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?


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 or 512-445-3672, and if it’s open to the public, also email the Life & Arts Best Bets folks at
  • 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,, 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
  • 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
  • KLBJ-AM 590 News Radio – Submit events to
  • KGSR-FM 107.1 – Submit events to
  • KOOP-FM 91.7 – Submit events to

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


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

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

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

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

Why We’ll Always Ask Social Media Strategists About Tools – Because of Game Changers Like Vera Wang

Jun 6th, 20116 Comments

Quick, what comes first – strategy, tactics or tools? Businesspeople worth their salt will say that strategy comes first, followed by tactics, and then finally, tools.

Jay Baer's Social Media Metrics Sequence

Jay Baer's Social Media Metrics Sequence – see

In Jay Baer’s June 2 blog post about social media metrics, he illustrates this handily with an inverted pyramid, cautioning that if you’re tempted to first choose social media measurement tools, you should instead bring yourself up, Inception style, to think about your business goals and objectives first.

Further, Jay said that you shouldn’t get so myopically enamored with any one tool or metric that you lose sight of achieving business success in general.

One such example of how measurement drove the wrong behavior was apparent when I worked for Hewlett-Packard a million years ago and rotated once a week into its Sales Response Center. Our job there was to answer sales reps’ questions so they could more quickly issue quotes and close deals. But we were measured on our response time, not on the quality of our answers.  The result?  Reps got quick answers, but not necessarily correct ones.*

So back to Jay.  He emphasized that you have to know WHAT you are trying to measure first, and then investigate the available tools for HOW best to perform that measurement.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes you need to look at the tools first to even know what’s possible to measure. Sometimes new tools and new technologies open a realm of possibilities that you had no idea were even in play.  And when you do uncover those game-changing – at least for you – tools or metrics, you’d be wise to revamp one or two of your social media goals, objectives or tactics.  I’ll call this – bear with me now – the Vera Wang shift. (Pun intended.)

The Vera Wang Shift

Know anyone who got married before the mid 1990s?  If you do, chances are the bride wore a frilly “cake topper” gown like these below.  And when looking for a dress, she asked questions about the fullness of the skirt, the puffiness of the sleeves, the amount of lace, the neckline, and other (limited) basics of traditional bridal gowns.

Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride, 1950

Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride, 1950

Elizabeth McGovern in She's Having a Baby, 1988

Eliz McGovern in She's Having a Baby, 1988

Prince Charles & Princess Diana, 1981

Prince Charles & Princess Diana, 1981

Then came Vera Wang.  Engaged at age 39, she was frustrated with the lack of sophisticated, elegant bridalwear.  So she created her own dress, and then soon after, her own line of wedding dresses.  Her more streamlined, sleek look has been widely adopted in the bridal industry, but more importantly, her approach has been combined in countless ways with more traditional looks, so a much wider variety of options is now available.

Anne Hathaway & Kate Hudson in Bride Wars, 2009

Hathaway and Hudson in Bride Wars, 2009

Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, 1999

Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, 1999

Kate Middleton & Prince William, 2011

Kate Middleton and Prince William, 2011

Women who got married pre-Vera Wang now wistfully think “you mean I could have worn something like that?”  The point is – before Vera Wang, women didn’t even know other possibilities existed or that their choices were limited.  But post-Vera Wang brides have a different vision, more options, higher expectations and different questions. Vera Wang was a game changer.

So the question is, can a tool be a Vera Wang-class game changer? Specifically, can a social media measurement tool change your social media strategy?

People tasked with setting and/or implementing social media strategy for their company are afraid they’re missing some game-changing tool that could:

  • Save their company time and money, or just save them from having to work on weekends
  • Allow their company to innovate along some thread
  • Act as a disruptive technology (perish the thought!)

This is why people will always be tugging at the sleeves of social media strategists like Jay Baer and asking questions about tactics and tools.

Question:  Has any tool been a game changer for you or your company – so much so that it changed your strategy?

Suzanne Doughty

* As the resident Do the Right Thing aka Miss Goody Two Shoes, I felt compelled to give correct answers to sales reps, even if it blew my stats, which it did.

Other blog posts that might be of interest:

QR Codes 101 – What They Are and Why to Use Them

Apr 13th, 20116 Comments

You’ve probably seen these odd-looking squares on movie posters, magazine ads, direct mail ads, even business cards. They’re called QR codes.

What is a QR code?

A QR or Quick Response code is a two-dimensional barcode that can store more information than a standard barcode. So, for example, a QR code can store – drum roll – a web page (URL).

How to Care for Your OrchidFor example, this QR code came with an orchid I bought. When I scan the code with my smartphone, a video on “How to Care for your Orchid” pops up on my mobile. No more dead orchids for me!

