How to Deal with Your Competition

Make the case that customers should buy from you and no one else.

My curiosity has been piqued lately by Bing's "Scroogled" campaign. The premise is that if you're using the Google Shopping product, you're now seeing paid search results, and the advertisers who bid the most come out on top. Vendors who don't pay to participate aren't listed at all, even though they might have a better price or be a better match to your search query. Bing, however, doesn't use paid shopping results, giving you more options to find what you want at the price that works for you.

Bing is doing a great job of directly addressing the competition here. They've drawn attention to an important but oft-forgotten weakness of Google, and shown how their product has strength in this area.

Your Takeaway

As you strategize for 2013, think about your competition. You've researched them and you know more about them than anyone else. What do you wish your customers knew about them?  Conversely, what do you wish your customers knew about you? What's the one thing that would bring them to your side every time?

Try some free-writing. Open up a blank document and just write all of this out.  Now you have a basis for your next ad campaign.

Pro tip: If you're going to name names in your ads, make sure that what you're saying is factual. Otherwise, you may be subject to a lawsuit. Bing points to Google's own SEC filings and press announcements to back up its story.

Here's the latest "Scroogled" ad from Bing. Happy Holidays!

Does that free-writing exercise I suggested give you the shakes? Let me know, and we can work on it together.

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What to Expect During This Year's Holiday Selling Season

We're Almost There.

Thanksgiving's in two days, and then the madness begins. Millions of emails, millions of ads, millions of sales, millions of people crowding your stores, your phones, your web sites.

What Should You Expect?

There are a few trends you should be ready for this week, and here's what to do about them:

1) The early start. A growing list of large retailers are going to be open for part or all of the day on Thanksgiving itself. I'm not sure I like this trend; it takes people away from their families and glorifies buying new stuff on a holiday that celebrates being thankful for what we already have.

That said, you can still send a message on Wednesday, wishing your customers a happy holiday and giving them a special online sale just for them for Wednesday and Thursday. Your web site can work for you while your employees are enjoying the holiday with friends and family.

2) Comparison shopping and showrooming. If you own retail locations, expect a lot of people in your stores to be looking at their phones while shopping, using price comparison apps like RedLaser and Amazon's Price Check to help them decide whether to buy with you or not.

The best defense is a good offense. Prepare by researching your pricing and justifying it. You can offer things that larger retailers can't - like personalized service and a more flexible return policy. You can also package items together to make comparison shopping a little trickier. Consider offering price matching on some items if you notice a lot of people showrooming certain products.

3) Layaway. Layaway made a comeback a few years ago, during the recession. It's still here and services like online layaway are driving the growth of this payment method. It's a little late to set up layaway now if you don't have it already, but you should be alert for customers who might want this service and determine what portion of your shoppers might use it. You might ask people who are leaving your store empty-handed or putting back items if layaway service would change their minds, or do a survey of your email customers.

What are you doing differently this holiday season? Please share in the comments.

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Are You Ready for Cyber Monday?

I hope you've got your online promotions planned for Cyber Monday, which is coming right up on Monday, November 26.

Target Christmas Sale
In 2011, consumers spent more than $1.25 billion online during the Monday after Thanksgiving, up 22% from the $1 billion they spent in 2010. What's more, average order value was also up almost three percent, to $198.26.

Want your share? 

Of course you do. Even if you're not quite prepared for Cyber Monday, there's still time to make the most of the opportunity. Here's how:

1) Make your deals simple and shareable. Your offers should be easy to understand, redeem, and share. People do a LOT of comparison shopping on Cyber Monday and you don't want your deals to get lost by being too complicated. Also, easy-to-share deals mean customers can get you other customers. Make sure there are share buttons on every page, and include an "I got a great deal" sharable message with your purchase confirmations so folks can tell their friends what they bought.

2) Tell them about it! Announce deals for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the weekend, and Cyber Monday on all of your channels. Customers expect consistent experiences on email, social media, and your web site, so make sure everything's updated.

3) Don't forget about SEO. Make sure you're using keywords like "Cyber Monday," product terms, and deal-related messaging in your web copy, so that search engines can find your work.

4) Update your ads. If you're running online ads, update your creative to reflect your Cyber Monday offers. Outdated ads will confuse your customers.

5) Is your operational house in order? Do you have what you need to keep your inventory status current, ship out extra orders, deal with special requests, handle complaints, send out additional promotions, and update your web site? If not, now's the time to act.

Need help getting ready for your best Cyber Monday ever? Let me know - I can help.

How Grey Poupon is Generating Leads, Collecting Customer Data

You may have seen some recent buzz about Grey Poupon's Society of Good Taste, a club you can apply to join on Facebook (yes, people do get rejected). I thought this was a little mysterious, so I started talking some friends into applying with me to see what happened.

Image: GreyPoupon,com
If you go on over to Grey Poupon's Facebook page, there's an app you can click on to apply, and then Grey Poupon will use a Wolfram-Alpha-like app to assess your Facebook presence.

Grey Poupon will look at how many friends you have, how many photos in which you've been tagged, how many schools/employers you have listed on your page, how many other brands you like, and your listed interests (in bands, hobbies, movies, etc.). It will then give you a score and let you know if you've made it into the Society.

If you have, then you'll be extended a special offer. Right now, in exchange for more information - your name, street address, and email, you're promised a free tote bag. Then, you're encouraged to invite friends to apply to the Society for Good Taste.

I am floored by the amount of data Grey Poupon is able to collect for marketing purposes here. The data-head in me is feeling hungry, and not for fine-grained mustard.

Grey Poupon (a Kraft brand) can now crunch age, sex, school, employer, location, hobby, and interest data for its fans, and see their photos and other content. It can also use the address data it collects to purchase income, net worth, and other household financial data for its Society members.

