Tag : twitter

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154: Are You Throwing Away Income on Facebook?

Football Player Lego MinifigureIn the National Football League, commentators use a term to describe why players don’t make specific plays that would significantly increase their risk of injury. The announcers usually say it with a bit of smirk in their voice.

“He made a business decision.”

The player in question could have attempted a tackle or dove for a first down, but the long-term ability to make plays wasn’t worth the short-term opportunity of a single play. I’ve rarely heard a football player criticized for making that split-second decision. In fact, usually quarterbacks are criticized for getting hurt because they didn’t process this kind of situation quickly and wisely.

During this heated political season and the social unrest of the past few years, auctioneers and entrepreneurs have been inadvertently making business decisions. They’ve taken risky shots on social media. They’ve not processed the long-term ramifications of short-term humor and rhetoric. They’ve invested their personal brand into memes and rants and extra exclamation marks.

Political Teams

Whether we root for team donkey, team elephant, team buffalo, team porcupine, or none of the above, a short scroll through our social connections will tell us that we aren’t all on the same team. That’s actually a good thing. At least it can be. Diversity of opinions widens culture’s horizons and sometimes even leads to idealogical dialogue. Well, it theoretically has the potential for that.

Those conversations have merit in proper forums, most of which are offline. In contrast, social media tends to oversimplify nuanced topics and polarize communities through antagonism. The stock photos are either grandiose or intentionally crass. Often, the statistics are fictional or out of context. Rarely do we check multiple sources to verify a post before it’s shared, liked, or referenced.

The risks for this kind of engagement looms larger than potential egg on the face or estrangement from social connections. As small business owners or sales reps, we can actually reduce future income. See, potential clients—including auction sellers—are going to type a vendor’s name into the Facebook search bar. Unless we’re very careful with your privacy settings, they’re going to see our posts. Those playing on different political teams or even just different sides of a specific issue will now mark a mental strike against us. The opposing position might even unconsciously predispose them to disagree with our business suggestions. It’s a risk that rises proportional to the level of acidity or distastefulness they find.

This doesn’t mean that we abandon unpopular opinions or that we avoid sharing them. It just means that we express them differently. Proselytizing or personal growth is more likely within the contexts of face-to-face conversations, book club discussions, thoughtful letters, careful essays, well-researched & sourced infographics, etc. Raise a hand if a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram post has ever changed your political stance on anything. If they’ve never worked on us, what hubris or ignorance does it take to assume they’ll sway others?

For each of us, some issues might be worth losing business to defend. How and when we defend them, though, can determine the amount of personal credence and professional respect we lose in the process. It is possible to respectfully disagree.

Multiple writers have attributed a quote to Michael Jordan that he actually didn’t say, but the invented statement holds a lot of merit. The global sports icon has (after retirement) endorsed and financially supported Democratic Party candidates including President Barrack Obama. Initially, though, he chose brand building over political involvement. The reason was summarized in this famous fictional line:

“Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

100: The Pinterest Effect

My Current Pinterest BoardsI take notice, when I hear a question over and over again.  And one question I’ve heard a lot lately is, “What is ‘Pinterest’?”

In short, it’s a social media environment that pulls inspiration from the bulletin board at your local coffee shop or the pin board in your college dorm room.  It’s a live stream of images—called “pins”— pulled from other websites and categorized topically both by the website administrators and again separately by its users.  Each image comes with three optional interactions: like, comment, and re-pin (to your board of pins).

Whereas other social media are based on users generating their own content, Pinterest‘s ease of use and popularity is mostly because its users don’t create the original content.  In fact, approximately 80% of posts are re-pins.†  To avoid copyright violation, the pictures are almost all linked back to their originating sites—be they travel, lifestyle, or entertainment websites.

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

One of my (4) Sisters' Pinterest Boards

Women typically account for a higher percentage of users than men do on social media*, and they account for anywhere from 68% to 90% of the activity on Pinterest—depending on where you get your stats.  Most posts are often associated with fashion, decor, cooking, crafts, and inventive solutions for household organization.

Pinterest Board: Inspiration for Biplane's New OfficeUnlike Facebook, it’s not intended for conversations.  Pinterest has grown so much and so quickly that Friendsheet.com, a site that makes your Facebook stream look like Pinterest, has garnered the favor of Mark Zuckerburg††—and might someday be a native Facebook option.  Unlike Twitter, it’s not intended to keep users updated on current events.  Unlike YouTube, it’s exclusive.  You can curate your own pin boards and list of followers only if you are invited by someone who is already a Pinterest member.  Unlike Google+, it’s growing like a weed both in number of users and the amount of time those users spend on the site (more than four times longer than Twitter users per month and almost 30 times as long as Google+ users average per month***)—exponentially expanding to over a million average daily visitors.*

So, why do we need yet another social media site?  And what does Pinterest have that we can’t get anywhere else?

Visual simplicity.

Facebook has images.  Twitter is succinct and sortable, too.  Pinterest, though, simplifies everything to one thing: pictures.  No profiles to manage for its content creators and little, if any, reading required by its consumers.  It lets our short attention spans be satiated quickly—or drawn into the bowels of online daydreaming.

If Pinterest were running for president, it’s campaign supervisor would be explaining its surge in the polls emphatically: “It’s the photos, stupid!”

Facebook, the major social media player with more average minutes of use per month than Pinterest understands our culture’s draw to images, as it sees 70% of its users’ activity centers around its photos.**  But that pales to the photo-centricity of Pinterest, which by default, has pictures at just under 100% of activity.

There’s a lesson there for every marketer.  What makes content quickly absorbable is compelling imagery, imagery which Pinterest users tend to pull from predominantly-commercial websites.  Words—even headlines—are secondary.  As a culture, we don’t’ care about explanations and slogans, if we aren’t drawn to them through the picture(s) they accompany.  As a marketer who helps other marketers, I can tell you that if the design of our marketing media centers around large, singular imagery—and those images are professionally staged and captured—our advertising will be far more effective than the current average of small business advertising media.  That goes for small business at large and the auction industry, which I serve, in particular.

Message is important.  And honing your message is crucial.  But Andre Aggassi was right: image is everything.  And, last time I checked, advertising is part of everything.  If the first thing your media recipients and viewers sees is text—no matter how large or bold or colorful—chances are good that you’re doing advertising wrong.  If they see a solid background with a collage of pictures, we are making them work harder (than if we had used one big, full-bleed image) and, in many cases, watering down the primary draw.  Look at advertising for Apple, Nike, Ford, TNT, and BOSE.  They get it.  So should we.

If potential buyers don’t like what they see in the primary image, what makes any retailer, wholesaler, or auctioneer think potential buyers would care what other pictures we have or what the advertisement has to say?
[tip]

The Bible says we humans were created in God’s image (one of the ways homo sapiens were differentiated from the rest of creation).  As believers of The Way, we are to be pictures of Jesus in our culture.  While we are wrapped in individual personalities and exclusive physical containers, the essence from the new core of our souls should shine through those translucent shells.

In contrast, the entropy and temptation for us all is to talk religious words, add Jesus stickers or fabric on the outside, and gather with those who codify and police exterior criteria the way we do.  That’s lazy and destructive.  Jesus didn’t come so that we could shine through the filter of him—or worse: the filters of religion, church, and spirituality.  He came to give us life, to change our core, to change the lightbulb—not the lamp shade—in the fixture.  He wants his truth and love and other attributes to radiate from us.

If today were a snapshot of who you are, and you handed that snapshot to a stranger, what would they see?  If you had to hand it to Jesus as a photo illustration of him, what would you have changed about your day before taking that picture?

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†” Why Is Pinterest So Addictive?” by Stephanie Buck, Mashable.com. March 24, 2012.
http://mashable.com/2012/03/20/why-is-pinterest-so-addictive/

†† “Friendsheet: The Zuck-Approved Pinterest-Style Facebook Photo Browser” by Josh Constine, Techcrunch.com.
http://techcrunch.com/2012/03/07/friendsheet-the-zuck-approved-pinterest-style-facebook-photo-browser/

* “A Very (P)interesting [infographic]” by Tim, DailyInfographic.com. March 9, 2012.
http://dailyinfographic.com/a-very-pinteresting-infographic

** “In Age of Pinterest, Instagram, Marketers Need An Image Strategy” by Chas Edwards, Adage.com. March 15, 2012.
http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/age-pinterest-instagram-marketers-image-strategy/233270/?utm_source=digital_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage

*** “The Mounting Minuses at Google+” by Amir Efrati, Wall Street Journal. February 28, 2012.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204653604577249341403742390.html?mod=dist_smartbrief
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99: Who Should Manage Your Social Media Content?

