Pay No Attention to that Guru Behind the Curtain

ozYou all know the scene: Dorothy and her three friends return to Oz with the broom in hand after a harrowing near-death experience dealing with the witch and all those flying monkeys, only to have Toto pull back the curtain and expose the wizard as the charlatan that he truly was. In our world filled with online gurus of all types and sizes popping up on Twitter, LinkedIn and the Internet in general, it’s important for businesses to know how to smell the difference between the real deal and a faker. With the ease of self-promotion that comes with using the Internet also comes the ease for anyone to claim guru status in order to try to win business.

Here are a few red flags and tips on how to be sure that you are working with someone who knows what they are doing:

Using the word “guru” to describe oneself

In its original form, guru was not a self-proclaimed title. It was something bestowed upon a religious leader who was thought to have power, knowledge and insight into God to guide followers from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. I don’t think they were talking about Twitter followers. If anyone describes themselves as a guru in their bio, I suggest running the other way.

Is the walk the same as the talk?
I came across a blog the other day that is a great illustration of this point. Calling this site a blog really was a bit of a stretch because there were only a few entries over the course of several months and they all were brief announcements promoting speaking engagements this person had lined up to impart his wisdom on how to build business through the use of blogging and social networking. The only problem was that right next to the post was that little blue box announcing that he had 4 feed subscribers and a little blue bird announcing that he had 58 followers on Twitter. None of his posts had comments or Re-Tweets. Looking at his Twitter feed, all his Tweets were link backs to his “posts” on his blog promoting his speaking engagements. Now would you trust that this guy holds any wisdom regarding how to build business through social media? Don’t think too long on that one.

That’s what Google is for….

It may sound obvious, but Google search the person’s name or business and take a look at the results. Hop on LinkedIn and take a look at the profile. See what the person’s credentials are or what he or she has done in the past. You can tell a lot about a person with a couple of clicks.

The proof is in the pudding
On the Internet people can claim to be a writers, designers, social media specialists, web designers, or business advisors. Heck, some people even claim to be 16-year-old girls but turn out to be 50-year-old men. It’s up to you to know for sure with whom you are dealing. Ask to see a portfolio of work or references from previous clients. If the only thing a supposed marketing guru has ever marketed is the marketing of his or her own marketing guru-ness, then beware. You be the judge.

You get what you pay for

To a certain degree, this statement is absolutely true. It’s not necessarily true that the more expensive someone is, the better, but I can guarantee you that anyone who is willing to write some copy for you for $20, design a logo for you on spec, or suggest a tag line for your business for free on LinkedIn is not going to be providing you with great results. Pay fast food salary (or no salary at all) and you’re guaranteed to get work at the caliber of a squished hamburger and floppy fries or less. Do a little research to find out what the going rate is for high quality work and negotiate from there.

Size doesn’t always matter

With crafty methods of getting more followers on Twitter, don’t always think that the more followers someone has guarantees a higher level of expertise. I actually get the opposite feeling sometimes when someone has an exorbitant number of followers…it makes me think SPAM. Remember, Charles Manson had a lot of followers too.

Money, that’s what I want
Another red flag is the use and overuse of the dollar sign and images of piles of money on someone’s Twitter background, blog or website. If money is the primary concern of the message, then losing yours should be your primary concern.

Finding great talented people to accomplish what you need help with is actually pretty simple. When you are looking to hire someone to work on a project for you, use common sense. Do your homework, understand the going rate and maybe most importantly, trust your instincts.

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What’s Your Key to Community Building?

keyoramaI’ve been noticing a bit of a trend lately with building community in the online world. It seems that some people believe that community is something that can be attained though purchase, either by cash, free merchandise or other means of artificial manufacturing. Whether it’s T.G.I. Friday’s recent free burger campaign or brands creating their name as a trending topic on Twitter by offering free merchandise, these methods may gain temporary attention, but most likely won’t create lasting loyalty, relationships or community.

