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10 Ways to Double Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising

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Your nonprofit organization is finally gaining traction. Your friends and family come to your events, your website redesign has all the bells and whistles it needs to be taken seriously, and you’ve even been interviewed by a local reporter. But there’s one important thing missing: donations. After you’ve earned 501(c)(3) status, the onus is on you to raise money to keep your organization afloat. Fear not, noble citizen; social media is once again here to save the day and double your donation dollars.

Here are 10 sites to help you in your fundraising efforts:

1. Causecast

Tech entrepreneur Ryan Scott developed Causecast to help organizations through increased volunteer and fundraising engagement around social change. He and his team believe global change must be achieved through collaboration along with individual action. The site helps secure donations as well as volunteer hours from local businesses that are looking to make an impact in their community. The site also provides nonprofits with customizable tools that encourage new and old supporters to donate on your website, blog, and on Facebook. These services are free to your organization so you can spend the extra money on that iPad you’ve been meaning to buy for “business purposes.” Causecast boasts nearly 3,000 nonprofit members on its homepage, which includes some of the top organizations in the country.

2. PostRelease

If your organization hasn’t gotten in the habit of content marketing, you’re missing out on big businesses looking to place sponsored content on your website. Serial entrepreneur Justin Choi created PostRelease to minimize those pesky banner ads and facilitate a much more organic web experience. With a simple plugin, you automatically integrate relevant sponsored content into your blogs, forums, and content-rich sites. It serves as an automated revenue stream and/or you can use it to sell advertiser-sponsored content on your site(s). If you’re not already drooling, you’ll salivate at the ease in which the platform’s dashboard allows you to monitor and manage the sponsored content.

3. Google Grants

You’ve heard of Google, right? Up until now you may not have had much use for their main moneymaker, AdWords, but the search engine behemoth wants to give your organization $10,000 worth of free advertising on their homepage. All this coveted real estate requires is an application to their Google for Nonprofits site. Once approved, you can begin leveraging online advertising to reach donors, tracking online donations and promoting your organization’s website to ultimately grow your fundraising dollars.

4. Youtube for Nonprofits

The third largest search engine, YouTube, falls right in line with Google’s other product offerings for nonprofits. Have you ever watched a YouTube video so moving, so wrenching, so powerful that you wanted to donate right away? YouTube for Nonprofits provides that solution by allowing organizations to monetize video content with one click. Approved nonprofits can easily add a Google Checkout “Donate now” button to their YouTube page so every view can turn into a few bucks. Equally impressive, you can customize your channel with your organization’s logo as well as drive viewers to action by placing a “Call to Action” overlay on your videos.

5. Fundly

Fundly is a super social way to raise money for nonprofit initiatives with its plethora of social features. The site claims to increase donations by over 20%, while helping increase campaign visibility online by 424% on average. Percentages aside, your supporters are directed to a Fundly Cause custom page, where visitors learn more about your cause and can easily donate. They then can tell friends and family about their donation through Facebook, Twitter, and more. Some might call this bragging, I call it your new best friend. In a perfect world, social media aficionado Ashton Kutcher will make a donation to your campaign through the Fundly platform and his post of that contribution will go viral.

6. GoodSearch

GoodSearch takes web browsing to an altruistic level by allowing supporters to raise money for their favorite charities through search. The website donates money to your organization when your supporters search the Internet, shop online or dine out at local restaurants. Everyone you know does these things as often as they brush their teeth! Your fresh-breath supporters will have no qualms about a percentage of every eCommerce purchase they make or percentage of their restaurant bill at participating locations being donated to your charity. I urge you to get started sometime in the next millisecond and easily spread the word with the site’s email, social media, newsletter, and video resources.

7. HelpAttack!

Don’t you wish you could raise money through Facebook statuses, blog posts and even tweets? I’m sure your mother would actually join Twitter just to support your charity. Along with your mother, HelpAttack! lets supporters simply update one of their social sites to help you reach new levels in funding. Their donations are handled securely by a donation processor so can feel confident their good deeds are being funneled properly. The giving platform adds further incentive by rewarding donors with Coins that access new features, and gets others to join your noble cause.

8. Groupon Grassroots

Whether you love or hate Groupon, the daily deal site helps local nonprofits meet and exceed their fundraising goals through local participation. Dubbed Groupon Grassroots, the giving initiative evolved out of Groupon’s collective action platform to discover and support local causes. Each campaign connects like-minded individuals with a nonprofit to help realize a specific monetary threshold. Once that threshold is reached, Groupon sends 100% of the donations to the organization and you get to bask in those warm and fuzzy feelings. Known for their quippish content, a team of writers specific to Grassroots graciously crafts your campaign deals to maximize your “cool factor.”

9. eBayGivingWorks

eCommerce giant eBay enacted eBay GivingWorks to help nonprofits gain exposure and create a new revenue stream. With a simple sign up on www.missionfish.org, organizations gain access to eBay’s billion dollar marketplace. Your supporters can use eBay GivingWorks to donate 10% to 100% of their item’s final sale price to your charity. For every listing that benefits your organization, buyers will see a banner with your information, as well as a link to your eBay GivingWorks page. You can also encourage members, volunteers, donors, and affiliates to look for your organization to make purchases on your eBay GivingWorks page.

10. Crowdrise

Film star Edward Norton has been making major contributions to nonprofit sector for years but you won’t catch him patting himself on the back for it. Instead he helps run a trailblazing crowdfunding site with components of social networking and virtual competitions. Nonprofits and their supporters are encouraged to create a profile to raise money through contests, donations, and even purchasing actor Will Ferrell’s Super Sexy Hot Tan Sunscreen. Each project is complemented with a compelling story, vibrant pictures, and a real-time scroll of who’s donating.