Also important, it does reject people from the Society: Those who don't have lots of Facebook friends, aren't tagged in a lot of photos, or don't have a long list of brands, movies, and music they like listed on their pages. This means that Grey Poupon is building a community of Facebook influencers whose power they'll be wielding on behalf of their brand.

I think this is brilliant strategy, and it's interesting to see thousands of people willingly give a brand so much information about themselves in return for a totebag. As a lead generation program, this is brilliant and inspiring.

What do you think? Please share.

PS - I'll be blogging here on and off, but I'm still working on Tito's Greenhouse. The garden is coming along...

PPS - If you go to, the brand's Pinterest page comes up. What do you think of that? It's the first time I've seen a brand do this and I'm wondering what folks think. Is this something you'd try?

I'm Taking a Break and Blogging Over Here Now

It's been great sharing marketing ideas and know-how with you on this blog for the last 159 posts or so.

I need a break from writing about marketing, so now it's time to try something new for a while.

I've been an avid gardener for years now, and this fall, we're installing a greenhouse right in the back yard. We'll be growing vegetables and we're hoping to have some fresh produce to feed us into the winter.

Please join me over on Tito's Greenhouse, where we'll be sharing the ups and downs of building the greenhouse, laying out the beds, putting in the plants, and hopefully getting some vegetables and fruit out of the whole experience.

Thanks for reading this blog, and for all of your great questions and comments. Look forward to seeing you over on the Greenhouse.

I'll be back here sometime soon, maybe once the tomatoes are in....

Engagement: This is What Marketing Is Now

There's another layer to your marketing plans that's critical to your success. If you're not giving your customers the chance to share their experiences, rate your products, and ask friends for their feedback, you're missing out.

Customers need to engage with you before they buy.
Together. Flickr user Dev Null.
You see, most people don't just look at your advertising, your web site, or your catalogs anymore when they're ready to buy. They do online research, they check product reviews, and they ask their friends what they think. 

So if you're not helping them do that, you're preventing customers from completing today's sales cycle. Why would you do that? 

So, while you're getting ready for your holiday sales push, add a couple of things to your to-do list:

1) Product reviews: Product reviews enable your customers to share their thoughts with you, and give advice to one another - a key part of today's purchasing experience. Even poor reviews help you - they give you a chance to make it right for your customers and to improve your products and service.

2) Community: Is there a place online where your customers can congregate? Whether you run forums, a Facebook page, or a Pinterest presence, you need a place where people can share.

3) Sharing: One of my favorite local restaurants just ran a contest where users were asked to take a picture in the restaurant (of their friends, the food, the decor, etc.) using Instagram and then post it on their Facebook page. Hundreds of people participated and they got some great submissions, and wonderful images of their delicious dishes. Customers had a reason to return to their Facebook page again and again to see new photos and vote on their favorites.

4) Let Them In: People need a little more than ads or marketing copy to get them ready to make a purchase. Can you show your customers how your product fits in with their lives? Give them real stories from real people? Tell them a little bit about you and your staff? Explain what inspires you to do what you do? I highly recommend you make some videos to show customers a little bit more about who you are and what happens behind the scenes. Let customers in, and ask them to stay a while.

How are you engaging your customers? Please share.

Need a little help making some friends? Let me know. I can help.

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Have You Tried a Facebook Promoted Post?

Recently, Facebook has been offering a new, inexpensive way to advertise. I think you should give Facebook Promoted Posts a try. Here's how it works, and why you should test it for your page.

From Flickr user Sean MacEntee.
How it works:

For a little cash - usually, $5, $10, $20, or a little more, depending on how many Facebook fans you have, Facebook will make sure your post is seen by a larger percentage of your fans and their friends. Right now, if you have more than 400 fans on your page, you can promote any post for three days.

Why you should try it:

An average Facebook post will be seen by about 16% of your fans. One of my clients is doing better than that - their average post is seen by about 30% of their fans. They have a small, but very engaged community.

When we spent $10 to promote a Facebook post, we went far beyond that - our promoted post reached six times that many people - more than twice the amount of people than our total fan base. Many more people saw and shared our promoted post than usual.

What's more, we saw a doubling of engagement in the 10 days after our promoted post, gained some new fans, and we continue to see a 30% lift in engagement on Facebook, several weeks after the promoted post. 

What to promote:

I'd recommend testing something entertaining - a video, photo gallery, game, or something else fun. Inactive fans - those who haven't interacted with you in a while - are going to see this post and you want to give them a reason to rejoin your active fan base.

But Beware:

Yes, we only spent $10 and got some encouraging results. But those $10 posts add up. Make sure you're budgeting appropriately - you don't want to be spending money every few days to promote another post unless you're seeing good results. Your priority should be generating quality, engaging content to serve your social media audience - once you have great content, then work on promoting it. 

Let me know how this works for you. I'm looking forward to hearing your stories!

Does your Facebook strategy  need a bit of a facelift? Let me know. I can help. 

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A Neat Idea for Leveraging Your Facebook Fan Base

Facebook is good for a lot of things, but one of my favorite things about it is that it makes your birthday really, really fun. Even people who rarely use Facebook visit their pages on their birthdays - after all, who doesn't want to check out birthday greetings from friends around the world?

Facebook birthday ad
You can use this natural inclination for birthday greetings to help your business. Did you know that you can target Facebook ads to people with a birthday in the next week? This is a time when people are already checking their Facebook pages to see all the postings from their friends, so make the most of it.

When you're creating your ad, at  "Choose Your Audience," next to "Broad Categories," pick "Events," and then "Has a birthday in less than 1 week."

Target ads to Facebook users with Birthdays

At this point, you're positioned to deliver some very targeted, relevant ads. You can deliver special offers with a message acknowledging your customers' special event.

