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Times are changing yet again!

The days of free social media are numbered. With so many players posting more content than ever, sponsored content is becoming even more necessary to be seen.  The growing theme over the course of 2013 is that organic reach for businesses (both large and small) will continually decrease. 

This is bad news for the thousands of small businesses who rely mostly on facebook to get their messages out.  While it’s been relatively easy to grow your presence in the past, it will only get harder and harder.  

Content is Key!

Though you might think about your business at all hours of the day and night,  the dirty little secret I’ve come to learn is that no one else cares.  If all you do is shout about your new sale or post new products,  you’ll suffer the most with the new changes.  The ones who will survive and thrive are those who post original content and give the people something they can use.  Usually that comes in the form of education.  Take a cue from the highly successful lifestyle brands out there, and tell them how to make their lives easier, happier and more stylish.  That’s all they really care about anyway. 

Keep it Short!

People on Facebook are bombarded with a flood of chatter from friends, frenemies and brands. They won’t waste more than a few seconds glancing at your message and then move on.  Studies show an indirect correlation between the number of characters in a post and the amount of engagement.  More characters = Less engagement.  Try to keep it under 140! 

One of my new pet peeves is pages who use every tag and hashtag under the sun in a misguided attempt to reach more people.  Not only does it not help,  it makes people skip over your content and there goes any chance of engagement (and thus decreases your reach.)  

Also,  shorten your links. Use a tool like bit.ly to make your links shorter.  It also has handy tracking information that you can refer back to. 

Promote Wisely!

Promoted posts and ads are just like regular posts,  the ones that expect to give rather than receive will win out.  If your promoted content is engaging,  you’ll get more for your money in terms of reach, likes, comments and clicks.  

Also keep in mind timing, and targeting for maximum impact.  Don’t waste your money targeting people who can never or will never use your products or services.  (Personally I hate that promoted posts default to reach your fans and their friends.  I can promise you that my 61 year old father and I do not have the same interests or buy the same products.  Yet, if I’m your fan you’ll be targeting us both.    Need another hint: ads on weekends are usually cheaper.  Take advantage of them!

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

Facebook is a public company at the mercy of its shareholders.  Lots of businesses rely solely on the platform to get messages across.  Unfortunately, you never know when the next change is coming.  Facebook is easy to use because it’s what we know,  but it’s lazy to rely on it totally.   Don’t neglect your email marketing, instagram, twitter or blog just to focus on facebook.  It should only be a part of your overall strategy.  

But there is strength in numbers and in strong, engaging content. By combining the two, small business can compete for a share of voice in the social sphere.

Born only 10 months apart, Jimbo and I grew up the closest in age and geographic proximity among the 11 kids that make up the boisterous DeJean clan. We attended each other’s birthday parties, trick-or-treated together and competed against each other annually for the coveted golden egg.  For many years, I was the closest thing to a bossy sister he had and he was my big brother figure.

Though our grown-up lives are quite different, through high school and college and the beginning of our lives as adults we’ve remained good friends. I maintain a relatively nomadic lifestyle and unconventional career. He married young, got a stable job and had two beautiful babies.

As families and responsibilities grow, our family gatherings have become less frequent. Somehow, I know I can always count on him to call me with his latest business idea, however ridiculous or ingenious, or text me pictures of Joe Biden’s limo outside his window at MD Anderson. He has always been and will always be one of my closest friends.

The day I got the call he had leukemia, I couldn’t have been more shocked. Having seen him only days before, I couldn’t and still can’t understand how a perfectly healthy 28-year-old who was strong enough to knock defenders to the ground as an offensive lineman in college could succumb to such an elusive microscopic killer. Isn’t leukemia for kids and old people anyway?

So many questions. Unable to concentrate on my morning work, I spent hours at my usual coffee shop googling and reading everything about the disease.  Without getting into specifics, his Web MD/Wikipedia prognosis was not good.

Yet, the news we got via Caring Bridge from Houston proved increasingly promising. After the first few rounds of chemo, the disease began to disappear. Though his specific mutation is more curable than others, it still seemed like a miracle. The doctors even went so far as to use the word “remission” to describe the stage of the disease he was facing.

As the months went on, I’ll admit I got a little complacent, reading the updates less often. I continued to check in from time to time, teasing him mercilessly about the firetrucks his mom took the liberty of sewing on his hospital gowns but I never worried. It never even crossed my mind that this battle might take some turns or go on further than the original 6 month treatment plan laid out by his doctors.

The unbelievable strength that Jimbo’s wife Ashley shows in maintaining a positive, hopeful attitude when she writes our weekly updates, made it easy to think that both the battle and the war had been fought, and almost over. But over time, the news became less and less ideal. On the molecular level, the doctors began to see the leukemia numbers rise.

Though the idea was tabled early on, the doctors decided that Jimbo’s best chance for preventing relapse was a bone marrow transplant.  I went back to my MacBook for research. 

The first order of business in any bone marrow transplant is to test the patient’s siblings. Jimbo’s only brother Chris has the highest chance of being a match and a 25% chance of being a full match. Knowing that the chances weren’t great I’d be a match if Chris wasn’t, I secretly hoped I would be. There’s no more frustrating situation for a control freak than watching someone I love fight for his life, and knowing I can do nothing.

Yet, I swore I had no interest in helping a stranger that I’d likely never meet.  Though I could have joined the registry for free, I found a private lab that would test me for a fee.  