Now that you have these awesome tools to reach your fundraising goals, stop making excuses and start making your donorship grow! Once you’ve found your groove with which sites work best for your organization, double down on those and build an avid community around your efforts. Remember, these social sites shouldn’t be used as gimmicks, but rather long-standing or reoccurring campaigns that create sustainable fundraising solutions.

How to Work with Brand Bloggers

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This post will help businesses, both large and small, understand brand blogs–sites written by consumers that exist for the sole purpose of talking about a company and/or its products. Do you know how to engage with brand bloggers and the opportunities that exist? Read on to learn more!

 

A topic near and dear to my heart is blogs that are created by customers which are all about well-known brands.  This is a phenomenon that is now down-right common.  It’s amazing how many customers have created blogs about well-known brands!

First, a few examples of the kinds of blogs that I’m talking about:

I’m sure there are many more brand fan blogs out there.  Those were just a few that were very easy to find with a few Google searches. The list of customer-created fan blogs is stunningly long.

For the large brand (or even a smaller brand), all of this can equal surprise and uncertainty. If you’re Lululemon, or any other brand where a customer has created a fan blog, you don’t know what they’re going to say next. You don’t know which products they’ll love. And, you never know if the fan blog will turn on the brand. There is a complete loss of control. Even worse, the brand may worry that the fan site will become so large that it will be confused with a corporate-created website. The brand’s voice then competes with the fan’s voice.

Since September 2009, I have been writing about Starbucks. There’s no doubt, they know I exist. I’m in the unusual position that I’m blogging about a brand close to home. I live not too far from the Starbucks headquarters and the first Starbucks in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I am so close, I can actually easily go to Starbucks events that would only happen in Seattle. Because of this, I’ve met a number of corporate headquarters Starbucks employees.

My blog, as I write this, receives over 30,000 absolute unique visitors each month. It’s slowly grown over time. A year from now, I might be saying it has 35,000 or 40,000 uniques. It certainly didn’t start out at that level of readership – and that’s still fairly small. And obviously, I am not CNN or a major news source. However, it is possible that at an ordinary customer can have a real voice about a brand. For example, if you look at the Trader Joe’s blog mentioned above, you’ll see that its hit-counter lists well over 2 million hits so far! That’s one very popular blog!

There is no doubt that through Facebook and Twitter, it’s possible that a customer with a big brand fan blog might be able to have direct contact with other fans, possibly brand detractors, company employees, and even possibly corporate executives. All of this comes down to one thing: Each individual customer now has the possibility to have a much larger voice than ever before. Anyone can start a blog. The choice of the brand is to either engage or ignore. That’s it: either engage or ignore. My position is that engagement is the best option.

It’s been cited that a brand advocate is worth much more than an average customer.  Zuberance, a California-based company designed to energize brand advocates, writes “Brand Advocates are worth at least 5x more than average customers. This is because they spend more and their recommendations drive sales.”

The customer-created brand blog is not a mysterious unicorn. It’s real. Any brand could end up with customers writing about them. And honest reviews, unfiltered, and unsolicited, are the most genuine.

4 Tips for Working with Brand Bloggers: 

Recognize that a brand fan blog is fueled by passion for the brand

There is no doubt, for a customer to write for years consistently about a brand, he or she has to be filled with passion for the brand. Probably there are no “wet noodle” personalities with big successful brand fan blogs. Susan Martin’s IKEA fan blog is still going strong seven years into blogging. She started blogging in 2005 about IKEA. One doesn’t blog for seven years about IKEA without really having some passion for the brand.

Your customers who create long-term fan blogs love you. They passionately love you. And expect them to truly characterize the kind of personality that gets very passionate about a topic.

You can expect that one with a big, vocal passionate personality might have fixed convictions that he or she won’t budge on, or may come on strongly when engaged. Despite all this, passions fuels this.

Reach out to dedicated fan bloggers; do not ignore them

It takes a tremendous amount of work to keep a fan blog going. There isn’t a monetary incentive for the overwhelming majority of brand fan blogs. (I couldn’t find any evidence of any monetary compensation in any of the listed fan blogs above.)

A little reaching out goes a long way to keep inspiration alive.

And for many people, the more emotionally invested he or she feels in a brand, the less likely he or she is going to write negative commentary about it. Reaching out to brand bloggers can help lock in that emotional attachment to a brand. A brand can never control everything that is going to be said about it. And often times, honest feedback couched in a true vision of making the brand better is nothing to be scoffed at. Customers have great insights.

And so once again, since the fan brand blogger is not motivated by a paycheck, a little reaching out to the brand goes a long way.

For example, in 2010, IKEA reached out to their fans, hosting a IKEA brand evangelists event in New York City, and giving those fans a bag of gifts, and the latest IKEA catalogue two weeks early. Not every brand is going to host trips to New York City for their biggest fans, but it is definitely an example of a large brand truly recognizing and responding to brand evangelists.

In January 2012, I went to a nicely organized coffee tasting at the Olive Way Starbucks as part of the Starbucks PR department’s blogger outreach. I wrote about it here.  I love events that have a true element of exclusivity to them.  I enjoyed being able to see the Starbucks concept store, Roy Street, shortly before it opened to the public and being able to write about that before the store’s grand opening.

As yet another example of incredible blogger outreach, Anthropologie sent a number of bloggers on a trip to Philadelphia for the opening of a wedding-themed Anthropologie store. I have heard that Anthropologie did reach out to at least one blogger who writes specifically an Anthroplogie brand blog. The trip to Philadelphia is mentioned in an article by a wedding blogger.