Messages like: 

  • Happy Birthday! Get yourself a little something nice this year. Click for your 10% birthday discount.
  • It’s your birthday. We have a present for you – 10% off for your special day!
  • Happy Birthday! Click to learn more about your special birthday deals.
As you can see, these ads reach your audience in a meaningful way. I'd encourage anyone to test a birthday offer on Facebook against any other ads. The results may surprise you.

How are you using customer data to deliver more engaging, relevant offers? Please share.

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Twitter Lessons we Can Learn from Hope Solo

The public feud between US Olympic soccer player Hope Solo and Olympian-turned-commentator Brandi Chastain continues to make news as sports fans wait for the next salvo in a disagreement about the tone and content of Chastain's in-game commentary. It's not that Chastain is wrong, or Solo isn't entitled to her opinion, too, but sometimes these things are better handled in another way.

Hope Solo. JMR Photography.
For my part, I've heard announcers in gymnastics and ice skating provide commentary in much the same spirit, and it is a little critical. Still, Solo could have handled this differently.

Here's some things to consider next time you're tempted to start a public disagreement:

1) Does your beef really need to be on Twitter? This is the most public, unfiltered, exposed way you can start a conflict. Just because you need to say something, it doesn't mean you need to say it where else where millions of people will see or hear it. Solo could have just called Chastain privately and said, "Hey, we're all in the same gang, right?" I've heard Chastain be very complimentary to other teams - maybe she is just trying to avoid favoritism? A private talk could have cleared things up, but Solo lost her chance.

2) A little grace always makes you look better, and being defensive always makes you look bad. If Solo had held back, we'd all be talking about how hard Chastain is being on the team instead.

3) Do answer your critics, and consider what channels you'll use. Chastain has toed a firm line, saying she's "just doing her job," and has pointed out ways in which she's' complemented Solo's skills. She's resisted the temptation to get on Twitter herself and stuck to traditional corporate media to fit the image she's hoping to maintain.

4) Think about your audience. One of the many criticisms of Brandi Chastain's commentary is that it doesn't really tell the audience what's happening in the game. Does the audience really want to know what the team is doing wrong? Maybe a little, but most of us really need a basic guide as to which players are doing what.

How do you handle criticism of your organization? Please let me know in the comments.

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How to Feed the Social Media Content Beast

It can be really challenging to create, manage, and schedule content for your social feeds, especially if you work for a large organization where lots of people are responsible for delivering social media content, but few are actually held accountable for how often you post.

Feeding the social media content beast can be tricky
Social Media Beast. Photo: Doug Woods
Here's what I've learned about feeding the content beast:

Mine your email newsletters. If you work in an organization where several divisions publish their own email campaigns, you're in luck. This means each division is already identifying content that's important to them. All you need to do is convert their weekly headlines into social media posts.

Make a schedule. While it's always important that your social media schedule is flexible to accommodate breaking stories, it will give you important piece of mind to know that you have content available each day. Write multiple posts for each piece of content you promote so that you have some to save for later. We live in a 24 hour news cycle, but good stories are still relevant days, even weeks, after their original publish date. 

Repost and Retweet. Social media is a reciprocal environment. Identify partner organizations to your brand that you can share on your own social channels. Use Google Alerts to identify media clips and share those, too.

Share results. One of the best things you can do to motivate your organization to provide great content for social media is to show people what it does to support their goals. If you can explain how social media drives web traffic, sales, donations, or other support, you'll get more great content to share.

How are you feeding the content beast? Please share.

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Things You Can Do Now to Drive Sales, Traffic

It's easy to slip into the summer doldrums. People are on vacation, sales slow down, donations dry up, traffic disappears, and it's way too hot to do anything. Your business can't really take an extended leave of absence, so here's a few things you can do to get things moving again.

Don't get lazy about your marketing just because it's summer
Lazy Summer: Flickr user Cali4Beach.
1) Borrow a move from Target's playbook, and have a summer sale. If you get their emails, you'll notice that they had a Cyber Monday sale earlier this week. What's cool about this is that no one else is having that kind of sale right now - Target's event really stands out. Check out this little website for a list of things you can celebrate with customers.

2) Have a secret sales event for your best customers. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to give them discounts, either. Do you have new products that you haven't put out to the larger market that you can promote just to them for a short time, or limited stock of certain items? This is a great way to say thank you.

3) For you nonprofits out there, what about a summer friend-get-a-friend campaign? All you need to do is ask your donors and members to recruit friends to your mailing list, or to your Facebook page (preferably both). Then, when it's time for you to do your next round of asks, you have plenty of new names with which to work.

What are you doing to beat the summer blahs? Please share!

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How to Raise Your Level of Social Media Engagement

...or, Social Media, You're Doing it Wrong

There are a lot of social media skeptics out there - people who say that networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest are a big waste of valuable time. Common curmudgeonly statements include:

Social media isn't just about cats, it's about engagement on many levels.
Gratuitous cat. Photo: L. Ibraheem
  • "It's all about kittens and what people ate for lunch"
  • "It's all women planning fairytale weddings and picking out nail polish."
  • "It's just young dudes playing video games and sharing some kind of code."
  • "My mom/grandpa/auntie uses it to get photos of the kids. "
  • "It's not for business."

I think they're missing the point. It's true that people do all of these things with social media, but

They do a lot more.


  • Sharing and supporting meaningful social causes.
  • Watching video how-to's
  • Inviting friends and family to send caring messages to a loved one with cancer.
  • Creating and sharing original art.
  • Getting in touch with experts about sticky business problems.
  • Finding jobs and employees.
  • Discussing the news of the day, and new developments in almost any field.
  • Learning about subjects that interest them.
  • Just keeping in touch with friends.
So, if you're finding that people aren't really engaging with you on social media,

Can you help them do any of the things I just listed above?

I bet you can. If you're not sure how, drop me a line. I can help.