Luckily, I never had to test to see if I’m a match. After several anxious weeks, we learned that Chris is a half match. While not ideal, it’s great news. With only one full-match possibility on the national registry, it’s not worth the wait. Thanks to the miracle of medical advances, a half-match transplant can be equally successful to a full match.

Knowing that my cousin is in good hands and will be taken care of is comforting but it’s hard not to still feel helpless to make any real difference.  When I talked to him on the day that his transplant course of action was finalized, my heart broke at the sadness and fear in his voice that he couldn’t hide, not for himself but for the two little people who depend on him most. 

One of the few things I can do is take 10 minutes to register myself as a potential donor and encourage others to do the same.  It’s the only thing my cousin has ever asked me to do.  Though he didn’t sign up for it, he’s now a member of a club with 10,000 new members every year, those who need a bone marrow transplant to save their lives.  Only half will find a suitable match. 

The modern version of the bone marrow transplant isn’t all that inconvenient.  It’s a lot like donating blood, no surgery or anesthesia. To decide that I’d only be willing to save one of my own is beyond selfish.  How can I expect any stranger to save him or even me one day if I’m not willing to reciprocate the favor?

Though Jimbo’s battle is far from over. I’m confident that with the best doctors in the world, the bone marrow transplant he’ll get in just a few short weeks will save his life. And on the off chance that the introduction of his brother’s DNA has any residual effect on his personality, I’ll hope he gets some of the drive that made him an All-American athlete instead of his questionable judgement for adventure and subsequent accidents.

We pray every day for no complications and a successful outcome. Just like I secretly hoped I’d be a match for my loved one, I’ll pray that one day I will be called to take a few days out of my busy schedule to save the life of a stranger’s cousin, child or friend.


Facts about Bone Marrow Transplant: (via: bethematch.org)

Bone Marrow (Stem Cell) Transplants work.
Bone marrow transplantation is among the greatest success stories in cancer treatment. It has boosted survival rates from nearly zero to more than 85 percent for some blood cancers.

Patients are most likely to match someone who shares their ancestry.
Today, there simply aren’t enough registry members of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Adding more diverse members increases the likelihood that all patients will find a life-saving match.

Members with these backgrounds are especially needed:

  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian, including South Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Multiple Race

Donors never pay to donate marrow.
The National Marrow Donor Program reimburses travel costs and may reimburse other costs on a case-by-case basis. All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by us or by the patient’s medical insurance.

It only takes 10 minutes to join the registry.
Joining the National Bone Marrow Registry is free for most people.  It takes about 10 minutes and a simple cheek swab to sign up.  Visit bethematch.org to sign up.

Own your inbox. Don't let it own you.

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(This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of FACE Magazine.)

I get a lot of email. I spend much more time reading and sending emails than I do talking on the phone. Somehow, I don’t think it’s just me. With the Holidays upon us, we are all getting busier, and our email boxes have followed suit. Though the increasingly pervasive smartphone has made email more convenient, we’re now tied to it 24 hours a day. 

E-mail is a push medium. Anybody can push an email to your inbox so it’s easy to blame outside sources for your inability to keep up with the flow. Yet whether we receive 50 emails in a day or 500, most of us are overloaded. Often it’s not the volume of messages that overwhelms us but the inefficiency of how we deal with it. I’m not going to say that I’m an expert at email. But considering I receive about double the national average on any given day and it’s rare that one falls through the cracks unread, I do know a little something about it. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned through the years that help me stay on top of my inbox and maintain work-hour productivity.

Get to know your email client. 
Whether you use Gmail, Yahoo, Apple Mail or (like that friend I tease ruthlessly) you’re still using Hotmail, pay attention to your email inbox software. All of them have shortcuts and useful tools built in to help combat the email monster.

Just unsubscribe.
We’ve all signed up for e-mail blasts from companies we may not even do business with anymore. As a marketer, it pains me to admit that you just can’t read them all. If you aren’t that interested, take yourself off the list. There are plenty of less invasive ways to stay in touch with the brands we love (like Facebook or Instagram).

There are websites (like unroll.me) that help remove you from multiple distribution lists at once, the most foolproof trick I use is to search your email box for the word “unsubscribe.” You’ll bring up a list of all emails with the option to unsubscribe. 30 minutes spent culling subscriptions will save you many hours in the future.

Turn off notifications.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great. We love them so much we've downloaded the apps by now and access them regularly on our smartphones. By the time a friend request hits your email inbox, you’ve likely already seen it and acted on it. Since James Earl Jones doesn’t actually narrate our Facebook activity in real life, there’s really no point in reading it twice. So cut the clutter and turn email notifications off. 

Don’t post your email address on websites.
It’s an open invitation to spammers who have bots trained to search for the “@” symbol so they can harvest hundreds of email addresses at once. 

Don’t always respond right away.
Before the advent of modern communication, no one ran to their mailbox every five minutes or panicked if someone didn’t immediately receive and respond to their note. If you always respond immediately to email, you’ll condition senders to assume they can email you for urgent matters and likely increase your email load.

Send less to receive less.
My friends and clients will get a kick out of this one since many would say that I send a lot of emails. The truth about email is that it begets more email. On average, for every email you send, you’ll generate two responses. If you find yourself receiving more email than you can handle, cut back on your sending.

Write emails that don’t create more emails 
Have you ever tried to set up a meeting via email? It often takes 5 or 6 messages to settle on a time and place. Fortunately, a little bit of forethought can save a lot of back and forth. Whether you’re seeking a response, a completed task, or an informed recipient, the clearer and more direct your message, the more likely you’ll get the intended result in a timely manner.

