Sunday, February 26, 2012

Silently Social

On a recent tune-up of my skill set, I spent a few months interning with a social media marketing agency in Boston -- 451 Marketing. It was a terrific experience for me because it allowed me to immerse myself in Search Engine Marketing and Social Media. Working and observing in that dynamic, social media-driven environment de-mystified digital marketing for me and gave me the skills to boost my resumé which had stagnated since leaving the workforce for a few years to raise my family. 451 Marketing clients engage the agency to perform the behind-the-scenes work that builds awareness, engages customers and drives business. They have teams of brilliant marketers dedicated to Search Marketing, Social Media, and Public Relations. It was amazing to roll up my sleeves and learn the mechanics of digital marketing.

I made a funny observation as I was acclimating to the agency’s environment. I was used to high tech marketing, in a raucous office setting of offices and cubicles: phones ringing, speaker phones engaged with doors wide open, answering calls over the din, too-frequent group meetings, calling to colleagues over cubicle walls. Controlled (hopefully) chaos. In contrast, 451 Marketing was like walking into a spa. There are plenty of characters there who run the show, and when they are in the office, you know it! But the general worker bee population gets an enormous amount of work done in relative silence.

It took me a couple of days to realize that the quiet was a product of social media – truly walking the walk. There was plenty of communication going on. But it was primarily conducted with keyboards via IM, email and texting. Within the intern pool, I don’t remember any phones ringing. Come to think of it, I don’t remember whether there was a phone in my cubicle. My boss, who sat less than 6 feet from me, across a low, clear divider, IM’d me when I arrived on Day 2 to ask how my new commute had been the day before. It was then that I realized how much communication had changed since I had left and returned to the workforce.

I see the immense benefits of social media in business, especially when it comes to leveling the playing field for smaller players. SEO/SEM and social media, choreographed within integrated digital marketing campaigns are, collectively, the best thing to happen to small businesses since the dawn of the Internet. What we need to be cautious about, as a society, is to not let social media tools become a replacement for what we call being “social.” My objective of giving my teenager an unlimited texting plan to increase his social life falls into this exact cautionary category or how our definition of “social” is changing. It won’t be long now before Merriam-Webster adds a new definition for the verb “Like:”

1like verb \ˈlīk\ : to click a button to connect with an associate, friend or business via social networks.

You heard it here first!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gifts From LeeAnn

My path crossed with LeeAnn 11 ½ years ago when our two oldest children began attending nursery school together. But we didn’t really connect until our youngest children met in nursery school 6 ½ years ago. That year was also the year of LeeAnn’s staggering diagnosis.

In the time since then, LeeAnn has given me and others around her priceless gifts for which I wish I could repay her with a miraculous, healing touch.

A group of us came together as a bunch of suburban housewives, at the peak of our nurturing instincts, to form a network of support for LeeAnn and her family: to help with meals and child-care, to help with transportation and offering company on walks, to be present when LeeAnn needed us and to back off when she didn’t. Within this group arose some friendships of convenience which developed into deep friendships and mutual respect for everyone’s life struggles. The group opened up to strangers who sought the company of other cancer survivors, to ensure no one battled alone.

What this group received was the amazing experience of accompanying LeeAnn through her journey, her successes and failures and, most importantly, her brave approach to life. She is one of the funniest people I know – with a storyteller’s gift of naturally lacing every story with wit and humor. Every time I call her house and get her on the phone, she says “Hi, Kathy” with a bubble of laughter in her voice, as if she is just recovering from hearing a terrific joke. I don’t mean this happens most of the time I call. I mean it happens every time I call!

She has given us three children – one of whom I know much better than the others. Katie is warm-hearted with a budding maturity and resilience we all prayed she would gain. Sophie dives into any situation with all her energy and never shies away from a challenge. Andrew is the one I know the best. He is a gift to my son and I hope they are friends all of their days. He has the self-confidence and inherited good humor to sit at our dining table and tell an embarrassing story about himself, laughing through it all. And he eats my cooking without complaint, so he is welcome at my table any time!

