Corporate Marketing Commandments for 2013

Since the world didn’t end on December 21, it is appropriate to bow down to our gods and beg forgiveness for some of the most egregious marketing sins of 2012. We’ve been given a second chance so now we need to follow some rules:

Thou Shalt Not Degrade Thine Own Brandinstagram-facebook

Listen up Netflix, aka the former Quikster (for a nanosecond); and Instagram, aka Facebook: Brand equity is the richest gold you can have—and yours has been on a downward trajectory. When people love and believe in you, it’s much easier to forgive. But when you keep screwing up, consumers lose not only their patience but their loyalty. For Netflix it’s been the gift that keeps on giving, and on Christmas Eve it was a streaming outage that stretched across the U.S. The company blamed Amazon Web Services, but customers don’t care about who supplies the power, only that Netflix was down—yet another PR bomb. And Instagram’s hipster, indie vibe has been catching heat due to its purchase by the behemoth Facebook as well as a 24-hour about-face on terms of use for photos. They’ve outraged their customers multiple times now, so patience will be wearing thin for 2013.

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Four LinkedIn Fails: Fix These Features Before Adding New Ones

In my last blog, I wrote about how great LinkedIn is—and I stand by that. It is by far the best online business networking tool out there and has added many useful capabilities in 2012. Taking its cue from the best of social media and sporting a more user-friendly interface and page design, LinkedIn is on a roll. But as with everything, there is always room for improvement. Here are four annoying features LinkedIn should fix before continuing to add new products.

#1 Better Activity Notification System: From the beginning, LinkedIn’s notification system for recommendations, invitations to connect, or anything else is inordinately slow, giving a digital meaning to the phrase “snail mail.” Sometimes hours or days later I will receive an email about something I saw or had already done. I’m starting to wonder if they are using AOL mail servers. LinkedIn recently added a “Notifications” function on the home activity page so, when logged in, you can see updates (think Facebook red)—but even that feature has its quirks. Often after I view a new notification, it will still show up as new the next time I log in. Let’s get it right, people.

Impact: To be so s-l-o-w or unreliable turns off current members and won’t attract new folks, plus it’s not keeping pace with LinkedIn’s other improvements.

#2 Banish Free Anonymous Profile Viewing Privileges: As a non-paying LinkedIn member, I am entitled to see the names of up to five people who have viewed my profile each time I log in. But guess what? I don’t always see who they are: You can be anonymous when you view a profile or merely “Someone in X industry.” Is it a potential client? Cyber stalker? The Facebook and Twitter models allow you to visit a profile page without the person knowing. Ignorance is bliss in this case. I consider it OK to allow LinkedIn members to be “anonymous,” but only as part of the upgraded service. No pay, no anonymity. Conversely, when you have a paid subscription, you get to see everyone who has viewed your profile.

Impact: Seeing “A LinkedIn Member” view my profile (which used to be called “Anonymous LinkedIn Member,” which sounded even more weird) gives me the creeps. We have a right to know who is checking us out, or else don’t bother to tell us that someone is looking.

#3 Better Target Practice on Jobs and Groups: I could guess how LinkedIn’s algorithm works in order to inform me of who I might know, by connecting the dots with people who are 2nd and 3rd connections, but with Jobs and Groups it seems the system is out to lunch, or even drinks. Potential jobs that LinkedIn sends my way should be based on criteria such as my industry, location, etc. Too often, however, the jobs are geo-incorrect or just out of left field. Same with Groups. I’m still flummoxed by the continual recommendation to join the Florida Communication Professionals group (hmm…maybe someone in that group looked at my profile anonymously).

Impact: It is a waste of time for LinkedIn to suggest jobs or anything else that is not relevant to our careers, and reflects poorly given all the rich data that LinkedIn has on users.

#4 Better Customization of Settings As with other social media, LinkedIn allows you to adjust settings such as privacy, but doesn’t allow customization of specific features. For instance, on your Activity Broadcast, it’s either all “On” or all “Off.” You’re stuck between no updates and being a potential over-poster. What if I want people to see who I am connected to, but not which companies I’m following? What if I want to post updates to Groups but not on the Activity Update? These are not options in the current system.