Cash for Comments

One example of this trend recently came to my attention on the site Blogging for a Living. A post appeared there on Thursday that stated they are giving away cash as a reward to the person who leaves the most comments on their blog during the month of October, in an effort to rebuild a damaged community. Apparently, the blog used to have tremendous traffic, but a few bad apples with negative attitudes scared away the established community and hurt the reputation of the blog. Although I can sympathize, I don’t think a community can be bought back with the chance of winning a $50 prize for comments that are unlikely to have substance to them. After all, it’s clear that the motivating factor for the reader in this case would be the cash, not community building.

Focus on the Meaning of Community

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, community is: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” It’s important to keep that in mind when establishing a community. It’s the commonality, that sense of relating to what is being said, or an opportunity to express and share ideas or gain insight and opportunities that keeps people coming back.

Finding a Solution That’s Right for Your Community

If your blog’s focus is on finding and giving away great products or passing on savings, then material giveaways are relevant to your community, because your community would naturally consist of people who are looking for giveaways or savings. That is the common interest or goal.

If your blog, for example, is intended to serve as a community for freelance writers, then the “giveaway” should be information, resources, opportunities, advice and commentary relevant to your community of writers. Everyone needs money, that’s true. Everyone enjoys getting free stuff, that’s also true. But if you have lost your community, then you have to earn it back, not buy it back.

How to build or re-build community in a meaningful way is the challenge. Maybe re-branding is in order; starting fresh to show your community that things have changed or providing an opportunity to engage a new group of people. Maybe inviting and promoting well-respected guest bloggers who share in the same community could help both your audience and theirs. Maybe inviting your readers to comment with suggestions on what they want from your blog would demonstrate your commitment to serving them and that you want them to be part of the process. Ask them why they left and what can you do to bring them back. Taking a hard look at what you do, how it could improve and having the willingness to change is key to evolution and growth in community building as well as brand building.

What is your key to community building?

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Is Your Blog Content Killer or Filler?

ingredientsWith many bloggers feeling pressured to post something daily or multiple times daily to maintain their level of engagement, I think content can begin to suffer. No matter how much of an expert or guru someone is, the stuff can start to get recycled, irrelevant, tiresome or forced and often a bit too rich with keywords. Getting these posts in my inbox a couple of times a day, even from a “thought leader,” starts to feel a little spammy.

I do get the concepts of interruption and engagement, but being interrupted by the same person several times a day crosses the line for me. It has, for me, actually created the opposite effect. I am finding myself disengaging with some of the engagers, and have recently unsubscribed to several blogs for this reason. I have decided that since I now know that these blogs are there, I’ll choose when I want to be interrupted to read what they have to say. I’m taking control of my inbox back from the invaders.

I am a true believer in quality over quantity any day. A post for posting sake (and you can usually tell which ones those are) is a waste of both the writer’s and the reader’s time. There have been a couple of posts I’ve read recently that talk about the panic of writer’s block. These posts have given numerous suggestions on what to do and how to find something to say, including recycling older posts. My advice: don’t say anything. Wait a day (or even two) until you make an observation about something or read something, or see something or have a fresh idea worth sharing. Squeezing out the words like a stubborn pimple is painful for the writer and for the reader. Wait a little until the words flow more easily. It will lead to a more successful post that will truly offer something valuable, rather than simply supplying more verbiage to fill someone’s inbox.

What’s your take on this? Do you think it’s essential to post daily or multiple times daily, or are you inclined to be more conservative about it and post when you are driven to by a thought or idea that you need to share?

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How To Burn Bridges and Ruin Reputations, Blogging Style

Iron Bridge Fire June 30 1927A little over a year ago, I pitched to review some children’s shoes. I sent a friendly introductory email with a link to the company’s website, some background information and a couple of jpeg images. I mentioned that if they were interested in reviewing the product, I would be happy to send a sample for them to try out first hand. I heard nothing. After a few days, I followed up with another email and again, got no response. No problem, I figured that they just weren’t interested. So I moved on.

A couple of weeks later, I noticed hits on the company website coming from Babble. “Hmm”, I thought, “that’s strange.” So I went to the blog and found a very snarky “review” stating that the shoes were scary and would frighten children. It also included a mocking rewrite of some of the copy from the company website suited to what the blogger’s opinion of the brand was. Now, I have no problem with people expressing an opinion, be it negative or positive, but what got me riled was that these statements were made without ever having the product in person to show to a child and actually see what the response of a child would be. As it turned out, the negativity backfired when fans of the brand went to the blog post and countered the unfounded negative comments with real life positive comments saying that, actually, their kids just love the shoes so much that the kids don’t want to take them off. I have to say that I did feel vindicated.