Example: “Can we meet next week? I’m open M, W, Th between 12 and 3. What works for you? Would you rather meet at the Lab or Johnston Street Java?” They respond with the location, date and time and the thread ends with just 2 emails sent. 

Move group e-mail to collaborative workspaces
Email isn’t for collaborative work. If you find yourself going back and forth with a group, set up a meeting. If geographic limitations are holding you back, move the conversation to a platform better suited for collaboration. Personally, I like Facebook for coordinating social endeavors and I use basecamp.com for group project management.

Understanding Edgerank

With as many friends and pages that users connect with on facebook, it makes sense that between logins (or in my case incessant scrolls on my iPhone) each user builds up on average 1500 potential unread stories.  If our newsfeeds displayed everything, there’s a pretty good chance we’d just get overwhelmed and use the site less. It uses complex algorithms (Edgerank) to narrow that number down to a more manageable 300 that they think we will actually care about. 

So what does this mean to small businesses and marketers?  On average your (unpromoted) posts will be seen by 20% of your connections.  

According to Facebook, their method is simple. “When a user likes something, that tells News Feed that they want to see more of it; when they hide something, that tells News Feed to display less of that content in the future.”

But it really is a lot more complicated than that.  How exactly does Facebook determine what users see and what they don’t?  The world may never know exactly.  But put simply, they rank edges!  Edges are essentially all the things that happen on the site. (e.g posts, likes, comments, shares, profile views)

And what makes one edge rank higher than another? There are three main factors; AFFINITY, WEIGHT & TIME DECAY

  • Affinity is a one way relationship between the user and the page or person they follow or are friends with.  Over time, the more often you comment, like or message that person or page,  the more likely they are to show up in your feed. But keep in mind that affinity is a one-sided equation: No matter how often you interact with someone, if they don’t interact back equally, you won’t show up more often in his or her feed and he or she does in yours. 
  • Weight: Generally, Edges that take the most time to accomplish tend to weigh more.  A like takes less effort than a comment and will be weighted less valuably by the system.  By that same rule,  shares are more valuable than comments. 
  • Time Decay refers to how much time has passed since an edge happened; the older it is the less valuable it is.  As edges age, they become less important in determining newsfeed content. This keeps our newsfeeds fresh and keeps us coming back for more.

So how can you use your new found understanding of edgerank?

Ultimately your brand will be judged (and ranked in newsfeeds accordingly) by your ability to engage your connections.  While some brands naturally invite more engagement than others.  For example, sports teams with high offline affinity among fans tend to have very high online engagement and affinity. 

But even if your brand isn’t quite as exciting as that of Drew Brees, you can still outrank your competitors if you follow one simple rule: Give the people what they want!  They will like  you more for it (online and offline) and Facebook will reward you accordingly.

 

You want me to write what?

This article was first published in the June edition of Face Magazine.

Though few of us will serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 or run for governor, at some point in our lives we will likely be recognized for something. Often when we win an award or serve on a committee, the most painful thing we have to do is write a biography for ourselves.  It's tough to sum up our histories, articulate our competence and show that we are human in 200 words or less. It's even more difficult to maintain objectivity without being tempted to hyperbolize. We all want to make ourselves look good! 

So what if you are not a professional writer? How can you write the story of your life so that its main character is someone we'd all like to get to know? If you write carefully and thoughtfully, the process can actually be quite painless.


Keep it Simple 

The most effective bios are understated. They rely on simple word choice and shy away from excessive adjectival adornment. A well-crafted bio uses content and personality rather than puffed-up biospeak to make the person in question shine.  (i.e., don’t go mining the thesaurus a la Joey Tribbiani.)


Be Honest 

If you don't have a lot of experience, don't exaggerate or make things up.  You may just be getting started but you've obviously done enough of something to be writing a bio in the first place. Find relevant bits of information and let them shine in their own right.


Consider Your Audience 

No matter where your bio will be published, your audience is made up of people who relate to other people. Focus on the qualities that make you extraordinary rather than the awards  those qualities have helped you claim. Bragging about the trophies on your mantle will not help people relate to you.


Use Your Voice  

Even when you write your own bio, it should be written in third person.  It sounds much better and seems more natural for someone else to brag on you than for you to brag about yourself.  It also helps your reader establish trust in the bio, even if they know you've written it yourself.

Engage an Editor  

No one knows us better than we know ourselves, but we tend to see ourselves differently than a third party observer. Don't leave the fate of your public image to your own keyboard entirely.  Call on a friend who will be honest and objective.

______________________________________________
Questions to consider when you write your own bio:

  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been doing what you do?
  • Where did you go to school and what did you study?
  • Where did you grow up and what brought you to the area you are in now?
  • What are you known for or have a knack for?
  • What types of problems are you good at solving?
  • Who have you worked with? What did you do?
  • What excites you? What can't you stop talking about?
  • Where can you be found when you’re not working?
  • What nonprofits do you love? Why do you love them?
  • Have you won any awards, medals, or trophies?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

 

In defense of ads on Facebook

Despite all the benefits Facebook provides, it seems its makers can’t keep everyone happy. For every small change to its interface, there are hundreds of protest groups that pop up. Aside from the obvious questions of privacy, one of the most prolific complaints has to do with the use of ads to support the immense overhead of the growing company.