Impact: In an area as sensitive as career. where people are job-hunting and developing their professional and personal brand, these options should be available to allow users the most flexible options for presenting themselves.

So that’s my list of fixin’s. None of them are deal-breakers, but all of them have been noticed—some for a while now. I look forward to the new upgrades and enhancements that LinkedIn has in the works, but first let’s repair what’s already broken.

BeTwixt by Twitter No More: Quick Start Guide For Small Businesses

By 2012, I resolved to finally land on Twitterverse. Bring on the 140 characters. Hashtags. Retweets. Followers. For all my marketing and small business swagger, I was not using Twitter. Shame, shame, right? I knew that I needed to engage on Twitter, was intrigued, but nevertheless put it off.  Now that I’m officially Twitterfied, these are the quickstart rules I learned, not by reading but by doing:

1) Don’t forget your homework: This may seem obvious but it’s surprising how few bother to read what friends and colleagues tweet and who they follow. Also, go through your mind’s Rolodex, what businesses and columnists you “like” on media outlets, Facebook, LinkedIn contacts, what mags you receive via email. But be wary of following too many people initially and also remember that your Twitter page can be seen by anyone. If you are following @SPANX, everyone else can see it too.

2) Don’t get hung up on being “perfect” when you begin: One reason I delayed Twitter was that I fell prey to all the hype. It had to be the best Twitter account everrr. I consulted with my social media guru, talked about it, asked all kinds of questions, but never took action. Get your handle, (which should either be your own name or your business name, whichever will have more recognition), fill out a quick profile and get yourself tweeting! You can change anything at anytime. Don’t let perfection be an excuse to procrastinate.

3)  Size matters – only follow the accounts you care about: I found myself incredibly popular on the first evening I joined in the Twitter conversation until I noticed roughly half were either spam, services looking for business, or “hot high school girls” from the Midwest. Go through the tweets of each handle that follows you. How many followers do they have? (Hint: If they have no tweets, don’t follow them back). I quickly learned the unspoken rule of reciprocity: You follow me and I follow you. But don’t expect everyone to do the same. If you are truly interested in someone’s content, stay with it.  Remember that others in the Twitterverse can see who you are following and likewise, so it’s a public forum and frankly a bit of a numbers game. And the more handles you follow, the larger the gap, particularly in your Twitter start-up days. In other words, you could have a slim 50 followers and be following a fat 500. Playing catch up can be a challenge.

4) Make your mark on retweets:  Just because you retweet content doesn’t mean it’s simply a pay-it-forward or to bank your tweets. Add a fact or commentary at the beginning, that will attract attention, show your point of view, and add value for your followers. It also provides the opportunity for whoever you retweeted to follow you back.

5) Get unruly with the Twitter “rules”: Some experts say you should tweet seven times a day, refrain from tweeting at 8am or 8pm or use the word “ahmazing” (OK, I’m making the last one up but it really should be banned). As social media evolves, any rules or guidelines that exist might not stand tomorrow, so make your own based on the type of business you have and what your marketing goals are. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read up on tips and tricks-you should. My personal guideline is to  tweet at least once a day and even more if there is something really stellar  (or strategically save it for the next day as back up). Some days I don’t see anything worth tweeting so I refrain. Better to have quality than a tweeters dozen — people will stop reading if they are constantly deluged with useless ones (I’ve unfollowed a few handles because of this). Something else:  Even though I joined Twitter for my business, I like to throw in entertaining bits or something that reveals character, humor, or my interests. But don’t do anything so far out there that it could be construed as offensive or racy. You might consider having a second handle for your personal interests, say cooking or soccer, or something more edgy so that you can reach a different audience.

6) Participate in the conversation: Read what others are saying and reply and comment. This will not only get you more enmeshed into the Twitterverse, it will also help gain new followers and potential interests. Don’t overdo it though, just to get your handle out there. And be wise — once you say something anywhere on Twitter, be it a tweet, retweet or reply, it’s there forever. You can delete your own tweets on your page, but they’re already in Twitterville.

