trump-obama-meme

Changing the world, one meme at a time.

Once upon a time, Sam saw an article on social media about an issue he cared about. To make sure he fully understood the issue, Sam read multiple articles from different sources and perspectives. Then Sam posted a meme on social media which cleverly presented his thoughtful and nuanced views.

All of his friends were impressed by his deep understanding of the subject, and began engaging in meaningful and respectful conversations with each other. They also shared it with their friends, and it became a trending topic. It hit the front page of Reddit, then Fox and CNN picked it up.

Due to the widespread coverage, Americans began a broad dialog which led to a clear solution that the vast majority of citizens agreed with. Both parties in congress came together to pass legislation, the President signed it, and the world marveled at how our country rallied to address such a complex issue. Other nations began following our example, and before long the whole planet was being transformed by a renewed sense of love and respect for one another.

And we all lived happily ever after.

The End

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laptop-phone-planner

How To Use Online Marketing Effectively To Grow Your Business

The Internet has been around for a while now, yet online marketing is still something of a mystery for many business owners. What’s more, small businesses constantly get calls from faraway companies offering to “drive more traffic to your website”, or “get you to the top of Google”.

For those with limited resources, the myriad of options can make creating and executing a successful online strategy intimidating, even for seasoned professionals. However, when you make the leap into online marketing, even a small, local business can see significant return on investment using the right mix of tools and a sound strategy designed to grow your business over time.

Helping Customers Find You

The first step in any marketing strategy is to have a good web presence. In order for potential customers to find you online, you have to BE online. Most business people know this, but some find it hard to grasp how crucial a good website actually is.

Website

A modern, well-designed website is one of the most important tools a business can have, because it works for you 24/7. For today’s connected customer, your website is your front door, showroom, billboard, and brochure all in one. If it looks clunky, outdated, or confusing, visitors are less likely to trust you with their business, and will go elsewhere instead.

Make sure your website is up to date, mobile friendly, and is built by someone who understands both your customers and your business.

SEO and Online Visibility

If a customer is looking for what you have to offer she won’t open the phone book, she’ll open Google, Yahoo or Bing. Making sure you are easy to find when that happens is what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and online visibility are all about.

SEO isn’t complicated or mysterious, but it does take time. It involves making sure you have good titles, descriptions, and text on your site that match what your customers are looking for. It’s also important to make sure search engines can easily index your site. If you’re not sure whether this is true for your site, find a professional who can help.

Another great way to make your business more visible online is to claim and manage your business profile on the major search engines. Google, Yahoo, and Bing automatically collect information about local businesses and then display it alongside search results. However, sometimes this information can be inaccurate or incomplete. Claiming your profile allows you to edit your hours, location, products, services, and photos, and also make sure it’s linked to your website. There are online companies that can do this for you, but they typically charge a monthly fee, and the information can go away if you cancel the service. It’s usually best to either take the time to do it yourself, or hire someone who can set the profiles up properly for a one-time fee.

Ignore telemarketers who promise to “get you to the top of Google”. Instead, hire or work with someone you trust.

Finding Customers

An effective online marketing strategy involves creating a “sales funnel” that moves potential customers from awareness to engagement to sales to advocacy. For this to be effective, you must target the right customer.

Let’s take a minute to break it down.

Targeting

Unless you have unlimited resources, you can’t “target” everyone. Before beginning an online marketing campaign, you must first identify and understand your ideal customer. Take some time to think about the customers you currently have, and then write a description of the type of person that is the best fit for your product or service. This will help you plan whom to advertise to. When you are ready to execute your strategy, online marketing platforms like Facebook and Google make it easy to hone in on exactly the type of customer you’re looking for.

Awareness

People need to know you exist, but also WHY you exist. Paid ads or promoted posts on Facebook can be an inexpensive and effective way to do this. Space and attention is limited, however, so you want to maximize the impact your ad will have. If you have any design or copywriting skills, now is the time to put them to good use. If writing isn’t your thing, find someone to help.

If you have a larger budget, consider text, video, or display ads on a major ad network such as Google. Once you have defined your target customer and region, your ads will be displayed to your audience on any site that participates in that network.

Engagement

When you advertise, give customers a reason to respond. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use a “lead magnet”. This could take the form of valuable information, a free offer or coupon, or giveaway in exchange for their Facebook “like” or email signup.

Once customers are engaged with you, it’s time to build that relationship through social media and email. Keep in contact with them by providing new information, interesting stories, and useful offers at a pace that is regular but not annoying. Once or twice a week is usually plenty. If you consistently engage with your fans, followers and subscribers, then you will build trust with potential customers and position yourself as an expert in your industry.

Sales

Using the sales funnel approach and building relationships over time tends to be much more effective than the hard sell, especially online. The internet is all about connection, and if you do your job right, some of your followers will become your customers. When they do, it’s important to track the results of your efforts. When sales take place online, it’s make sure you are getting good results data by properly setting up website and Facebook analytics. If a customer calls or purchases from a physical location, employees should be trained to ask where customers heard about you, and keep track of responses. Printable coupons can also help you judge the effectiveness of an offer or ad campaign.

