learning mode and attend at least one webinar a week. Sometimes presenters give the audience the slides and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, I screenshot the slides and take notes in Evernote. This helps me feel awesome.

Blog posts – I keep an ongoing list of ideas in one note, and when I begin to flesh out a topic even a little, I create a new note and take off running.  My ideas sit there and germinate, mostly in different stages of completion.

Meeting prep and meeting notes – Before meetings, I make a note of questions and issues to discuss; and during or after the meeting, I write a short summary.

Projects – I like the little checkboxes in Evernote, and I keep project to-do lists, ideas and plans in Evernote.

Personal life –  I keep notes on my kids’ lives (see above), home improvement ideas, travel plans, gift ideas complete with links and images, etc.  (Also, if I had only met Evernote three years ago, it would have mitigated the information insanity of the college search/admissions process.)

Don’t leave home without these 3 Evernote tips

These tips have made my love affair with Evernote mature into a long-term, committed relationship (after only four months!):

Evernote web clipper – essential really. It allows you to clip web content from your browser directly into Evernote.  It’s installed automatically with Explorer and Safari, and an extension with Chrome and Firefox.

Your evernote email address – Yep, Evernote creates a unique email address for you, which is one of the easiest ways to add key information to your notebooks. Stuff I email to Evernote: New York Times articles I read on my iPad, key emails from my gmail account, and photos from my smartphone.  Michael Hyatt provides a good description of how to do this.

Flex your cut and paste muscles – Use your keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste text, images and windows. For example, on my PC, I use Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-V to paste, and Alt-PrintScreen to grab a window.  My new favorite browser extension is called Awesome Screenshot, which I sometimes use instead of the Clipper when I just want to add a partial screenshot to an existing note.

Who else uses Evernote?

At least 10 million others.  I kept hearing about Evernote from productivity powerhouses like:

Michael Hyatt, in particular, has a veritable collection of useful Evernote posts.  Another great resource is Brett Kelly’s e-book, Evernote Essentials.  I’m still working my way through it, and expect to fall more deeply in love with Evernote as I uncover its other charms.

It’s been helpful to see how others use Evernote.  Please share – How do you use Evernote?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Other blog posts you might be interested in:

3 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Social Media and Productivity Tools for Local Businesses
Storify: Collect Social Media Sound Bites Into a Coherent Story

 

Should You Create an Award System for Your Industry?

Feb 29th, 20122 Comments

The Academy Awards rolled out the red carpet for Oscar hopefuls a few days ago.  Car and Driver’s 10Best Cars debuted in December. Newsweek’s college rankings were published a few months ago.

3 trophiesAnd River Pools and Spas announced its Small Inground Fiberglass Pool Design Awards in 2010.

River Pools and Spas owner Marcus Sheridan created his own award system for the swimming pool industry, and spoke about this during his blogging webinar as part of Social Media Examiner‘s Small Business Success Summit.

The idea germinated when he noticed how people enjoy “top 10″, “best of” and “worst of” lists.  He then decided to use that approach with fiberglass pool manufacturers, including both his suppliers and their competitors.

I am the Chevrolet dealer who was giving out awards to Ford… people were shocked.

Marcus created different categories – Best Small Kidney-Shaped Fiberglass Pool, Best Small Pool and Spa Combo, Best Flat Bottom Pool, etc – and saluted the winners, even if they were his competitors, in his blog post.  To date, this post has about 7,000 views and 54 inbound links, so the resulting website traffic and SEO benefits are exceptional.

The content of his post was relatively brief and included links to the winning models and a short explanation of why each each was excellent.

My competitors, other big manufacturers, were wondering “what is this guy doing? He gave us an award and he is selling a different product. What do we do?”

Soon after, people from all over the industry were linking to his website and discussing the awards.  He was even mentioned on the front page of many of his competitors’ websites.   And because Marcus had “spread the wealth” and been genuine and objective, awarding winners whether or not they were competitors, it elevated him as a thought leader in his industry.

One of the side benefits to it – I became a trust agent in the industry.

In a later blog post, Marcus wrote “You may be asking yourself ‘What gives me the right to give out awards to vendors/manufacturers in my industry?’ The answer is simple – You have an opinion. And you’re an expert in your field. So share it.”

Triumphant businessman holding trophyDoes an award system make sense for you?

Does your industry give out awards?  If not, consider creating your own.  Assuming you are truly plugged in to your industry, that is, you interact with the players (competitors, suppliers, partners) and they know who you are, here is how to start an awards system:

  1. Look at your vendor(s) and their competitors. Find something wonderful about most or all of them. Marcus said “Look for the goodness and reward them for it.”
  2. Write a blog post about it.  Marcus has three examples here, here and here.
  3. Promote it as you would another blog post.