Consider the bloggers who are dedicated to your brand. If the brand passes over a very passionate blogger, it may truly come off as if the blog is not appreciated.

I think even small gestures mean a lot. I was reading through Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” blog and noticed that now and then he mentions that Method will send him sneak previews of new products. It could be as simple as sending the brand advocate a bottle of Fig Aroma Spray.

Read the comments

The value of a brand blog doesn’t end at the author’s article. Read the comments. That’s so important, I feel like I should say it twice. Read the comments.

A blog that is getting even a dozen comments per article provides a lot of insight about customer response to a specific product or concept.

Remember the authenticity of the voice is priceless. As a great example of this, earlier this year I wrote an article about the Pink Lime Frozt and the Coconut Lime Frozt at Starbucks. You might be thinking that you’ve never heard of these beverages. In the spring of this year, Starbucks did a large test of these beverages, mostly in Southern states, though to date, there has never been a nationwide launch. But my article on the Pink Lime Frozt has over 50 comments. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback on a test product. The same thing happened when I wrote about the test product, the “Apple Crumble Frappuccino.” Don’t miss the chance to get valuable feedback.

On top of it all, the blog comments may have replies by the blog owner – one more chance to get to know the personality of the brand’s customer with a fan blog.

Be transparent at all times

There is nothing worse than having a brand-blogger customer reaching out to a corporate headquarters, and having him or her sent in circles, and/or being told that someone will get back to them, and no one does. Even worse, completely ignored emails.  It can equally leave a bad taste in one’s mouth if a brand PR person says (hypothetically), “We’d like you to try a new product  …” and then there is no follow up to arrange a trial of the new product.

If someone is passionate enough to dedicate years to blogging about your specific brand, he or she should not be left hanging in conversations with the corporation, whether in person or in an electronic form.

Good business manners are good business manners, whether dealing with people internally or externally.

At the end of the day, some of this is common sense. Develop a positive relationship with bloggers. They’re valuable for the brand due to their reach. A blogger who is reaching even 1,000 unique visitors a day, in some ways, has a megaphone in his or her hands. That person is akin to media in some ways. The positive relationship with the blogger can help ignite a positive outlook about the brand on that blog.

It’s likely that no brand is immune to the possibility of having a customer start an entire blog just to talk about that brand. Be ready and willing to reach and be transparent with that blogger.

Social Media and Higher Education [Infographic]

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College and universities are embracing social media as a means to connect with the current student body, alumni, prospective students, and donors. According to BestCollegesOnline.com, one in three schools indicate that they achieve better results with social media than through traditional media.

According to recent data conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth:

  • 98% of colleges and universities report having a Facebook page
  • 84% have a school Twitter account
  • 66% have a blog
  • 41% have a podcast

Check out the infographic below to learn more about how those in higher education are using social media:

Goals Behind Social Media Use

Compiled By: BestCollegesOnline.com

 

How Social Media Changed the Culture of My Dental Practice

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Let’s see a show of hands out there.  How many of you have dentists who have content rich websites and are active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest?  That’s what I thought.  Not too many of you.  Well, as a dentist, I am on a mission to change that.

Dentists and Marketing

Marketing has not been an easy journey for the healthcare industry. For a very long time, professionals in healthcare were discouraged, if not reprimanded, for advertising. About all you could do to “market” yourself was to have your name appear in the local phone book. The early adopters in attempting healthcare marketing were not well received and were, in fact, lambasted for their efforts.

“Classless” and “cheap” were words used to describe healthcare professionals’ small attempts at marketing and advertising.  Slowly, very slowly, this limiting attitude has changed. The healthcare industry has finally, if not reluctantly, taken the full plunge into the ocean of marketing and social media.

The Extremes

As with most things in life, there is a modulating process that needs to accompany change. Before that modulation occurs, typically you are going to see extremes. In healthcare, the extremes have been pretty obvious. There are the pharmaceutical, hospital, weight loss and dental implant companies that barrage us with promises of the best, the only, and the right options for our healthcare needs on radio and TV. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the general dental practice that sits quietly on Main Street USA hoping that “word of mouth” will continue to bring in new patients. While, just down the street, new dental offices are popping up every day providing more and more options for these same new patients.

The Reality

As “experts” in our respective fields, no matter what our business, the reality is that as a rule, every day when we go to work, we do basically the same thing as our competitors. So, in the field of dentistry specifically, most of my colleagues that are vying for the same patients that I am vying for do the same kinds of fillings, cleanings, x-rays, crowns and bridges. Some of us offer slightly different options but, for the most part, our days are very similar.

So then, how can we make ourselves appear “different” to potential patients?  What can we do to increase the traffic through our door instead of letting the dentist just down the street get the new patient?  That is the age old question!

The Answer

Think outside of the box. We already know what we’ve been trained to do as “experts” in our field. And we should always strive to do it better! But we can’t just rest on our laurels anymore. There are far too many other businesses like yours and mine out there and potential customers/clients/patients are getting more and more digitally-savvy all of the time. They are doing their homework and basing the decisions they make on their research. And to make ourselves show up in an enticing way, we need to think outside of the box. And one of those ways is social media.

Let’s Get Personal: My Story

Let me tell you how social media changed the culture of my dental practice. I’ve been a dentist for over 22 years and have owned my own practice for 16 of those years. I, like many of my colleagues (and other small businesses), tried many of the traditional forms of marketing including, but certainly not limited to the Yellow Pages, Dex Knows, church bulletin ads, local newspaper coupons and participation in local school events. In the early days, the only way of tracking my analytics was by keeping track of my results with a notebook and pen. And one by one, I eliminated ineffective and sometimes costly marketing efforts that had little to no ROI (return on investment).