Facebook’s users tend to forget the benefits when they are confronted with the minimal costs of using the service. I’ll let you in on an open secret: nothing is free. If you are not paying for a service, you are the product being sold. Facebook is no exception: Though the service is free to use, the “cost” is that you are opening yourself up to be advertised to. 

Advertising to support the services we love is hardly a new concept. In fact, it dates back well beyond the current era and even that of Don Draper. Nearly all of the “free” services and entertainment we enjoy are supported by ads and sponsors in one way or another. Our favorite shows on television, magazines (like this one), and free concerts like Downtown Alive and Rhythms all ascribe to that model.

When Facebook went public last May, it refocused on two major goals: profits and growth. How does a site like Facebook become profitable? By selling advertisements to offset all the expenses associated with maintaining such a huge site. 

As for the second goal, growth in a site like Facebook can be achieved in two ways: increasing subscriber base or increasing the time each user spends on the site. If at any point people feel that using the site is not worth their time or becomes unenjoyable, they use the site less or quit altogether and Facebook loses its profitability.

So what qualifies someone who makes a living in marketing and PR to defend Facebook and its use of advertising? Because I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve had countless of my own ads rejected by Facebook for publication because they don’t fit their strict standards. I realize how hard Facebook works to ensure that the ads remain relevant and unobtrusive. The future of their business absolutely depends on their ability to strike a balance between keeping both their advertisers and users happy.

One thing that many consumers may not understand is that Facebook rewards businesses and advertisers for being interesting. There are complex algorithms based on how many clicks, likes, comments and shares each post gets. Interesting posts – those that contribute value to the reader – get more interactions and make it easier for future posts by the same author to be seen. Facebook ads work in much the same way. If an ad is interesting, it reaches more people for less money than those that only aim to shout their sales messages. 

Despite all the complaints about changes and the new ways Facebook allows advertisements, millions of people continue to interact and engage on the site. They keep up with their friends, family, favorite brands. Facebook has brought attention to many worthy causes and spreads many messages of goodwill. So, let’s try to remember the bigger picture and stop letting a little contextual advertising get in the way. 

 

New day. New Challenge.

I recently celebrated a milestone on Linkedin. I’m proud to say i reached the 500+ connection mark (LinkedIn doesn't display the exact number after 500). It’s a goal I’ve had in mind for a while but considering I’ve yet to reject a single request to connect, it’s not quite a feat.

Right around the time I reached the coveted 500+ mark, I got a message from someone I’ve never met before asking me to meet for coffee.  He’s embarking on a project to meet 50 people for coffee in 50 weeks.  After I got over my initial skepticism that this was some weird ploy to pick up young, impressionable females,  I started to think seriously about his project. 

It’s not exactly a secret that I have a knack for connecting people-  for identifying potential mutually beneficial situations among various people in my many circles and making things happen. It’s one of the most thrilling and energizing parts of my job. It’s also not a secret that I’m pretty terrible at meeting new people.  I shy away from large groups and I tend to stick with the people I already know well. 

So what happens to the many people I meet in passing? Usually we become Facebook friends, exchanging the occasional like or witty commentary.   But for the most part, the ties remain weak.  We don't know enough about each other to identify opportunities to collaborate.  Nothing happens.

That’s why I’ve decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and take the same challenge.  No agenda, no strings, just coffee (or beer).  50 opportunities to learn from the successes and failures of other people.  To get to know their needs and interests so that one day when the opportunity comes up, we can work together and make something great happen.

Why a picture isn’t worth a thousand likes anymore.

For a long time now, marketers have been fed the notion that pictures and videos are the most powerful types of posts on Facebook.  The numbers say otherwise.  While pictures and videos do tend to get more interactions than text posts that aren’t well crafted, the reach on text posts is typically 40% higher than their photo and video counterparts.

My theory?  It’s a matter of sheer space.  Texts posts take up less room allowing more posts to be seen.  If they are well crafted, they can garner as much engagement or more with a lot more organic reach.

So what’s the best thing you can do to increase the publicity you are getting out of your Facebook presence?  Be interesting and mix up the type of posts you put out.

 

How often should I be blogging?

Last week I attended a web.com seminar for small businesses in Lafayette. One of the questions that was asked was how often should we be blogging.  

IMHO, It depends on a lot of factors. Why are you blogging?  Is it ifor SEO?  To further your marketing message?  A lot of people don't even know why they blog.  They blog because someone who sounded smart told them they should. 

While there is no true correct answer,  the rule of thumb that I tend to follow is 2-3 posts per week or 10 posts per month.  That averages to about every 3 days.   

However, I think there are two things more important than the frequency at which you blog:

#1)  Content is key. If you are blogging just to blog, don't waste your time.  Blog about things that matter and blog about things that are relevant to your target audience. 

#2)  Be consistent. Pick one thing and stick to it.  Don't skip weeks or months. Not only will your website content begin to look stale, you will likely start to lose readers. 

Struggling to find inspiration?  We all do.  It seems that on my creative days I can come up with 10 good topics about which to blog and then can't think of anything good for a month. Keep a running list of ideas you can blog about.  You may never use some of them but it definitely helps to be able to look back at it when you are stuck. 

Just be sure: the worst thing you can do is start a blog and leave with dated posts.  If you aren't committed to blogging, don't start.