Unknown Professional (iStockPhoto Purchase)Last month, I was sitting in the executive office of a company with 200 employees.  The chairman of the board asked me how I could help him offer social media solutions to his clients—how biplane productions could partner with his national firm.  I swallowed hard and then told him I wasn’t interested in such—even though his company’s clientele includes organizations for whom ad agencies would love to work.

Why?

Because social media content shouldn’t be outsourced.

Social media is sold every day to small business owners as the new secret weapon in marketing.  “Get your business in front of 800 million people on Facebook and over 300 million Twitter users!”  Never mind the fact that even Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga each have only a small fraction of either of those environments, advertisers think they’ll somehow gain a hoard of followers and fans, just by opening social media storefronts.

If these participatory environments were broadcast media, it would make sense to outsource the work to agencies like mine or those on Madison Avenue.  And for those who look at Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as advertising channels, there’s software for agencies to manage the social streams of multiple clients.

The problem is that social media sites are relational environments—places to do online what we do offline, admittedly with both upgrades and drawbacks over in-person conversations.  In most situations you wouldn’t pay another company to go have conversations with people for you at social gatherings.  So, why would you pay a company to have your conversations with your prospects and peers online?

Does that mean that your company’s founder or president needs to spend their day hitting the like button and responding to Tweets?  No.  But the person doing the conversing needs to be someone who can speak for your company—someone who has bought into the culture and mission of your organization.  The same care you apply to determining who you hire to sell your goods and services to clients offline should be applied to those who represent you in online social settings.

Valuable qualification criteria for this role include:

  • Positive, optimistic personality
  • Understanding what constitutes your brand
  • Connection to sources of newsworthy content for market and industry trends
  • Professional decorum yet with a sense of humor
  • Personal social streams with lots of activity (illustrating environment experience)
  • Flexible spirit and commitment to be constantly learning
  • Good spelling and grammar skills
  • Access to company images
  • 30 or more minutes available per day for conversational interaction and measurement
  • Maybe even public relations training or background

In some organizations, multiple people are granted administrative access.  The main challenge of that is to make sure posts and responses are consistent from one administrator to another.  (Having pre-written guidelines and sample responses can help with this, especially for companies where social media environments are more for customer service and responding to complaints than brand building.)

The social media shepherd in your company doesn’t need to be someone in management or ownership.  But they should be someone you trust with the voice of your brand.  With rare exception, that isn’t someone on the other end of an invoice.
[tip]

I am embarrassingly weak when it comes to sharing my faith in interpersonal spaces.  I can throw some words up here on my blog or even on Facebook and Twitter.  But put me in a coffee shop or living room, and I don’t have much more than psychoanalytic questions and “Let me pray for you.”

The problem is that the stakes are too high to play the “good Christian kid” card all the time.  (My dad is a minister; so, I have a large box of those cards.)  There’s more on the line than whether someone goes to church or shares my beliefs.  The potential for pain redemption, spiritual wholeness, and worldview change are incredible additions to Christ’s offer of forgiveness, heaven, and purpose.

I’ve got to stop outsourcing these conversations to “professional” Christians and power evangelists.  The New Testament tells all believers—especially me—to “always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”  That requires more time praying for people and more time inputting Truth into my memory.

It’s good to encourage other believers and love on those far from the Way.  But stopping there is dangerous for our eternal legacy and the futures of others.

 

[footer] Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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An Auction Bidder’s Wish List

I’m the oldest of six children, and my wife was the first of five offspring for my in-laws.  So, I’m thankful that both of our families exchange names for “secret sibling” Christmas gifts.

My side of the family makes it even easier by creating a message thread on Facebook where we post our respective wish lists for our secret sibling to use for reference in their holiday shopping.

To keep you reading, I’ll show you what I posted.

(in this order):
anything from here: http://www.gfa.org/gift/home
gift cards from iTunes, REI, or Dick’s Sporting Goods
solid-color winter beanies
Smart Wool® socks
black Crocks (size 10)
solid color fleece sweatshirts or hoodies
athletic ankle socks
100g Jetpower micro-canister

What you’ll notice is that I didn’t write, “Something nice,” (though everything on this list is nice to me) or “Great deal for the money” (though I hope my sibling finds the deal of a lifetime).  Why?  Because those are ambiguous requests—unhelpful direction.  See, when they go to a store, there won’t be an aisle for “something nice” or “a sweet deal!”  If they Google search for “something nice,” they will get these random acts of results.

This makes sense on a personal level; but, for some reason, auction marketers disregard this common wisdom when advertising the assets in their auctions.  Their headlines, line ads, and websites lead with information that buyers will not type into their search engines, apps, or wish lists.

Raise your hand, if you’ve seen an auction advertisement that said “Investment Opportunity!” Now keep that hand raised if you think anyone is searching for an office building, flatbed truck, bass boat, or 1950’s Texaco sign with those two words.  In our search culture, advertising needs to focus on the facts, not the pitch—even for offline media.  You might be able to schmooze bidders at open houses or at the auction, even though our culture is growing less tolerant of the commissioned sales schtick.  But you’ll be hard pressed to find advertising that works that way.

Recently, I was asked to rewrite some sales copy on a luxury home, since [I assume] it wasn’t getting many bites.  I couldn’t change the facts, just the adjectives and syntax.  Even if I were J.K. Rowling, I couldn’t rewrite that paragraph in a way that would change someone’s mind about that house.  Either they wanted what it had or they didn’t.  If they wanted four bathrooms and an in-law suite, only a house with those specifications would work.  If they wanted an in-ground pool, stables, and a riding ring, they were looking for those words in whatever media they’re using to shop.

Fluff text is inefficient use of space and attention.  There’s no search criteria field in Trulia for “cute,” no check box on Realtor.com for “cozy,” no ebay category for “like new.”  I just checked: LoopNet doesn’t have a menu selection for “potential.”  Pictures, dimensions, location, age—immutable, objective data—will tell someone if an asset matches their wish list; their own emotional and financial situation will translate that information into subjective evaluations.

I’m regularly amused by auctioneers telling their audience that an address is conveniently located in reference to places a half hour or more away from the subject property.  Convenience is a relative value.  Oh, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “Unlimited potential!” as a real estate headline or bullet point.  I don’t have a real estate license, but I’d imagine legal boundaries and zoning commissions significantly restrict infinity.  But even if the future development of a property were somehow unlimited, who’s searching for that ambiguity?

Whether searching for Christmas gifts, farm equipment, or a strip mall, consumers will echo what Detective Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “All we want are the facts.”  It’s insulting to tell a buyer what the facts mean.  Buyers will most likely know if what you’re selling is a collectors item, if a home is designed for entertaining, if an address is a good business location—based on the facts at hand.

Does this mean advertising should be reduced exclusively to a list of bulleted descriptions?  No—even if in many media, that’d be the most efficient strategy.  Write your sales copy as long as space and budget will allow.  Emphasis, though, belongs to the facts.  Headlines should tell people if what they want might be described in the next section.  Top billing should go to the unarguable.

Make it easy for potential buyers to compare your sale item(s) to their wish list.  That ease of comparison reflects on your brand, whether they bid or purchase from you or not.

Taking It Personally

Outside of sports programming or sitting in a waiting room, I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched TV news.  Beside how partisan each of the networks have proven to be, I’m disenchanted by the 24-hour news network ecosystem’s need to fill so much of their time with commentary.  I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should feel about a congressional bill, a televised debate, an oval office speech.  I think that’s why I’m drawn to Twitter so much as a news source.  News sources there have to dump the main point and a link in 140 characters or less.

News never has been objective; I don’t know how it ever could be.  So, I don’t ask it to be.

Maybe that’s why after sitting through literally over 5,000 sermons and Bible lessons, I’m so drawn to my TruthWorks Bible study, where I’m pointed to a passage of Scripture with three questions: “What does the writer actually say?” and “What does that mean—in a big picture context?” and then “What do I do right now with this truth?”  It’s good to have wise, educated people bring light to Scripture; and I believe teachers can be agents of the Holy Spirit.  But we need to be careful not to rely on other people to tell us what to believe; we need to be like the heralded Bereans, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

87: Measuring Your Social Media Influence

Peer Index Graphs

When we were in high school, popularity was dependent on multiple factors: who your friends were, what your interests were, how many people knew your name (not to mention if you had money, played sports, drove a cool car, or were part of a band).