I was conflicted because I still felt that there was value in the tried and true “word of mouth” method of growing a practice. But I knew that with new competition popping up at every corner, I was going to die as a business if I didn’t figure out how to create growth effectively and inexpensively. And then, one day, one of my awesome patients came up with the answer. The conversation began innocently enough. I was complimenting her on her oh-so-funny blog and asking her how she was able to promote her blog so successfully. She looked me straight in the eye and said “You can do it too. Just create a blog for your website and get a Twitter account and tweet about your practice”.

Say WHATTTT??

There is Value in Being Impetuous and Impressionable

That very day, I solicited the help of Heather Acton,  freelance WordPress developer extraordinaire and I started designing a new WordPress website that would allow me to blog directly from my business website. I also set up a Twitter account and created a Facebook page. I worked diligently on increasing my presence on social media. I played with many ideas and tossed out the ones that didn’t work and kept the ones that did. I began doing videos that were posted to both YouTube and my website that dealt with dental health issues. I started a regular feature called Ask the Dentist in which someone emails me a dental health related question that I post and answer on my website.

I began to post articles to local newspapers to increase awareness of my office’s presence. I attended functions, some with the clever name of “Tweet Ups,” in and around the city of Chicago so that the many people that I was communicating with in social media I could meet face to face IRL (in real life)!

The result was a measurable increase in my “new patient” numbers as a result of my presence on social media.

To be clear, I made many mistakes along the way and even allowed myself to get slightly addicted to social media. But, the lessons that I gleaned as I muddled through the myriad of information I was reading and experimenting with, grew my desire to share a best practices sort of approach with dentists wanting to use social media. The result was my site, Social Media DDS, which allows me to consult with and coach dental professionals in the art of social media strategy.

What I Have Learned

  1. Have an interactive website. By interactive, I mean, make sure that your site is content rich and content fresh. Create a space on your website modeled after traditional “blogs” from which you can provide information to your readers and they can communicate with you. Have a fully functional and user-friendly commenting platform integrated into your website and “blog” such as Livefyre that allows conversation-like communication to occur, encouraging readers to participate in dialogue with you and the community.
  2. Be regular and predictable in your posts.  As Marcus Sheridan, the awesome author of The Sales Lion, says in this video interview, blog with regularity. Let your audience know that you will be there for them. Listen to their needs and then…engage, engage, engage. Social media is, after all, social. Once you have established a solid “home base” with your website presence, consider expanding your social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and, yes, even Pinterest.

Don’t Have Time?

I happen to LOVE working the social media and marketing angle for my dental practice. But I understand and appreciate that not all owners of a business can find the time to put into growing their social media presence. One of my favorite go-to people in the dental, social media marketing world is Rita Zamora of Social Media & Relationship Marketing. She suggests finding a “champion” for your social media presence (regardless of the type of business you run).

Look to your staff and decide who would be a perfect fit for championing your business. Let them represent the business. Teach them how to be the “voice” of your company. Delegate wisely. And, always keep your “voice” consistent and authentic. Never succumb to the temptation of letting a third party company be your “voice.” Always understand that your “voice” is what makes digital “word of mouth” marketing work.

Wrapping It Up

I am passionate about the potential of social media as a powerful tool in a business’ marketing strategy. I am also passionate about my business. It seems pretty intuitive then that, when I combine the powerful forces of my business with social media, awesome goodness is going to be the result.

I can’t imagine a new business in any industry not wanting to make sure that their internet presence is felt and that the business consistently nurtures its online presence. There are countless examples of success using the power of social media to build a business. I love to tell people that if I, as an owner of a dental practice, can grow my business utilizing the power of social media, then anyone can grow a business using social media!

How have you used social media to grow your online presence?  Has it worked?  Do you have any tips that might help others as they take their first steps into social media?

The Top 10 Public Relations Blogs

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About two years ago, I started a small blog about public relations. But before I even drafted my first post, I spent some time trolling the Internet for other PR blogs to see how the pros do it.

The following is my personal list of the top ten blogs about public relations—it is by no means an end-all-be-all list.

I have bookmarked and enjoyed these blogs for the past few years—I hope you do too!

1. Bad Pitch Blog

This was one of the first blogs I started reading “back in the day” (circa 2007).

It is essential for PR pros because the authors do not merely mock media pitching mistakes; they use them as case examples of what not to do.

And PR folks might want to check this blog periodically—just in case they see their own wares!

2. Spin Sucks

I’ll be honest– this is probably one of the best blogs to read not only for PR, but also for social media, marketing, entrepreneurship and current topics in social media.

Gini Dietrich sticks to her blog’s mission and has such a consistent tone that you feel as though you hear her voice when you read them.

Gini’s got an incredible drive for constantly creating original and helpful content, as well as a steady stream of guest posts that run daily from a variety of experts in their own fields.

All together, this is a great example of what it means to create a social media community around a topic and maintain it.

3. Proper Propaganda

I was initially attracted to the title of this blog and the author’s penchant for vintage socialist propaganda art.

But Jackson Wightman is more than a snarky PR/communications professional.

He’s got a particular sort of wit to his posts, almost as if he never quite takes himself seriously, although he is a seriously talented guy.

Plus, Jackson writes about aspects of PR as they relate to nonprofit organizations and start-up companies, including his own solo PR shop.

4. Waxing Unlyrical

Shonali Burke’s blog is like serenity in blogging form—I feel at peace when I read her posts!

Her blog content consistently hits on many current topics as they relate to PR and social media (including some of her own successful social media campaigns), but she’s also not afraid to take a break and to simply blog about life and reflection.

And while Shonali is working full time at a PR agency now, she hasn’t given up her torch nor her wonderfully delightful blog, thank goodness.

