Monday, September 24, 2012

Customer Service Online and Off

In the past week or so, I've been doing more online shopping than I have in the past year. I tend to avoid it because many online sites don't collect sales tax and I'd rather pay it, and also because of some sketchy employment practices by some of the bigger online retailers. The increase of online shopping has been an intersection of gift cards, online coupons, and the fact that something I wanted wasn't available in my size in a local shop.

As a marketer, I am always looking at the advertising, messaging, packaging of any company that I purchase from. I love to ask the question, "Why does this appeal to me?" and think about how the same thing might be applied in my own work with my own customers. I was particularly struck this week by two of the emails I got, related to my online experiences at two different retailers.

The first one was from Brooks Brothers. I don't normally shop there (although my husband does), mostly because they are fairly expensive. However, I have a penchant for carrying handkerchiefs to blow my nose (we can discuss the ecological and medical arguments about this later), and I seem to have fewer of them than ever. Brooks Brothers is one of the few retailers that actually sells nice, soft handkerchiefs. (I have bought them at Macy's and other department stores, but those are usually so rough that you end up with a raw nose.)

What I found very interesting about Brooks Brothers' online shopping experience is that they charge a shipping rate based on how much your order costs. The handkerchiefs I ordered retail at $30. Based on their shipping rate chart, this would cost me $8.95 in shipping. Had those same handkerchiefs cost $6 less, the shipping charge would be $5.95. I've never seen a shipping chart like it.

I ended up searching the Ebates website for a coupon code, and I managed to find one that took 20% off the price, dropping the order into the lower shipping bracket. In a few minutes, I received my confirmation email:

The language is so utterly in line with every Brooks Brothers experience I have ever had:
Thank you for placing an order with We are writing to inform you that your order has been received and is, at present, being processed with the utmost haste. 
I can almost hear the polished staff uttering these polished words as he hands me a heavy pressed paper blue bag with the golden fleece logo. 

Isn't that amazing?

In contrast, today I placed an order with Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor is one of my preferred shopping locations, and probably 75% of my wardrobe comes from there. They have terrific email marketing, with great photography and multiple stylings of the same items, helping you to see the flexibility of their pieces.

Sure their models are a little on the skinny side (and yes I know it's Photoshopped), but they helpfully let me know where the nearest physical locations are in addition to telling me about the online sale going on.

And yet, for all those beautiful "come buy!" emails, their confirmation emails are dismal. I won't even show you a screenshot, because it's nothing but a list of the items (no images), everything in text, and no headers--it's the online equivalent of a grocery store's printed receipt. Boring. Even Banana Republic (another place I've shopped in the past two weeks online), sends you a picture of the item in your confirmation email. (Why is this so important? So I can pull up the email and show a friend just what I ordered.)

Brooks Brothers is a company that prides itself on its customer experience. I have been to their store in Back Bay many times with my husband to buy shirts, suits, and ties, and I love going there because the staff never treats me as if I'm just hanging around. They ask me if I'd like a chair to sit down, they include me in the process of evaluating one tie pattern over another, and they smile and thank me for my visit as much as if I had also purchased something. Their online experience is a complete mimic of this, from the confirmation email telling me how much they value on my online order.

Ann Taylor is missing this follow up online. I've been an excellent customer of theirs for many years, and yet, when I purchase online, I always feel that once I click "Submit" on my order, they're done with me. This is so contrary to my store experiences, where staff tend to be super friendly and helpful. ("We don't have that in a size 8, but let me check the three nearest stores and we can have that shipped to your home.")

For companies that have both an online and a physical presence, it's important to have consistency between your outlets. The reason I prefer shopping in person is because I do get a better customer experience dealing with people and not machines. And yet, as Brooks Brothers shows, you can absolutely replicate that experience online.

How you do make the transition from in-person to online with your marketing and customer experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing Media Consumption Habits

This weekend, my husband and I went down to the venerable Apple store and purchased an Apple TV box. It's this teeny tiny little thing, maybe 4" x 4" x 1" (roughly the size of a gift box for a bracelet), with a few outlets in the back. It came with the world's smalled remote (about as long as my watch).

We had been kicking around the idea of buying an Apple TV setup for over a year, holding out because for a long while, our favorite show, Mysteries at the Museum, was not available on any of the services you can view on Apple TV. Now it is.

And so, we're bidding adieu to DirecTV. Don't get me wrong, DirecTV has been fantastic with customer support and the offerings on even their smallest and most basic packages. I switched to them four years ago when I finally got sick of Comcast taking channels away from me and then pretending I shouldn't have had them in the first place. (You try being a political junkie with NO NEWS CHANNELS during an election year.)

However, DirecTV costs a significant amount of money each month, and as I'm focusing on spending my money on other things, it only made sense to switch. The Apple TV box costs $99 (plus tax) and for $7.99 per month I can get a subscription to Netflix. That sure beats the $80ish I pay now.

What's interesting about the switch is that it makes me realize just how much media consumption is changing. When I was a kid, you flipped the channels until you found something you wanted to watch, took bathroom breaks during commercials, and if nothing was on, you went outside or read a book or called a friend. If a show was on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm, you made sure to turn on the TV at that time. And we all watched shows at the same times.

In the past few years, I've gotten used to DVR. I fast forward through commercials, tell the TV what I feel like watching, and then watch it when I feel like it. I didn't watch the DNC or RNC speeches live; I read the reviews of the speeches and then watched the ones I thought were worth watching on YouTube.

When I told my father-in-law about our move to AppleTV, he asked, "How are you going to watch the local news?" I haven't watched the local news since.... ever. Okay, I'll watch it if it's on at the gym, or if I'm at my father-in-law's house and he's watching it, but basically, I don't consume local news on television. I read news online, get it from Twitter, or listen to the local NPR station on my iPhone app.

My father loves to tell the story of how, when I was very young, the only television I could watch was Sesame Street, and so I developed the idea that Sesame Street came on whenever you turned on the television. I was very upset when my dad said I couldn't watch Sesame Street after dinner, because I thought he was just saying no, when what he meant was, Sesame Street isn't on television at that time. Today, he just pulls up YouTube to watch Grover and Elmo with my nephew, whenever my nephew wants to watch Sesame Street.

