Removing the Cat Turds from the Social Media Sandbox

socialmediasandboxDid you have a sandbox as a kid?  I did and it was place where I could play and be as creative and constructive as my heart desired.

It was GREAT fun to play in my sandbox until the fateful day when I realized that my play area had become a port-a-pot for the neighborhood cats.

I remember trying to clean up my sandbox so I could enjoy it again, but once the neighborhood cats found my little patch of sand in the backyard

-there was no going back.

Years later, when I had children of my own, imagine my delight to discover that some other entrepreneurial soul had come up with a solution – a sandbox WITH A COVER!  I bought the first one I saw for my kids.

The catch?

Once the kids were done playing, they had to put the cover back on the sandbox before they came inside.  Being kids – my kids specifically – the practice of placing the cover over the top of the sandbox stopped after – oh, say the third day.  It wasn’t long before I heard the wails as my children discovered – the hard way – the consequences of not covering their beloved sandbox.

The Social Media Sandbox

A blog is a tool in the social media sandbox… just like the pink pail in the image above.  Fill the pail with dry sand and when you turn the bucket over – the sand will pour out into a shapeless pile.

There’s not much fun in that.

However, when you add a little H2O to the sand-  suddenly the sand retains it shape! The addition of a little water creates a literally endless array of possibilities for creativity and construction!

When we first moved to Florida, I purchased an book on building sand sculptures.  It was fascinating, but I realized that I really didn’t want to work that hard when I went to the beach.  However, I learned that scooping wet sand into a bucket and overturning it isn’t the ONLY way to build a sand castle.

If you’ve wondered why your blog hasn’t been delivering the results you wanted to see from it – it’s because:

  1. You haven’t been adding water to the sand.
  2. You haven’t been adding the right amount of water to the sand.
  3. You not using your bucket correctly.

If you’ve ever gone to the beach and begun an ambitious sand castle project, you’ll notice that the further along you get in the construction of your sand castle – the more “interest” you’ll get from passers by.

Sit on the beach and dump dry sand out of your bucket for hours on end, and all you’ll get is a few pitying glances.

On the other hand, when you begin an ambitious sand castle building project – well, at first you won’t get much attention either.

However, as you build it and it become apparent that you’re building something big – people will start to notice.   People will start to gather – curious to watch the process.   You may find you actually get volunteers who want to help become a part of what you’re building.

Social Media Marketing is just like Building Sandcastles

  1. You have to start with the end in mind.  If you don’t have a strategy in place when you begin using social media, you can’t expect social media to yield results.
  2. At first, no one will notice – or care what you’re doing.  Most people can’t “see” it with their mind before they see it with their eyes.  It’s not until your sand castle starts to take shape that people begin to notice.
  3. Even when there are lots of people on the beach – very few of them are building sand castles.  Most people at the beach are lying in the sun.  More people are reading books than building sand castles.

Sandcastles and sandboxes are a great analogy for social media.

If you don’t have the right “strategy” (knowing what to do – a.k.a. adding water and knowing the end result – a.k.a. “a plan”) you’ll just find yourself scooping sand and pouring dry sand.  Playing like that in the sandbox loses its appeal quickly and when the cats arrive, well – it makes it easy to abandon the sandbox for good.

The key to creating a work of art sandcastle includes knowing WHAT you want to build.  Once you know what you want to build, then the techniques for achieving the desired results are actually quite simple.  The same it true for blogging – and every other tool in the social media marketing toolbox.

Social media can be a GREAT sandbox – one with unlimited opportunities for creativity and construction – the rub is you need to make certain you have a social media strategy in place so you can create beautiful sandcastles.  Even if you’re miles away from the closest beach – you can still add water and have fun creating your own sandcastles in your backyard – even if you’re miles from the closest beach.

A Love/Hate relationship with Social Media Marketing

social media love affairIt seems like EVERYONE is in LOVE with social media marketing and I thoroughly understand the appeal. After all, most of the tools of the social media marketing trade are notoriously easy on the checkbook.

Anyone with a little web savvy, a sense of adventure and the willingness to put in the time and effort to learn the rules of the social media sandbox can make a lasting online impression with a minimal outlay of cash.