5. The Sword and the Script

Here is the perfect blog for PR/communications folks who want to feel challenged and to stretch their opinions a little.

Frank Strong features a good balance of content that is both challenging to the reader but also approachable at the same time.

You may have to read his posts more than once (it’s okay, I do it all the time), but once you soak it in, or engage with Frank in discussion in the comments, you’ll realize it is well worth the effort.

6. Communications Conversations

I may be biased because Arik Hanson hails from my home state of Minnesota. But his blog is a great resource for PR and social media topics.

Arik is also a huge advocate for bloggers—having organized the Minnesota Blogger Conference and created a truly collaborative environment for bloggers.

His content is always engaging to read and he often features guest posts and interviews with many interesting Midwestern PR/communications pros.

7. KD Paine’s PR Measurement Blog

It’s the dreaded part of working in PR or any communications field—what is the return on investment? How are you going to measure your success?

Fear not, PR pro—KD Paine has your back and she’s blogging about it!

This blog is like the holy grail of measurement tips, case studies, and overall great content.

It’s not as scary as you think measurement is—give KD’s blog a read and you might just find an extremely helpful resource.

8. PR 2.0 Strategies

Here is another of my favorite blogs that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

Deirdre Breakenridge is an incredible social media and PR author; her blog is pretty nifty as well.

She’s also a proponent of supporting PR pros with the #PRStudChat series for students, teachers and practitioners of public relations.

Deirdre definitely has her finger on the pulse of where public relations and communications are going, so it’s well worth bookmarking her blog.

9. PRtini

Here is another incredibly helpful blog for PR pro’s run by Heather Whalig, founder of Geben Communication.

Heather is a prolific writer and national speaker, but she never forgets to share helpful resources and links to other articles of interest with her readers.

And who couldn’t like a blog that has an official cocktail?

10. 99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t One

Okay, so this isn’t a blog in the sense as the others on my list, but c’mon.  We PR people need to laugh sometimes!

So, in between your client emails and press releases drafts, check out his Tumblr and bookmark it for daily lulz or to simply feel assured that you are not alone.

Again, this list is simply my personal list and I hope you find some of these blogs as enjoyable as I do.

What are your favorite PR blogs? Any blogs I may have missed? Feel free to share your favorites as well!

Did You Miss Out on 44 Publicity Opportunities Last Week?

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Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a great resource for those looking to build up expertise and credibility in a field by offering information to reporters and PR professionals. The brainchild of Peter Shankman, HARO currently boasts over 200,000 sources as members, and I suspect that many of the savvy NMX blog readers are among those in this number. HARO provides a great opportunity for an individual (and sometimes a related business) to gain publicity and credibility via a variety of mainstream and alternative media outlets. When a reporter is looking for a source for a story, they post an inquiry to the HARO list, and folks can respond and offer their input. This can lead to being quoted in the story and often a backlink or referral from a highly-trafficked website (not to mention the ability to say “as seen in [insert well-known publication here]”.

Recently I started noticing a trend in the various HARO requests.

They want photos.

Lots of them.

Bloggers... with photos... at BlogWorld I counted… during a recent week, forty-four HARO requests asked for photographs. Sometimes it was of an office, product, or situation, but more commonly it was of you, the source. In order to get the free publicity (and arguably, credibility) that comes along with being published as a result of a HARO inquiry, you would need to submit a decent photo of yourself. For several years now we’ve heard that photos and graphics help drive reader engagement with our blog posts, and when a journalist or author is creating content of their own the same remains true. If they’re going to write about your experiences or cite you as an expert, there’s a good chance they’re going to want a photograph.

We often think of blogging as a text-centric medium, and we increasingly hear about vlogging and podcasts, but still photographs are an important bit of supporting material. If you don’t have some decent photos of yourself, I’d suggest that you should obtain some… they can be an important part of a blogger’s tool kit. As a professional photographer myself, I’m biased in suggesting that you find someone who knows what they’re doing to create your photos. You should be able to find someone near you who can create a professional business portrait for you. It doesn’t have to be stiff or formal…when I work with my clients we create images that reflect their personality and flair. If you don’t know a photographer or haven’t seen a recommendation from someone you trust, head over to the Professional Photographers of America’s Find a Photographer directory. You can search by location and find someone who’s a member of the professional organization. If you’re not in the US, see if there’s a professional photographer association in your locale.

Just as you’re probably prepared to give someone your elevator pitch, you should be ready to supply them with a photo if requested. Avoid disappointment of what would be an otherwise-great publicity opportunity because you don’t have a photo ready.

The Most Important Ingredient in Your Social Strategy Recipe

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Good social media strategy is a recipe. When automation starts to get stale though, it’s time to mix up a recipe from scratch, starting with a base dough of promotion. Then you add in a cup or two or customer service and heaping tablespoon of retweets. Depending on your company, you might add other ingredients to the mix as well.

But many companies forget the most important ingredient of all.

In fact, anyone using social media to promote their content, products, or services need to add this important ingredient to their social strategy. Leaving it out is a disaster waiting to happen.

Scott Stratten at BlogWorld New York How Social Ranting Reminded Me of the Most Important Ingredient

I started writing this post in my head when listening to Scott Stratten rant about social media during his BlogWorld New York session, “7 Deadly Social Sins.” He admitted at the start of his talk that he would be ranting in this session about several social media practices that he sees all the time. These included linking Twitter with Facebook (and other accounts), being too stubborn to check out technology your audience is using just because you don’t personally like it, and trying to cover up mistakes instead of going with the flow. (You can hear his entire Super Session via the BWENY virtual ticket here.)