Advocacy

Turning your customers into advocates often means simply asking for a review. Reach out to your loyal customers and ask them to rate your business or product on Yelp, Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Some customers may even have blogs, and would happy to feature your product on their site. Take the time get feedback from your customers, and see how much it can impact your business!

There are many great high-impact, low-cost tools available to accomplish your online marketing goals. No matter what type of industry you are in, your business’s bottom line can benefit from a smart, strategic approach to finding and being found by customers online.

(An earlier version of this article appeared in Aberdeen Magazine)

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Landscapes in the digital age

Our Sense of Place in the Digital Age

I woke up this morning and stared at a beautiful mountain range. The warm sunlight was spilling over the jagged peaks and splashing onto the valley below. It is one of my favorite desktop backgrounds for my laptop.

It got me thinking about how the landscapes or cityscapes we are accustomed to can influence our view of the world, of ourselves, and even our sense of security. I’ve heard, for instance, that people who grew up in the plains of the Dakotas sometimes feel claustrophobic in the mountains of Colorado, and vise-versa.

Human beings have always had a strong connection to place. Stories that move us not only have sharply drawn characters, but fully realized worlds and landscapes as well. Dagobah. Vulcan. The Shire. Gotham. What would our great stories be without their memorable settings?

For many of us these days, our dominant interaction with our world is an LCD screen. I wonder what becomes of our own story when the connection with our physical surroundings is diminished due to our constant interaction with technology. What happens to us when the landscape we’re most accustomed to is a two-dimensional array of pixels?

In many ways technology has expanded our horizons, but I think it often does so at the cost of our sense of place, and possibly our sense of wonder. We do more, but we experience less. Sometimes I stop and think about how long it’s been since I watched a sunset, or looked up at the night sky for more than a few seconds. For a kid like me who spent endless hours in the forests of Minnesota, this seems unfathomable, and possibly immoral.

In the novel Ready Player One, author Earnest Cline paints a picture of a future society that has given up on their physical surroundings. Using immersive goggles and haptic gloves, people seek to escape into a massive online virtual reality called Oasis. Battles are fought, fortunes are won and lost, and friends and enemies are made, while the world around them crumbles. I hate to think this is where we are headed, but sometimes I wonder.

I’m not a Luddite. I do believe that technology is, on the whole, a good thing, but I also think our collective mothers were right. We need to get outside more. We need to be more intentional about connecting with our landscapes, our vistas, and our cities that we have been moving through unconsciously every day. They still have something to say to us. Let’s stop and listen more often.

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Microsoft invents the telescreen.

Xbox-One-Big-Brother

As a casual gamer and lover of all things tech, I am super excited about the new Xbox One that Microsoft just unveiled! It has this nifty gen 2 Kinect sensor that is sensitive enough to measure a heartbeat, with a 1080p video camera built right in for instant two-way communication. It’s designed to be constantly connected to the internet, and it tracks and analyzes everything you watch and play to deliver an even more customized entertainment experience!

George: This sounds oddly familiar…

It…wait, what? Who are you?

George: I’m George Orwell, celebrated author of the great dystopian masterpiece Ninteen Eighty Four. I’m afraid Microsoft is is about 29 years late with their grand vision of a unified all-in-one home entertainment and communication device. Actually, my book was published in 1949, so if you want to get technical about it…

Me: Man, it’s been a while since I’ve read dystopian fiction.

George: …64 years late. Am I prescient or what?

Me: Ok, leaving aside the obvious question of why you’re co-authoring my blog post, what does your super depressing book have to do with gaming? Weren’t you writing about oppressive totalitarian regimes like Soviet Russia?

George: Congratulations, you paid attention in school. While I certainly had the Communist Party in mind, one of the main themes of the book is the pervasive use of surveillance. I was illustrating the dangers of how government could use technology to monitor and control its own citizens.

Me: Yeah, but get real. Microsoft isn’t the government, it is a private company! All they want to do is sell more consoles, games, Xbox Live subscriptions, and Microsoft Points. Sure, I’m a little creeped out by the lack of privacy these days, but the flip side is that all this amazing technology allows me to do things that your generation never dreamed of. It genuinely makes my life better, easier and more enjoyable. Well, most of the time. Plus, my government doesn’t care how much Netflix I watch anyway, they’re too busy fighting about the debt ceiling or some such. Obama seems pretty chill, would he care about keeping an eye on me or anyone else?

George: You are expecting your government not to do what governments ALWAYS tend to do: gradually expand their authority and control over their citizens, under the guise of Keeping You Safe. Everyone wants to be safe, right?

Me: Yeah, sure.

See, in my book, the fictional country of Oceania was always at war against an external threat. It didn’t really matter who or what the threat was, the point is that the perpetual war served as a useful tool for keeping people afraid, and willing to accept the most intrusive kinds of surveillance and control in order to feel safe. Do you know of any wars declared against vague and amorphous enemies that never seem to end? Have there been any recent intrusions of privacy in order to fight that war?