If you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur who has more time than money, social media marketing might seem like answered prayer.

Chris Brogan likens using social media marketing to a popular non-prescription mother’s little helper ( a.k.a. Hamburger Helper) in his blog post Pirate Moves.

[Social Media Marketing is like Hamburger Helper because it’s] less expensive and it stretches everything out more. Nothing listed above costs more than a single advertisement placed in a mainstream magazine or large market newspaper.

Chris’ argument is flawless – yet it overlooks an important element – one skillfully addressed by Jason Cohen in his blog post, “Please stop saying social media marketing is free.” Jason writes:

Social media is expensive. In fact, it’s more expensive than traditional media. It just comes in the form of spending time instead of spending money.

Jason points out that for those who aren’t already up to speed on the basics of SEO and other realities of the web, that hiring the TALENT needed to make social media marketing work can be a VERY cash intensive expense.

In the beginning, when many solo entrepreneurs have more time than money as they’re building their business, many are willing to trade time for money.

Social media marketing may be the BEST investment you can make in the future of your business – but you have to make sure you do it RIGHT!  There is definitely a “dark side” to social media marketing!

Social Media Reality Check

It’s important to remember that the blog posts and comments you create today will live forever because the internet never forgets.

Brian Friedlander tells a compelling tale from the “Dark Ages” of social media of a marketing manager who left a blog comment on a blog post reviewing her company’s product. The blog post not only became a platform for discussion in the moment- it continues to get GREAT SERPS for the term [product + review] five years later. Brian writes in The Power of One Knowledgeable, Dedicated Social Media Marketer:

Katie followed the basic tenets of corporate social media:

  1. find where the conversation is happening
  2. listen
  3. get involved
  4. be transparent
  5. be helpful

These are GREAT rules for anyone who wants to participate in social media marketing to take to heart. If you follow them, you’ll find that blogging and other means of social media marketing will be the best thing since – well since Hamburger Helper for building your budding business.

However, it’s not always rainbows and buttercups when it comes to social media marketing.

In Social Media Marketing – What you don’t know CAN hurt you

For a lesson in what NOT to do when it comes to social media marketing – let’s take a look at a situation over at Sugarrae SEO Consulting.

A while ago, Rae Hoffman paid to have a WordPress plugin created and in the spirit of social media – offered the plug in for free to others who needed the functionality the plugin provided.

It’s said no good deed goes unpunished, and such is the case here.

Remember, Rae has a business to run and she’s providing this plug in FOR FREE. Despite preparing an EXCEPTIONAL FAQ for the plugin, she still gets email from people who expect her to hold their hand and walk them through the process of getting the plugin to work exactly as they want it to on their blog.

To quote the movie Mystery Men, “The mooch factor is high with this crowd.”

Remember when I said you needed a “sense of adventure” to succeed in social media? Well, there’s nothing more “adventurous” than crashing your blog and then rebuilding it! Does it suck? Of course it does! However, you’ll learn more in that experience than any 5 credit hour course can teach!  (If you have to PAY someone else to fix your crashed blog – well, then writing that check will be equally instructional in nature as well.)

Well, James Cook of Kawink didn’t want to get burned and asked for free help from Rae. When he didn’t find it forthcoming, he got angry. So despite the fact that Rae proudly declares in her header, “Never mess with a woman who can pull rank” James decided to throw down with Rae.

As a result, the preeminent conversation about James Cook of Kawink lies in the hands of a woman at whom he has hurled email insults and threats.

A Google search of [James Cook of Kawink] shows Rae’s blog post at #1 and #2 – above any content he carefully crafted in order to promote his start up business.

At the moment – I’m pretty sure James Cook is HATING watching the “laws” of social media marketing at work. He’s about to discover the new and exciting world of online reputation management.

I hope for his sake, the saying is true, “There’s no such thing as bad press” but I kind of doubt it. I can’t imagine anything WORSE for a top Google Serp on my name plus business than that particular blog post.

Cath Lawson says, You’re Nobody until You Get Hate Messages. If you’re tempted to send such a message, take a lesson from my Pest Control company, Truly Nolen. When you’re dealing with a blogger who can definitely pull rank (page rank that is) take the conversation OFF LINE.