In some ways, social media environments like Facebook and Twitter have become the new places to determine social standing.  Through online social sharing, we are communicating many of the same markers used in our student years.

When you’re building your brand through social media, it’s good to visualize your standing and your progress.  Multiple companies are working to turn various, measurable data points into some form of comparable social score—some sort of official rank.  Rather than popularity, these scoring systems aim to determine how influential you are—how people interact with your online content.

Almost all of these scoring systems are still in beta stage, as they tinker with algorithms toward more accurate insights.  Because of this, don’t be shocked if your score fluctuates without a drastic change in your social media interaction.  Almost all of these scoring systems are Twitter-centric, because Twitter is more about broadcasting and getting your message to a broad audience—as opposed to Facebook and others, which are meant for sharing among friends and family.  Almost all of these scoring systems focus only on the last 30 to 120 days and appropriately so, as relevance is measured in the now.

Below you’ll find a non-exhaustive list of  some of the social media measurement tools I’ve consulted to see how my online brand is faring.

Klout Dashboard
Klout
If I could pick only one social measurement tool, Klout would have the tool box to itself.  Their site is fast—much faster than some of these other analytics sites.  Their service is free; and they currently allow you to connect up to ten different social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, FourSquare, Tumblr, Blogger, Last.fm, and Flickr.  (According to their website, Klout is also working to connect your Facebook Pages, YouTube, and Google+ streams.)  Klout shows you comparable social media users, including those you influence and those that influence you.  Klout not only shows your current ranking but also your trajectory.  It also offers web browser plugins that automatically show you other Tweeters’ scores next to their tweets.

Browser PluginsTwitalyzerPeer Index
Peer Index includes some of Klout’s capabilities but also maps the topics of your tweets on a graph of eight categories.  (It’s interesting to watch my topic map change over time into different shapes.)  The thinking behind this is that, typically—just as with blogging—the more topically-concentrated your posts are, the more likely you are to gain an interactive following.  Currently, Peer Index measures your influence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and your RSS-enabled blog.  Also like Klout, Peer Index offers web browser plugins that automatically show you other Tweeters’ scores next to their twitter handles—at Twitter.com (even if only mentioned in a tweet) or on any site where their Twitter handle is listed.
Twitalyzer
As the name implies, Twitalyzer measures only your Twitter activity.  Twitalyzer has maybe the largest selection of raw numbers amongst the Twitter analysis sites, but that’s in part to reporting both Klout and Peer Index scoring data with their other metrics.  You won’t find any fancy graphs here, but I really like that their scores are annotated to tell you your percentile for each number in the matrix.

Tweet Level AdviceTweetLevel
Also a Twitter-only measuring tool, TweetLevel has weak graphing and very little in terms of comparison with others on Twitter.  One thing I like about this site, though, is that it gives insightful recommendations for improving the various contributing factors to your score.

Crowdbooster
The main thrust of this Twitter measurement tool is currently to show you the best times to tweet content, based on mapping of your past tweets and the number of impressions they received.  At time of writing, uptime and score processing speed have been tremendously flaky, as the Crowdbooster team is adding to the site’s capabilities.
CrowdboosterTwentyFeet
If you’re a fan of graphs, you’ll like TwentyFeet.  Outside of Klout, this site tracks probably the second-most amount of social streams.  I’ve had a couple issues with its beta version in load times and in unintended, automatic tweeting of scores.  With ongoing maintenance, this site might move into the top tier of measurement systems.

MyWebCareer
This site leaves a lot to be desired.  It doesn’t explain scores or offer the robust reporting of other sites.  Unlike other sites, which measure in ratings from 1-100, MyWebCareer shows your score in similar fashion to a credit report.  MyWebCareer claims to rank your search engine results, too, though it doesn’t seem to lift the veil to see how it compiles such.
My Career Score
Facebook Analytics
Facebook’s “Insights” tool is what it claims to be: insightful.  Where this analytic tool excels in in measuring your audience demographically—something the aggregate sits don’t (and probably can’t) do.  The graphing is interactive, allowing adjustable timelines.  The only sizable drawbacks are (1) it’s available only for pages, not for profiles; (2) you can’t compare your scores to those of others; and (3) you can’t include your scores from other social media for a more holistic view of your online presence.

This list will probably look very different a year from now.  Several other entities, including Nielsen—yes, the folks who measure television audience—are working their way into the social measurement game with new measurement units and matrixes.  As with search engines and other website categories, natural selection will eventually create an oligarchy of reliable, standard players that prove to own both the most intuitive algorithms and the best user interfaces.  In the mean time, the measurement choices we have are entertaining at least and informative at best.

Social media analytics won’t tell you where to advertise your auctions.  They won’t tell you how many people are absorbing your message—only those who interact with it.  These sites don’t supplant the most important question to analyze your media outlays: “How did my bidders hear about my auction?”  But they can give you a more informed perspective of how you’re doing at building an interactive brand on the Internet.
[tip]

While many joke about the large amount of time I’m perceived to spend on social media, few know that I too often approach social media as a a competition.  It’s not a zero-sum game, but I work hard to make sure my brands—personal and professional—perform online at a high level, preferably at a level above those I teach & consult and against whom I or my clients compete in business.  (I check my Klout score daily, and that probably isn’t healthy.)

Where it becomes even more treacherous is when likes, comments, and retweets affect my choices of what to post.  The temptation is to post only the Ryan that my six years in social media have shown me is the most popular.  True, some of that is good sense—appropriateness, professionalism, etc.  But there’s a line between appealing to an audience and portraying an authentic personae.

That’s a challenge for all of us to varying degrees, both online and offline.  That’s why one of the scariest prayers for American Christians came from Israel’s King David: “Search me, and know my heart.  See if there be any wicked way in me.”

86: 7 Valuable Social Media Shortcuts

Social Media Shortcut insetThe most common response to my social media articles and seminars usually goes like this: “I should probably get my business on Facebook, but it’s finding the time I struggle with,” or “I can barely keep up with my Facebook.  I don’t know how you find time to be on Twitter.”

Granted, I’m a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram junkie.  I can easily feed my addiction, seeing as my office is a flight of stairs below my living room; and my bedroom at night typically alternates between the glow of one or more of two laptops and two iPhones.

You, however, don’t need to earn an invitation to the social media wing of the Betty Ford Clinic to improve your personal or business brand on Facebook and Twitter.  Here are seven free or cheap ways to keep your time commitment to a minimum, while connecting with prospects, clients, and peers in these environments.  The first shortcut will make your distribution more efficient and practical; the next six shortcuts will help you more easily develop a constant stream of material to reinforce your expert brand.

HootSuite
What if I told you you could do all of your social media posts for a week or month all at one time and in one place?  You can!  With HootSuite, you can pre-schedule Facebook and Twitter posts, even those with links or pictures.  The free version of HootSuite will allow you to choose from up to five different Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, and/or Facebook pages on which to post.  If you post both for your business and for yourself, this tool is invaluable; and it makes it easier not to accidentally post a personal post in your business’ stream and vice versa.

HootSuite Bar

HootSuite iPhone AppIf you don’t want to keep HootSuite open in your web browser, you can install a free browser button that will open a small HootSuite window already loaded with the URL of the page you’re wanting to share—which you can schedule for later, if you’d like.  Both Android and iPhone have a HootSuite app, so that you can post (or schedule one for later) in any or all of those same five destinations right from your phone.

Every few weeks, I spend 30 to 90 minutes on an evening or weekend, setting up tweets and status updates to post during work hours.  This frees me to work on billable projects (and meet deadlines) during the times of weekdays when people are most likely to check their social streams—rather than on weekends, when people are less likely to interact with the content.  This is important, because content in Twitter and Facebook streams has a shelf life measured in minutes or hours; so, you want your content to hit in prime viewing times.

Scheduled Status Update

SmartBrief
SmartBrief is a free clearinghouse of salient current news, sifted by interests and industries.  Here’s how SmartBrief describes itself: “We deliver need-to-know news in 100+ e-mail newsletters to 4 mil[ion]+ readers.  We read everything.  You get what matters.”  You can register to receive any single one or any number of their newsletters, each of which is delivered daily with a series of headlines and brief overviews of the top stories along a particular topic.

MobileRSSRSS Feeds
Most blogs, humor sites, and news sources now make their content subscribable via RSS feed.  If you’re not familiar with RSS, it’s a tool that aggregates stories from as many websites as you choose into one place for reading.  It saves you time, and you don’t have remind yourself to check each respective site to see what’s new.  I use Google Reader as my RSS reader—the place where all these posts collect.