 

Totem of Chat

(this article was first published in the May 2013 edition of Face Magazine)

Do you remember a time when faxes were high tech communication? If I'm being quite honest, I barely do. Nearly gone are the days of landlines, fax machines and snail mail.  We are now inundated with hundreds of ways to communicate with each other.  There's SMS, Facebook, Gchat, email and facetime just to name a few.  But are they all equal? Which ones should we use when? (When do we use one over another?)

In the pilot episode of HBO's Girls, Marnie Michaels describes what she calls the "totem of chat."  She observes a hierarchy of the various methods of communication starting with "Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone." 

Just as some people are more attune to the nuances of offline social order, some are more attune to the unspoken rules governing various methods of communication.  Certain messages will carry entirely different interpretations when expressed through different mediums. But does the "totem of chat" actually exist? Is there a specific place and time for each method of communication? Does the method of delivery have any bearing on how a message will be interpreted?

Phone:

The phone has long been thought of as the most professional way to conduct business.  However, it may not be the most efficient method of communication and it is invasive.  Using the phone to call someone implies that what you need to talk about is more important than their time.  If a matter isn't urgent, email might be a better choice.  Nevertheless, if a matter is complicated or personal, picking up the phone will certainly save both parties time and the risk of the message being lost in e-translation.

In the last few years, the line between office phones and cell phones have become blurred.  Many mobile office professionals don't even maintain a landline, and instead opt for a strictly cellular method. That said, it's important to be conscious of business hours when contacting your colleagues. Make work related calls during business hours only, and remember just because you have someone's cell phone number doesn't mean you should use it.  Especially not as your first call!

Email:

Email is my preferred way to conduct business.  It provides a professional platform to get my point across without having to waste time on unnecessary small talk. Email isn't intrusive like a phone call and allows the recipient to respond at their convenience. But don't neglect to respond - it's expected. 

When using email, it's important to use a subject line. It alerts the recipient to the subject matter of your message so you don't keep your reader in suspense. You will likely get a faster response and it will also help the reader reference your email in the future. 

Text Message:

For being a relative newcomer, texting has become immensely popular over the last 5 years. I love texting, but I typically reserve using it for my friends. In most cases (but not all), I find it an inappropriate method for conducting business. 

Texting provides a quick and easy method for communicating short messages but it definitely has it's limitations. Its casualness diminishes the strength and meaning of the message. More importantly, it (nor any other written communication) shouldn't replace all communication as it cannot convey the subtle nuances that come with a face to face meeting, or even a phone call. 

There are a lot of things to keep in mind about using text as a method of communicating with friends. It should not be used to inform people of sad or upsetting news. Be also aware that not everyone has unlimited texting as part of their cellular plan. Your recipients may actually have to pay for the messages you send. 

One of the most frustrating and offensive types of text messaging is the infamous group text. It's important to realize that often when you respond to a text message that has been sent to more than one person, the whole group (not just the sender) will receive your response.  This can become very irritating for the other recipients of the message.  If you are going to respond, start a separate thread between you and the sender unless everybody needs to see your response. This of it as the bcc: vs cc: of texting. Perhaps just reconsider sending a group text in the first place. 

Facebook/Twitter/Instagram:

Entire books could be written on the subtle implications of each social media site. While there are definite differences, overall they rank about equal in the totem of chat. Comments, wall posts, and status updates provide a fun way to keep in touch with family, and a great platform for casual banter between friends.  They are also quite useful as methods for inviting people to casual gatherings through event invitations and message boards.

As for business communication, social media sites should be avoided.  The only exceptions are if you know the recipient well or have no other way to communicate with them.  In the latter example, social media messages should be limited to asking for a phone number or email with which to initiate more appropriate contact. 

While it's important to be mindful of social conventions, it's equally important to realize that as with any rule, there are always exceptions. The key to being an effective communicator is making a concerted effort to reach people how they like to be reached. This applies to everyone and everything from witty banter between close friends to my business clients hoping to broadcast their marketing messages.  If you can make people more comfortable, your message will be better received and lines will be more open and honest. Isn't that the whole point of communication anyway?

 

Write for your readers, not for google.

There are lots of people out there who are veritable experts in increasing web traffic and more specifically increasing a website's organic google rankings.  But what happens when someone becomes one of the top experts in SEO?  Google hires them.

Google is in the business of being relevant.  They maintain the vast majority of the search engine market share because when we search for something, it produces relevant content in it's results.  No matter how SEOs try to trick them, their business is dependent on not being tricked. 

So what is the most important thing we can do to build and maintain a good search position?  Create relevant content!  If you create a site that is filled with content that is meant to be enjoyed by real people, you will do better in search results and have a better chance of maintaining that position long term. 

That's not to say that if you build it, they will necessarily come.  There are still basic things you can do to optimize your site for Google and other search engines. (but that's a whole different post!)

 

There's a better way to network

(This article was first published in the April edition of Face Magazine)

Whether you own a business, work a typical office job or run a busy household, there's something to be said for being well connected. When a well-connected person needs something, they simply pick up the phone and make a call to a friend in the right place.  It seems so easy.  But how do people become well connected?  Is there a secret that only those people know?

I avoid traditional networking groups and events like the plague. (Think of all the low-level sales sharks tossing business cards around like confetti.)  Old-school networkers quantify new people from a transactional standpoint.  How much is each new person worth to them?  How many people do they need to meet to make one sale?  In short, they pursue relationships based only on what the other person can do for them.

In my professional life, I choose to be a relationship builder. Relationship builders take the opposite approach of the old-school networker. We focus on helping others without necessarily keeping score.  It isn't about meeting this month's goals or sales numbers, it is about building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships (which in the long run contribute those same results, but usually at a higher level).