Questions

Q: What if there are lots of vendors?

A: You can award some now and some later.  Also, if you honestly, legitimately believe that someone doesn’t make the cut, don’t include them. Perhaps they will strive harder to improve.  Marcus said “If they are not in that list, they are not going to hate you for it, they are going to want to be on it more so.”

Q: How do you announce the awards?

A: Marcus made no announcement.  He just published his post and “let the social media machine do its magic”.  But unless you have the huge, targeted audience Marcus has, I recommend promoting the awards announcement through your normal channels, including  Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and your email list.  Use relevant hashtags and be sure to @tag award winners in your tweets, especially if they are your competitors.

Q: Do you ever give a Rotten Tomatoes type of award?

A: You need to be willing to address both the good and the bad if necessary or you will lose credibility. Marcus once wrote a blog post about the most egregious fiberglass pool warranty he had ever seen. You don’t have to mention names, but he recommends calling people out in terms of behavior. Occasionally, it is important to mention brands.  What’s key is to “go for the greater good”; only then will you be a thought leader for your industry.

Marcus has parlayed his experience of selling and marketing  his swimming pool company into a full-time web coaching businesses as The Sales Lion.  Learn more about not only Marcus’ award-giving experience, but also about his other ideas on how great blog content can catapult your brand and business.

Question: Do you know of other examples of award systems that small businesses have used?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Other blog posts you might be interested in:

3 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From The Daily Show With John Stewart
Storify: Collect Social Media Sound Bites Into a Coherent Story
Why Customers Feel Safer When Your Business is on Social Media

3 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Feb 27th, 20127 Comments

Remember The Daily Show before Jon Stewart joined it in 1999? It was entertaining, sure, but it didn’t have the political and news-driven humor it has today. In its early days, it felt like a disjointed local news show, punctuated by a celebrity interview and a couple of human interest stories (Bigfoot sighter, Donny Osmond-as-alien believer, for example).

Jon Stewart from 1999-2011

Jon Stewart from 1999-2011. Photo from www.centives.net

Fast-forward to today: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has won 16 Emmy Awards and it’s currently the longest running program on Comedy Central, averaging more than 2 million viewers per night.  It’s even won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2001 and 2005 for its presidential campaign coverage in “Indecision 2000″ and “Indecision 2004″.

Does Jon Stewart just have the Midas Touch for comedic gold?

No doubt Stewart is immensely talented, but the show’s success is due to several factors. Three lessons small business owners can learn from The Daily Show’s journey:

1) Find your focus.

When the show first launched in 1996 with Craig Kilborn, there was constant internal debate about what the show’s focus should be (news satire vs lighter fare).  Stewart took over in 1999, and soon after, two key contributors from The Onion came on board as writers.  It was then that the show began to develop its voice, lampooning the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of national and international politics and the news media that covers them.

Small businesses too need a vision and a mission.  As a new business launches, this vision may not always be clear; the goal is sometimes just to earn enough income to stay alive. Once you’ve been in business for a few years, however, take small business expert John Jantsch‘s advice to find your focus:

  1. Put all your clients in a spreadsheet and identify your most profitable clients.
  2. From this profitable group, identify your ideal clients – those who are profitable and actively referring business to you.
  3. Find the commonalities among these ideal clients.  (Maybe there are a couple of segments.) You should focus your energy there.

Read more about the importance of referral business and word-of-mouth marketing in Jantsch’s book “The Referral Engine” and Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing.

2) Infuse with quality content, repeatedly and regularly.

With Stewart as host, the show’s content became more issues and news driven. The Indecision 2000 coverage, for example, was a watershed series of episodes that focused on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and won the show its first Peabody.

Small businesses that regularly provide informative, non-salesy content reap the cost-saving benefits of “inbound marketing“, where prospects are attracted to you, rather than the more expensive “megaphone marketing” based on traditional advertising & PR, direct mail and cold calls. Your fresh, high-quality content helps others find you when they search online, and assures them of your competency and legitimacy.  If people are just researching and not ready to buy, your ongoing content delivery keeps you top of mind.

For more information on this content marketing approach, read Content Rules by Ann Handley, CC Chapman and David Meerman Scott and Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.

3) Recruit and build relationships with experts.