Television is everywhere today, and it can be consumed in so many ways: streaming, subscription, DVR, DVD, BluRay, mobile... and who knows what will come next. How have you changed your media consumption habits?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who Is Tracking You Online?

Online tracking is a fact of life on the Internet. We all know that somehow, some way, websites gather and collect information about each of us as we wend our way through cyberspace.

Why does this matter?

Privacy-hounds are constantly decrying tracking from company sites and third parties. Facebook is tracking you! Google is tracking you! CNN is tracking you! And who knows what other shadowy figures lurk in morass of code, looking for credit card numbers or other valuable data.

But there are positives in this tracking equation. Tracking helps companies like Google deliver better search results to you personally, by knowing that when you are searching for the term "rockets," based on your search history, you're probably more interested in NASA than the basketball team. Tracking means that the ads you see on websites are more likely to be for things that you're interested in.

Still, the idea that people are constantly collecting information on you is a little irksome. And while I might not mind Google tracking me, I don't really need a lot of advertisers tracking me.

So today, I stumbled on an article via Google+: This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. The article's author, Samantha Felix, installed a new software program, Do Not Track +, and within a single browsing session, found that Facebook had made over 300 requests to track her information. THREE HUNDRED REQUESTS. Wowsers.

Facebook is definitely low on my trust-worthy websites list, mostly because they don't seem to care about users' privacy or anything besides making money and world domination (and not in the good Napoleon-type way of world domination, either). So, since the Do Not Track + software is free, I downloaded it for my Chrome browser. (You can download your own DNT+ here.)

In the first fifteen minutes, I found it had blocked almost 200 requests for tracking information, from the  following sites: New York Times, Business Insider, a local business I looked up, and Google+. (After visiting other Google properties--Gmail, G+, Blogger--I find that only Google itself is requesting tracking info on these sites.) Interesting.

How do you feel about online tracking? Is it useful for you? Or do you see it as an invasion of your online privacy?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Setting Goals for Social Media Marketing

As social media makes the transition from "new trend" to "integrated marketing channel" many companies still approach social marketing as something completely different from traditional marketing channels, such as direct mail or phone banking.

But in the end, social media isn't that different.

When your company puts together a direct mail campaign, you no doubt have goals in mind. You set up a structure to measure progress toward those goals, whether it's how many coupons are redeemed in your store or the change in sales comparable to the same time last year.

In social media, the measurement can be different, but for you to use this channel effectively, you still need to set goals.

What Do You Want To Have Happen?

When you start a social media campaign, start with this basic question. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to generate buzz around a new product? Do you want to increase sales? Or maybe you just want to increase positive sentiment for your brand. Think very hard about this, because while all of these things are sensible goals, it's important in your first campaign to focus on one area, as a baseline for future campaigns.

Lurk Before You Leap

I always tell my clients that they need to begin by knowing how to use social media. Well, just as companies spend time monitoring competitors' reported sales or market position, it's also important to see what they're doing on social media. This is crucial to helping you set goals for yourself. If you look at your biggest competitor and notice that what they are doing is one hard sell pitch after another, and you see very few shares of their content, that will give you an idea of their goal (just increase sales) and how you might fare with a similar goal.

Additionally, just as you learn about the market's wants and needs before you develop a new product, look at what your customers are doing and saying on social networks. If you see a lot of messages asking for help about a product, that might lead you to set a goal to answer X customer questions per day.

Research the content on social media and interactions stewarded by the most successful brands: think Apple, Starbucks, Gilt Group, and HubSpot. Ask your network what brands they follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. What are those successful brands doing on social media, and what goals are they accomplishing? Sometimes working backwards can give you new insights into your own goal setting.

Think About Goals in Relation to Measurement

Never set a goal that you can't quantify. "Increase Word of Mouth" is not a good goal unless you have a way to measure it, either by shares of content or the number of times your brand is mentioned on a network.

Also, think about your goals in terms of specificity: the more specific the goal, the easier to measure it. "Increase sales" is a good goal, and you can measure sales that way, but a better way to look at social media marketing is "Increase sales through Twitter links." Now you can directly track your goal through a single channel. What if you're selling a terrific new product that you're tweeting about and it's also mentioned on a regional news program. Measuring just the increase of sales won't tell you if it was social media clicks or the television exposure that really increased your sales.

Set Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Goals

I always tell my clients that the real power of social media is amplification, and the ability to track it. Using tracking tags, or third party tools, you can create a fingerprint for your message and watch it spread over the internet, and even across social networks.

When you set up a campaign, think about the short term and the long term. Maybe your long term goal is to overtake a competitor in market share, but your short term goal will be a stop along the way, such as increasing reviews by X% on sites like Yelp. By thinking about how short-term goals work to build a foundation for your marketing efforts, you can, over time, achieve a bigger goal like becoming the #1 company in your industry.

Use Old Goals to Help Set New Goals

I think of building a solid marketing campaign in the same way the Egyptians thought about building pyramids. You start with a foundation and build up. Each new layer is built on an old layer.

Look at your past traditional marketing campaigns. What were your goals for direct mail? For events and promotions? Did you achieve those goals? If not, why not? Are those goals something that could be achieved via social media? If you can't use the same goals, think about what goals you did achieve and how they could help you determine new goals for social media. If you have enough exposure for your brand, can you use social media to turn exposure into leads? If you have enough leads, can you use social media to turn leads into sales? Look at what you know you can do, and think up to the next layer.

The Takeaway

Goal setting is key to getting the most out of social media, and before you launch a large scale campaign, you should think about your goals first. Social media is a channel in flux, so start small, but keep track of your goals and achievements, so you can build on them in the future. Use what you know to go forward. Always ask these questions to help you really understand what you're doing, and what you expect to get out of it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Social Media Karma

This week is my vacation week, so there's a slight dearth of posts here. However, in trolling my backlog of notes for future blog entries, I came across something I conceived of earlier this year: Using the influence I've built up to share good content and help you reach a broader audience.