The people I work with are more than just professional contacts; they’re people I care about.  If I didn't care about them, I don't believe I'd be able to do my job well.  And as for those people with whom I don't (yet) work, I view them as people who have taken their valuable time to get to know me, not just potential future income.

Focus on Quality over Quantity
Top professionals have five to ten active alliances.  What makes a relationship an alliance? An ally is someone you consult regularly for advice. You proactively share and collaborate on opportunities. You keep your antennae attuned to an ally's needs and interests, and when it makes sense to pursue something jointly, you do. Most importantly, you stick up for your allies. You promote your ally’s  brand. When an ally runs into conflict, you defend him and stand up for his reputation, knowing that he will do the same for you.

Be generous with your connections
Part of being well connected is acting as a connector for other people.  Recognizing what each person brings to the table, you can make introductions that benefit all parties involved.  If you genuinely seek to help others by sharing your connections, others will be apt to do the same for you.

Don't be a climber
We all know those people— the ones who suck up to the big dogs and treat the little people like dirt. It's usually blatantly obvious to the big dogs and little people alike.  Treat everyone with the same respect.  Even if they can't do much to help you professionally, there's something to be learned from everyone.   (But if that's not enough to convince you, remember: it's usually someone at "the bottom" that serves as gatekeeper and makes the schedule for the man on top.)

Befriend your competitors
It's just as important to make friends with others in your field.  Call competitors to go get coffee.  There are always opportunities to work together.  Even if it's just to send them a client you can't take or vice versa.  Ideally, you can make a friend that you can even call on for advice when you run into a problem that most people won't understand.

Don't be afraid to ask for help
I help people out when they need it but I'm also not afraid to ask for help.  People are usually more than willing to help but often won't volunteer. Asking someone for help doesn't make you look weak; it shows you respect his opinion or position enough to recognize he can help you.

It's ok to say no
Don't be a doormat.  You don't have to do everything and you can't be all things to all people.  No matter how hard you try, not everyone will like you. It's important to realize that if you spread yourself too thin, the most important relationships in your work and home life can suffer.

Maintain your relationships
Over the long haul, it takes more work to build a relationship than it does to maintain one.  Value your contacts enough to realize that letting them slip away can sometimes be as bad as burning the bridge altogether. To avoid losing touch, work to keep yourself on their radar.  Check in from time to time, ask to meet up for lunch or send articles and bits of information that you think might be useful.  

Tired of the same old same old?  Here are some places to meet new people and expand your network.

Get social.  Engage with organized groups that already share your values and interests, such as the705 (the705.org) for young leaders, Junior League for women or CrossFit for those focused on fitness.

Volunteer and attend fundraisers.  Organizations don't typically struggle to find people willing to buy a $1,000 table but they are always short on helping hands.  Most would be happy to have you work the registration desk. Not only do you get to enjoy the event but you get to meet everyone who walks through the door.

Be the leader. There are two ways to meet people: (1) Seek out people to know or (2) Be the person to know.  Put yourself in positions of authority and higher profile.  Be the person people need to know to get stuff done  (e.g., Marketing Chair, President, Activity Director, Volunteer Coordinator).

Make it fun.  Meeting new people is awkward enough without the pressure of formality.  Have fun with meeting new people.  Join a softball or kickball sports league like Acadiana Sports Leagues (GeauxASL.com) that is focused on helping people meet, or start up your own club (Monthly Wine Tasting club). If you are having fun – you will stay committed and be successful.

 

What do you mean you don't tweet?

(This article was first published in the March edition of FACE Magazine and was written by Caroline Barry)

Since Facebook ended up so ubiquitous that David Fincher made it into a feature film, we have been force fed that social media is revolutionizing the world. Not just contacts, friendship, and networking, but the world. What exactly encompasses this revolution? What keeps people from launching a Twitter account or joining Instagram? What good have we arrived to at this point?  Many are asking (and rightly so), “what is the value of social media?”

I’ve used social media as a platform for staying updated and remaining close with friends and family who would probably have drifted from my radar. I’ve relied on various sites to build and maintain my professional network. In fact, I even built a somewhat unconventional career around the concept. 

I firmly believe that social media has been a tremendously positive force in society, having fostered the more open and collaborative environment that we have today. The platform provides a dialogue for diverse feedback, insights, and constructive criticism from a personal level to professional matters. It presents an enormous potential for good in society by bringing attention to worthy causes. Quite often, a simple picture of a cute kid or funny video can add joy to an uneventful or bad day. 

Many people remain afraid, unconvinced or suspicious of social media. They raise valid concerns, such as how we can protect kids and teens from its evils. The biggest hurdle for most is that they simply don’t understand each platform. However, if you are smart about what you post, and seek to be a good citizen of the online world, there is nothing to fear. 

Check your Privacy Settings

Instagram and Twitter accounts are both set to display publicly by default. It is your responsibility to change those settings if you don’t want your pictures, tweets, and personal profile to be publicly accessible.  Be smart about learning the particular privacy settings for each social system you enter to make sure that what shows up in search engines matches what you are comfortable for the world to see.

Facebook is notorious for changing its already confusing privacy options. Last year, even founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister accidentally shared content that she meant to only share with friends. Lately, Facebook has made improvements, and the options are more accessible and easier to understand. Still, there are several things to consider. Determine who can see your posts, check-ins, personal information, friends or connections, and pictures. Then consider if you want them all to see those items. Is everything public? Can only your friends see, or can friends of your friends also see?