I’ve heard Scott speak several times, and what always strikes me about his sessions is that the audience does a lot of nodding and even applauding throughout. His talks aren’t typically about tools to use or how-to steps you should take or other specifics. They’re about broad ideas. He tells us what we already subconsciously know.

His sessions always seem to point out the most common ingredient that we often miss: common sense.

“Common” Sense?

When talking about social strategy, I’m constantly reminded of the saying, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense,” which dates back to at least the 1800s. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in squeezing the ROI out of social media that we often forget that social isn’t some kind of fancy new thing in the business world. The technology is new, to be sure, but at its core, social is really just basic human interaction.

People think that because their is a computer screen they can act differently than they would face-to-face with consumers. But it should be common sense that the computer screen is not important. What is important? Treating your customers like human beings. When someone walks into your ice cream shop, you give them a spoonful of one of your flavors to taste. When someone walks into your wedding dress boutique, you pair them with a consultant who spends hours helping them try on gowns. When someone walks into your restaurant, your host or hostess puts on a huge smile and welcomes them. When someone walks into your bar on a Tuesday night like usual, you ask “the regular?” because you took the time to remember his or her favorite beer.

These are the things you should be doing on social media – giving your audience a taste, giving your audience help, giving your audience a warm welcome, and giving your audience that feeling of, “I’m special.” It’s common sense when you’re face to face with a customer. It should be common sense online too.

These are Not New Concepts

Let’s think about business back in the days before social media.

In the early to mid 90s, when you were the coolest kid in school if you had Internet access at home, you didn’t get online to like your favorite band on Facebook (though MySpace days were right around the corner). Bands didn’t have a way to personally connect with you like they do today through Facebook, but they did have the ability to send you cool stuff in the mail via their fan club. Some CDs of the day even came with trading cards, and reality shows like Making the Band and appearances on MTV gave listeners the chance to “get to know you.”

In other words, it was about connection. Usually, the bands who made it big were the ones out there connecting with fans as often as possible. Sounds a lot like good social media strategy doesn’t it?

Let’s go back even farther to, say, the 1930s. There was no Pinterest for women to share their favorite recipes with one another, and no way for a company like Betty Crocker to build their brand on this platform. But you know what Betty Crocker could do (and did do) back in those pre-Internet days? They could recognize that the housewives buying their products would also be interested in other kitchen items, so they began putting a coupon for Oneida Limited flatware in every bag of flour. It was such a hit the later introduced a whole catalog of items.

In other words, it was about promoting related products that would interest their community, not just slinging their own products. Sounds a lot like good social media strategy doesn’t it?

Even father back in history, let’s talk about the 1700s. If there were two blacksmiths in town and your horse needed new shoes, how did you decide between them? Well, you probably asked someone you trusted and they gave you a word of moth recommendation. If you were one of those competing blacksmiths, you probably tried to treat your customers like they were special to instill a sense of loyalty and get those word of mouth recommendations.

In other words, you treated your audience as valued customers, not just dollar signs. Sounds a lot like good social media strategy doesn’t it?

In his book, The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk writes, “How do people decide they like each other? They talk. They exchange ideas. They listen to each other. And eventually, a relationship forms. This process is no different for building relationships with customers.” It’s an idea that goes back to well before the days of the pioneers. People do business with people they like. Just because social media is thrown in the mix today doesn’t change that.

Common Sense in Your Own Social Strategy Recipe

So how can you take the idea of adding common sense and make it a reality? Here are my tips:

  • Stop over-thinking things. Yes, you do need to have a strategy and putting social policies in place is a good idea. But hire people you trust and then actually trust them. When your social accounts are run by someone who “gets it” you don’t need to approve every tweet or analyze every word in a Facebook post. You just need to be real.
  • Think of this as a conversation tool, not a marketing tool. Social media can do wonders for marketing products, services, and content online. But if that’s all you’re doing, few people will care. Use social as a way to actually talk with people and help people. If you do that, they’ll naturally start sharing your links and promoting your business. You won’t have to coerce them.
  • If you wouldn’t say it to a person face-to-face, don’t say it online. I’ve seen more than one rude tweet from a professional account. It always mystifies me. Be as nice to customers online as you would be to them if they walked through the door. Yes, even if they are being difficult.
  • Make time for social if your audience is there. Not every business needs to spend 8 hours a day on Twitter. Not every business needs an active Google+ account. Not every business needs to be pinning stuff for their followers. But find out where your audience lives online and go there. Make time for it, because it’s as important as answering the telephone. It can be as simple as setting up your phone to alert you when you have a new comment on your Facebook page. You don’t have to sit in front of your computer all day to be really good at social media. Jonathan Fields is a good example of someone who limits his social media presence to make time for other projects, but still does social really well.
  • Be helpful. One of the ways Syed Balhki built his WordPress blog was to simply go on Twitter and help people who had WordPress questions. Being helpful about problems related to your products, services, and content is ten times the promotional tactic than tweeting out links or even offering coupons.

Above all, stay educated. This is the point of the post where I tell you to come to the Social Media Business Summit at New Media Expo to learn more about successful social media strategy for your business, but go beyond what we have to offer. No matter what your industry or niche, subscribe to blogs about social media like Social Media Examiner, pick up books like Scott’s UnMarketing and The NOW Revolution by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, and yes, take the moment to go to events, classes, and seminars to learn how to be better at social. Common sense may be the most important ingredient, but staying educated about the other ingredients is important too.

Five Ways to Troubleshoot a Social Media Marketing “Dud”

Author:

Despite our best intentions, marketing – and, in particular – marketing using social media – can be like hitting a bullseye on a moving target. Platforms are constantly rising and falling in popularity, conversations are constantly changing and engagement patterns are constantly shifting.