It's certainly not a novel idea, but I'm curious to track, via links and clicks, the spread of an idea over the web. I have limited tools to do this in my arsenal, so I'll be concentrating on Twitter and this blog, to see what happens.

The idea was originally inspired by Sarah Von Bargen at Yes and Yes. She runs a monthly feature called "Network of Nice" where various people can write in asking for help or offering help and you can participate by writing in to say if you need help from the offerers or can give help to the askers. I love this feature (which yes, I've done some help offering for in the past) because it plays into the idea of just doing something kind because someone has asked, or finding something you need because someone is brave enough to offer it. I've been very consumed by the idea of karma lately, and the Network of Nice is a living, breathing example of Internet karma.

Obviously, I do not have the same readership as Sarah does, but I'd like to give this a try. Do you have an interesting story that you need to share? Or are you looking for something? Are you unemployed with a serious talent that needs highlighting? I'd like to give this a shot and feature you on this blog, and share your story on my Twitter feed. I can't guarantee that you'll get an answer, but ever the optimist, I'd like to give this a shot.

If you'd like to take a chance with me, please send your story/need to me at kehutchinson [AT] gmail. Feel free to spread the word!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stepping Away From Facebook, Personally

Are Facebook friends your real friends?

I'm contemplating this question for the umpteenth time after reading Alicia Eler's thought-provoking "Now Is The Time To Quit Facebook":

Not long ago, I made a new friend on Facebook. A few weeks later, we ended up at dinner with a group of other people. I was looking forward to chatting with him in real life - he was so interesting on Facebook, so I figured we'd have lots to talk about offline. But that's not really what happened. We talked tech stuff and got our geek on. Then my Facebook friend mentioned something about the self-referential nature of Facebook. The conversation stopped. Then he grabbed his iPhone and stepped outside for a cigarette.
I turned to a woman sitting next to me, who I am not Facebook friends with, and proceeded to chat with her for at least an hour. After dinner she gave me a ride to my bike, which I had left down the street. I didn't think we'd have so much in common. And I did not go home and friend her on Facebook later. In fact, I am happy not reading her status updates.

For a while now, outside of professional use for clients, I've been easing away from Facebook. My account is strictly personal at this point, and I weed it from time to time of pages I'm not interested in, or people I don't really want to be "friends" with. I don't post very much, and mostly use it to browse what's going on with my far-flung family. If I want to talk to someone, I call, text, or email. Or better yet, I see them in person. Since I've downsized my Facebook presence, I've had many more real experiences with my actual friends: dinners, coffee meetings, movies, even a trip to Tanglewood. And I  am much better able to converse with people in person, to really build friendships.

Facebook is a wonderful medium for creating personae and facades--you can be anyone you want to be, and no one has to know the truth. But in building these outer shells, we're losing the sense of human connection, a sense of who we really are as people. Not long ago, someone mentioned to me that I'm always complaining on Facebook, and he was right in a sense, that I had posted a few times over a week and each status regarded a disappointment or annoyance. He pointed this out, because if you meet me in person, I'm an optimistic idealist, looking for the half-full glass. So what you see isn't always what you get.

Do you think it's time to leave Facebook? And do you have a cultivated Facebook persona? Please share your experience in the comments.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hung Out To Dry By Technology

This weekend my dryer broke down. To be specific, the heating element gave out, meaning that the dryer worked, but only blew cold air, which really doesn't do much toward getting wet laundry dry. The repair man was called and confirmed that yes, it was the heating coil, but it would take a few days to get the part in. Today, he brought the part, only to discover that a fuse had also blown, which is a part that needs to be ordered, so it will be Monday at the soonest before I'll have a working dryer again.

Of course, in the meanwhile, I need to do laundry.

Have you ever had this problem at work? You have a task in front of you and you know exactly how to get it done, but the piece of equipment you need is broken. Or the person who knows what to do is on vacation. There you are, thrown out of routine, and having to find some other way to do this small task that you do all the time and don't even think about it.

For me, the solution was to string up a clothesline in the basement, dig up some clothespins, and hang wet laundry to dry the old school way. I moved our dehumidifier under the wet clothes and my husband added a fan to the set up. So last night, when our elderly cat had an "outside-the-box" moment which called for washing sheets and taking apart the bed at 2 AM, we had something to dry out the sheets and mattress pad on, and they were ready to go back on the bed by the time I got up. It's not the most convenient way to do laundry, but it does bring up nostalgic memories of hanging up the wash with my grandmother in her backyard. (Thankfully, I do not have an open-top 1940's agitator washer that spills on the floor, but I might like that wringer attachment she had!)

The answer here was to go back to how things were done before the convenience of a dryer. So, how can you "go back in time" when your routine is off at work? Here are a few ideas:

  • Binders of information: Preparing actual printouts of needed info to have on hand will get your what you need to do in case the electricity goes out or your computer crashes. Think of all the things you reference on your computer on a daily basis and create a notebook with the emergency points. If it contains sensitive information (passwords, financial information), keep it in a locked drawer.
  • Copy/Print Service Center: If your big proposal needs to be FedExed and your printer dies, it's a good idea to know exactly where the nearest copy center is. 
  • Flash drives/Portable data storage: I carry a flashdrive on my keyring, with pertinent info on it (writing samples, resume, current consulting project) so that at a moment's notice I can provide this information to a potential client. Another great alternative is an online storage site, like Google Documents or to store things that you need instant access to, so you won't be caught empty handed.
Having old-fashioned solutions for technology fails is just good common sense, but as the working world becomes ever more technically integrated, we hardly ever stop and think about "what would I do if...?" 

What's your Plan B when technology fails you?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Startup Exploitation

Boston is home to many startups, from TripAdvisor to HubSpot to Proxy Apparel. Most of the startups are tech or biotech based (that's a thriving industry in the area), but I do see a fair number in media, ecommerce or education.

Recently I had a meeting with one of these educational startups; their focus is to create high quality content as an alternative to expensive college textbooks. This idea really appealed to me, as someone who has both had to purchase textbooks as well as research textbook selections for use in curriculum. Textbooks are very expensive, and they are updated often enough that it's difficult to find cheaper, used versions.