Don’t have time to check your RSS feed on your computer?  Quickly access it on your smart phone.  Free or cheap apps like MobileRSS enable you to scroll through the headlines and blog titles from your RSS feed, much like you would scroll through Twitter or Facebook posts—right from your mobile device.

Google Alerts
This free service by Google allows you to receive email updates every week or every day with new pages on the Internet that mention terms of your choosing.  I regularly implement these for the weeks or months before writing articles or building seminars.  You can plug in words or word combinations related to your industry, asset specialty, or news trend.  Think of it as Googling something once but getting new Google search results emailed to you for as long as you’d like.  If you don’t want these results pouring into your email inbox, you can also set them to collect in your RSS feed.

OPEN Forum
One of the many perks of carrying an American Express charge card is their OPEN Forum articles, delivered via email.  These articles are written by and for entrepreneurs and small business executives, exclusively for American Express customers.  Don’t have a Centurion in your wallet?  No problem.  They post links on their Twitter stream to similar articles aggregated from other online sources.

Magazines.com
I still subscribe to a couple handfuls of print magazines, even magazines I follow on Twitter and Facebook.  Fast Company and Wired are gold mines of sharable content.  If you’re going to subscribe to magazines, go through wholesale distributors like Magazines.com.  You’ll save enough money to literally multiply the number of magazines you can get for the same price.  I also like Magazine.com’s clearinghouse of free magazines and newsletters, where I’ve gotten free subscriptions to magazines like Exhibitor.  I regularly cut out pages from my magazines for articles I want to post later on Facebook and/or Twitter.  (Usually, magazines will post the content from the current print issue on their respective websites after the next print issue distributes—sometimes sooner.)

Twitter
In an interview with Hemispheres Magazine, Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, said, “I would describe [Twitter] as a personalized news service.  It gives up-to-date information on whatever you care about that’s happening in the world.”  Twitter’s become that “personalized news service” for me.  I ended my subscription to our local newspaper, and I couldn’t’ tell you what’s on the evening television news.  Instead, I follow Lynchburg’s The News & Advance and various national and international news sources on Twitter.

For one thing, I save a lot of time by engaging with only the content that interests me—on my time table.  Secondly, it’s easier to share the stories with people who might also be interested in them.  As with Facebook, you can sort your Twitter stream into categories (called “lists”), if you want to see only certain groups of people/entities you follow at a given time.  So, if you want to see updates only from family and friends or only from other people in your industry or only from news sources, that’s easy to do.

There are two halves to social media: sharing and interacting.  While you can’t schedule your likes, comments, and other responses in advance, you can simplify the manner in which you collect and distribute the content you want to share.  By uploading more than status updates, you can show your audience that you are a source—or at least a distributor—of engaging knowledge.  Then, when you share updates about your business, these posts will have more credence and smell less like spam.

You do have time for online social networking, if you use your time wisely.
[tip]

Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “Work, work, from morning until late at night.  In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”  In other words, he was not too busy to spend time with God.  On the contrary, he saw his busyness as reason to spend more time with God.

For various reasons, I really struggle to spend meaningful time alone with God, when I’ve got a lot on my plate and even when I don’t.  My spiritual pathway is nature, and I have to get out into the wild to disconnect from the things that interfere with my connection with him.  Some of the moments I’ve felt closest to my Creator have come where cell phones have no bars.

How ’bout you?  Where and when and how do you feel closest to God?  Maybe reading books or watching videos about him and his work.  Maybe singing or dancing or soaking in others doing those things.  Maybe absorbing podcasts, conferences, or retreats from gifted Bible teachers. Maybe serving people or participating in a cause.  Maybe journaling or speaking to him out loud in a quiet place.

Whatever makes God feel closer to you and you to him, build and prioritize that into your life.  Nurture it.

As for me, tomorrow I’ll be spending my second straight Friday night sleeping on top of a mountain under his stars.

 

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com[footer]

79: A Social Media Lesson from Socks

KISS Promotional EventI found a puffy envelope, addressed to my wife, in our mail box.  When she arrived home from her studio, she opened it to find a pair of white socks covered with red lip prints—socks neither of us had ordered, socks for which neither of us had paid.

My wife bubbled with joy and explained to me how and why this cotton footwear happened to arrive at our address.  Rather than recount all of that, I’ll let you read the three tweets that say it more succinctly:

@kissbooks
“As of yesterday, ALL Christmas orders for KISS have been shipped…early! We are still working on some other orders before our break.”
Dec 17

@crystalgeorge
“I’d like to thank @kissbooks for a fantastic year of albums and service.  You guys rock my socks off!”
Dec 18

@crystalgeorge
“LOL!  Told @kissbooks thanks for knocking my socks off.  So they sent me socks.  Cracking me up. 😀 http://instagr.am/p/zLz8/
Dec 31

KISS Books SocksThis episode illustrates the power of social media: the ability to engage your clients in conversation, the medium that can humanize your brand—and make your customers and friends want to introduce you to their customers and friends.  It’s both schmoozing and feedback, both customer service and brand building, both grassroots initiatives and guerrilla marketing.

Companies that treat Facebook, Twitter, etc. as broadcast channels are missing the mark.  Social media is not an advertising medium—even though powerful, successful marketing can be done there.  No, it’s a social environment.

Your status updates and photos, comments and likes, videos and links tell the stories that you would tell in person—if you could somehow converse with everyone in your collective social circle in one place at one time (of their respective convenience).  They are the advice and anecdotes you’d share at a chamber of commercial cocktail, in the bleachers at your child’s soccer game, in the foyer of your church, and around your living room.

KISS Books SocksIn this social space our lives engage and enrich each other’s lives.  In this space, entrepreneurs can build rapport a friend at a time—and turn friends into followers and followers into brand evangelists.

If you look at Facebook as just a line item in an advertising budget or Twitter as a free place to paste your auction line ads, you’ll be far less likely to get this kind of online street cred:

@crystalgeorge
“Wearing my kewl socks from @kissbooks to shoot my first wedding of 2011. http://instagr.am/p/0InU/
Jan 1

Join the conversation.  Don’t spam it.  You can keep your steady stream of auction announcements dripping into our news feeds, or you can contribute content and conversations that make your brand more contagious.
[tip]

Categorically, I’m an extrovert.  I have to work at listening and asking questions in conversations—at reigning my narcissism and tales of adventure.  I love my life and have to remind myself that others might not or might not want to hear about it, anyway.

Likewise, I have to remind myself that God likes two-sided conversations, too, even as he forebears the soliloquies I call prayers.  For God to be heard, I have to ask for his voice, read his letters to me, and interact with others who are actively pursuing his voice.

Because my spiritual pathway is nature, I can enrich the exchanges by heading out into God’s handiwork or even looking at pictures and articles about it.  It’s not easy to be still and listen—especially when I’m afraid of what he wants to say to me—but it’s necessary to keep our conversation and relational richness alive.

How ’bout you?  Have you ever heard from God?  What do you do, when it’s been a while since you heard from him?

[footer]Image credit.[/footer]

77: Your Brand, Charlie Sheen, and President Obama

Photo credit: http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/Horizons/2010/0813/With-Tweet-Button-Twitter-looks-outwardSeveral weeks ago, one of my college friends posted on Facebook that she had closed her Twitter account after not using it and not understanding what the appeal was.

Whether you’ve investigated Twitter or not, you may have the same impression: “What’s the big deal about Twitter? I don’t get it.”

With literally hundreds (if not thousands) of social media sites out there, it’s valid to question the importance of different environments. And it’s beneficial to explore the advantages and disadvantages of each. None of us have time for them all; so we must each determine why we use the sites we do and how to achieve the maximum benefit from them.

Next to Facebook AppSo, what about Twitter?

Let’s start with what Twitter is not. Twitter is not just text messaging the nation. Twitter is not just the playground of Charlie Sheen, teens, and Silicon Valley geeks. And Twitter is not Facebook or a direct Facebook competitor.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, told Hemispheres Inflight Magazine that Twitter and Facebook have different purposes. “We’re trying to deliver on the idea that Twitter has information about what’s going on in the world that you care about, and that’s different from Facebook’s value proposition, which is a way to stay in touch with people you know . . . I would describe it as a personalized news service. It gives up-to-date information on whatever you care about that’s happening in the world . . . We want people to understand that you don’t have to tweet to use Twitter, any more than you have to create a web page to use the web.”