I was shocked when former Senator Bob Dole appeared on The Daily Show first in 1999 and 2000, and wondered how a comedy show could snare such a prominent politician as a guest.  Dole’s appearance lent credibility to the show, while the show provided Dole with a platform to show his (surprising) sense of humor and warmth to a new demographic.

Bob Dole appears on Jon Stewart in 2000

Bob Dole appears on Jon Stewart in 2000

After Dole, other politicians followed, then journalists such as Wolf Blitzer, Peter Jennings and Sam Donaldson in 2000-01. Over the years, prominent guests have included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and other heads of state.

Not to be outdone, small businesses typically have luminaries or experts in their industry.  A fashion boutique knows who the famous designers are, a flooring company knows builders and architects, a real estate agent knows lenders, appraisers and stagers, etc.  Many industries in general have thought leaders who have written how-to or authoritative books.

Small business owners should reach out to these experts and cultivate a win-win relationship with them. Trusted experts can enhance your credibility with existing customers and get you noticed by a slew of new prospects.  The benefits you provide the expert might include increased exposure to a new audience and promotion of their latest book or project.  The key is to anticipate what the expert needs/wants and find a way to make that happen.

This was the approach taken by Mike Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, who grew his company to $1 million during its first year.  Read more about his strategy of providing great content and recruiting outside experts in his book Launch.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart consistently delivers quality content and continues to enjoy high ratings.  The foundation of its success can also be traced to its focus and to its people – not only Jon Stewart, but the show’s entire team, and the guests the show can attract because of its success.

Question: Have you ever tried the give-before-you-get approach with an outside expert?

Suzanne
@suzanne_doughty

Other blog posts you might be interested in:

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv Apply to Your Clients Too
Why We’ll Always Ask Social Media Strategists About Tools – Because of Game Changers Like Vera Wang
Dear United, I Don’t Care About the Color of the Plane

Great Customer Service – Alive and Well and Local

Aug 20th, 20112 Comments

It happened within the last 3 days – 3 examples of great customer service. My youngest daughter was the witness and beneficiary of it, and I hope she’ll remember the lesson when she enters the professional world (assuming there will be such jobs by the time she graduates)!

You’ve already heard great stories about Nordstrom‘s customer service.  Here’s another one to add to the heap, as well as a couple of feel-good anecdotes featuring Treaty Oak Bank and Black Forest Werkshop, two Austin companies that treat their customers like good friends.

Nordstrom Twitter shield logoNordstrom and Back-to-School Shopping

Trying to be a good, let-them-figure-it-out kind of parent, I gave the girls a back-to-school clothing budget and set them free. One thing Michelle bought was a couple of pairs of tights from Nordstrom at Barton Creek Mall.  Then she promptly lost the tights. And couldn’t find them for a couple of days.

Yes, our house is currently cluttered with back-to-college living/studying/clothing paraphernalia, but those tights were nowhere to be found.  Michelle finally called Nordstrom on the off-chance that she somehow left them at the register.  The salesperson replied no, but that if Michelle couldn’t find them, she could come in and get a free replacement.

Michelle was wide-eyed with disbelief and happiness when she told me this.  I later told my whole exercise class and Michelle told her friends.  She’s also surprisingly more determined than ever to find the tights.  Nordstrom may end up eventually losing $15 worth of inventory, but they’ve already gained positive word-of-mouth and more loyal advocates.  Talk about a good business decision.

Treaty Oak Bank - Small Courtesies, Great Responsiveness

Happy Birthday card from Treaty Oak BankA “Happy Birthday” card arrived in the mail for Michelle from our community bank this week.  To be sure, Treaty Oak is not the only company who extends such courtesies, but they somehow have done so consistently for years and for each member of our family.  As a result, my business partner and I decided to open our business account there, and have enjoyed responsive service at every turn.

Black Forest Werkshop – Taking Time to Care and Advise

I saved the most terrifying and dramatic for last:  Michelle was in a car accident Wednesday evening.  Thankfully, neither driver was hurt.  Our car, however, might end up being totaled.

Totalled carBecause of our past relationship with Black Forest Werkshop, we had the car towed directly there that night and called them the next day.  The owner, Lee Rector, first asked if everyone was ok, and then expressed genuine dismay about the car.  He called it a “well cared-for” car and recommended that when the insurance adjusters come knocking with their offer, we need to tell them how much money we’ve spent over the last two years maintaining our now-dead car.

He also brought to our attention the car’s “diminished value” if we do repair it (a fully repaired car that has had extensive work done due to a collision has a lower resale value), a real and valid concept that insurance adjusters normally don’t bring up.