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Be Generous with Your Business

The New York Times recently reported that the key to happiness is giving to others. How can we apply this to our businesses? Here's five ways to give back:

From Flickr user ThisParticularGreg.
1) Help a less experienced colleague. People who do the same thing as you do are your partners, not just your competitors. Giving a little advice now and then is a way to make connections, give back, and great karma for later. Now is also a good time to look at how you're mentoring your own employees.

2) Give a customer a break. Have a difficult order with a return problem, shipping issue, or an "I'm just not happy" problem? Make that customer's dream come true. Give a full refund. Extend your return policy. Waive the shipping charges. Send a replacement for free. A little goodwill now will get you a customer for life.

3) Embrace your community. Do you reply to posts on Facebook? Do you retweet your customers' tweets? Do you help the recent college grads who follow your company on LinkedIn? Social networking is a two-way street. Don't just broadcast, contribute. You'll find that your Facebook wall becomes a vibrant community.

4) Get your company involved in local good works. How involved are you in the community where you live? It's easy to ignore our hometowns when we do all of our business online. Can you support your local Girl Scout troop? Kids' softball team? Food pantry? Get out there with your employees and find a way to help out in the community you call home.

5) Get your customers involved in good works. Ask them to donate to a good cause whenever they order, or just to support a favorite charity anyway. Donate a portion of their order to charity. Make it easy for them to share with their friends on social networks. 

How are you giving back? Please share in the comments.

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Four Steps to Writing Copy With Passion

Whether you run your own small business or you're getting the word out about a worthy cause, a little passion goes a long way. If you're getting stuck while writing your next donation appeal, e-mail newsletter, or Facebook post, passion might be what you need.

Ready to write. From Flickr user Rob Pearce.
Here's four steps to adding a little passion to your copy:

1) Get rid of distractions, take a deep breath, and really think about why you got into your business in the first place. What did you what to achieve? Who did you want to help? Write it down. These are the seeds of the story you're going to tell today.

2) Now, ask yourself, "Why should people care?" Why do people need to donate to your cause, buy your product, or tell a friend about it? This is deeply connected to your answers to the first question. When you understand why you care about something, you can understand why everyone else should care.

3) Now that we've covered the whys, now let's get back to the what. What's the goal for the message you're writing today? To let people know about a great new product? To inform your audience about needy children who need help? To thank people for staying loyal to your business? When you understand the message goal, it's easier to write with passion.

4) Now, tie it all together. Explain why you care, tell others why what you care about is important to them, and then ask them to act. This is the root of your message and you use these passionate statements to write the appeal, newsletter, Facebook post, or anything else you're writing today.

Did this work for you? What do you do when you have writers' block? Please share in the comments.

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It's Time to Think About Your Holiday Promotions

We've had some record heat lately, so it can be challenging to think about silver bells, holly trees, and frosty air. But if you don't plan your holiday promotions now, you can be left without the homey glow of candlelight to keep you warm. Today, you need to make a list and check it twice - whether you have a retail business, a non-profit, or any other kind of operation:

Holly, from Flickr user Arquera.
1) What are your goals for this holiday season? Some retailers get up to 40% of their annual sales during the winter holidays and the end of the year is peak time for most non-profits as people want to be generous and be sure to have their tax deductions ready. Do your financials and figure out what you need to bring in.

2) What's your strategy for reaching that goal? Are you going to start before Halloween, as more and more retailers do? Are you going to peg big sales/donation drives to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa? When do you expect to meet each goal milestone? Are there particular items that are going to drive most of your sales? Do you have an overarching theme?

3) What tactics are pegged to those strategies? Is it the 12 toys of Christmas? Give for Thanksgiving? How are you going to use email, social media, your web site, your telepresence, videos, traditional mail, and everything else in your arsenal to support your strategies?

4) What do you need to do now? If your major holiday promotion is tied to polka dot ties, you need to make sure you have them, and their displays, packaging, and shipping materials, in stock soon. If you're going to be sending out holiday cards to donors, you need to get these designed and ordered now. If there's some heavy lifting to do on your web site that your in-house staff can't do, think about what you need and talk to a consultant now. Lots of us are busy during the holidays and we'd much rather help you today.

What are your holiday plans? Please share.

How to Design a Great Email Newsletter

It's never a bad time to take another look at your email program and see if it could use a bit of a facelift. Here are five key factors to consider when retooling your email design.

From Flickr user Howard Dickins.
1) Digestability. I received a newsletter today that had more than 20 different articles in it. It was just too much. What three or four things should readers pay attention to and why? It's your job to tell people what's important.

2) Sharability. Are all of your articles sharable on social networks? They should be.

3) Consistent branding. Does your email match your web site? Consider replicating your top menu at the top of your stationery and using some of the same graphical elements. Readers who click from your email to your web site should feel like they are still dealing with the same organization.

4) Reader experience. Readers click on a link from your email, and then what? They read the content you're promoting, and then what? Think about your goals. Do you want readers to enjoy your content and then share it with friends? Buy something or donate? Attend an event? Always have your overall organizational goals in mind when you create the landing pages for your emails.

5) Visual appeal. Sometimes it doesn't seem right to spend your hard-earned cash on photos or a graphic designer, but it's a sound investment. A well-designed email makes your brand look the way it should and leads the reader through your content the way you want them to.

What would you change about your email program? Please share.

Need help updating your email strategy? Drop me a line - I can help.

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Twitter: Hey Dominion Virginia Power, You're Doing It Right

Last week, I gave Morgan Stanley Smith Barney some pointers on using Twitter a wee bit more authentically.

This week, I'd like to extend some props to Dominion Virginia Power, which used Twitter in a highly effective manner to keep more than 900,000 customers informed who were affected by power outages which began as a result of a derecho storm on June 29th.