If you only remember three words from that last paragraph, make them personalized news service. Twitter is an environment where people go to get quick snapshots of what interests them, be it international news, jokes from their favorite comedians, or the events in their friends’ respective days.

Twitter as News SourceMark Cuban titled a 2008 blog post, “If the news is that important, it will find me.” While there are multiple channels for news to get to us, Twitter is growing as a primary way that its users keep tabs on their surroundings. It’s certainly true in my life. I follow my local newspaper, CNN, ESPN, Wired, Wall Street Journal, and several tech blogs on Twitter and usually find hot headlines from these Twitter feeds before or in lieu of their more established formats. Twitter is both direct feed and word of mouth, rolled into one.

For the consumer, Twitter’s primary benefit is its shortcut to the world.

For the marketer, Twitter offers a chance for their brand to be a newsmaker. Whether you are posting informative links, company news, special offers, or customer service responses, Twitter helps you keep your brand in constant public awareness—without paying for advertising. Depending on the content in your posts (called “tweets”), Twitter can even help you establish an aura of expertise. If your tweets regularly contain links to helpful stories with specific market insight, you can build a public trust in your knowledge and experience base. This is important, because we all prefer in most situations to hire experts over general practitioners.

But doesn’t a Facebook business page accomplish many of these same objectives?

In many ways, yes. Twitter, though, streamlines a constant stream of outside knowledge (rather than that from social circles); so, you’ll find it easier there to collect, sort, process, and redistribute large amounts of information. Twitter is designed for a large quantity of posts; but it’s simplified for immediacy and geared for short encounters, since most of its users access their feeds through their mobile devices. Twitter’s text-based system is built for fast download with links for the people who want to expand a specific tweet beyond a quick thumb-scroll. Each tweet holds a maximum of 140 characters with which to entertain, converse, inform, or direct to more information.

So, Twitter favors the pithy, the succinct, and the connected.

And while most Twitter followers also own a Facebook account, the opposite is true of the percentage of Facebook users regularly engaging with a Twitter feed. In that way, Twitter offers a unique audience—typically a tech-savvy, culturally-connected one.

Over the past couple years, Facebook has incorporated popular Twitter features (like status mentions) into its system. And Facebook publishes its news on Twitter. If Facebook thinks it’s important to set up shop there, you might want to think about it, too.

If that’s not reason enough, know that a bunch of us use Twitter to post the things we hide from you and the rest of Facebook.
[tip]

For at least a decade, I found good news to be a watered-down synonym for gospel. I mean, good news can be anything from hearing your son is arriving home from Iraq tonight to learning that you can download a song you like for free on iTunes. Over the past few years, though, I’ve learned the weight inherent in this good news.

News isn’t history. News isn’t distant past. News is, “That just happened!” or “This is happening right now!”

If our view of the gospel is exclusively a historical list of verses in Romans, we fall short of its full intent and maybe even its power. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, we are shown lives that explain the eternal significance of Jesus’ substitution AND that share what the Holy Spirit is blossoming in their lives.

We can sell our catechisms and doctrines to a secular culture, but they need to see an alive faith and how it impacts our current daily existence. That means we can’t just obtain our hell insurance and check our luggage all the way to heaven’s baggage claim. We have to be constantly changing, growing—becoming more alive. If the gospel isn’t constantly making news in those of us who’ve found its goodness, why would we expect it to be regularly making news in the lives we touch?

[footer]Photo credit for Twitter Bird Image.
Screen capture images purchased from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

[bump]

70: Getting Engaged on Your Birthday

InboxToday’s my birthday.

Apparently, it’s public knowledge.  This week, I got an email from Panera telling me that they put a surprise on the MyPanera card in my wallet.  I got another birthday email from NFL.com, showing my last name on a Ravens jersey—a nice touch.  I would be more impressed, if these actions and emails weren’t generated by a database sitting on a server in Nebraska somewhere; but I’ve got to tip my hat to these companies for putting something other than solicitations in my inbox.

It’s not just mail-merged birthday greetings I noticed this week.  Staples sent me advance notice coupons in Wednesday’s email.  (In the past, they’ve snail-mailed me invitations for Rewards-member-only store hours and sales.)  As they regularly do, American Express sent me an email with links to four articles for entrepreneurs; and Ink by Chase sent me an invitation to an upcoming small business conference.  The makers of MapMyRun, one of the few paid apps on my iPhone, emailed me articles related to health and wellness.

Birthday Emails
What these companies know is that our culture craves autonomy.  We want corporations to treat us like people, not numbers.  We’ve been burned by Enron and BP, Congress and Wall Street.  We want our voices and purchases to count.  We don’t want to be told by Madison Avenue mad men what to want.

That’s why Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites have seen unprecedented growth.  It probably explains why shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol”—shows to which we can contribute—trump the ratings of scripted shows.  Beyond self-expression and acceptance, we crave more personal interactions with people, not conglomerates.

So, the entities that engage relationally gain advantage over their peers.  It’s not just that they have a Facebook account, a Twitter feed, or a birthday list.  It’s what they do with them.  They invite conversation, respond to expressed concerns or praise, and give away products, services, and/or information for free.  Instead of a broadcast mentality, where emails and status updates are all sales pitches, they’ve found the social in social marketing, the 2 [way street] in Web 2.0.  They know the difference between radios and walkie talkies—and choose the latter.

So, how do you engage the individual in your marketing?  What special offers do you give your prospects or clients?  I’ve heard of auction companies offering MVP parking or seating, permanent bidder numbers, and bidder receptions.  What intellectual property or advice do you send their way?  Some auctioneers conduct free bidder seminars; others offer FAQ documents or how-to videos on their Web sites.  Do you have a blog or newsletter?  If so, is it solely horn-tooting; or does it contain practical content?

You don’t have to be the birthday fairy to build an interactive brand.  But if you want what you have to go viral, you have to get close enough to people—where they are—for them to catch your contagions.  Go to the events and environments where they congregate (both online and offline); authentically join the conversation.  Listen to needs, themes, trends.  And say something more than, “I’ve got something I want to sell you.”
[tip]

I’ve been in a Tuesday night study of the New Testament book of Acts, seeing things I never saw in a whole semester of Acts during college.  One of the truths that has jumped out of the narrative is how evangelism was conducted outside of the synagogue.  The apostles and disciples started with where each respective unbeliever was at that moment.  Peter and John told the lame beggar, “We don’t have money, but we have Jesus’ name to heal you.”  Philip asked the curious Ethiopian Eunuch, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”  Jesus asked a murderous Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Few people want to be converts, stars on a performance chart, or numbers at a “bring a guest” Sunday.  At a core level, we want to be known and understood, loved and respected.  If someone were to change your mind on faith—a deeply personal asset—what approach would most likely woo and convince you?  What would that process look like?

Knowing this, is that the approach you take to share the faith you hold dear?

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.[/footer]

68: Is The Business Card Obsolete?

I walked out to my car one afternoon and found several business cards on my fronts seats. They had been dropped through my MINI‘s open sun roof by a buddy of mine. Now, I already had Aaron’s contact information in my phone [and my Nano] and on my Facebook friends list—even in an Excel® spreadsheet that gets passed around our church‘s parking team group emails. He and I have hiked and prayed together, even shared a (spacious) tent during a lightning storm on a two-day canoe trip.

But his cards have been sitting on my desk for weeks—despite the fact that I will probably never need the services of a civil engineer, even one from a well-branded firm.

Wiley Wilson Sample

In contrast, I took three $25 restaurant gift cards to the 2010 National Auctioneers Association‘s annual conference & show to use in drawings during my two seminars. They worked in that I returned to my office with over 80 different business cards from auction marketers—biplane productions‘ target market. After keying the data from the cards into my email contact database, I stacked them in my stationery cabinet then later threw the vast majority of them in the trash.

Why?

Well, I didn’t need them; and nothing made me want them.

I’m not alone. In a culture where our mobile devices carry all of our contacts plus the Internet in our pocket, just about all of the people we need to reach are no further than our pocket or purse. How many times have you asked someone, “Hey, what’s your number? I’ll put you in my phone”? The vast majority of business cards just add to the clutter in our wallets, desks, and cars; and they’re far less portable than the address icon on our iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, etc.

Old School

Our increasingly-electronic world, though, doesn’t make business cards obsolete. They still transfer contact information and marketing messages to their recipients. Business cards can be an indelible medium for introducing and reinforcing your brand to prospects and peers—even if trashed after being loaded into an electronic address book. They can influence that all-important first impression.

So, what makes a good business card?