How to scan a QR code

Depending on your phone, you might have to download a QR reader app to scan these codes.  (Newer phones come with QR reader apps already installed.)  To find a reader app for your phone, google “QR reader” and the model of your phone. For my iPhone 3Gs, I tried a few readers, including i-nigma, Qrafter and TapReader.  These all work just fine.  TapReader has been my go-to app for several months and it’s very easy to use, but I now prefer Qrafter because of its history and email features.  (The Qrafter ads get a little annoying, so it might be worth shelling out the $3 to get rid of them.)

Now you simply use the app to scan QR codes wherever you see them – on a receipt, on the side of a bus, on a poster, etc. It’s that easy!

QR code on grocery store receipt

Fun fact:  Notice the three square patterns on three corners of each QR code – these are the distinguishing marks of QR codes and are used for orientation.  They allow you to hold your phone sideways or upside down and your reader can still capture and interpret the information.

How to create a QR code

One very simple way to create a QR code is to use the free bitly URL shortener. In fact, any time you use bitly, it automatically creates a QR code for you.  This has been a bitly feature since October 2010, so you might already have QR codes lounging around in your bitly account that you aren’t even aware of.  To see your (or any) bitly QR code, just click on your bitly link’s InfoPage+ or append “.qrcode” to the link.

Example:  To simplify email list signup for one of our clients, we used bitly to create a QR code for her Join Our Mailing List webpage from Constant Contact.  Here’s how:

Using bitly to create a QR code for email newsletter signup

Step 1: Go to We recommend signing up for a free account so you can keep track of your bitly links. Find the (long) Join Our Mailing List link, which is automatically generated within a Constant Contact account to put on websites, Facebook fan pages, e-newsletters, etc.

Using bitly to generate a QR code for email newsletter signup
Step 2: After you plop the long link in the blue area, bitly automatically generates a shorter URL as well as a QR code. By clicking on “Info Page+” above, you can see both the QR code and the click-through analytics of your shortened link, as shown below.


When we click on the "Info Page+" in the second image, we see our analytics and our QR code.

Now back to our client, Cosmetology Educators of Texas.  When students are in one of their classrooms, they can automatically join Cedtx’s mailing list from their smartphones, instead of handwriting their information on a signup sheet.  This reduces errors and saves time because Cedtx staff no longer has to manually input this data.  To encourage this process, we made them a simple handout to explain QR codes to students.

Another popular free QR code generator is We use this one when we need larger QR codes for storefront windows, for example. Kaywa also offers a paid fuller-featured version for heavier commercial use.  More and more companies are jumping on the QR code bandwagon and offering features and services to help organizations take advantage of this promising technology.

Branded QR code for Cedar Sage Marketing's website at www.cedarsage.comBranding your QR code

QR codes have some built-in error detection, so you can even add a logo to them.  Another client, Berry Austin Yogurt, wanted to publicize and encourage Yelp reviews, so we used Photoshop to create this for her storefront window.  QR code for Berry Austin Balcones Yelp page

For her point-of-sale area and interior, we created signup cards that had two QR codes, one for her coupon e-newsletter and one for her Facebook business fan page.

Note:  It’s good practice to test your branded QR code on a variety of reader apps before you send it off to the printer.

Yes, the landing page really should be mobile, but…

Ideally, a QR code should link to a landing page that is designed to display on a mobile device. Some of the QR codes I’ve seen actually are, but many are not.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!  QR codes are still relatively new in the U.S. and are gaining in popularity.  Even if your desired URL is not mobile-enabled, we recommend using a QR code to promote your offerings if you think your customers would benefit.

QR codes marketing brainstorm

There are so many potential uses of QR codes.  Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Professional service providers could encourage follow-up communication by placing their website or LinkedIn QR codes on their business cards.
  • Professionals who produce written reports or “leave-behinds” could link to a Slideshare or video presentation for more details.
  • Retail stores could encourage Yelp reviews by placing a QR code on receipts or in their store.
  • Restaurants/eateries could put nutritional information or video testimonials in their QR codes.
  • Companies that sell bigger ticket products or services can use QR codes to “close the information gap” by providing detailed specs or videos on use, installation, maintenance, etc.
  • Bands and musicians could promote their music videos by putting QR codes on t-shirts or other merchandise.
  • Event managers could make their events more interactive by using QR codes for maps, contests and post-event follow-up.
  • Real estate agents could use QR codes to attract buyers by showcasing home tours.

A great example of a non-profit using QR codes

Austin Pets Alive uses QR codes for their dog and cat kennel codesI love AustinPetsAlive, an NPO dedicated to making Austin a no-kill city.  They use QR codes on their kennel cards.