Since the outages began, the folks who are in charge of Dominion Virginia's Twitter feed have been Tweeting pretty much non-stop, and they've done a great job using these tactics:

  • Replying to pretty much every Tweet that's sent @DomVAPower. Their feed is full of @this and @that, and they do their best to answer every question.
  • Referring people to the right resource. Sometimes customers are directed to call and report an outage; other folks are referred to press releases, interactive maps, or web pages that show outage status. Dominion uses the resource that best matches the questions customers ask.
  • Partnering across the organization to get content out. Dominion is able to send customers to online resources that tell them what they need to know because the people who manage their web site are making those updates available non-stop, and the rest of Dominion's organization is working to get this information to their online team.
  • Keeping the right tone. Dominion celebrates when we're happy our lights are back on and sympathizes when it's 100 degrees out and we still don't have A/C. I didn't see any tweets where they became defensive, inappropriate, or unhelpful.
  • Being authentic and real. It's clear to me that real people run Dominion's Twitter feed and I appreciate them being available non-stop until everyone gets their power restored.
What's your takeaway?
  • For certain types of businesses, Twitter can be an effective customer service tool.
  • During an emergency, Twitter is a great way to let people know what's going on right now.
  • Since everyone can see your tweets, you can answer many customer questions by replying to one tweet.
  • Even though it took three days for Dominion to get power back on in my neighborhood, I still felt like they were doing their best. I knew they were on top of the situation because I could see what they were doing any time I checked their Twitter feed. I felt like Dominion was paying attention to the situation and that I could connect to them if I needed to. 
  • Dominion uses its Twitter feed to show that it cares about its customers. Do you do that with your feed? How many of your tweets are broadcast news ("Check out our new...") and how many are conversations with customers? It might be time to tweak that ratio a bit.
What do you think about Twitter for crisis communications and customer service? Let me know in the comments.

Need help making your Twitter feed more nimble, authentic, and useful? Drop me a line. I can get you moving in the right direction.

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Twitter: Hey Morgan Stanley, You're Doing it Wrong

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney financial advisors are taking to Twitter in order to meet their audience where they are, which is great news.

Unfortunately, so far, the tweets seem pretty scripted, like this one, for example:

It shows up on several different MSSB advisors' twitter feeds, but the advisors aren't retweeting each other or talking to each other about the issue - they are just all delivering the same tweet.

Now, I'm all for companies being responsible about social media and making sure that they're in charge of the message - after all, Morgan Stanley's going to look bad if its employees are drunk-tweeting at 3:00am from Tijuana.

That said, it seems like they could benefit from a little flexibility. Maybe they want to provide the content and the link, and let the advisors come up with their own tweets?

Some of the tweets seem a little too cheerleaderish, too, like this one:

I'm glad that MSSB has a strong diversity initiative, but this kind of "I'm proud...Way to go" tweet belongs on an official corporate feed. This is more a question of style than substance. What if the tweet said something like this?

  • Off to #MSSB HQ for #diversity committee work. So glad to be part of this initiative!

The tone is a little more casual, and the emotion is more genuine and personal. The more informal style also invites readers to respond. Folks might want to ask Ms. DeBellis what the committee is up to and how it operates, which is exactly what we want to happen on Twitter.

I also noticed this tweet, and some other tweets that were similar:

Again, the tone here is just too formal. This sounds scary! The whole point of Morgan Stanley being on Twitter is to make personal financial management more accessible. Mr. Ledyard could have tweeted something like this:

  • Are you a trustee for a foundation or endowment? There are some guidelines you should understand. Let me know if you have questions.  

The more informal tone makes Ledyard more approachable, so people are more likely to tweet or message him if they want to know more.

So what's your takeaway here?

  • Make your Twitter style less formal than your press releases, whitepapers, and annual reports.
  • Share emotions - what are you excited about today?
  • Twitter is a place to talk to other people; keep that in mind when you write your tweets.
  • If you have several feeds to represent one brand, make sure feed owners are able to customize their tweets to their own voices so you're not repeating the same tweet many times.
  • Make sure your Tweeps are actually tweeting. Some of MSSB's feeds haven't been used in weeks.

What do you think of Morgan Stanley's approach? What keeps you from being more active on Twitter? Please share in the comments.

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What Time Should You Tweet?

Recently, a colleague of mine asked me for my thoughts on the timing of social media posts. She has some clients that are just getting started on Facebook and Twitter, and they wanted advice on when to post.

The only rules about timing your social media posts are that there really aren't any rules. Every audience is different and each social network is different.

Use testing to figure out when to post to your social networks.
Photo: Flickr user Katerha.
I recommended she help her clients set up a tool like HootSuite so that they could schedule posts ahead of time, and then see engagement stats for posts sent at different times - morning, afternoon, evening, nights, and weekends.

One of her clients is a school, and they may find that many parents are checking for school news late in the evening - making sure they know the schedule for the next day before bed, or just taking advantage of the hours after their children are asleep. In the case of inclement weather, they'll be up early to find out if classes are cancelled.

I always recommend that organizations test posting on the weekend to see how it does. Lots of people do tend to spend time on social networks on Saturday mornings, while they are at the kids' soccer practice or just relaxing at home.

As a general rule, Twitter seems to be active later in the day, but what's really important is what the best time is for your audience - no one formula works for every organization.

Again, the best thing to do is test - try tweeting or posting on Facebook with similar content at different times of day and see what happens. The most important thing you can do is to keep testing - what times, and how often to post.

One of the best webinars I've seen on timing is from Hubspot, and it's called The Science of Timing. It's a couple of years old, but I find that it's still pretty relevant.

What time do you post and what times of day do you find work best for you? Please share.

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Listen To Your Customers, Stay in Business

If you've been reading the news this week, you've probably noticed that in light of terrible sales, JC Penney's new CEO resigned after his idea to simplify pricing and remove coupons from JC Penney's pricing structure backfired (more here).

The Internet is chock-full of lessons-learned articles, and the lesson that stands out most to me is "Know Your Customers, and Give Them What They Want." These folks are on to something.