This startup was working on creating content for certain subjects, and the content was created by Ph.Ds and other high educated sources. Since the business model is "Freemium"--students can sign up for free and then pay a modest fee to use more of the content, or the premium content, I asked if the company had a permanent stable of writers.

The answer was no. According to the person I spoke with, they could hire on a freelance basis enough writers for good enough content that they didn't see the need to burden themselves with the costs associated with a full-time hire. They were also expecting to increase productivity per writer, which seemed not to be a goal aligned with a full-time hire.

This answer soured me on the company. I have worked with adjunct faculty before, and as any academic will tell you, they are the slave labor of the ivory tower. They teach one or two classes a semester (Say 4 hours of teaching time per week, plus lecture prep, plus grading, plus testing, plus office hours, etc.) with meager pay, and absolutely no job security. These are highly qualified, educated professionals, who work hard and earn nothing. In my time in higher education, I always disliked the increasing reliance on adjunct faculty instead of hiring full-time assistant professors who could provide better service and have far greater benefits.

Essentially what this company envisioned was using adjunct faculty for the writing of their online textbooks. They saw it as "efficiency," I saw it as "exploitation." There wasn't even the faintest hint of hiring full-time writers later on when the company had more funding (although they aren't lacking for funding currently).

I am somewhat disillusioned with the startup model, because nearly each one I encounter (with some exceptions, such as HubSpot), seems to treat its workers as expendable pieces, easily replaced and worth very little. Many startups will boast of their amazing employee perks (nap room! game room! fully stocked kitchen!), but I see these as incentives to keep employees at work, not examples of work/life balance. (If you are sleeping at work, you are not achieving work/life balance.)

Do you see startups as exploitative? Or do you see this model as a necessity to starting a long-term business?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writing Through Writer's Block

It's been a tough few weeks for writing Chez Hutchinson. For whatever reason, I start writing, and then stop, my mind drifting through ideas that seemed interesting five minutes ago and now are totally irrelevant.

In the past, when writer's block has struck, I've tried to step away from the laptop and focus on something else, like my garden, cat training, or going for a walk to try and "reset" my thought process. But lately it hasn't worked.

So today I'm trying something that I normally wouldn't do: I'm letting you know that I'm a human being and I suffer occasionally (like everyone) from writer's block. I see this blog as a manifestation of my professional persona, so it seems like a big risk to me to say, sometimes I don't have all the answers.

Today I'm writing for the sake of writing, to do it to prove to myself that I can.

Do you have any good tips for getting through writer's block?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thinking Inside the Box

Today's post may be a little more philosophical than usual. 

I am currently reading Michel Foucault's History of Madness. It's a fascinating look at how the perception of madness has evolved since the Middle Ages, following the theoretical development of the concept of madness: the cause, the experience, the treatment.

In the section on the Great Confinement, where Europe decided to confine those on the margins of society, we learn that those who fit the criteria for confinement were not simply the insane, but also criminals, the poor, the indigent, and homosexuals. To the modern mind, these groups are incredibly different and lumping them together seems inherently wrong.

But in the theory of the time, there were essentially two states of being: Reason and Unreason. Those who were Reasonable, or lived within the confines of Reason, were accepted members of society. Those who lived outside the bounds of Reason, those who were Unreasonable, were therefore a threat to society, and the solution was confinement. Sometimes this was workhouse confinement, sometimes in hospitals, and often in repurposed leprosariums since leprosy had long since receded as a scourge of Europe.

Over time, theories of madness and the morally unsound (for that was often the definition of madness in the early days) changed, and medical theorists (or nosologists) began to conceive of different types of madness, and causes for it beyond simply rejecting Reason.

Essentially, there was one box, the Unreason box, and secular authorities put into it anyone who might possibly shown signs of Unreason. Then that box was taken away and replaced with multiple boxes: the Melancholy box, the Mania box, the Hysteria box, and so forth. People who might have belonged in the Unreason box, say a poor widow who begged for her dinner, were now not a match for these new boxes.

In Marketing, everyone loves the phrase "Think Outside the Box," as if boxes are where ideas go to die. But what if, instead of thinking the box is the wrong idea, that the box just isn't the right box?

I'd like to specify that I'm not talking about confining people here, but rather ideas. The idea of Unreason was a huge box, and it was difficult to understand what happened in such a broad category. But by replacing the idea of Unreason by separating out madness, and creating new boxes for the different theories of madness, medical practitioners were moving closer to isolating what caused madness, how it affected a patient, and what treatment might be best for curing madness.

When you look at your current marketing efforts, what box are your ideas in? Are they in one giant box marked "Brand"? Or do you have a lot of boxes, one for each product, or one for each customer segment?

I was asked recently if I am a "think outside the box" kind of marketer. And honestly, I don't see myself that way. I see myself as an analyst who makes decisions based on information and research. Sometimes that can lead to an innovative solution, but I'm not simply throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. You could say all along that I am labeling boxes and thinking strategically inside them.

Do you think in terms of boxes? Or do you see a box as a confining idea?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Should You Have a Twitter Follow Policy?

Social media is an ever evolving field, and as such, there aren't a whole lot of rules and set procedures for how to use it from a professional angle (or even a personal angle). Actions that one day seem de rigueur suddenly fade out; something else will take their places. For example, the #FF (Follow Friday) tag that used to overwhelm my stream at the end of every week has slowed to a trickle.

Since the beginning of Twitter, following has been a contentious issue. Who should you follow? If someone follows you, must you follow them back? And now we are seeing the rise of the "Follow Policy."

Here's an example from MySocialPro:

No Bullshit Twitter Follow Policy:  
Who we Follow… we follow all those that are Awesome, this includes any persons, places, or things that exhibit Badassery. Simply put, we follow back everyone who follows us. If for some strange reason you don’t understand what this means, feel like you’re not Awesome or feel like you’re not exhibiting Badassery, that’s okay because we believe you’re Awesome even if you don’t! 
Who we Unfollow… 99.9% of the time we unfollow those who don’t follow us back. We’re looking for win-win relationships on Twitter and very rarely are we able to create a win-win relationship when one of the parties is not interested in getting in to a relationship in the first place. We also unfollow people who clog up our Twitter feed with 100% self promotional Tweets e.g. “Get 2,000 followers for $5, no password required” all day long. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doggin’ this type of activity/tweets. Believe it or not, there is a time and a place in our world in which this stuff adds value. It just so happens that it doen’t add value to OUR Twitter feed.