Hierarchy
Not all information is created equal. As a rule (that has some creative exceptions), your information should read from top toward bottom and left toward right—in the order of importance. What’s important will be different for different people; so, contemplate what your prospects should see first. Also, the use of color and bolding should be leveraged in a way that lets a reader immediately see the most important information first. If nothing is emphasized, you’re making the recipient work for what they need. If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Simplicity
Order demonstrates organizational prowess; margin illustrates self-control; and white space communicates luxury. Rambling lines and text abutted near the edge of a business card connote, “No, wait. I . . . I want to tell you one more thing.” Big shots don’t have to prove they’re big shots; they’ve found that less actually is more. So, transcribe only the absolute necessary, and leave the rest for your Web site, LinkedIn profile, and company Facebook page.

Authority
We can all tell when you ordered your cards from an online printer or your local Staples® copy center—or worse yet, when you printed them at home. We know when your “logo” came from a clip art disc or stationery catalog. Conversely, we can tell when you work for a Fortune 500 company. The margins and paper (or other medium) choice, print and trim quality, effects and font choices all tell people how professional your brand is. People hire experts. Do your business cards give the impression that you’re an expert?

Creativity
You may not need to be as outside the box as some of these business cards, but non-standard concepts will make your brand memorable. Ubiquity will only get your information into a “contacts” app. That said, avoid creativity for creativity’s sake; illustrate an obvious purpose for coloring outside the lines.

Consistency
I’ve heard from multiple agents of larger firms, who are trying to find a way out from the umbrella company’s shadow. That can be tough. But if your parent entity has a template for all employees, stick to that; or lobby them for a systemic change. You benefit from the branding work in which they’ve invested over the years. For the entrepreneur, make sure that your business cards connect by more than logo with your other media. Fonts, colors, proportions, and feel should strictly match across all your collateral.

The business card as a medium isn’t dead, but yours has to come alive to survive the digital age. If you overlook the value of your business card, so will your prospects.
[tip]

Business cards aren’t the only tangible, human interaction being replaced by electronic media. This summer I read a great book, “The Church of Facebook.” It discusses the way our definition of community is changing with the influence of online social environments, and it gives multiple tips for adapting to and confronting the tendency toward more instant but more superficial connections with our digitized relationships.

That’s a challenge for friendships, churches, and movements, because humans were designed and built for intimacy. Spiritually, relationally, physically—we are most whole and empowered when we are vulnerable to and then authentically encouraged by others. (Personally, I think those three realms are connected to each other.)

When I find myself getting shallow in my platonic friendships, I often find myself struggling more with anger and apathy. When Crystal and I aren’t connecting physically, stress and insecurity bubble larger within my chest. When my frequency and quality of interactions with God drop, I notice my gratitude and stewardship wane.

We all have “dummy lights” on the dash that are trying to tell us to fill up on true community in our Twitterific world. Do you know what yours are? What do you do when they flash?

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.
Business card used by permission of Wiley Wilson.[/footer]

It’s Not Who You Know

Mafia MenWe’ve all heard, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” In my life and career that has proven true time and again, and I’ve been on the fortunate end of that equation. But recently, that idiom has grown nuanced for me in—of all places—a movie theater.

Thanks to our town having a second-run (“dollar”) theater, I got to watch this summer’s A-Team movie four times before it left the big screen. I’m not normally an action movie guy, but I’m hoping whichever sibling drew my name for Christmas this year gets me the ensuing DVD. There are too many quotable lines to count, but one of the most practical lines came from “Face.” In military prison, living large with luxury amenities, he reveals the secret of his success.

“It’s now who you know. It’s how you know them.”

This is the premise of black mail and organized crime, extramarital affairs and Free Masonry, BALCO employees and undercover police officers. On a warm, fuzzy note, it’s also true of romantic relationships—unless you just heard the death knell of, “I’d like to be [just] friends.”

What does this have to do with marketing?

Consumers are more comfortable transacting with vendors who’ve gained their confidence—local or otherwise. You gain part of that confidence through consistent branding, the sum of advertising and customer interactions that continually reinforce the culture and quality of your services and/or products. Some of the biggest disappointments that we as consumers face is discovering a disconnect with the expectations companies have created in us, like Apple has recently experienced with their iPhone 4 foibles.

Western culture celebrates the brands we love, even wearing or displaying the logos of our favorite companies on our clothes, shopping bags, and Facebook “like” lists. We recommend the products and services we buy and talk around the water cooler about those with creative marketing or cool stories like TOMS Shoes and Zappos.

So, how do you initiate those relationships? And how do you move from initiating those relationships to brand trust or—even better—customer evangelism?

Evaluate and extrapolate from your current client base.
If all you want is more customers in the store, you’ll waste your advertising budgets. So, research the common denominators of who already likes you and recommends you. Discover the kind of people or businesses that best match your culture and proficiencies; then research prospects that are as identical as possible to them.

Codify and celebrate your company culture.
Chick-fil-A and GoDaddy.com have very different brand images; and both have experienced wide-spread success. You get specific mental images when you think “Geico” or “Yankees” or “VH1.” Determine the mood and message of your brand; then build your advertising and transaction environments around them.

Hire some brand police.
Don’t just spend money to fill a media quota; and don’t let advertising leave your office, unless it meticulously matches the rest of your materials and media. The public’s retention of your brand runs parallel to your advertising’s consistency both (1) from one advertising medium to another and (2) between your advertising and your company’s underlying culture.

Keep the hits coming.
Most guys don’t propose on first dates, yet entrepreneurs do it all the time. One of my clients recently lamented that their first mail piece to a certain demographic didn’t generate any significant business. They wanted to get to at least second base on their first date. While that may be possible with some creative marketing or serendipitous matching of their need—at their time of need—and your solutions, you’re probably going to have to take the prospects on multiple visual dates. People may not need your services right away or may need multiple impressions to recognize and remember your message apart from the din of the marketplace.

Get conversational.
Go to the trade and home shows where your clients mingle. Host free seminars or cocktail receptions; take people to lunch or a sporting event. Personalize invoices and/or receipts. Write hand-written notes. Sponsor local fundraiser events or maybe create a float for a parade. Better yet, get behind a non-profit as a corporate partner or spokesperson. Even if you have to hire someone to do it for you, use social media presence to post helpful links and interact with people as humans. Don’t interrupt their Facebook and Twitter streams only for broadcasted announcements; no, jump into show-and-tell like Local Motors does. The more patient and engaged you are, the more interest and/or trust you can capture.

For a lot of this, the payoff seems abstract, if not distant. But I’ve read or witnessed too many success stories to dismiss the value of a brand that’s unique and authentic, creative and engaged. So, discover who you are, and spend your time with folks who like people like you.
[tip]

Charles Jones said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” It’s interesting for me to compare where I was spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and experientially five years ago to today’s vistas in those same categories. I’ve met a God I hadn’t known, despite life in a minister’s home. I have more and deeper friendships than I anticipated having at this stage in life. Five years ago this month, Crystal and I were planning our first post-honeymoon vacation to somewhere other than a family gathering. Since then, we’ve traveled to multiple countries and found interests we didn’t know we had. My magazine subscriptions and other non-fiction inhalation has sling-shot me into valuable positions with influence.

As a Christian, how I relate to God and his book definitely determines the rate of change in my life. Right now, we’re going through a challenging series at church, called “All In.” The basic premise is that we have as much of God and his supernatural impact on our life journeys as we want. That’s heavy. That means we change only as much as we release to sovereign access.

We can do the ritual gig, punching our spiritual time cards each weekend (or even more often) and living mostly-tidy lives. Or we can fall in love with our eternal groom and watch what that intimacy does to us. It’s scary. I struggle regularly with surrender—in multiple areas and on various levels—to the unseen omni-everything. Thankfully, heaven rewards me with an unexplainable pleasure and presence, when I do surrender. And he’s got a bunch of that for you, too—if you want it.

[footer]Image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com.[/footer]

58: Are You Perpetrating Antisocial Media?

Antisocial MediaI still wag my head when I hear people touting social media as a shiny, new concept or as a marketing giant to slay all other media. Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube may all be younger than Justin Bieber (and that’s saying something); but they are just online venues to do what you’ve been doing offline for decades. Many of the same rules that apply to offline networking and personal conversations apply to online interactions—just tweaked a bit for privacy or the lack thereof.