When a prospective parent sees a dog or cat they’re interested in, they can scan the kennel card to get more detailed info and also see an endearing video.

Jill Peterson of AustinPetsAlive says they are still optimizing their dog and cat pages for smartphones and that they hope to include a sponsorship form for donations for pets with special needs.

What’s next?

I think we’ll see QR codes more and more in the U.S..  They’re very popular in Japan, because they were invented by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave as an inventory control tool. More importantly, the inventors have elected not to pursue a patent, which further encourages QR growth.  Other 2D bar codes do exist such as Datamatrix and Aztec, but they are not as widely used.  Microsoft too has a competing standard called MS Tags, but it currently is proprietary and requires the Microsoft Tag Reader.

Want to learn more? These are some great resources:

Question:  Where have you seen QR codes?  Do you give them a thumbs up or down?

- Suzanne Doughty
Cedar Sage Marketing

Get a Content Bonanza with Online Surveys

Feb 24th, 20111 Comment

Ever had an honest-to-goodness pleasant surprise – like finding a $20 bill in your jacket or getting a hand-written card from an old friend?

We got our own windfall a few weeks ago when doing online surveys for two of our clients.  A content bonanza. A treasure trove of customer testimonials and other fodder for our clients’ website, Facebook Page, e-newsletters, YouTube channel and more.

We had set out merely to get feedback on what was working and what wasn’t (Online Surveys 101) for two of our clients, Cowgirls and Lace in Dripping Springs, and BerryAustin Yogurt in the heart of Austin.  Of course, we asked all the important questions in the survey, including how often their customers came to the store, what they usually bought, what their overall satisfaction was, what could be improved, etc.

But we also made sure to leave comments open after almost every question. That’s where the testimonials started pouring in, much to our clients’ (and our) delight.  Some samples:

For Cowgirls and Lace:

Love your people and your store!  They give me time whether my project is large or small- kudos to all of you!!!

Your staff is always helpful. They don’t hesitate to go the extra mile to find what I need.

I always love a sale or something new. The whole visit and making me feel special and at home is why I come to you!

Your store is such a treat and a great cure for the blues. No pressure to buy, just genuine joy that you came into the store. Love that.  Love your staff.  Thank you for being here.

For BerryAustin:

This is a wonderful place. I wasn’t a big fan of yogurt until I came across your shop. Now I am hooked!

I love the constant change of artwork, the people are always very friendly, always offering tastings, and the toppings are always fresh and inviting.

I LOVELOVELOVE you guys.  I am so happy we found you!  I would go out of my way to have your yogurt–absolutely the best in Austin and my daughters and I have tried them all!!!

Your store has become one of the places I have to take visitors just to look around as much as to have a bite to eat.  I’m always smiling when I leave.

To top it off, for both surveys, we asked if respondents wanted to be featured on the soon-to-be-revamped websites, in future newsletters and on Facebook.  And many customers did.

Particularly helpful to Cowgirls and Lace were those willing to have their home decorating projects featured on the new website. People love before-and-after shots, so this is a golden content opportunity.

The same free-flowing “customer love” extended to BerryAustin, who now has a list of people who are willing to come to the shop and be videotaped for their YouTube channel. Talk about your raving fans!

I don’t mean to minimize the traditional survey information we got – it was extremely valuable and packed with new ideas for refining how our clients do business. In fact, that survey process should be in a future blog post (note to self).

But the wealth of content and content ideas for the future was unexpected and exciting. We then followed up on behalf of our clients with a treat of our own: sending an unexpected coupon as a special thank-you just to those survey respondents*. Both our clients – and we – want to always be on the path of continually delighting our customers.

-Suzanne Doughty

* The resulting emails have one of the highest open rates we’ve seen at 77%-79%.

Just Starting on Twitter? Get Rid of the Egg.

Jan 24th, 20113 Comments

You’re ready to get started with Twitter.  Maybe all the media buzz piqued your interest or an article like 80 Ways to Use Twitter As a SMB Owner sparked some fresh ideas for your business.

How do you get started?

First, claim your Twitter username or “handle”.  It’s important to choose a good name that represents you or your business.   Once you do that, your Twitter account will display the default Twitter avatar picture, which is an egg.

Default Twitter avatarYou’ll want to “hatch” this egg by substituting your own profile picture.  You should also include a bio and web link.  HubSpot’s Dan Zarrella  notes that Twitter users with a profile picture have 10 times more followers and those with a Twitter bio have 8 times more followers.