This Follow Policy is somewhat aggressive in its language, but in addition to telling you who they do and don't follow, it's conveying a message about MySocialPro's online persona as well. For one thing, the policy shows that this company is looking for a mutual relationship on Twitter, not a one-way dispersal of information. What's interesting is that they don't address whether they will continue to follow you if you never interact with them.

Author Debbie Ridpath Ohi, also known as InkyGirl has a lovely, concise Twitter Follow Policy. An excerpt:

I will likely follow you back if: 
  • You're someone I would like to get to know better because of your job, intriguing bio, interesting tweets, your Web site, or devastating wit. 
  • You're an aspiring or published writer who often posts about writing, especially if you write for young people. 
  • You're an editor who often posts about editing, especially if you edit books for young people. You post about e-books, digital publishing initiatives, or the future of publishing. 
  • You post book reviews and we share reading interests.

This policy neatly lays out, in a friendly manner, that Ohi uses Twitter to communicate with others about books and writing. Simply put, if you aren't tweeting about books and writing, she's probably not going to follow you.

So, is a Twitter Follow Policy necessary for everyone? No. Who should have a Twitter Follow Policy? That would be the people who have a particular focus on Twitter and want others to know that they are only on Twitter to talk to certain people or about specific topics.

For myself, I follow many different people for plenty of different reasons, and keep them separated in HootSuite columns. I follow the #UsGuys chat group for lively conversations about social media and customer service. I have a group of feminist writers that I follow for news about women's issues. I separate out my favorite news sources for breaking news, and have a stream of local twitter accounts to know what's going on locally. I see Twitter as a giant smorgasbord, and I like to sample a bit of everything. I do honestly check the bios of every new follower, and if I see something interesting, I'll follow back. 

Do you have a Twitter Follow Policy? Please share your experience in the comments. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I Am Leaving Your LinkedIn Group

Dear Moderator,
When I first found the listing for your group, I was very interested. The group focused on a topic that was relevant to my career path, and seemed to have some interesting members.

But after a few days, I noticed the group wasn't really that active. For one thing, a new post entitled "Manifeste Relations Work" was reposted every single day, in both the Discussions and Jobs sections of the group. It was reposted by the same person, who always "liked" her own post, and no one ever replied to it. As a moderator, you should have noticed this sort of spamming and deleted it, or removed that person from the group. 

I never see any group manager's choice discussions, which means you probably aren't monitoring the content or even interested in the content. Discussions don't go anywhere, but it's your job as moderator to try and spur more conversation, or post relevant links to start a conversation.

I belong to a lot of LinkedIn Groups, and I get a lot of "daily digest" emails. I don't think I need to keep deleting the digest from your group. Please let me know if you start actually engaging your group community.

Best of luck,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Facebook Enforces Email Feature and Users Aren't Happy

Image via Toro Magazine
If you have ever had a conversation with me in real life about Facebook, you would know it's my favorite social media whipping boy. Facebook really doesn't care about its users, except for how they might be exploited as a revenue stream. They don't test enough. They change on a whim. 

(Okay, yes, I love being able to keep in touch with old friends and have conversations with my college professors and high school teachers and chat with my husband, but I still don't trust the company.)

Over a year ago, Facebook launched Facebook Email, giving every one of its users the option to claim an email address ending with It was immediately ignored by the majority of its users, and articles like "Why You Shouldn't Use Facebook Email" and "Why You Won't Use Facebook Email," started appearing all over the web. There were many issues with this new "feature," from the usual worries about privacy on Facebook to the fact that it lumped every communication from a single source into one comment thread. And don't forget you couldn't use it in a regular email client. 

Facebook email had one major objective: To keep users locked into the Facebook website. The longer you stay on the site, the more likely you are to view and click on ads. The longer you stay on the site, the more information you are likely to share that can be sold to advertisers. Facebook may be free, but that's because you, the user, are actually the product they are creating. 

Last week, Facebook, in its megalomaniacal tendency, decided to overrule its users' rejection of Facebook email and replace everyone's email address with a Facebook email address. Savvy users noticed the change almost instantly, and began to outline how to change your email address back (Lifehacker instructions here). 

Now it appears that some users, even those who quickly changed their email addresses back, are missing some emails, and Facebook has even inserted itself into address books and synced those new email addresses. Gizmodo has a good rundown of what systems were affected, and you should probably go check your own phone and online address books to make sure your contacts haven't been affected. 

But despite this kerfluffle about email addresses, this episode is just one in a long string of Facebook changing from a site where you can "hang out" with your friends to a for-profit, publicly traded company that needs to show its investors that it can bring home the bacon. I have serious doubts that its current business model and its modus operandi of rolling out changes at the drop of a hat can sustain the company.

Let's get back to the fact that Facebook's product is not its site, it's you the user. If the product is free, you are the product. You are what's being sliced and diced and served up as 12 different kinds of fries to investors and advertisers. At this point, Facebook has reached a critical mass in acquired users. There is no way to recreate the amazing growth in new users that it has enjoyed in the past. So what Facebook will have to do is hold on to the users it has.

Changes like this "email consistency" move alienate users. Users had already voted on the Facebook email feature by not using it. Instead of respecting that and finding a different way to engage its users, Facebook just forced it on everyone, and didn't even make an announcement to say, "Hi Everyone, starting Monday, we're giving you this email address!" Transparency in the Internet age is critical to customer retention. By using a stealth option to enforce this new feature, Facebook angered a lot of its users and I'm sure there are some who are leaving. Not to mention the previously noted exodus of younger users, who are leaving because their parents are now monitoring them on the site.

If Facebook really wants to keep its web dominance, it needs to start listening to its users. A great way to do this would be to ask for information from focus groups, or work with influencers on the network. However, they have already tainted their credibility seriously, so any outreach they do will come at a great expense.