Fast-forward to a year later, the brand has grown in popularity and people are talking about it all over the Internet. Guess who I hear from? Another writer from Babble replying to my year-old original pitch asking me to send her a pair of the shoes because “we” (meaning the blog) just love them and would be happy to have the opportunity to review them. She was apparently completely unaware of the previous post from a year earlier. Oops, I responded, your blog already did a review without having a pair of the shoes in hand and I attached a link to the post. Although this was a prominent blog that everyone apparently wants to have placement on, I told the blogger, no thank you, I’ll pass.

Two lessons to be learned here:
1. If you are blogger and you are going to review a product, then it’s usually customary to actually have the product to try it, use it, and see what the response is. Write the truth, negative or positive, but don’t just make it up. It’s like a movie critic reviewing a film without ever seeing it or a food critic commenting on food without tasting it.
2. If you write for a blog that features multiple writers, then do a search on your blog first before pitching. Find out if the blog has already written about the brand you want to pitch. Know what has or hasn’t been said. It’s like being a journalist; you know, check the facts and do a little research first!

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To Follow Or Not To Follow, That Is The Question

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There’s always talk around the blogosphere about the benefits of commenting on other’s blog posts and of having a huge number of followers/friends/connections on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites. The first impulse is to agree completely and work your hardest to connect with as many people as humanly possible, and comment on as many blogs as possible, but I suggest that we should take a second look at that strategy.

It is irrelevant how many followers you have on Twitter, if your followers have no interest in what you have to say, are completely unrelated to your industry or interests, and are there only as a numbers building game. Call me crazy, but every time I get a new follower on Twitter, I actually click on the link to see who they are. If I can’t readily figure out within a few seconds why they would be following me, either by reading a few of their tweets, reading their profile or clicking on their web link, then I block them. I would rather have fewer, more meaningful followers than thousands of meaningless followers. I don’t need or want body builders, weight loss specialists, get rich quick scammers, get followers quick scammers, porn sites, real estate moguls or motivational speakers following me. When those types follow me, it feels more like stalking rather than following.

I’ve also been asked on numerous occasions to connect with someone on LinkedIn that I have never had any interaction with or knowledge of previously. For me, my LinkedIn connections are for people I have worked with, met, interacted with in some way or have knowledge of their expertise, work or reputation. I will not connect with someone on LinkedIn that I have absolutely no knowledge of. Association can affect my reputation, so I always make sure that I know in some capacity, with whom I am associating.

As far as leveraging blog comments to build traffic on your own site, I tend to comment on other people’s blogs because I’m compelled to respond to something I read and something moves me, rather than the notion that it’s going to drive heavy traffic to my site. My philosophy is to subscribe to those blogs that I have found that speak to my profession, or that I find funny or interesting, or that speak to my way of thinking or against my way of thinking, for that matter. Commenting on other’s blogs should be motivated by having something to add, in agreement or not, not just based on an idea that it will drive traffic to your site.

Building MEANINGFUL traffic to your site is like building a STRONG brand: IT TAKES TIME! Building relevant relationships is what will build your traffic, your reputation, your business, or your blog. Empty comments, empty traffic, empty followers will get you nowhere fast.

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If You Build Your Brand, They Will Come.

memorial_10_bg_053004 I am a complete devotee to organic 100% natural SEO/SEM. No artificial words, just pure clean brand building. Your brand name and message is what you should concentrate on building before you worry too heavily about what keywords will drive traffic to your site. If you happen upon the right keywords, yes, it will undoubtedly send traffic to your site, but what kind of traffic? Will they actually care about your brand, product or service? Will they buy? If you focus on getting your brand name out there rather than key words that might relate to your brand, then people who really care about what you do or sell will come looking for YOU specifically, generating more meaningful hits to your website and building a reputation for your name. It’s called brand building.