Another overlooked and lesser known Facebook option is the ability to review posts, photos and check-ins tagged by others before they will be added to your profile. This allows you to filter what gets posted to your public (or friends). To access this setting, go to the timeline and tagging section of your privacy options.

Be Respectful of Others

No social media site is meant solely to be your personal megaphone. Be mindful that a lot of people are subject to everything you post. Don’t inundate them with sales messages. If your child is selling Girl Scout cookies, that’s one thing, but it’s something else entirely to post relentlessly about the skincare line you sell for extra income. Things like that can be marketed by creating a page for your business that interested parties can choose to follow. 

Though you shouldn’t hide your personality or controversial thoughts on politics, religion or anything potentially offensive, you should take note of the line and keep the personal rants to a minimum. The best rule of thumb: if it would annoy you, it will probably annoy your friends. Even better, if you know it’s inappropriate and wouldn’t be caught dead saying it in person, you really shouldn’t say it digitally either. 

Beware of Third Party Apps

Third party apps are one of the biggest sources of spam on Facebook. Often, users don’t even know that these apps are flooding their friends’ newsfeeds with incessant updates. Games like Farmville and Bingo or music apps like Spotify are a few repeat offenders. They’ve even been known to use the pictures and personal information of their own members to recruit other users through e-mails or ads. 

Still, these apps can be fun and useful. To avoid trouble, make sure that when you add these apps you disable their ability to post to your newsfeed. It’s an option that comes up in the process but often gets overlooked. It’s also another decision you can make about what kind of information you’re broadcasting and at what frequency. Look at it like this— do you want to be the friend who shares clever insights and anecdotes, or that friend who shares her entire life on multiple digital channels? 

Be Mindful of the Future

2013 marks the ninth year that I’ve been on Facebook. When I joined the site as a freshman in college, the last thing I could imagine was that nearly a decade later I’d be a young entrepreneur with a business and brand that’s basically indistinguishable from my personal image. It’s important when using any online medium to realize that what you post now will stay with you forever. What may seem harmless in the moment might not be so innocent in the future. Remember those drunken declarations of love (or hate) to friends and significant other turned ex? How about the Mardi Gras status updates from a few years back? Are you remembering them fondly or cringing because you know they still exist somewhere out there while you sit in your corporate office or PTA meeting?

When social media works…

Recently Whole Foods market ran a Living Social deal for half off a $20 voucher.  Purchasers could get the voucher for $10 and use it to purchase $20 of goods in the store.

Rather than get excited about such a great deal for a store that doesn’t often do discounts on its relatively high end groceries, many customers complained that $20 doesn’t go very far in the store.

Recognizing the need to address the issue, Whole Foods began a social media campaign. They asked various staff members to show how they would spend $20 in the store and posted the results to Facebook.  This is what they said:

With all the online chatter surrounding the recent LivingSocial deal about what you can get for $20 at our stores, we decided to put it to the test. Take a look at what some of our Team Members were able to put together for 20 bucks!

Kate, Public Relations: “I’m so busy this school year! But what’s cool is Townes is helping by packing his own lunches and snacks. This week, I stocked our kitchen with grab-and-go produce like organic carrots, grapes and apples along with simple sandwich fixings, organic kids bars and string cheese (thanks Whole Deal coupons!)…making lunchbox prep a snap for my active third-grader.”

What a great way to take a PR mini-crisis and turn it into a PR opportunity!

Caroline Barry is a marketing and public relations consultant with a specialty in social media.  If you'd like to learn how you can use social media to grow your business, contact her via this form.

The Recaptcha Project

I've never been a fan of Captchas. Though they serve a very important purpose, they are most annoying.But I recently discovered a little tidbit about these things that makes me actually kind of like them. ReCaptcha is a Google service. 

reCAPTCHA is a free CAPTCHA service that helps to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows. Check out our paper in Science about it (or read more below).

CAPTCHA is a program that can tell whether its user is a human or a computer. You've probably seen them — colorful images with distorted text at the bottom of Web registration forms. CAPTCHAs are used by many websites to prevent abuse from "bots," or automated programs usually written to generate spam. No computer program can read distorted text as well as humans can, so bots cannot navigate sites protected by CAPTCHAs.

Props to whichever genius thought this one up. Of course, it was somebody at Google.

On Steve Jobs

I’ve always been amazed by the intuition of Apple’s products. Unlike my PC products, my MacBook and iPhone  seems to understand exactly what I’m trying to do. 

On Wednesday, Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple’s products since 1997 announced his resignation.  As evidenced by the lack of fluctuation in the Apple stock price after the announcement, this wasn’t exactly unexpected.  It did make me look him up (on Wikipedia of course.) 

Last night on the radio, I heard a statement that really stuck with me. Jobs didn’t just sell us products we needed, he sold us products we didn’t even know that we needed.

I’ll admit I was a late adopter of the iPhone. I got a blackberry early and resisted switching over.  Now I wonder daily how I ever survived without it.

Jobs’s contributions to society include the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone and most importantly Toy Story.  I for one am grateful and wish him the best.

Scooting in heels

You might not be able to tell from my sporatic posts lately but, I'm a big fan of blogging. I especially like it to help build lifestyle brands. Here's a post I love from a friend I helped brand as a wardrobe consultant. She did a great job. It makes me want to go out and buy a scooter.