Most blog owners just can not resist posting a nice, juicy bit of hate email – especially one riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. However, if at all possible, try to avoid sending such a hate message to someone who spends 10 hours a day eating/drinking/breathing SEO.

When you have a beef with someone who has a blog – it’s best to heed the wise words of Betsy Wuebker left in a comment on my post The shit fight is beginning- should you join in?

The big questions anyone has to answer when these situations arise are: what’s the hunt about and for; do I have a dog in it; if I do, how big is my dog; and finally, does my dog really and honestly hunt – to the best of its ability? :)

Selling the “Magic” of Social Media

social media marketing magicMy “twitter” stream is alive with conversation on the topic of the ROI of social media.  There are obviously a lot of people busily trying to sell “management” on the “magic” of social media.

This makes me chuckle warmly.

I remember way back in 1997 when I was trying to “sell” management at the company where I worked on the “value” of having an internet presence.   The topic of ROI was a popular one then and the end result of those conversations was the launch of my own consulting firm with my former employer as my first client.

However, while I delivered a very passionate plea more than a decade ago about the “ROI” of the internet, I’ve decidedly changed my tune.  Today, I will boldy declare –

There is no marketing MAGIC inherent in social media.

Time and extensive experience have taught me that there is NOT an OUNCE of marketing magic inherent in any social media application.

  • There’s no marketing magic in blogging.
  • There’s no marketing magic in Twitter.
  • There’s no marketing magic in Facebook.

I say this despite my own personal experience of obtaining THREE leads for new business over the past ten days from these sources.

So why am I not screaming from the rafters that social media is MARKETING MAGIC?

Why am I not writing about how to you MUST use social media so you can EXPLODE your business like I have used it for mine?

The marketing magic in social media lies in the marketing message and not the media used to deliver that message!

Think about it.  Lots of companies use television to deliver their marketing message – yet television advertising is not touted as ” marketing magic”.

Why would social media be any different?

Social media is merely communication – that’s all.  Just as television advertising allows you to communicate with a wide audience, social media allows you to communicate with an equally wide audience.

Social media is merely communication that has been supercharged by technology – communication on steroids so to speak.  While you need a video production crew to create your marketing message if you’re going to use television advertising, the basic rules of engagement remain the same.

If you don’t have anything interesting to say to your target audience, then social media marketing won’t create sales for your business.

What’s worse, if you have something to HIDE in your business then you’ll soon discover that Social Marketing is Like Showing Up Naked to a Cocktail Party.

The only “magic sauce” in social media is brought to the table – BY YOU!

When I say “you” I’m not speaking of a “corporate you” but rather you as an individual.  If you’re an individual employed by a company then you are being employed to share your individuality as an important and possibly irreplaceable corporate asset.  (Read more about this in Do you think you work with corporations or individuals?)

If it is your business goal is to separate customers from their money as quickly as possible and by doing as little as you can in return (read about my experience with my pest control company for a fine example of this kind of thinking) then social media marketing is going to be a DISASTER for your company.  If this is your business model, then the transparency social media provides is going to be the absolute WORST thing that can happen to your business.  Run, don’t walk as fast as you can from social media and pray that social media advocates don’t find your business for a long, long time.

Just as a poorly produced television ad won’t deliver sales, a poorly produced and delivered social media marketing campaign won’t deliver sales either. The difference is – you won’t have to PAY to air your poorly produced marketing message via social media.

If you want to use social media for marketing purposes – you’d better know why customers or clients are buying your products or services.  That’s the key to creating ANY effective marketing message no matter WHAT media you use to deliver your message.

Should you choose to “air” that marketing message via social media, you’d better provide EXCEPTIONAL customer service because you’ve targeted consumers who have already demonstrated a propensity to communicate via social media!

In layman’s terms, bloggers love nothing better than a good story – so be sure you don’t create great blog fodder by screwing over your customers.

Oh, I’ve been assuming that you have a viable business model thus far in the discussion about the marketing magic qualities of social media.  If you’re great at creating conversation but you don’t have ANY idea how to convert those people with whom you’re speaking into paying clients or customers – then social media marketing will be a huge disappointment for you as well.