What's your view of the Facebook Email Debacle? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Your Name Matters

From the Boston Business Journal's "Startups &VC" daily update yesterday:

Networking startup Plexxi raises $20.1M as it emerges from stealth

That groan you hear is from me, frustrated that yet another startup has chosen a really stupid name. What the heck does Plexxi mean? How will anyone remember that double x? Does the double x mean it's specifically for women?

I see names like this all the time now: Bozuko, Bebo, Sclipo, Plurk... they sound like baby talk. I know a fair amount of these are selected by the availability of short domain names ending in .com, but seriously, how can you expect customers to take you seriously when you say these names?

For a company, a name is a first impression. I can tell you that when I research vendors, online tools, and service providers that if I am embarrassed to say your company's name, I'm not going to buy your services.

I can hear the start up kids saying, "But all the good .com names are taken! We have to have these names!" and I want to point out that I know how to type .info, .net, .org and many other extensions into an address bar. That if you master SEO, I can click on search engine links without ever having to type into my address bar. That as a company, you can stand out by NOT being on .com, or that it's your job to teach your customers to type something else into their address bar.

The Next Web has a nice roundup of really silly web startup names. What's the silliest name you've heard of lately? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cat Whispering: What Miso Can Teach You About Social Media

As a little girl, my family adopted an abandoned cat that we named Hungry. I can remember being frustrated at first that Hungry liked my dad better than he liked me, and the simple explanation that my dad gave me for this. My dad fed Hungry every morning and every evening. He told me that if I fed Hungry, I could teach him to like me more. I can still recite the lesson plan for my cat: "Kate is food. Food is good. Kate is good."

Cats are interesting creatures with very particular personalities. Unlike dogs, which are inveterate pack animals and seek out family bonds, cats don't necessarily need a companion, human or otherwise. But they can be socialized.

On Thanksgiving last year, my husband and I took in a cat that we named Miso. Miso was terrified, having been taken away from a smoky, airless home where dogs used her as a pissing target, and then taken to another house where she was terrorized by a very territorial cat and a hyperactive dog. We have two mellow cats, so our house was deemed a better location.

It has taken about 8 months, but Miso is learning to be cuddled. My plan for befriending her involved gentle contact, finding out where she did and didn't like to be petted (she adores having her neck rubbed, but will not tolerate any touching of her feet). She jumped up on counters and attacked houseplants, so I used a misting bottle to get her down, and then cat treats to reward good behavior. It's a slow, painstaking process. To train a cat, you have to be willing to know where the limit is, to watch the cat to see how she reacts. You have to have persistence, to try and try again, sometimes come away with some scratches, and keep going anyway, with compassion, understanding, and love. And the payoff, a purring pal that snuggles you while you watch Law & Order reruns, is pretty sweet.

I have an unofficial nickname of "Cat Whisperer," because I have a knack for understanding cats. But really, the lessons of reaching a cat are subtle, and are well applied to social media.

What? Cats and social media? No, I'm not talking about LolCats.

Social media, whether used for a specific aim (sell a product, increase event attendance) or a general one (establish thought leadership, build a community), is a channel that acts a lot like a cat. If you're out on Twitter or Facebook, you're trying to herd cats. You have a bunch of personalities floating around who may or may not want to interact with you (or anyone) and you need to reach them, to establish a meaningful connection.

Starting out, you don't know who's out there, what they like or don't like, but you have to start somewhere. So you begin with a single message: "Welcome to our Page!" Maybe someone says hello back. Maybe no one does. So you try again "Are you interested in books? Check out the new selection of fiction at our library!" Maybe someone tweets back. And you've learned that books are something you can use to make a connection.

Getting into social media, though painstaking, gets easier when you know what you want. When I cared for a feral cat in my backyard, my mission was to capture her to have her spayed. (Five years later I had to give up when I moved, but I did get around to being able to pet her.) With Miso, I wanted her to feel comfortable in my home and have an affectionate relationship. When you set up a Facebook page or a Google+ hangout, it's really important to know what you want to accomplish. Without a game plan, you might spend all your time and energy and in developing something, and then it could fall by the wayside, because you don't know what to do with your newfound friends. Do you want to gather a temporary community for a single event? Or are you building a donor base that you can use to continually fund a non-profit's mission?

But the real key here is to listen to your audience. In the beginning, I'd pick up Miso and almost instantly she'd squirm, wanting to get down. So I'd put her down, because that's what she wanted. Over time, she learned that contact was nice, and now I can hold her for a long time. So if you audience is telling you that they don't like so many sales-y messages, stop sending them. Change your content, test your content, find what they like and then keep doing it.

Building an online network, an online community is really tough work. It means being incredibly persistent, being patient, and using feedback to guide your strategy.

Now go out there and herd some cats.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Five Simple Ways to Improve Your Corner of the World

Think globally, act locally. We all know the slogan, but it's often hard to do the things that make our corner of the world better. Here in America we live in a land of high expectations for productivity, we work more than our European counterparts, and we hardly ever take vacations. So many times, we're struggling to make sure we have clean laundry, dinner on the table and enough money for rent that the idea of doing something good for our communities has to fall by the wayside.

I firmly believe that like those blog posts telling you the five simple things you can do to increase productivity, there are a few simple things you can do to give back to your community.

  1. Donate blood - I give at Children's Hospital Boston, and it takes less than an hour, every two months. You can check at local hospitals for blood donor centers, or find an American Red Cross location near you. Blood is a precious resource that you can give to those in need.
  2. Donate clothing and furniture - In Cambridge, MA, is a great organization called Heading Home that works to help people avoid homelessness. They can always use donations of used goods to help furnish their apartments, and clothes for the needy. Other places to donate are Goodwill or Planet Aid.
  3. Fight Litter - I hate litter, and I often will pick it up off the street, anywhere, if I can spot a trash can from where I find the litter. It's a stupidly simple task, but it keeps our streets clean, which helps dispel the broken windows effect in a neighborhood.
  4. Say hello to your neighbors - How many of your neighbors do you know? I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone, which meant that when something went wrong, we all knew to pitch in and help. It's harder in an age of cell phones to actually stop and say hello and introduce yourself, but that's honestly what keeps a community together. 
  5. Find a mentoring program - I participate in two mentoring programs: one at my alma mater Simmons, where I mentor a student in the MBA program, and one with the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury, where I write letters back and forth with a middle schooler. These take about two hours a months to do, but they help me connect with my community.