I ride a scooter. Its the perfect mode of transportation for New Orleans. Parking is easy, avoiding traffic is a cinch, and gas money goes much further. Nevertheless, there are hazards non-scooters never consider. You're probably thinking of other cars, potholes, or the wayward sprinkler, and yes, those are all hazards, but the one that irks me every morning is my extensive collection of skirts and dresses that I cannot wear. The scooter forces me into pants every day, so for all of the other scooter riders out there, I am here to give you some updated scooter-approved wardrobe options. 

1. The romper. It's a tank top. It's shorts. It's super-trendy and it will keep you looking great on your scooter with a pair of gladiators and your bedazzled helmet (I know I'm not the only one...).

2. Platform wedges. I don't have to reach for the ground when I stop, they look great and fit perfectly with flared jeans (the next jean craze!), a white tee, bright jewelery, and a khaki trenchcoat. 

3. Scarves, let them blow in the wind as you scoot by your admirers. Scarves are also a great opportunity to mix patterns, another hot spring trend. Last week I wore a red, yellow, orange and green paisley maxidress, with a J.Crew leopard scarf loosely draped. Its not a look for the faint of heart, but it fed into my hippie, flower-child infatuation. For the purpose of full-disclosure, it rained that day and I drove my car, but I'd love to try the outfit again. 

4. Jorts. Yes, I said it. Jorts. One of the best days in a girls life is when she find HER jeans. Mine are True Religion. They are made for my hourglass shape and are designed with the best denim I've ever come across. A thick, heavy denim is an important quality I look for in jeans because they are my pant option of choice when scooting. So, after years of giving my first pair that "worn-in" look, it was time to retire them. The thought broke my heart, they were after all, made for me. So, I took them straight down to Thimbelina on Tchoupitoulas and had the ladies tailor me a beautiful pair of perfectly worn, not too short, cuffed jorts. The perfect summer riding short. 

5. Skirts and dresses. Who am I to limit your scooter-approved outfits? Wear your favorite white eyelet dress under your scooter-safe gear, or throw on a pair of gym shorts till you get where you're going. 

Be fashionable out there and safe scooting! 

*Remember that the best clothing to scoot in is real safety gear*

- Mallory Grant Domingue

Are you ready for G+?

Just read a great article about being prepared for the G+ revolution should it overtake Facebook and Twitter. Here is an excerpt:

Five questions to ask for starters, and to make sure you’re positioned for the G+ world:

  •  Are you in the game? Do you have a presence across paid (search, broadcast, etc), earned (events) and owned (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and now G+) media? These are your marketing beachheads, and you’ll need to work across the board to make sure you’re connecting with customers with your messages.
  • Do you have a clear content marketing strategy? If so, you’re already using listening tools and engaging in related conversations. Adjust your strategy for G+-and stick to it. If not, better get one in order fast-I just met with two companies last week, neither had a content strategy, both are scrambling in catch-up mode.
  • Is your content relevant? If you’re unclear on the role and importance of relevant content, read Michael Brito’s nice analysis piece on SME. Conduct a content audit, compare it to industry conversations, and judge for yourself. Is your content hitting the target? Are you involved and influencing industry conversations? What is your share of voice around key topics?
  •  Do you have control over your destiny? Putting all of your eggs into one basket you don’t control is stupid. Why put all your resources into building Facebook Pages when you don’t own that real estate (No one knows how G+ will affect FB yet but the risk is obvious)? The same is true of Google+-it’s a marketing outpost, not your home base. Better to build your own blogs, communities and following,  and diversify your investments across several platforms, along with following a carefully crafted plan. Build a defensible program that can weather any storm, since no one knows how this will play out (who would predict G+’s amazing launch?)
  •  Do you have a content engine and systematic publishing process? Then you should have apublishing model and be systematically chunking out content, carefully targeted to your key audiences. Run it like a publisher, with clear editorial direction, calendars, and hire editors to help you drive it- more tips here

  • excerpted from Social Media Explorer

    Read the full article here>>

    on Facebook...

    This week I went on a field trip to a luncheon with someone who went to the same school I went to.  She happens to be a few years older than I am and asked if I’ve stayed in contact with any of my classmates. 

    My initial thought was of course I have. It didn’t even occur to me that not staying in contact wasn’t possible.  But the funny thing is she hasn’t—at least not nearly to the extent that I have.

    Why such a disparity between her contact and mine?  Facebook.  I joined Facebook the week before I started my first class in college.  Though the site I joined then wasn’t even remotely close to the site I consult on today, it has enabled me to know where my old friends are, what they are doing, and even where they vacation. Many of us converse on a weekly basis.

    We still hang out on a regular basis and they all remember my birthday every year.  Though I’ve joined Google+ and fully intend to embrace it if it takes off, I’ll always have an attachment to and affinity for Facebook.

    Minding my own business

    Something pretty devastating happened yesterday. I googled “social media consultant lafayette,” expecting to see myself in spot #1 as I have been for several months.  I wasn’t there. Not 1, 2, 3, or 4 but #5!!!

    I know exactly why. I’ve been neglecting my blog and all the other SEO tactics that have kept me up at the top. Its evident on the sidebar of this blog. 23 blog posts in April and only 6 in May. In fairness, I spent most of May on the road or on vacation.

    Sometimes I get so wrapped up in clients that I forget how important it is to tend to my own affairs as well.  So here is my official commitment to get back to taking care of my own business first.