If there is any “magic” in social media marketing it would have to be in the combination of  the ability to engage in meaningful conversation and converting those conversations into sales of products and services.   Which proves my point that the magic doesn’t lie in social media tools but rather the magic is inherent in the individuals who are using social media successfully.

Social Media Transparency

transparency in social mediaI continue to be amazed at the level of transparency blogging provides.  When a business owner decides to take blogging seriously, it provides a true window into the workings of his or her business.

Sometimes this is a good thing – and sometimes it means that your blog can be working hard at sending the wrong message about your business.

Cath Lawson writes in Dear Blogger – Are You Trying To Sell To The Faithless?

If you were depressed, you probably wouldn’t buy counseling services from someone who wrote constantly about their suicidal thoughts. You might be interested in reading what they had to say but you probably wouldn’t have a whole heap of faith in their ability to help you.

Trouble is, a lot of people do this. They’ll try to sell a product or service but almost every single word they write on their blog screams – “I TOTALLY SUCK AT WHAT I’M TRYING TO SELL”.

Cath is describing social media transparency in action.

Social media transparency in action

Today, as I perused my iGoogle page, I’m able to see the titles of the 3 most recent blog posts of about 50 different bloggers.  I’m amazed at the level of transparency provided by the blog post titles alone.

One blogger has been posting about getting clients to pay their bills.  It doesn’t take a psychic to see that this blogger is having problems with A/R (accounts receivable).  You might think this is a “bad” thing to reveal to your audience but from where I sit, it actually helps to “authenticate” the fact that this blogger has a thriving business.

See, if you’ve got a “real” business then you’re going to deal with REAL business problems.  When I see blog posts from a freelance service provider about collections – I see someone who is about to make a serious change the way he or she does business.  (It doesn’t take too many times of getting “stiffed” as a freelancer before you get REAL comfortable establishing a deposit policy.)

Since I’ve “been there, done that and bought the T-shirt” when it comes to dealing with A/R problems, this level of transparency and authenticity HELPS to build my trust that this blogger’s business is “for real”.

Meanwhile, another blogger has announced that she’s taking a break from blogging to focus on building her business.  This is not a surprise if you look at her last three blog post titles preceding this announcement.  She’s been “hinting” that this for the last few posts.  While her readers are disappointed, they aren’t suprised.

Yet another example of social media transparency in action.

When I start talking about authenticity and transparency, I can’t help but mention Tom Volkar.   In his post Free Yourself Tom writes:

My coaching business has been booming.  It’s become very clear, that I need to cut way back on some blogging and social media activities, in order to focus more on delivering break through results for an increasing number of clients.

You may think, “Of COURSE he’s claiming business is booming!  What else would he be saying?”  Well,  what I’m saying is that even before Tom made this declaration on his blog, his recent blog posts have been “hinting” at this.  Because of the previous body of work  – a.k.a. previous blog posts –  I BELIEVE it when Tom writes that his business is booming.

Transparency and authenticity are both available in abundance over at Tom’s blog – and as a result – business is booming.

Meanwhile, when another blogger is  writing about how fabulously successful his business is and that he has successfully turned blogging into his own personal ATM machine.  That particular blog post has a very hollow ring to it and makes me wonder if he’s one of the blogger’s Cath Lawson had in mind when she wrote her blog post.

You might think the most dangerous time to blog is when you run out of things to say but to that notion I say a hearty – “Oh Nay Nay!”

The most DANGEROUS time to blog is when something is happening in your business that you don’t to reveal.

I’ve recently been talking offline with and about the “uninitiated” who are afraid of what social media and blogging will have to say about their business.  You can watch that train of thought emerge in posts such as “When someone steals your branding” and “The shit fight is beginning – should you join in?

Again, another example of social media transparency in action.

Make no mistake, social media is a powerful force.  The words you blog today will be part of “internet history” for years to come.  However, it’s not just the words YOU blog which will become recorded history. The words other use in their blogs will also become part of that history.

Just remember, if you choose not to participate in the conversation going on in social media, then the cynical and sardonic will be more than happy to define your reputation online for you and social media is providing a plethora of tools which they can use to do just that.

Social Media is Simply Communication on Steroids

Having trouble explaining to your “non-blogging or non-techy” friends, family and co-workers what the fuss about “social media” is all about?  You’re not alone.