7) Writing rules still apply: edit, edit, edit:  I can’t imagine putting out my blog after one revision, and Twitter is no different. Don’t rush your tweet. Make sure it’s as tight as possible (the 140 character rule will also help keep you finely tuned) Think about what and how you want to say it. Don’t waste words, abbreviate where it makes sense, and make sure you use the Twitter URL shortener. Check spelling. I’ve already gotten dinged by this a few times. When you use a hashtag, make sure it makes sense and don’t put too many hashtags or try to be overly clever like #OMGsodumb, which ends up being, well, dumb.

8) Put on your own marketing hat:  There are many ways to promote and cross-promote your Twitter account. Link it with your Facebook business or personal page, Linkedin, blog, and other social media outlets you are on. Don’t forget to add it to your email signature, business card (if you’re still printing one) and anywhere else you can identify your business and handle. Any opportunity available, bring Twitter along!

9) Set long-term goals:  There are many reasons for a small business to be on Twitter, be it to offer discounts to customers, build thought leadership, gain new business, or challenge/intrigue your followers. Whatever you do, make sure your tweets align with those objectives and stay focused for the long haul. Be patient — it can take a long time to reach high numbers of followers. Growing your business is a process, and Twitter is just a part of that.

10) This concludes 140… seconds: The rest is up to you. As you get more experienced, you can add bells and whistles, fine tune your content, and track your social analytics to see what is working and what is not. But the most important thing is to get on Twitter. Period. Like most things, the anticipation is scarier than the outcome. And you might actually enjoy it like I am!

2012 Marketing Wishes and Caviar Dreams

It’s that special time when self-anointed marketing experts look at the biggest trends of the year and give their unadulterated snarky opinions, and marketing sages look into their logo’ed crystal balls and predict what will happen for 2012. But alas, enough about other marketers. From my slightly jaded journalism-cum-marketing POV, here is what I want and don’t want for 2012. And the soothsayer in me knows that none of these will actually  happen…or  will they?

QR Codes Should Be Banned Until They are Easy (and Worth It):  Everyone and their marketing mother was talking about QR (Quick Response) codes in 2011 as if they were going to reach Facebook proportions, but it’s clear now that their stickiness factor is weak (by the way if you don’t know what a QR code is my point is made). Several reasons they haven’t taken off: (1) Many people still do not know what they are (2) When they do, motivation is not high enough to scan the code since it takes some effort. Even though QR codes are plastered everywhere from posters to mailers to web sites, T-shirts and more, reading QR codes is still not an automatic function on mobile phones and users have to download an app typically. QR code readers need to be built in. Humans are essentially a lazy bunch and won’t bother otherwise, including moi. The second part of the equation is that whatever is at the end of the QR code scanning process is worthy of receiving, but that’s a whole other marketing wish (more here on my earlier QR Code blog post).

Social Media Tipping Point: Even Klout Lost its Clout: Let’s face it, most marketers are pretty fascinated with social media. It’s enabled a whole new sandbox to play in, but we also need  to show some restraint: Just because there are the tools out there doesn’t mean every company has to engage on Twitter 24/7, Facebook feed overload, and YouTube mania. Marketers should pick and choose carefully those social outlets that resonate with their audience (and test, test, test). Also stock those outlets with the freshest, greatest content possible on a regular basis. Which reminds me…

Learn How To Write For the Web: It pains me both as a former journalist and a freelance writer to see all the growing, embarrassingly poor prose on web site copy, online coupons, email campaigns, blogs and just about every other orifice of the web. I’m not sure how the most global opportunity for the written word could be hijacked by so many atrocious, mangled sentences. I think it’s wonderful that the web provides a platform to reach so many but it should be used with care, and most importantly some training.  For those without formal training, enroll in a writing class. If you have an employee that is a horrible writer and can’t change, fire him or her (ok that’s harsh, maybe they’d make a better editor? or html coder?) And lastly if you are not happy in a writing job yourself, make it your new years resolution to do something you enjoy. If you care about your readers, you won’t let us suffer your pain as well.