Even with a solid strategy in place before diving in, it’s not unusual for a company to find themselves a few months in with a social platform on their hands that’s kind of a dud from a performance standpoint, asking themselves, “So now what?”

Here are five tactics to try when that happens.

1. Clarify the audience.

When a company decides to establish a social media presence, the question of “where?” should never be left to guesswork. If the target audience you want to reach (whether that’s current or potential clients or customers, thought-leaders, media contacts, etc.) is already hanging out in a particular place – be that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc – that’s where you should start.

When a platform is not performing up to par, either the company has not fully thought out whom they want to reach or they have thought about this target audience in too limited of a capacity.

So, if you suspect that an audience match is part of your dud problem, ask yourself these questions…

  • Have you tried to build your community on this social platform with intention? How? (With research tools and monitoring dashboards or just with guesswork?)
  • Are you actively seeking out your target audience right now on this platform or are you simply trolling for conversations and hoping those people will just find you?
  • Are you overlooking an existing audience while you’re searching for a different one? (Sometimes a company may find that a particular platform is brilliant for connecting with say, media contacts, but are so focused on being there to sell to customers that they overlook the new audience they’ve stumbled onto.)

2. Audit your engagement.

A lot of companies are blind to how badly they perform in social media…and that’s totally normal and understandable.

Most marketers are skilled in the art of talking AT someone. Engaging WITH someone in the voice of a brand and marketing content to them without being overtly salesy, as well as being a courteous, active and ever-present listener, are skills that take practice to master. In many cases, when a social channel is “not working” it’s due to not having taken this learning curve into account.

So, if you suspect that engagement is part of your dud problem, ask yourself these questions…

  • How much are you talking about yourself on this platform versus talking TO your community? You want to shoot for a mix that’s at least 70% talking to people and 30% marketing.
  • What is your content marketing strategy and how are you using this social platform to employ that strategy? If you’re just posting content for the sake of posting content, you shouldn’t be surprised if your community is reacting with a big, fat “meh.
  • Is your community manager (or whomever is responsible for being the voice of this social channel) aware of your company’s goal in being on this platform? If you find that you’ve got a lot of chitchat going on with no ROI, it may simply be due to the fact that you’ve been unclear with your front line communicators about the end goals of their activities.

3. Evaluate your passion.

Successful social media marketing is contingent upon you being comfortable in the platform you’ve selected, passionate about communicating there and committed to doing so often.

If, for instance, you start a blog – and it’s for all the right reasons: your competitors all have one, your customers read them, they would be a great forum for showcasing your product – but there is no one on your team who enjoys blogging and you end up only do it sporadically, make no mistake…your blog will likely suck.

So, if you suspect that passion is part of your dud problem, ask yourself these questions…

  • Is the voice of this platform and this style of communication a good match for your brand? Is there anyone on your team (or within your company) who would be natural fit for communicating in this voice?
  • Can you commit to ongoing and consistent engagement within this social channel?
  • Have you set up some engagement policies, content standards or editorial calendars to help support you for the long haul or looked into getting some training on this platform to help you feel more comfortable?

4. Invite Involvement.

Many companies get caught up in having everything just right before they start using social media. But that’s not quite how the space works. Acting like you already know all the answers and trying to monopolize the conversation to share them can often backfire and makes a company look like a self-absorbed blowhard, instead of a savvy thought-leader.

Instead, invite your guests to come into the kitchen to cook up a meal with you rather than focusing on serving them a grand feast on a meticulously decorated table.

So, if you suspect that not inviting involvement is part of your problem, ask yourself these questions…

  • Do you ever ask your social community what they’d like to talk about or ask them for feedback? (And, more importantly, do you then talk about those things with them in return?)
  • You do take advantage of your social community to crowdsource new ideas and initiatives?
  • Do you transparently respond to criticism you receive through your social channels and then publicly follow up to let your community know how you’ve responded to their concerns?

5. Let go, with grace.

Social media is never “done.” If you’re not continually tweaking, iterating, innovating and improving your strategies and tactics in this space, you’re likely treating your audience as a “market” and not as the unique group of people that they are.

In other words, if you’re doing it right, you SHOULD have some duds in there.

So, if you have a platform that is not working — and you’ve tried all of the troubleshooting suggestions listed above, but suspect that the social platform you’ve chosen is just plain a bad fit — try these suggestions…

  • Don’t abandon the platform. There is always value in owning your name on a social channel. Just set up monitoring systems so you can be aware if someone reaches out to you there, so you don’t have to be actively engaged on that platform on a daily basis.
  • Consider syndicating some content to this channel from one that is more robust and active to keep it alive for search purposes.
  • Be totally transparent about the fact that this platform is not your company’s “hot spot.” For instance, include a description on the platform that says, “This is the [page/feed/channel] for [your company’s name]. We use it to share [type of content]. The best place to engage with us is, though is [name of other social channel, website, email, etc.].

When it comes to social media, mistakes come with the territory. So, plan for some social media duds and embrace them when they happen (whether they are fixable or not). In the end, they may not look like a marketing bullseye internally, but, from the outside, they are living proof that your company at least had the guts to step up and take a shot.

Jennifer Kane is principal of Kane Consulting, a Minneapolis-based communications firm specializing in social media. She has more than 15 years of experience working as a strategic planner in marketing and communications and speaks nationally on social media marketing. You can find her on Twitter at JenKaneCo or at jen@kaneconsulting.biz.

Are QR Codes Dead?

Author:

If QR codes are already dead, its epitaph would read “we hardly knew ye.” It seems like just yesterday that someone was explaining a QR code to me, and I’m a pretty tech-savvy person. I know that some of my less Internet-y friends don’t understand or use them, my sister doesn’t even have a smartphone, and at BlogWorld, a group of us were actually talking about how the scanning aps we have don’t work very well, so we don’t scan them very often.