I remember reading a while back that 5 out of 6 people are classified as “casual” users of the internet.  Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re one of the 1 in 6 who are “in the know” about social media.

As a result, you’re probably seen as the “social media expert” in your circles.  When someone asks you about blogging or social media, you may be more than willing to share your passion for “blogging” and it’s role in social media.

If you’re having a face to face conversation – there may be some point where watch the listener’s eyes glaze over and their mind “check out” as you try to describe the intricacies and complexities that make up this ever changing thing we call “social media”.

This is a common problem – not only when it comes to describing social media but  when it comes to trying to describe exactly anything that isn’t currently “mainstream”.  Believe it or not, before it became “mainstream”,  there was a time when you had to explain why Google was better than Yahoo for search.

Several conversations offline recently have me trying to come up with a quick and easy explanation of what social media is and why it matters.

Social Media is Simply Communication on Steroids

Social media is simply communication – bigger, faster and stronger than ever before.

Trying to communicate the unusual and unique is not new to me because I am the proud owner of a Field Spaniel.  Unless you live in the UK, you probably don’t know what a Field Spaniel is.  In describing what a Field Spaniel is, I could share what it’s like to share your home with one of these quirky and “very vocal” dogs. I could regale you with an in depth explanation of how early breeders wanted to create a “better” spaniel.  I could also tell you how the breed was created in England in the early 20th Century by crossing Basset Hounds with Cocker Spaniels.

Chances are that you probably don’t care to know all that.  That’s why when people ask, I tell them that a Field Spaniel is a Cocker Spaniel on steroids. People know what a Cocker Spaniel is and they also know what steroids do to an athlete.  The result is a fairly accurate and strong word picture. This does a MUCH better job of conveying what a Field Spaniel looks like and doesn’t give the the listener a chance to “check out” during the explanation.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the word picture is as strong in the case of describing social media.   I think part of the reason it “falls down” is many business owners don’t recognize that the main “component” of marketing is communication.  Without that understanding – an essential element of the word picture is lost.

If social media is going to go mainstream, we need an quick, easy explanation of what social media is and why it matters.

The Blog Herald announced yesterday the new b5Media has been revealed. The 32 individual health and beauty blogs are being “re-packaged” as a single site known as Splendicity, taking the relatively unfamiliar concept of “a blog network” and creating an easy to understand “word picture” of a single site.

Instead of trying to explain to advertising agencies how the b5media network offers advertisers a specific demographic audience scattered across 32 different blogs… b5media can now say – “Splendicity offers this many eyeballs who are part of this target audience.”

It’s a quick, easy explanation of the b5Media product “formerly known as loose collection of 32 health and heauty blogs.” It’s a “rebranding” which allows you to easily tell someone who isn’t in the know what Splendicity  is and most importantly – why advertisers should care.

Ad agencies no longer have to explain to their clients the intricacies of a blog network.  Instead they can say, “Splendicity has the attention of the very people we want to reach with your marketing message and THAT is why we’re buying space there.”

What’s the simple, easy to explain word picture illustrating why social media is important?

While most of the Blog Herald readers nod knowingly as they read the post- there’s still a whole WORLD of people out there who still don’t know the difference between a blog and a website.  Many of these people are business owners willing to invest their hard earned money to place their marketing message in front of their target audience.

They just need to know WHY a blog is such a great place for that ad.

Social media is defining the direction of communication from national news to the latest viral video – but the average person don’t recognize the impact blogs and social media are having on our culture.

They won’t know until we come up with an easy to understand  word picture.  Once we have educated “the 5 out of 6 casual internet users” why social media is important – then the rest will be easy.

The magic sauce in social media is that it allows publishers to influence audiences more deeply.  Social media, in the right hands, is an important part of engaging your audience instead of talking at them.

Until we come up with a simple, powerful word picture which communicates this essential truth about social media- the rest of the world still won’t get what the fuss over “social media” is all about.

With this in mind, how do YOU explain this whole intricate and complex entity known as “social media” to your friends, family and colleagues?  What word pictures do you use to communicate the intricacies of social media to the 5 out of 6 casual internet users?