Listening is important. Photo: John Morton.
OK, you say.

I won't be like JC Penney. I'll know my customers and give them what they want.


The best way to tackle this problem is the direct way - by asking them.

Here are a few things you can try:

1) Ask questions on Facebook - open ended or you can use Facebook's questions functionality to do a multiple choice question. Facebook is a two-way street - you can post your content, but you can also use it to gather new content from your fans.

2) Ask questions on your other social channels, too - are you on Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+? Use those platforms to say "What do you think of this?" or "What do you want to see next?"

3) Survey your customers on email. Ask them how they'd like to hear from you, how often, and what about. Ask them what would make their customer service dreams come true.

4) Script some questions for your call center to ask. Are there common reasons that people call that could be resolved another way to everyone's satisfaction? Is there a product they wish you sold? Why do they shop with you and not the competition?

5) If you don't have product reviews on your web site, add them. They can be critical to helping your customers decide to buy, and to setting expectations appropriately. Also, when customers help each other, they build community and return to your site more. Reviews also make great content for, you guessed it, Facebook.


1) Listen!

2) Listen some more!


Collect all this feedback and look for themes. You'll probably be able to find several common things that customers think you can do better, and lots of things they like that you should continue doing. Implement this feedback where it makes sense, and you'll be on the way to happier, more profitable customers who appreciate that you took the time to get to know them and what they want.

What are you doing to make your customers' dreams come true? Please share.

Need help getting to know your customers and what they want? Let me know. I can help.

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How to See the Opportunity in Your Own Email Files

A lot of non-profits (and businesses, too) that I work with have a similar problem - email lists all over the place, in different formats, with different permissions. If this sounds like you, it's critical to your future success that you do something about this ASAP. Why?

Clean Up Your Email Lists and See Better Results.
Lists. From Flickr user James West.
Your best source of new subscribers for your different email campaigns is sitting right in front of you. Think about:

1) Cross-promotion! Once you have your list all in one place and de-duped, you'll have remarkable opportunities to cross-promote your various initiatives. The people on your different lists already like your brand and are more likely to respond than people who haven't ever subscribed.

2) Re-activation! People who subscribed to a campaign you ran a couple of years ago are far more likely to be interested in your current activities than people who've never subscribed before. Here's your chance to reactivate them and opt them in to a more general list.

3) Information! Find out who your most active subscribers are. Don't you want to know how many people are subscribed to multiple lists, and to which ones? If you see that there are some common trends, it might be time to further consolidate your messaging strategy. You'll also find that some of your buyers from one list are prospects on another list. Shouldn't you be giving them loyal customer love whenever you talk to them? (Yes.)

These things are really, really important, which is why I've given them three big exclamation points.

Mine your own email list now, before you go out there and pay a whole bunch of money to get new subscribers. Once you're all set, THEN, you go get some more new subscribers.

How? Ask your shiny, buffed, nicely ordered list to recruit a few friends. The best businesses often  comes from referrals. You'll be able to do this in a targeted way, now that you better understand your customers' behavior.

How's your email program going and what do you wish was different? Do you need help consolidating lists? I've done it before, and I'll do it again (just let me find my spurs). Drop me a line and I'll be glad to help.

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Customize Your Message for Each Channel

This week, I want to share a story with you about message customization.

I once worked with a client on an advocacy effort to improve local public safety. Because they'd been told to try more online messaging, they were using Twitter to try and reach all of their messaging goals. Not unexpectedly, it wasn't quite working.

Use multiple channels to get your message out.
Lots of ways to get the message out. Photo: Kevin Poh.
I encouraged them to think of the overall campaign, and all groups they wanted to reach - local government officials were the primary targets, but they also wanted to move petition-signers, public safety workers, crime victims, and local media.

We discussed the best channel for outreach to each group, based on the makeup of the group and the action we needed them to take. We found that most of the local officials we needed weren't active on Twitter, but we knew they were reading the local paper, and that journalists from the local paper were on Twitter, so we tweeted at targeted members of the media instead, in conjunction with some more traditional media outreach.

We also used Twitter to listen to local discussions of crime and public safety, and inserted ourselves into that dialogue.

When it was time to reach out directly to the officials, who had seen our news stories thanks to our media outreach, we found it was actually more effective to use a combination of more traditional channels to get the officials to act. They were more receptive to our emails and phone calls because they had seen the news stories we'd been able to get.

Facebook, we found, was a great place to reach our petition-signers and also to collect victim stories. These victim stories and petition activities then became online content, that we used in our continued email outreach.

Your takeaway?

Consider your overall goals and align the channels you use to those goals. Not every channel can address every goal. Don't discount traditional channels because they're not new. It can take a combination of messages to get the results you want.

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How to Use Twitter for Listening

In my social media travels, I've run into a lot of people who've given up on Twitter. Maybe they don't have time to write a lot of tweets, or they don't have many fans, or they just aren't sure the channel works for them.

Twitter is a great tool for listening to conversations
Twitter is great for listening. Photo: s1ng0
This tends to be especially true for some smaller non-profits. Budgets are small, staff is small, and there's just not a lot of time to devote to anything that's not achieving immediate results.

I tell these kinds of organizations that they are missing out on a huge opportunity to listen. Twitter is an excellent tool for listening, and for connecting to and influencing larger dialogue.

I advise these clients to use Twitter to follow others who do what they do, and to follow the discussion about the issues their organizations address.

For instance, the director a non-profit health clinic might use Twitter to follow other clinic directors and to monitor discussion of #Medicare, #ACA (the Affordable Care Act), #antibiotics, or #healthcare. This is a great way to locate current news and thoughts about these issues, and to contribute to a discussion involving people who are passionate and motivated to act.

Twitter's also a great way for busy professionals, like our non-profit health clinic director, to stay connected to others in her industry even though she can't get out to networking events or conferences as often as she'd like. Using Twitter, she can connect to others in her field and reach out for advice, input, and ideas.