Word of Mouth Marketing

These good customer service experiences remind me of Andy Sernovitz’s Social Media Summit session on Word of Mouth Marketing.  I’ll be telling friends about them, I’ll probably write a Yelp or Google Places review, and, well, I wrote this post.

Suzanne Doughty
@suzanne_doughty

Other blog posts you might like:

Highlights of the Social Media Success Summit
Austin Chamber Panel Discusses Building Your Online Presence

Team-Building by Improv

Dear United, I Don’t Care About the Color of the Plane
Seizing the Moment with Real-Time Marketing

Austin Chamber: Monkee-Boy, Google and Cedar Sage Marketing Discuss Building your Online Presence

Jun 9th, 20112 Comments
Austin Chamber presents "How to Market Your Business Online"

Panelists for "How to Market Your Business Online"

The Austin Chamber of Commerce Northwest Business Council luncheon featured presentations and a panel discussion on how to market your business online. Presenters were:

Some of my high-level, don’t-get-caught-in-the-details takeaways follow.

From Joe at Monkee-Boy:

  • You can build a world-class online presence for a fraction of the cost it would have required 5 years ago.  When thinking about your online presence, consider your website, social media, mobile web, localized marketing, SaaS (Software as a Service), crowd-sourced design, open-source technology; as well as SEO, PPC and email marketing.
  • Understanding your brand is the most effective way to build a successful web presence.  To understand your brand, you must first know your company, your customers and your competition.
  • Then tackle aesthetics and messaging, how to drive traffic to your site and build awareness, which technology to implement, and how to acquire new customers and keep existing ones.
  • Other benefits to understanding your brand:  it saves you money by keeping you focused as you grow, it establishes your company culture and it helps increase sales.

See Monkee-Boy’s slide deck on Slideshare.

From Whitney at Google:

  • 1 in 5 searches online is local, and Google Places (which is free) helps those users find your business.
  • It’s a one-stop online listing to find everything you want to know about a local business (address, hours, photos/videos, description, contact info).  Here’s an example, from Maggiano’s, our luncheon host.
  • Google Places also includes a local recommendation engine that is powered by others.  People use Google Places both to review local businesses and to receive customized, personalized recommendations from their friends.
  • The more reviews you have, the more exposure you have.  Businesses can/should encourage people to write reviews, but don’t incentivize them monetarily.  Also, Google will not remove negative reviews.  They do, however, provide an “owner response box”, and typically, users see mostly reviews by their friends. [Also, see Google Places Catalog.
  • [News to me:] Google Places has a “G-Feet team” that will come to you and help you get set up. Contact whitneyfr@google.com.

See Mashable’s article on Google Places for more info.

From Rhonda here at Cedar Sage:

Rhonda’s presentation was Email Marketing and Social Media 101, but she only had time to address the email marketing portion in the time remaining.  Key takeaways:

  • Nearly 2/3 of all businesses expect to increase their use of email marketing, and small businesses are the most likely of all.
  • Benefits of email marketing: 1) inexpensive way to build relationships with clients and prospects, 2) positions you as an expert, and as likable and trustworthy, 3) keeps your customers “in the know”.
  • Email Marketing Do’s:  provide relevant content, segment your lists, have a recognizable “from” line, have an enticing but true “subject” line, use clickable links for tracking and to gauge interest, and finally, analyze your data and make adjustments for future mailings.
  • Email Marketing Don’ts:  Don’t email without permission, don’t include the “kitchen sink”, and don’t skip the email service provider!
  • Not using a reputable email service provider can sometimes land your emails in recipients’ spam folders and can potentially cause internet service providers to mark  your email address as a spammer.

Our complete presentation with both email marketing and social media slides can be found on Slideshare.

Lots of great Q&A followed.  One of the first questions had to do with having a website and could a business just rely on its Facebook business page instead?   The panel agreed that you should have both.  Reason:  Because You, versus Facebook, own your website, while Facebook offers access to and potential engagement with many, many people.   Another question had to do with QR codes.  For basic info on QR codes, see our QR codes blog post.

Maggiano’s was great!  Many thanks to them, the presenters, the attendees, our MC, Lynne Henderlong-Rhea of Mombo Creative, and of course, the Austin Chamber.  Feel free to add comments (even if you weren’t there)!

-Suzanne Doughty
@suzanne_doughty

Other blog posts you might be interested in:

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv Apply to Your Clients Too
QR Codes 101 – What They Are and Why to Use Them
Why to Sign Up for Twitter Even if You Hate It
3 Must Dos when setting up a Facebook Business Page
They Fly Through the Air: Austin Businesses Using Constant Contact Email Marketing

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