LeeAnn also gave me Ken who has guided Justin through four years of soccer with patience, enthusiasm, skill and dedication which I know Justin can never top in future coaches. Ken can chat with the moms after school with ease and with his own wonderful sense of humor. I always learn something from talking with Ken. And I adore Ken because he adores LeeAnn.

When my sister was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and questioned the arduous journey ahead, her doctor told her to look at it as a character-building experience. To which she replied, “But I don’t need any character building! My character is fine the way it is.” It was true of my sister and it is true of LeeAnn. But, truth be told, it has been I who has experienced character-building as I have watched these two women face their enemies. Brick by brick, I have become a better person as I have tried to see life through LeeAnn’s eyes and to appreciate, like her, with unwavering gratitude, all that life has given to me.  I admire her faith in God and the visible strength she receives from the laying of hands in our little prayer group. She helps me turn my anger at God to gratitude; to notice more the friends who carried the sick man to the roof and lowered him in to be healed by Jesus, rather than the healing itself which remains, in my life, mostly unanswered prayers. LeeAnn has made me a better person. And I will be grateful to her for that gift, all of my days.

Love and gratitude to you LeeAnn. Kathy

p.s. My friend LeeAnn passed away on February 26th after a 6-year, courageous battle with cancer. We celebrated her almost-47 years of life on her birthday, March 3rd. I know the angels have already greeted her.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Locate Your Customer

Identifying customers is sometimes an overlooked step in designing a social media strategy. Established businesses can fall into the routine of targeting the same groups or making marketing decisions based on past successes. It is important to perform a bit of self-inquiry to keep up with shifting customer behaviors and the changes which have occurred in how potential customers look for products and services.

I like to compare the customer identification process to my experience of defining a target market for the potential publisher I hope will consider my book draft for publishing:

Who is my target audience? Well, how about “people who read?!” Hmm, too broad. Okay, “adults interested in stories of women who came of age in the Great Depression.” Oh, specifically Midwestern women. And don’t forget young adults who want to learn about a period of American culture that is so different from today that it seems also to have occurred in a foreign land: Mapping change through one woman’s personal journey. The more I think about it, the more sharply I can define the target.

The same holds true for business. Whether you are a yoga studio seeking to pinpoint your student’s demographics; a water filtration company trying to reach new customers through new channels; or a new social media consulting business looking for clients: The questions to ask ourselves are the same. 

Who do you serve now?

Yoga Studio
Middle-age, Senior, young adult, suburban
Water Filtration
New home buyers and sellers
Social Media Business
Small businesses lacking social media strategy

Why do customers/clients come? 

Yoga Studio
Exercise, stress relief, build self-esteem, mindfulness
Water Filtration
Long-term cost savings, reduce waste
Social Media Business
Seek to expand customer base

How do customers in your market find their new products and services? 

Yoga Studio
Word of mouth, search engines, signage, promotions
Water Filtration
Search engines, trip to hardware store
Social Media Business
Search engines, social media, industry associations

The more we analyze, the more we can pinpoint the behaviors and demographics that will help us paint a picture of our target customers and how to best reach them. In the process, we learn about the marketplace in which we compete, discover groups we are not serving, find needs to be filled and learn from our competition. We may find surprises along the way – traits and trends we hadn’t anticipated.

With people heading first to the Internet to find what they are seeking, a business’ web presence is critical to its continued success. Through effective use of keywords and links in websites and blogs, businesses can achieve the page rank that gets them noticed. Through ongoing Facebook and Twitter activity, businesses expand their reach as their engaging content gets passed through the social network. Through targeted Facebook and Google ads, businesses pop into the view of exactly the potential customers they hope to reach.

Traditional methods such as local newspaper ads and mailings don’t have the tailored reach or the breadth of the Internet. Now if we do our homework and learn the specific type of consumer we are trying to reach, social media enable us to appear on their proverbial doorstep.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Social Media Explained in Donuts

It can be hard to wrap your mind around social media, especially if you were busy with other more important things in life when it emerged, or if you watched it emerge but just hoped it would go away. With social media clearly here to stay (as 1,600 staffers at P&G – the world’s largest marketer - are being laid off upon the CPG giant’s realization that Facebook and Google advertising is more efficient than traditional advertising), anyone with a product or service to market should become knowledgeable on the subject and start actively marketing through social media.