Me: Um…

George: Your government officials aren’t quite as ‘chill’ as they seem. The last president seemed pretty chill too, until some buildings in New York got blowed up.

Me: Wait a sec. There’s no way our government, or any government, could monitor all of its citizens all the time in this day and age. There are so many different communication channels, with cellphones, skype, VoIP, texting, etc, doesn’t that just create an unmanageable volume of data to even store, let alone sift through? Not even Google can do that.

George: You’d think so, but remember the Boston bombing? Former FBI counter-terrorism agent Tim Clemente was being interviewed on CNN about whether we could know what the suspects said to each other on the phone, and he basically let slip that the contents of all cellphone conversations are being recorded. Where could they possibly store all these recorded conversations, you ask? Well, how about the Utah Data Center. What exactly does the US Intelligence Community need with a top-secret data center that can store yottabytes of data?

Me: I have no idea.

George: The big question is, what if the Microsofts and Googles of the world are inadvertently  helping to create the surveillance tools that will allow future government to monitor and control the private lives of its citizens, all in the name of ad revenue, customer data, and Microsoft Points?

Me: Screw this noise. My brain can’t take it anymore. I’m going to go watch reruns of Big Brother for a while.

George: I didn’t realize there were reruns of reality shows. The future is weird.

Xbox-One-Big-Brother-v2

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Attack of the Toys”R”Us spam machine

The other day I was looking at a Halloween costume on toysrus.com. In order to find out how much shipping was and whether it would get here in time for pumpkin day, I was required to begin the checkout process and enter a billing address, which included an email. Below was a nice little opt-in box (pre-checked, sneaky) to receive emails for “the hottest products, promotions and sales”. I carefully UNchecked the box and submitted my “billing info”. After finding out they could not guarantee that my item would arrive before the Great Pumpkin did, I left and went somewhere else.

But lurking in my inbox was a little email entitled “Welcome to the “R”Us Family!”.

I didn’t join anybody’s family. I didn’t even create an account. I simply entered my billing info to find out the shipping cost.

The next day I received another email: Welcome to Toys”R”Us!

It began by thanking me (again) for joining the Toys”R”Us family (which I hadn’t) and then stated: “Now you can expect frequent updates and exciting news on savings opportunities, special programs & events, plus exclusive email offers & coupons.”

Great.

On day 3 I got two more:

Congratulations! You’re Invited. (to a promotional event from a third-party affiliate)

25% OFF LEGO, Bikes, Scooters & More! 2-Days Only

I needed to take decisive action, so I clicked the unsubscribe link. It took me to a Preferences page, which asked for my password. I didn’t know my password SINCE I NEVER CREATED AN ACCOUNT, so I used password recovery, logged in, and did the following:

  • unsubscribed from every type of email
  • changed my email address to deleteme@right.now
  • changed my name, address and phone number to “delete me”, 12345, etc.

Mission accomplished? Nope. I got two more emails:

Thank You For Updating Your “R”Us Preferences

Thank you for your interest in “R”Us Mobile Messaging

What? At what point did I ever inquire about mobile messaging? Are they going to start texting me now?

This morning (day 4) I got yet another email:

Last Chance to Save 20% on Your Purchase!

This, dear reader, is a customer experience horror story. By not buying anything I somehow landed on an email list from which there is no escape, and any attempt to opt out simply generates even more emails. They have turned an almost customer into someone who never ever wants to visit their website again, ever.

I share this as a cautionary tale. Despite widespread email overload, federal legislation, and an extremely negative view of spammers in general, even big name brands will still drown your inbox with emails if given the chance. Companies frequently act as though theirs are the only emails you ever get. It’s extremely disrespectful to average consumers, and it discourages people from wanting to do business with you.

If your business collects email addresses and sends out promotional messages, here are a few guidelines to make sure you don’t become “that company”:

  1. Make sure your mailing list is opt-IN, not opt-OUT. An opt-in box that is prechecked doesn’t count.
  2. Respect your customers’ inbox. Nobody wants an email from you every other day, no matter how much they like your company. Keep email frequency to 1 or 2 emails per week at most. Every other week is even better.
  3. Test your system yourself. Sign up for it, and make sure you’re not spamming people accidentally. A technical glitch on your end could mean a horribly frustrating experience for a customer.
  4. Make sure every email has an unsubscribe link, and make sure it WORKS. Failure to do so violates the CAN-SPAM act of 2003, and could make you liable for some hefty fines.
  5. Include your physical address and phone number. Without this information, your email could be considered spam under federal law.
  6. Do NOT sell, rent, or share your email list with third-parties unless subscribers specifically give you permission to do so. C’mon, that’s just  rude.

If your business wants to send out newsletters or promotions, consider using an online service such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, or even the free TinyLetter. They handle subscribing and unsubscribing, opt-outs, CAN-SPAM compliance, analytics, and much, much more, for just a few dollars a month.

For a free CAN-SPAM compliance guide for businesses from the FTC, click here.

Have you had an experience with a trusted brand that disrespected your inbox? Let me know!

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