Your Profile Picture – First Impressions Count

Should your profile picture be your photo or your company’s logo?  At the risk of over-simplifying the logo-vs-photo debate:  Use whatever your customers – and potential customers – are most familiar with.   (For more debate, see Michael Martin’s ProBlogDesign.)

Whole Foods, the Austin-American Statesman and South by Southwest use their logos:

Whole Foods twitter avatarAustin American Statesman twitter avatarSXSW twitter avatar

If you, not your logo, best represent your products or services, then use your own photo. Professional service providers such as financial planners, dentists, consultants, real estate agents, etc, should use their own photo, as should “power networkers” and Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. Austinites Vicki Flaugher and Elijah May and of course, Lance Armstrong, use their photos as Twitter avatars:

Vicki Flaugher of smartwomanguides.comElijah MayLance Armstrong

Whatever you decide, edit or crop your image to be square, preferably 200 pixels by 200 pixels or larger, so that 1) if someone clicks on it, they can see the larger image, and 2) you can use it on other social media sites.   For the full scoop on profile pic details, See Mashable’s article on 5 Tips for Creating the Perfect Profile Pic

Your Twitter Bio – 160 Characters to Explain Yourself and Entice Others

Who are you and why should others care?  Unless you ARE Lance Armstrong or a well-known brand like Whole Foods, your Twitter bio should answer these questions.  SmartWoman’s bio is good, as is The Soup Peddler’s.  I love Alamo Drafthouse, but their bio could use some personality.

  • SmartWoman bio:  B2B social media & online marketing implementation specialist by day, karaoke singing joy freak by night. Enjoy travel, creativity & those crazy interwebs.
  • Soup Peddler bio:  The dude that started a business in Austin delivering soup by a bicycle.
  • Alamo Drafthouse bio:   This feed is for news about the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Ritz, Village, Lake Creek and Lamar
  • My bio:  Email marketing and social media for small businesses, in constant learning mode, I usually tweet in spurts during cool webinars & events.

In my bio, I clear up confusion about my feast-or-famine tweeting, explaining that I typically tweet only during webinars when I learn something that might be useful to my followers.

A bio is also a great place for a company to list WHO is actually tweeting, because people really do want to connect with a real person.  Southwest Airlines does a great job of this:

  • SouthwestAir bio:  The LUV Airline! Planes can’t type so @christimcneill is piloting the Twitterverse! For official concerns please use the link provided.
  • Keller Williams Realty: The official Twitter page for the third largest real estate company in the United States. Tweets come from Amber P. at the HQ in Austin, TX.

Use that Web Link!

Your Twitter profile allows you one web link to promote, so take advantage of it.  Link to your company’s website, your personal website, your Facebook fan or personal page, your LinkedIn page – whatever you most want the world to see.

Want more details on fine-tuning your Twitter profile?  Take a look at Mashable’s How to Make the Most of Your Twitter Profile Page.  And before you start tweeting away, be sure to get familiar with Twitter best practices.  This HubSpot blog gives you 9 Twitter strategies to avoid.

Got some great examples of Austin Twitter profiles and bios?

-Suzanne Doughty

Our Top 3 Email Subject Lines for 2010

Dec 30th, 2010No Comments

We created a lot of emails for our clients this year. As a year-end exercise, we looked at email open rates to help determine which emails had the best subject lines. Our top 3 subject lines were:

Subject line: Fancy shmancy Christmas trees “to go” + Save 10% to 20% this Saturday
From: Cowgirls and Lace
Open rate: 41.9%

Why it worked: The surprise factor of “fancy shmancy”.  These trees were indeed elegant and gorgeous, having been decorated by former White House Christmas designer, Jim Marvin. But we’re in Texas and among friends, so elegant became fancy shmancy.

Subject: Improve your Updo skills in time for holiday parties. Houston Updo class on Dec 6
From: Cosmetology Educators of Texas
Open rate: 50.0%

Why it worked:  “Holiday parties” reminded hard-working cosmetologists that their clients clamor for glamour in December to look their party best.  Compare this to a previous subject line with only a 23.7% open rate, “Cosmetology classes in the Austin area on November 22″.

Subject line: Berry Dude News: Enjoy Half Off Your Yogurt!
From: Berry Austin
Open rate: 51%

Why it worked:  It’s a great deal. We send out Berry Austin emails on the 1st of every month, like clockwork. This is still the best deal they’ve offered all year. Other deals come close:  Buy one, get one free, for example, but this is and was the best.  Berry Austin has an extremely loyal following with one of the highest open rates we see.  We think their customers recognize a great deal when they see it.

Of course, there are other factors that influence open rates: when you send the email, how fresh/new your contact list is, how targeted your audience is, and more.  But a great subject line goes a long way when you’re trying to break through the inbox clutter.