There you are, five things, big and small that you can do to improve your corner of the world. I'm sure that you can think of others--what are some simple things that you do to improve your corner of the world?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Recap

Ah Friday, the end of the traditional work week.

Here's what was new on the blog this week:

Cookies and Process Evaluation - How a simple afternoon of baking leads into thinking about how often we evaluate our recipes for projects.

Breaking Down Strategy - Inspired by Lois Geller's Forbes piece, this article breaks down strategy into its most basic components.

And here are some interesting articles from around the web:

Productivity on Fridays - Liz Strauss gives you a game plan to end the week with a strategy for making Mondays more productive and less stressful.

Apps I Want To Go Away - Sam Grobart on the unusual fact that Apple won't let you delete the Stocks app from your iPhone. (I have often rued that point myself.)

Social Media Global Domination - Lisa Gerber talks about how mass commodification and Facebook are working to destroy the charm of the special and local.

Have you found any good reads lately? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Breaking Down Strategy

Lois Geller contributed a very interesting piece to Forbes recently, dealing with strategy. Why Strategy Matters has an excellent example of Strategy vs. Tactics, in describing the Illiad’s section on the Trojan Horse.

Geller describes the frustration of the Greek armies, unable to scale the walls of Troy to conquer the city and take back Menelaus’ wife Helen. Their strategy had involved trying to knock down or disable those walls to get inside. When they were foiled, the switched the strategy: instead of huffing and puffing to blow the walls in, they would convince the Trojans to open the walls themselves. The Trojan Horse was the Tactic for this, but the strategy was the “How” of the equation.

It’s a great piece, and an excellent way to highlight the difference between strategy and tactics. It got me thinking, how often do we confuse strategy and tactics? So I went back to my MBA text, Crafting & Executing Strategy: The Quest for Competitive Advantage: Concepts and Cases, and on page 4, found this simple definition:

A company’s strategy consists of the competitive moves and business approaches that managers are employing to grow the business, attract and please customers, compete successfully, conduct operation, and achieve the targeted level of organizational performance. 

 It’s really a mouthful. I wanted even more abstract. Here’s what I came up with:

Objective: What you want to happen
Strategy: How you will make that happen
Tactic: A specific action item of your strategy

In the case of the Trojan War:

Objective: Retrieve Helen, Conquer Troy
Original Strategy: Use military force to knock down Troy’s walls and invade
Revised Strategy: Have the Trojans open their own walls and invade
Tactic: Hide the military in a giant horse that the Trojans bring within the city walls.

What I really like about this breakdown is that you can apply it to anything, and then knit objectives and strategies together in a functioning matrix.

Objective: Increase Lead Conversion
Strategy: Engage customers over social media
Tactic: Search Twitter for customers who are asking questions about the product

Objective: Collect donations for food pantry
Strategy: Share information on social media networks
Tactic: Ask your existing network to ask their networks

What do you think? Is this too simple? How do you define strategy?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cookies and Process Evaluation

I make a mean chocolate cake. My recipe is called Groovy Chocolate Cake from the delightful cookbook Chocolate Kicks and Other Recipes for the Chocolate Addict (1970). The special ingredient is sour cream. Oh yes, it's a delicious cake.

A few weeks ago, I felt like brownies, so I hunted up this book and decided to actually try one of the other recipes in it, the titular Chocolate Kicks. I've since discovered that the times/heat settings for the baking don't quite line up with my futuristic kitchen. So I made adjustments.

Today, I attempted Chocolate Weeds. (I should also point out that while 75% of the recipes in this book are named after pot references, none of them include marijuana in the ingredients.) They're supposed to be cookies, with pecans. I made the batter and was stunned to see how runny it was. "Oh well," I thought, "maybe they fluff up in the oven."

Nope. They turned into these hard, flat, unappetizing discs that were amazingly difficult to get off of the cookie sheet. So I went back to the batter. It really was quite runny. I decided to add more flour. I added in 1/4 cups until I felt it was stiff enough.

The second pan came out much better.

I've now noted in the book that instead of 1/4 cup of flour, if I make this recipe again I need 1 cup of flour.

In baking with old cookbooks (and the majority of my cookbooks are very old), it helps to remember that today's ingredients are different, as are how we prepare food. (For one thing, this cookbook always asks you to melt the chocolate in a double boiler, but it's much simpler to do this in a microwave.)

When you're working on a project at work, or examining a business process, so often companies do things the same way, because "that's how we've always done it." But if you're running a process the same way today as you did in 1970, you could be missing out on improvements. Does your organization always rely on the same person working at the same post in the assembly line? In the early days of the company, New Balance experimented with letting assembly line workers switch roles along a schedule, so that the person who did Step 1 could see what all the other steps on the line were. This led to workers finding best practices on the assembly line, and improving the product, not to mention the process.

Take a look at the current recipes of your company. When did you put together each process? What are the moving parts? Are those parts still relevant? Does a project that has used to take 3 people to do now take 5 people to do? Why? Is the process changing? How?

I recommend finding the quietest time in your company's yearly calendar and focus on one department, project, or process every year. Examine the nuts and bolts, preferably with those team members, and ask them what they need to do their job better. If you can take this time to make one process better this year, you can use that productivity to identify the next area for improvement.

Cookie, anyone?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Recap

As the week wraps up, here's a look back at what was on the blog this week:

And, to keep you up to date on social media and strategy, here are some tasty articles from around the web:

  • Social Media Today: Using social and email to boost your content strategy
  • Online Media Today: Clean over clutter keeps visitors on your website
  • Quora: A fascinating discussion surrounding popular pins and what makes them go viral

Plus, because it's Friday, a catchy song to start your weekend:

Have you read anything interesting this week that you'd like to share? Please leave a link in the comments!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Password Protection: LinkedIn Passwords Hacked

This week, LinkedIn reported that about 6.5 million of its customers' passwords were hacked by a Russian pro hacker and shared online.