Our clinic director can set up a HootSuite account in a few minutes, and follow those keywords that make sense to her. She'll be able to set up streams for her keywords so she can see them right in HootSuite, track discussions, and schedule replies.

How are you using Twitter? Please let me know @practicalmktr.

Do You Need More Than One Twitter Account?

While many organizations wonder if they are ever going to have enough time to manage the social media channels they have now, there are some people out there wondering if they need to start another Twitter feed. There are actually some good reasons for doing this in certain cases, so let's review:

1) Is your brand big enough to have a lot of sub-brands- like Coke (Diet Coke, Sprite, Snapple, etc.)? You should consider a feed for each of your large projects or product lines.

2) Do you have really disparate areas of work? If you make baby blankets and industrial welding equipment, then you're going to need two feeds for your two different audiences.

3) Do you have disparate audiences for the same lines of work? If your work appeals to college students and CEOs for different reasons, you might want to tailor feeds for each group.

4) Do you spend a lot of time on Twitter keeping in touch with friends? Are you on it while you're out on the town on Saturday night, maybe after you've had a couple of beers? Are you known as a 3:00am tweeter?  Set up a new Twitter account for your professional life, and make your current feed private and accessible only to approved followers. Really, you'll thank me later.

So how do you manage this?

There are several apps out there for social media management. The free one I'm most familiar with is HootSuite - it's easy to use and the free functionality does what you need it to. Additional reports and users are relatively low cost.

How do you manage your social (media) life? Drop me a line and let me know.

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Try it Today: Customized Sharing Links

What makes sharing links better? Customized sharing links, that's what!

Control sharing with Watershed share.
From Flickr user Krissen.
Do you work for a non-profit with no social media budget? This isn't that unusual, and non-profiteers have become experts in combining free tools to drive engagement, analytics, and action. I've just come across a new tool that can make your email newsletters (and your whole web site, actually) a better catalyst for social sharing.

When you send out your emails, you want people to share your content on their social feeds, right? Are you always happy with the auto-generated Tweets and Facebook posts that are created when people click your sharing buttons?

Is the resulting Tweet or Facebook post a little too generic for your taste? Is the Tweet missing your Twitter handle? Is the photo that comes up on Facebook the wrong one?

Wouldn't it be great if you could create better Tweets and Facebook posts for people who clicked on your sharing buttons?

OK, that was a lot of questions. The good news is that there is a solution to this problem - a brilliant little tool called Watershed Share.


You can use Watershed Share to write your social media posts, including photos and shortlinks, and then link the resulting URLs to your sharing buttons.

Then, when people share your content, the Twitter and Facebook posts you created - with the right hashtags, Twitter handles, and photos, are populated right on folks' feeds. They can, of course, make some edits before they share with their fans and followers, but they are less likely to do that if you write better content for them.

This is a great tool for multi-article email newsletters, but also can work anywhere on your web site.


This is just one more way to better control your brand and your message, and one more way to better serve your customers by making it easier to share great content. So, thanks Watershed for the tool!

Have you tried this? How did it work for you? Let me know.

Why Testing is Key

A man I know who manages a high-end car dealership recently held an event for his top customers. To promote this event, he did three things:

Set up some tests to find out what approaches work best.
Testing helps you get results. Image from Dave Bleasdale.
1) Mailed a postcard that encouraged customers to call and RSVP.

2) Sent an email that encouraged customers to call and RSVP.

3) Sent an email that said "click here to RSVP."

Here's what happened:

1) 100 people responded to the post card.

2) 150 people responded to the first email.

3) 500 people responded to the second email.

4) 600 people attended the event, and about 50 of them decided they were ready to buy another car.

This was a great lesson for my associate in testing.

Until this point, he hadn't been a big believer in email, or in clicking on things, but this proved to him without a doubt that he had to make things easy for customers if he wanted results, and that an email with a one-click RSVP was far easier for customers than asking them to call.

Next time, he'll do the one-click email first, and follow up only with the people who don't RSVP with other methods. It'll be faster, cheaper, and more effective.

So what are your takeaways here?

  • Just because you've always done something a certain way doesn't mean that's the way you should do it this time.
  • You have to meet customers where they are. If everyone's on email, then that's where you need to be, no matter how much you'd rather they were on the phone, or on Facebook.
  • Testing often tells you things that challenge your assumptions, which is why you should do it. Don't assume that one approach will always work better because that's what conventional wisdom tells you. In this case, the business owner assumed a telephone call-to-action would work best because it had worked in the past, and because his high-end clientele liked a personal touch. It turned out that high-end customers still prioritized convenience over everything else.

What have you tested lately, and what were the results?

Need help setting up some tests? Let me know, I can help.

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How to Write Great Tweets

Writing for Twitter isn't rocket science, but there's a method to the 140-character madness.

From Flickr user Danilo Ramos.
Here are a few pointers for writing tweets that make sense, have relevance, and drive retweets and other desired actions.

  • Simplify – You only have 140 characters, including your link, to state your message. Don’t cram in too many ideas. You can tweet more than once a day, and send more than one tweet about each piece of content. Stick to one idea per tweet. 
  • Don’t over-abbreviate. New people join Twitter every day, and new followers join our feeds every day. Assume that folks won't know all the jargon and make the content accessible. If you need lots of abbreviations, simplify the message. Don’t try to mash 500 words of copy into a single, undecipherable tweet. 
  • Use keywords associated with your SEO strategy (i.e. the same ones in your website metadata and your ads), but don’t overuse or insert where they don't make sense. 
  • Use #hashtags, but not too many. Hashtags help people find your content on Twitter and also can be used to tag tweets that are part of live Twitter chats or ongoing discussions. They also help you identify trends.
Here’s an example of a tweet with too many hashtags, including one that’s totally irrelevant:
  • You should read #WaPo! Great #paper! #news #local #finance #business #sports #food #entertainment #JustinBieber 

This tweet might better portray what we want to say:

  • Check out today’s #WaPo. Get the latest #news – local stories, business and finance, sports, entertainment, and food. 