As businesses and entrepreneurs flock to these sites, some are chucking social graces and common sense in search of some marketing El Dorado or advertising Fountain of Youth. Hopefully, you’re not being anti-social like them with your online networking in these ways:

Parking on the Shoulder
If you haven’t tweeted in months or updated your Facebook page in weeks, you might be doing more harm than good. In our culture, we understand people who have intentionally chosen not to add social media to their plates. But when a business professional or company sets up an account then doesn’t contribute to the community or update their followers, they demonstrate either a lack of desire to interact or an incompetence to manage the simple technology. It’s like parking on the shoulder. Technically, you’re on the road; but everybody passing you knows you’re not going anywhere. So, if you’re going to do this online social gig, purposefully comment on status updates; share links; retweet; and hit that like button on pictures.

Invading Personal Space
You’d think that, with the openness of online social sites, there isn’t a lot of personal space on them. But that’s why Facebook has such a robust range of security settings and why even Twitter has levels of interaction. If you’re a firm posting company news, post it as a status update, an event, or a note on Facebook and as a tweet on Twitter. Do not send them via personal messages. You will get recipients’ hopes up—especially mobile users—that there’s a personal message for them. If you have a personal (not mass-broadcasted) message, then proceed in the more personal message space. [Example: my chiropractor’s support staff sends me appointment reminders via private Facebok messages.] Otherwise, you’ll be the entrepreneur that cried, “friend!”

Unloading Your Camera
Whether it stems from a lack of technical skills or a lack of discernment, people dump scores of images into our streams. And we’re tired of it. No captions, no tagging, no selective choice—no self control. Nobody wants to see 15 shots of the same tee ball at-bat or birthday candle puff or surprise snow around your house. If it’s not worth your time to label and weed your pictures, why would you assume it’d be worth our time to sort through them—let alone leave a pithy or complimentary comment? Look at your content as shares of stock or printed money, the more you create (at one time or from one event), the less each picture is worth. It’s supply and demand. Make more indelible impressions by making fewer, more intentional ones.

Singing Like a Wall-mounted Bass
It grabbed our attention the first time: that battery-powered frog that croaked by the sidewalk or the singing fish on the wall. But then it got annoying. Friends and family found your first and maybe second status updates about what you’re selling to be interesting—to let them in on your career scene. But then, when most or all of your (rare) status updates were “If you’re looking to buy a 3BR, 2BA house, check out our auction tonight!” or something similar, they checked out and now just speed scroll past such announcements. Some even find the habit to be annoying. Even for your company’s Facebook fan page or separate company Twitter feed, if all you do is cry auction or assets for sale, you turn the communication from a conversation to a broadcast. This is a social setting, not a sales environment! It’s okay to post such things from time to time on your personal areas; but make it the exception that brings attention to it. On your company’s social pages, mix in helpful tips/articles, entertaining anecdotes, sales results, conversation starters, and links to engaging content. Pretend you’re at a social gathering—because you are.

Megaphoning on the Corner
Do not use ALL CAPS in your posts. It’s the typing equivalent of shouting. (And studies have shown, that humans—unlike computer scanners—have a harder time reading ALL CAPS than sentence or title case.) So, just as you wouldn’t walk into a chamber of commerce mixer shouting, make sure you type with your inside voice.

Not Getting the Clue
I have people send me multiple invitations to join the same group I’ve declined (now multiple times). It reminds me of the MadTV clip that’s caught viral wildfire to almost 5 million views on YouTube. “Can I have your number? Can I have it? Can I have it?” In my case, I may not have past transactions with a company or know much about a particular entity. Maybe your invitee is trying to cut down on the number of updates in their stream. Whatever the reason they haven’t become a follower, if you have to inundate them with invitations to get them to relent, what do you think your brand image will be, when they see your updates pop up in their news feed? Don’t make me get Oprah. He’s just not that into you.

Flexing That Swastika Tattoo
This shouldn’t have to be said; but I’ve seen enough caustic, divisive, unbefitting posts to invite this warning. Racist, homophobic, and politically militant comments (1) should not be something you declare outside of professional counseling sessions and (2) should not be expressed in your online posts. These acidic statements and jokes and cartoons reflect on your professionalism. Make sure that you sift potentially-controversial political humor, double entendres, and religious declarations through the sieve of appropriateness. (I like the filter of “If I were to run for public office later in life, how would this reflect on that candidacy?”)

Raining on the Parade
We all know someone who, when they show up in a social setting, everybody else cringes inside. It’s going to be a long story, a tale that seems complicated to the teller, a sad spew that ends in a sigh, a collection of too much information. These people find their way into our news streams. And with an insecure desire to bait people into engaging, they’ll post ambiguous or uncomfortable status updates, like: “doesn’t need to answer to anyone,” or “will get through this,” or “has been really struggling lately.” We all have Murphy’s Law days, and social media can help us find the humor and irony in commiseration. But if your posts regularly trend negative, take a nap or a vacation. Find a hobby, a life coach, or a certified counselor. Your personal attitude reflects on your professional personae and your company’s brand.

Stealing from the Boss
Whether you work for a supervisor, or the client is your boss, both want to know you’re bringing your “A” game during business hours. When your Mafia Wars acquisitions, Farmville accomplishments, or Bejeweled scores hit the stream, everybody knows you’re not working on their project—at least not to an optimal extent. So, if you’re going to grab some personal distraction on company time, you might want to go back to mine sweeper and solitaire. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to do what your business card says you do.

If you want to succeed at online social media, play by the same rules that help you win offline. Listen to people; engage with them; add value to relationships.
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For a group of people that is trying to finish what Jesus started, we Christians sure do make a mess of things. Denominational feuds, fundamentalist killings, genocidal crusades, uneducated hate speech . . . church people have instigated and/or participated in significant crimes against humanity. We have besmirched the reputation of a loving God who sacrificed a perfect Jesus, who left us a comforting Spirit. Hell must smile, as people who fill sanctuaries on Sundays often unleash the most havoc on the kingdom.

I regularly wonder why God allows us to ruin his reputation, why he has put up with the hang ups and sins I struggle to shake. I know the theology: that he is enduring rejection for the wealth of true acceptance. But I struggle to imagine the hurt multiplied by billions of lives through history. My mercy would have ended millennia ago; my indignation would have reached critical mass in the garden of Eden.

So, if God can look past all that, I sure hope those of you who won’t engage with him because of us Christians can, too. Just as you don’t blame Facebook or Twitter for the freak shows and ridiculous posts that show up on them, I hope you can look past our personal failures and the historic hijacking of Scripture by those who claim God as their father. You deserve a God without religion-mongers. You deserve the best of what God represents to be true, even when we’re not. You deserve something real and personal and enveloping—apart from how emoms and bishops and evangelists and priests have framed it.

I hope you give God a chance, even a conversation. He’s endured unfathomable blasphemy and blame while waiting for you.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

40: What Kind of Blogger Are You?

Colored PencilYou’ve read it, too: there’s a pot of gold under the blog rainbow. It’s difficult enough to weed through the millions of blogs, trying to find content that’s worth your time or even accurate information. The tidal wave can make it seem like your contribution will get drowned in the throng. Business magazines (and blogs themselves) tout the benefits of the blogging entrepreneur. With all the competition on the Internet, how do you carve a niche for your words?

The first step is determining what you want out of the blogosphere—what’s the end game, the reward for the investment? Is it discovery, influence, income—or maybe something else? With this premise clarified, you next need to determine what kind of blogger you will be. As with advertising, if you try to be everything to everybody, you have to compete with everybody. But if you can be the Pied Piper of a few, they will march behind your product. One of the following blogger types probably best suits your ambition.

Social Butterfly
You might be a blogger and not even know it. If you use sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter, or Facebook, you’ve contributed to what is categorized as “micro blogging.” Rather than post to your own site, you’re sharing content via a collective platform, where others can interact with your pictures, videos, links, and notes. This is a great venue for learning and teaching, as well as cultivating friendships. And it’s a good test to see if you can regularly generate popular content, to see if you might have blogging potential. Because not all online relationships are created equal, take full advantage of security and filtering features. Be real. Be yourself. But control the parts of your life that others can see.

How-To Expert
Most entrepreneurs looking to earn business off blogging go this route. If you can write knowledgeably about a topic, you can develop an “expert” brand that people will trust. Before you pronounce yourself a columnist, develop a list of all the topics on which you can competently write (or record in audio or video). You might even want to pre-write a couple handfuls of them before publishing the first one. Use visual examples, if you have them; and don’t be afraid to purchase stock photography. Edit carefully (multiple times), as poor grammar contradicts the professionalism you’re trying to convey. Simplify steps with bullet lists; and highlight links to similar articles, including any sources you might use.