To a social media newcomer, explaining the differences between the tools can be confusing. Not to mention, new tools keep popping up. Here is a great whiteboard breakdown, from Douglas Wray, via, to set us all straight.

This is great! It is all clear to me now. What do you think?

I think I need a donut.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From Blogger Musings to Business Empire

One of the astonishing things about blogging is the transformation that can occur as the result of hitting a sweet spot in our culture.  There are great examples of people who set out to blog about life and end up with a major web presence and a booming business on their hands – and truly fabulous examples of getting paid for doing what you love! 

One of my favorite examples is Ree Drummond and her blog, The Pioneer Woman. I love this example because it allows me to channel my inner cowgirl. Ree probably started out pretty basic, blogging about her life on the range, homeschooling her kids, photographing her beautiful surroundings, cooking her favorite dishes. Somewhere between there and her gold mine of a business, run out of her state-of-the-art kitchen, she acquired over 380,000 Facebook fans. She now oversees a multimillion-dollar cookbook, talk-show circuit, Food Network show, home décor, endorsement business - all doing what she loves. I don’t think she has to hitch up the team to ride in to town with Pa any more.

Another great example is Blogpire. To summarize the journey: A coffee drinker thinks the little single serve coffee cups made by Keurig are an interesting development and guesses that others find them interesting too. So he blogs about them – their usefulness; their flavors; the machines that brew then; how they impact life; how they need to be more environmentally friendly. Quickly, he strikes a chord in the coffee-drinking world and thousands find his blog and comment about this new caffeinated phenomenon. Next thing he knows, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters wants to advertise on his blog and pay him a small handful of coins every time a visitor to his blog clicks the Green Mountain ad. Other advertisers come knocking and he finds himself earning five figures from his blog traffic! He has the genius to repeat the process in other consumer goods and creates Blogpire Productions, a directory of blogs that grow into a robust business.

People are finding their voice through blogging. Lisa Stone of Blogher will attest to the fact that women, in particular, are a big part of this blogging population.  In our inherent need to share, we provide and derive benefit from explaining our life, our talents or our solutions to problems. And blogging is the perfect tool for finding the audience that cares.

Are you blogging? If so, about what?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Language 101

What I am discovering is that the majority of small, established businesses in my corner of the world are entering the blogosphere out of necessity, but rather reluctantly.  These are intelligent, creative, entrepreneurs whose successes are a result of nurturing an idea with painstaking care, endless energy and calculated risks.  Entering the social media arena, however, fills them with dread.

The main stumbling block for most, is that we were not raised in social media, like the following generation whose social lives are a cornucopia of Facebook, Twitter, smart phone apps, texting, IM'ing, chat rooms, Skype, YouTube, and online multi-player video games.  Not to mention their online academic world of homework submissions, online tests, course selections, school applications and simulations.

Cinque Terre, Manarola, Italy
So let's approach it like learning a new language - a language that is essential for business survival in the modern world.  The beauty of the social media "language" is that we don't have to travel to a new land to immerse ourselves in it.  We can also choose our immersion pace - wade in carefully up to our ankles; dive in head-first; or choose an approach anywhere in between. For cautious waders like me - leveraging my existing business knowledge and my personal social media world - setting up a blog and blogging has been a great introduction to the "language."  Simultaneously absorbing information by following blogs and dabbling in the business side of Facebook and Twitter prepares me for the next language lesson on using social media to create visibility, engage others and grow my business.

Like learning a language, you acquire new words, then accumulate enough words to form sentences.  The tenses begin to make sense and you find yourself able to speak, then converse.  The more you use it, the better you get.

Now to find the time!  It is an investment in your business.  It is important to make the time or ask for help.  Your fluency will improve with time and you may even ask yourself why you didn't dive in earlier!