You might be thinking, "What's he going to do with that? Add bogus duties to my job descriptions?" Probably not. But more likely what a hacker will do is trace those passwords to any other accounts you might have with the same email address and try and go for your bank account, or something equally valuable.

Before you freak out, here's what you need to do.

Go change your password on LinkedIn right now.

Changing Your LinkedIn Password

How do you change your password? It's not that hard. First, visit and login. Then, in the top right corner, where you see your name, hover your mouse to activate the drop down menu and click Settings.

Once inside your settings menu, you'll see your main account information, and right by the word password, click Change.

The next step is simple. A menu will pop up and ask you to input your current password, and your new password (reiterated for security).

Simple, isn't it? Phew.

But wait. There's more you should do.

Was Your Password Hacked?

As reported by Mashable, a company called LastPass has set up a secure tool that lets you see if you old password was one of the ones that was compromised. After changing my password yesterday, I ran the old one through the tool this morning:

Uh oh. So my password was in that batch. That meant if I used that password anywhere else, on any other site, it needs to be changed. It took a while to locate them all, but they're safe now.

Protect Your Passwords

Password hacking is a fairly common occurrence, but there are some steps you can take to keep your passwords safe.

  • Use different passwords. This should be common sense, but I know plenty of people who use the exact same password for everything: Facebook, bank account, email, news sites, etc. Don't do this, because if someone hacks that password, they can get to everything you wanted kept safe online. 
  • Don't use your birthday, SSN, or address numbers in your password. Lots of people do this, and it makes it very easy to guess their passwords. 
  • Create difficult to hack passwords. My favorite trick is to create acronymic passwords. Take a sentence that you'll remember, like "My first dog's name was Fido." Now take the first letter of each word or substitute numbers for words, and you get a password that you'll remember and a hacker will have trouble figuring out: m1dnwF. It fits the six letter requirement, plus has a number and a capital letter in it, so it will pass most password requirements.
  • Don't share your password. If someone needs to access your account, don't give them your password. Log in yourself, and then watch everything they do.
  • Check your spam filter and trash folders on a regular basis. Recently, Jessie Cross of the Hungry Mouse blog fell prey to someone who hijacked her domain name after hacking her email. She missed the change of ownership on the domain name because that person had set up a filter to get rid of any notices of the changes. Every two weeks, take a quick scan of your trash and spam folders in your email account--who knows, you might have even missed some real mail thanks to over-zealous filters. 
  • Change your password regularly. I know, I know, this one is a big hassle. But really. Do it. Make a reminder in your calendar, say, every three months, and change all your passwords. You'll thank me later.
Do you have any tips or tricks to share about keeping your passwords secure? Please share in the comments. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Regrowing Ideas

My very first job was on a farm. I planted, tended, harvested, and sold vegetables; strawberries in June, squash, tomatoes, peppers in July, and corn in August. It was a lot of work, but it meant having a job outside in the nice weather and though it involved getting up at dawn most days, I would also get to end my workday in the early afternoon.

Today, I live in the city, and I don't have a lot of garden space, but I do like to attempt gardening in pots. There is always something amazing about planting a seed and watching it grow into something bigger.

Left: May 26, Right: June 4

Two weeks ago, I saw a photo on Pinterest that led to an article on replanting roots. Since I had some green onions in my fridge that were almost used up, I saved them, and planted them. Today, they are thriving! It's an amazing idea, to save something you might otherwise compost or throw away and find that it can grow back and be used again. 

But green onions aren't the only things you can coax back to life. Months ago, I buried an avocado pit in soil, hoping to bring it to life. Nothing seemed to happen with it, but I let it be, in sunlight, and kept quietly hoping it would do something. 

Lo and behold, a few weeks ago I started seeing life. This is my avocado plant today. After a long while of incubation, it's ready to grow into something bigger.

In business school, one of my wise classmates often remarked during group projects, "That's a great idea, but where does it fit in the project?" The answer was to create a "parking lot" for those ideas, to stay until we found a place for them (if there was indeed a place for them).

Ideas are your seeds, your roots, your pits. They may be new ideas, like a packet of seeds, that just need time to grow. They might be old ideas to reconsider, like green onion roots that just need replanting. Or they may be bigger ideas that have to sit and incubate, waiting for the right moment to emerge.

As a gardener, I watch my plants, look for signs of overwatering, too little light, dryness, anything that might keep them from reaching their full potential. When dealing with ideas, you must steward them, find the right place for them, the right medium to allow them also to emerge into their full potential.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Being Gertrude Stein

Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso
I'm currently reading Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company and I was delighted to learn that Gertrude Stein was almost 30 when she began her writing career.

I am only beginning to know Gertrude Stein, but I think for a long time I will be picturing her in my head as portrayed by Kathy Bates in Midnight in Paris. But I am so far struck be her meandering career in the first part of her life. She dropped out of high school, then went to Radcliffe to study the fledgling field of psychology under William James, and from there intended to start a clinical career, and so enrolled in the medical school at Johns Hopkins. But three-quarters of the way through medical school, she no longer wanted to be a doctor. and she left, to travel with her brother Leo to Paris, where she re-emerged as an connoisseur of modern art and a writer.

Stein was the leader of an influential circle of thinkers, writers, and painters.  I'm trying to think of anyone at the top of such a Mastermind group who took such a circuitous route to success. I think of the US education system, and the standardized tests we train children to take. Next, it is determined that the best route to success is through a 4-year college experience, maybe a master's degree and then straight into the silo.

Certainly, Stein came from a privileged background, with an annuity and never needed to work for a living. But still, she created a new genre of writing, the word portrait, and built a new system of characterology based on her academic learnings and melding in the learnings from her amazing circle of acquaintances. What produced Stein's contributions to literature was her decision not to stay in the silo, but to meander, to step into different streams, and ignite her ideas with the flint of diversity.

Edited: Just a few hours after I posted this, I read this article on the advantages of the generalist over the specialist. It has more business applications than this post, but the point is the same: the silo is not the be-all and end-all.