So are QR codes already dead? Is this a failed technology that we should put in the “it was a cool idea that never really panned out” pile?

Recently, Dave Wieneke from AdAge wrote a piece entitled “Why Marketers Shouldn’t Waste Their Time With QR Codes.” It’s hard to disagree with his claims – that marketers love them more than consumers do. They’re overused and often just lead consumers to more advertising, which is turning off anyone who has decided to check out what this QR thing is all about.

Not everyone agrees with Wieneke, of course. On ClickZ, Melinda Krueger argues a case for QR codes and if you do a quick Google search for “cool QR codes” you’ll come up with tons of results for people and companies using them in really unique ways. At BlogWorld LA 2011, Peter Shankman actually used the Stefan Pinto ad pictured at right to highlight smart advertising – it’s an example of a QR code used in a really funny way.

But there are a lot of people misusing QR codes, and it’s perhaps making them irrelevant for all of us. I can’t tell you how many times I see QR codes on websites. Really? That doesn’t even make sense. Or when I scan a code, it often takes me to the company home page. So what? I could have found you easily online after shopping…a QR code wasn’t necessarily. There was no “next step” for users (like “liking” a Facebook page) or benefit (like getting a coupon for some free products).

I don’t think QR codes are dead…yet. They are perhaps in the hospital bed, but the disease isn’t incurable if we take action. What do you think? Are QR codes on the way out? Do you use them for your website or business? As a consumer, do you scan them when you see them as part of marketing campaigns?

Why Authenticity Is A Lie (Bad) Marketers Tell

Author:

Session: Creating Your Blogging Superhero
Speaker: Lisa Barone

Hi, I’m Lisa. It’s time for an intervention.

Bloggers and social media-types will stand on their heads to tell you that what your audience really wants is a more authentic, transparent version of your brand. They want you to bare it all on your blog, on Twitter and on Facebook so they can connect with you, engage with you, and so that you can become friends with your customer.

It’s a sham. All of it. And you need to get over yourself.

The truth is your customers do not want to know the depths of your soul or what keeps you up at night. Not even your mother wants to know that much about you, truly. What your customers want is the best version of you. The version of you that allows them to see themselves, where they want to be, and which helps them achieve their goals.

That’s what marketing is — Using yourself to show people their desired outcome. Even if that outcome is just your customer with a finally-working dishwasher.

As a marketer, you provide that experience by giving up the hokey authenticity act and creating a characterized version of yourself that exudes who your audience wants to be.

Whether you want to increase sales, build a community, or find new customers, building a sellable character, a caricaturized version of yourself, is how you do it.

Creating this caricature allows you to do a few things.

  • It gives you the freedom to magnify the personality traits you already possess to attract people.
  • It allows you to play on your strengths to establish a point of difference.
  • It makes your personality appear larger than life.
  • It gives you a cushion so that when the Internet gets mean (which it will), you’re not absorbing all the shots with your true self.

Said simpler – It makes your brand magnetic.

The characterized You is a heightened version of yourself. It’s where all the right traits are highlighted and where the ones that don’t fit the brand are simply deemphasized. It’s the You after you’ve had a few too many, when suddenly you know all the punchlines and you’re not afraid to take risks. That’s who you need to be to your audience. That’s who we’re drawn to.

No, you don’t need to be drunk, just compelling.

Wait! How can you relate to customers if you’re not being your “true authentic self” and are acting like a character?! You can’t just MAKE UP who you are!

Sure you can. You do it every day. Only you don’t call it acting. You call it being an adult.

  • You show one set of personality traits when you’re working at the office.
  • Another set when you’re at home playing with your children.
  • A different set when meeting your friends at the bar for Happy Hour.

It’s not deceptive there, is it? You’re not any less you, are you? You’re simply the right you for the right audience.

Same thing.

The authenticity lie has allowed too many marketers to make total blunders of their online persona, encouraging them to partake in Twitter rants, social media flame wars, and constant whining. Your 20 minute Twitter tirade about the bad service you received at your favorite restaurant doesn’t make you “transparent” or “more relatable”, it makes you appear unstable. Actually, sometimes it makes you an a**hole.

Which, fine, you probably are, but why broadcast that to the rest of the world?

Being a successful marketer doesn’t mean disrobing and letting all the nasty bits hang out. It means simply understanding what your audience needs and then identifying which traits that you possess that help you to be that person.

  • Blogworld speaker Shane Ketterman connects with people at Rewire Business by being so vulnerable and human that we can’t help but relate and be inspired by his words.
  • The Bloggess connects with people by being that person who says what we wish we could and by making us believe it’s okay if we’re a little off.
  • Chris Brogan connects with people by laying down in the middle of the road for his audience and being the most helpful guy on the planet.

I can pretty much assure you that there are days where Chris Brogan wakes up and doesn’t want to help or talk to a single person that day. But you never see them. Not because he’s not authentic or because he’s secretly a robot with no soul, but because those days aren’t part of the brand. And because of that, he keeps them out.

What you need to figure out is who YOUR character is. What natural traits do you possess that are helpful to your audience? What can you highlight about yourself that will help someone else achieve something? Because that’s what authenticity really is – it’s undisputed credibility. It’s you giving your audience the parts about you they need, and removing anything else that will distract them or take away from that credibility.

So maybe it’s not authenticity that’s a lie. It’s just our perception of what authenticity really means.

What traits make up your brand’s character?

Lisa Barone if the Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer at SEO consulting firm Outspoken Media. You can catch her blogging about marketing at the Outspoken Media blog or on Twitter at @lisabarone.

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