Aggregate Hub
You don’t have to be the source of knowledge to be considered an expert. You just have to know where to find insight for others. If you can save others time in sifting through the Internet haystack to find the needles that interest them, your resourcefulness will make you a place they check first or regularly. Some, like I do, will subscribe to your updates. The challenge is to find the content others can’t quickly find themselves. Technology like google alerts can help, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time doing the research you’re trying to save others. Don’t forget that local stories might have a broader appeal and that international sources may shed new perspective on domestic topics. Try to post at least daily, if you want people to frequent your site. All stories become old stories on the web in a matter of days (if not sooner).

Journalist
Blogging has democratized journalism, just as the MP3 democratized music. To get noticed, you’ll need to scoop some significant stories and be able to verify sources. It may be easier to report on local issues or trade news than regional or national stories. The key is to get that information online as soon as possible, especially if you’re competing with a print publication and/or its web site. If you’re reporting on an event that is broadcast, consider a live blog on location. To gain credibility, make sure any subjective material and/or commentary is well separated from the news part of your site. Stick to the facts, even if that results in small posts. Cross-sell your stories via email subscription, text messaging, and/or social networking sites like Twitter or facebook. Make sure you use images only for which you have permission.

Activist
You’ve got an agenda—a cause, a movement, a political party (or candidate), a hot button issue. You want to engage and enlighten people with opposing views. It’d be cool, too, if like-minded thinkers find you as a source of great ammo for the fight. While venting and cheering both prove cathartic, keep in mind that everybody you know (and many you don’t) can read your posts. So, keep it civil, appropriate, and mature. The goal here is to create content with a viral attraction, something people will want to forward to others. To gain a following, stay away from talking points, clichés, and unverified reports. (As soon as your references are proven false, you lose credibility.) New analogies and angles could get you noticed. Satire, if well done, gets shared and spread.

Journal Writer
You want to transcribe the moments and impressions of your life but with public access. The possibility that the public might be interested goads you to be consistent. If nobody reads your work, you’re cool with knowing that you benefited from the process. Someone out there connects with life and/or your experience, and you hope they find you. Categorizing your posts and tagging key words will increase your chances of discovery. Renaming your (legally-obtained) pictures with keywords before uploading won’t hurt, either. And living a life worth reading will prove beneficial to you and the anonymous web surfer. If you write through a specific lens/angle, you are more likely to attract a regular audience.

Narcissist
Do you think your slice of the world would make a decent reality show? Is your life odd or interesting—enough that others would find it entertaining? If you don’t mind the shameless plug or you’ve gained celebrity you’d like to milk, make the most of your 15 minutes of fame. To keep readers, include lots of photos and/or video. Create intrigue with teases for pending content. Remember that voyeurs and freak shows come with the territory; so, carefully monitor comments, if your blog includes that feature.

Reviewer
While not always altruistic, reviewing has become a way to establish your thoughts in the marketplace of ideas. Hotels, restaurants, attractions, trips, movies, books, fashion, cars—you get the idea—if you have keen insight and the ability to creatively express it, this could be in your wheel house. The more specific and concrete your reviews, the better. Allusions and comparisons can create effective, polished shortcuts in transcribing descriptions. If you’re posting to your own site (as opposed to a site like TripAdvisor or UrbanSpoon), you might want to collect a few other writers to post with you. Thematic content or posts with a congruent filter will make your posts more readable.

Once you know who you are and embrace it, you’re better equipped to pursue your piece of the readership pie. You may never reap more than you sew into the blogosphere; so, this isn’t a get-rich-quick deal. But in the chaos of an Internet full of self-promoting writers, your words can build your brand with wanted content spoken through your voice.
[tip]

So many Christians burn out—some even walking away from their faith—because they are trying to live for God the way someone else told or showed them. Too many church leaders preach conformity to a tradition instead of to Christ. The fact is, we’re wired differently; and God did the wiring. We have different evangelism styles. We have different ways of expressing worship and feeling God’s pleasure. We learn and process and love differently. On top of that, we have different personalities and different spiritual gifts.

Throw all of those variables together, and you have tens of thousands of potential makeups. God prides himself in creativity balanced by symbiosis. He wants unity—not uniformity! So, explore what parts of your life flip your God switch. Discover where you feel most connected to what he’s doing in the world. Then run at it with everything you have. When you are all you can be, others will want that vibrance you exude.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

34: Facebook Tips for Entrepreneurs

Online NetworkingIf you read any number of the nation’s business magazines, you’d think that Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn could make your other marketing obsolete or at least archaic. As someone who has one of these open on my iPhone, laptop, and/or desktop about eight hours per typical day, I can tell you that you’ll need more than any or all of these silver bullets in your six shooter.

That said, you can use all of these for commercial purposes—each in a different role. Today, let’s look at Facebook and some pointers on how to get the most out of it.

Know why you use the ‘book.
If you’re looking to Facebook for free advertising, you’ll “get what you pay for.” Facebook can bring you clients and prospects, but you’ll find the greatest and most likely benefit to be the ability to build into the professional relationships you already have. You’ll get to know clients, vendors, and industry peers as people. When you show people you are interested in them for more than just the transaction, they are more likely to give the next transaction to you.

Facebook is one of several prime places to build a personal brand, maybe even the expert brand. Your character, personality, experience, and lifestyle reflect on your business. Environments like Facebook allow you to intentionally manage and broadcast your public personae.

Be “content generous.”
Just like in marriage, you’ll reap the greatest benefits when you give more than you take. If you want something out of Facebook, you need to add value to the environment. Post interesting articles and links—and tell people why you’re sharing. Show that you never stop learning, that you’re constantly trying to grow—and that you want others to join you on that journey. Subscribe to RSS feeds or magazines, so that you have a constant stream of ideas to share. You don’t have to know everything to be an expert; you just have to know where to get answers. If consumers see you as a source of good ideas and solutions, why wouldn’t they trust you with their professional challenges?

Share lots of encouraging, affirming, congratulatory comments on others’ content. Drop quick notes to tell folks you’re glad to know them, that you’re thinking of them, that they deserve the cool weekend or vacation they just lived. Let your professional contacts know that you think about them, even when you’re not working together.

Build Facebook fences.
Facebook includes a robust range of privacy settings. You can allow some people to see only your resumé-level information and others your most personal pictures (and several steps in between those extremes). You can determine the accessibility of specific photo albums or videos and who can see them. You can even choose specific people or groups of people you don’t want to see certain pictures. Your college days pictures are great fun with your frat brothers but probably not appropriate to show your largest client. Not everybody you invite or accept as a Facebook friend has to see everything you post. By setting audience boundaries, you can post with more freedom and personality—and be yourself—limiting only who can interact with specific content.

Predetermine your Facebook interaction.
Facebook is the new solitaire/mine sweeper, only guised in marketing clothes. You can easily tell yourself that you’re networking on Facebook, when you’re really just shirking work. So, just like any other social engagement, budget time for it. Then stick to that schedule. Facebook is only one networking environment; don’t let it infringe on other opportunities to build relationships. If you don’t want Facebook interrupting your productive hours, Facebook allows you to turn off some or all of the notifications it can send to your email box.

Many entrepreneurs check their Facebook feed in the morning after running through their email inbox and/or at the end of the day before they head home. My generation sifts through their RSS feeds and google notifications like our parents used to read the paper. Facebooking fits neatly into this segment of your day. Maybe it’s during breakfast or lunch for you, or maybe it’s a weekend appointment.

For me, Facebook is intrinsically woven throughout my day. Working in my basement cave, it’s a connection to the outside world, an environment for personal ministry, a break room with a water cooler, a year-long auctioneer convention without the suits and hotel room keys. I use it to enrich and secure the friendships I already have and to cultivate friendships from working relationships.

You can be successful without Facebook. Facebook just makes success a community benefit.
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The more I buy into the journey of following Christ, the more I look to my interpersonal environments as ministry opportunities. I’ve even created environments or joined others in progress to add spiritual interactions in my life.

I’m not talking about church events. I mean white water and canoe trips, hiking and biking treks, hang gliding and caving adventures, breakfasts and dinners—even road trips. It’s sharing life, revealing where we are and where we’re going. When you bring Jesus with you and initiate spiritual conversations, you often have greater life impact than sitting in a church building.

Building into the lives of others brings life into your own. No surprise: that’s what Jesus said he came to do. “I came that they might have life and that more abundantly.”

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2009[/footer]

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