But let’s go one step further – this tweet has a LOT of ideas. Let's treat these ideas separately, like this:

  • Check out today’s #WaPo for the latest #local news in DC, MD, and VA. 
This tweet is more relevant, engaging, and actionable. It simplifies the idea, focuses the intent, gives more details, and provides a link (something actionable) for more information. We’ve also limited ourselves to two hashtags, to make our tweet findable, but still readable.

What's your biggest challenge on Twitter? Let me know.

Click here to follow me on Twitter.

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Using Social Media Strategically

Right now, I'm doing some work with a client that's really starting to use social media more often, and more freely to promote its work and events.

Path to conversion
Path from Flickr user Runran.
Recently, I delivered a bunch of numbers to them, using Piktochart, a handy tool I found for creating simple infographics.

The good news was, as a result of promoting our work on Twitter and Facebook, all traffic measures went up. More people watched videos, shared our content, commented on our posts, used our hashtags, and became fans of our pages than ever had before.

So, what do we do with all of this great attention?

It's important to make sure that when we generate a lot of traffic and attention to our content, that we have a goal in mind, and that we're leading people down a path towards that goal.

If we have a great new video, we need to make sure that we think about what we want people to do after they watch it. Watch another video? Subscribe to our email list? Share with a friend? Complete another action?

We (and you) really need to think about the path to conversion.

If you find, for example, that in your businesses, most of your sales come from email, then when you do an attention campaign like we did last week, you should be including an email sign-up call-to-action with the content you're promoting. With your videos, on your Facebook page, in your blog posts and on your site.

If you're not thinking about the path to conversion, you'll be setting the wrong expectations for your team.  It may be that people who like your posts on Facebook just aren't ready to buy your product - they need a little more encouragement. So the conversion goal for your Facebook fans won't be a sale  - it'll be an email sign-up.

Once you've established your conversion goal for each of your channels, then you'll be able to better determine what content goes where and customize it appropriately.

How are you using Facebook? What about Twitter? How do you inform, engage, and convert on each of your channels? Send me a note or let me know in the comments.

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How to Connect Your Facebook and In-Store Marketing

European retailer C&A has introduced clothing hangers that display the number of Facebook "Likes" for each piece of clothing in their store in Brazil. This means that shoppers will already know what's trending when they walk into the store - a far more direct way of using Facebook data than we've seen so far.

Most of us don't have the money to invest in the technology to make this happen at our own retail locations, but we know that many shoppers use Facebook to check trends or share favorite looks with friends.

So what can we do to leverage Facebook activity in store without a major technology investment?

  • First, make sure that items from your retail store are indeed being promoted on your Facebook page. For example, you could ask your fans, "What do you think of this dress?" Let them know that it's all about orange this summer and provide sample looks, or tell them that sunglasses are 2-for-1 this weekend only and invite them to come on in.
  • Once you have that level of interactivity going, you'll then be able to use in-store signage to highlight items that are the most talked about on Facebook. It's lower-tech than what C&A is doing, but still an effective way to promote popular items for sale.
  • Make sure you're set up on check-in apps like FourSquare and Facebook Places, and that you promote their use on your Facebook page.
  • Also use in-store promotions to encourage people to join you on Facebook, and vice-versa.
Your customers are expecting a seamless experience these days. They want a consistent interaction whether it's on Facebook, their mobile, or in your store. You can help by integrating your message across channels and inviting your audience to join you, wherever they are.

Want to know more about what C&A is doing? Check out this video from Mashable:

I'll Be Back

I'm on vacation this week, not thinking about marketing (too much). I'll be back next week, with a new post for you.

Thanks for reading this blog. I really appreciate all the notes I've received from those of you who have found it helpful.

If you're new here, welcome! Here are some posts to get you started:

Why Marketing is not Sales

Do You Need a Mobile App?

Why Social Media Matters, for Almost Any Organization

Low Cost Sales Channels

Why All Marketing is Local

Make Your Content Go Viral

Happy reading, and see you again soon.

How to Look at Traffic Sources for your Web Site

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about basic web analytics, and stats you should be pulling on a regular basis to better understand how your site is used.

Understanding sources of web traffic can help you work more efficiently.
Traffic. From Flickr user Zoonabar.
The most important stats to track for my clients are those regarding web site traffic sources. Where is site traffic coming from, and what does it do once it gets there?

There are several kinds of traffic you'll see on your stats, including the following:

  • Organic (unpaid, regular) search
  • Paid search
  • Online ads
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other)
  • Email
  • Direct (people type your URL into their browser or they have it bookmarked)
  • Referring Sites (any other web site that refers traffic to you)

First, it's critical that you understand what portion of your site traffic is coming from each source type.
  • It's essential to know whether most of your traffic comes from outreach like social or email, or customers reaching out to you through channels like search.
  • It's also good to know what sites are referring traffic to you. Finding out which blogs, etc. are linking to you and developing those relationships could bring you a lot more traffic down the road. 

It's just as important to understand a few things about the behavior of traffic from each source. 

  • Does one of your sources have a particularly high bounce rate (rate of one-page visits), for example? Say you find that the bounce rate from your ad traffic is far higher than for other channels. You might want to develop a special landing page for people who click on ads that better introduces your site and what you have to offer.
  • Is one of your sources responsible for most of the conversion behavior on your site? If it turns out that people who reach you from email or social media convert far better than other kinds of traffic, then your goal should be to get new visitors to sign up for email and join you on Facebook or Twitter before doing anything else.
How are you using web analytics to grow site traffic and conversions? Let me know or drop me a line if you want to talk about it.