Big Corporations Acting Like PR Idiots:  Think Netflix. I mean Quikster. I mean Netflix. Or Lowes removal of an ad on a Muslim family reality show.  Or Bank of America’s $5 transaction fee.  PR (and plummeting stock) disasters are usually the fault of the company itself. It typically a involves a predictable four-step recipe: 1) Make a big mistake 2) Don’t admit the mistake 3) Make yet another mistake to try to recover from the first blunder such as blaming consumers, investors, the media, or anyone other than your own company 4) Admit guilt with your PR tail between your legs and apologize after you have been flailed about by aforementioned-blamed. And with social media helping to spread consumer unhappiness like wildfire, companies must learn to do this and quikster. I mean quickly.

Make Marketing Proud in the New www (Wild West Web): This was a banner year for web marketing:  not only social media but mobile marketing, gamification, online deals, you name it. As someone from the traditional marketing times, I am personally overwhelmed learning all the technologies, trends, and “new rules” but enjoy that we have such great room to grow in this new frontier. It’s exciting and also offers the chance to produce better, more layered and sophisticated marketing programs using a hybrid of online and offline strategies. Marketers have more opportunities than ever to be creative, explore ideas, measure successes, and yes, also produce complete flops. So let’s take the time and energy to do things right.

Don’t Forget Who the Boss is:  No, not the woman or man with the windowed corner office — the person who buys your products or services. They are also the king and queen of your world. This is why you are racking your brain to come up with campaigns to engage with them, keep them happy, and treat them like gold.  And lest we forget, our customers and prospects have never had such a panoramic platform to display their happiness or unhappiness, be it on your company’s web site, review sites, chat rooms, or blogs, which means we are more accountable than ever.

Let’s make everyone–most of all ourselves–proud in 2012 and have a happy marketing new year!

Free Social Media Sites Have Their Price

2010 was a great year for marketing folks to get back some of its mojo and play with some toys in the social media sandbox, but the people who really fueled all the excitement was the collective “me” who enjoyed the dim limelight telling the world what “we” are doing, where “we” are going, what “we” are thinking via Twitter, Facebook  and other social media. In fact, any marketing would be impossible without their participation. But it seems like our oversharing culture also ended up getting stuck in the marketer’s web.

We know many social media began as communities, not money-making rackets. But the game has changed – when the marketing light bulb turned on, many social media sites started using our information as opportunistically as they can. As it turns out, it is pretty much a slam-dunk to contact customers and prospects directly.  The implications of this windfall have reverberated through every company’s communications plan, large or small, who in the past felt one step away from their coveted targets. Customer not happy with your product and slamming it on your Facebook Fan page?  You can respond – quickly and publicly. Getting feedback that your customers want a certain type of deal?  You can Twitter it. Want to attract hungry people close to your restaurant? Bring on the mobile phone coupon and your next diner could be walking through the door.

And while subscribers can opt in or out of communications preferences (including being contacted by third parties) we still complain about privacy on the free sites we use.  Sites that do dismiss our privacy rights need to be punished more effectively to make a real difference (think Zynga, Facebook). I seriously wonder how many of us even read  those fuzzy, long-winded legalese before we click “I Agree”?  Privacy rights should still be expected – paid or not – but we are also more than willing to give up personal information to get on these sites for free. Heck, even WordPress is gratis. And yes I signed up for the weekly digest and we are very happy together.

This also brings up the concept of “free” in general. We know it is an extremely powerful word in marketing. This begs the question: how many of us would be on these social media sites  if we had to pay?  We would have to do a value analysis on each one, and some would very likely be eliminated from our bookmarks. Conversely, every good marketer knows how difficult it is to charge for a service that was initially free. Some have had mild success while others use a softer approach with add-on/upgrade strategies (examples: Linkedin, Twitter).

The bottom-line? The collective “me”  made an unspoken pact with free sites when we got on them to share our desires, jobs, travels, loves, thoughts, and everything else.  Acknowledging the tradeoffs openly may be the first step.