Case in point here…I am the co-founder of a startup children’s shoe brand called Polliwalks that was founded in ’07. I was responsible for the Marketing and PR for the brand, and was able to build a following that generated hundreds of thousands of results from a Google or Yahoo search for the brand name. How was that done? Primarily by the process of building relationships with select blogging communities, building relationships and trust with consumers and building the brand name recognition within the brand’s consumer group.

Looking at the site analytics, only a handful of people searched for the company site by using keyword search terms. Most visitors found the site by searching for the brand name and/or the web address. Taking a closer look at the analytics, the searches that used keywords, other than the brand name, consistently had a very high bounce rate. They left because they didn’t find what they were looking for. The people that searched by the brand name consistently showed a very low bounce rate. They spent a significant amount of time looking around the site because THEY FOUND WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR! They searched for the brand and they found the brand. I’m not saying that SEO should be ignored, but your brand name should be the main focus of your brand building strategy.

My point here is that it is more important to get your brand name out there, get people talking about your brand in a natural way, and in turn it will get other people specifically and actively looking for you, rather than people looking for something else, finding you instead, then leaving. This kind of essential brand building does take more time to create momentum, but it is by far more meaningful and enduring and will generate true brand awareness, brand loyalty and sales, rather than meaningless traffic to your site. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Why Is The FTC Singling Out Bloggers?

All this hubbub about the FTC cracking down on bloggers to disclose sponsorships is a bit troublesome and confusing to me. I think it’s ironic that everyone is up in arms that bloggers may be receiving a free box of diapers in exchange for a review when magazine editors, television producers and everyone else representing “traditional” media constantly receive free products from brands in the hopes that they will be featured in an editorial piece. Many companies also pay for certain placements or mentions. This is not something new; it’s common practice that has been going on in mainstream media since the beginning of time.

The Oprah team gets millions of dollars worth of products sent to them and I don’t think Oprah has ever disclosed that she got anything for free. Brands have their products placed in TV shows and in films. Should there be a pop up that alerts viewers that the can of Coke that Ben Affleck is drinking represents a paid sponsor? Jon and Kate Gosselin got their lives supplemented by free gifts, everything from a hair transplant to a tummy tuck to trips to Disney and Hawaii to expensive play houses for their 8 kids. Product companies pay to have their products “gifted” to celebrities in the hope that their product will show up on one of Angelina Jolie’s babies on the cover of People Magazine. This happens all the time, so much so that the word gift is now used as a verb (to gift: to give Tory Spelling’s baby free stuff). Should celebrities disclose that the clothes on their children’s backs were given to them for free? Nike pays to have athletes wear their products exclusively. Oftentimes, PR and marketing representatives send “free” samples not as swag or payola, but simply to introduce a product and to let media see the product first hand and hope that they like it and will write about it. Now people fear that even a casual mention of a product or brand in an online conversation (whether sponsored or not) will result in an investigation by the FTC. Will the FTC investigate mentions of products in magazines to see if those product companies are regular advertisers in that publication? Is that acceptable? This all seems an impossible mission to enforce, seemingly skewed against bloggers.

I would venture a guess that the only media outlet that does not receive free product is Consumer Reports. Magazines, television, film, celebrities, newspapers, bloggers, tweeters, social media specialists, and anyone working in any media representing any company in any capacity should all be held accountable to the same standard. If bloggers are required to disclose sponsorship (which most do on their own anyway), then all media should as well. I’m just not understanding why bloggers are being singled out, unless of course, bloggers are chipping away at ad revenues and the mainstream media feels a bit threatened perhaps? Hmm, I’ll have to think about that….

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What Brands Really Want From Product Reviewers

imagesAs a marketing professional who readily utilizes blog marketing to moms, I tend feel a bit disappointed when I get a message in my inbox that says, “your product review is up on my site”, only to find that the content of the review was taken verbatim from my news release, website or marketing materials. Don’t get me wrong, there is a little twinge of delight to see what I have written being repeated over and over throughout the blogosphere, but I know I’m not alone in saying that that is not really what brands are looking for when they engage bloggers to review their products.

The whole point of brands working with bloggers is to hear the reviewer’s personal take on the product, not just to have the brand’s carefully crafted marketing collateral disseminated on someone else’s blog. That defeats the purpose of social media marketing, and it creates a post that reads more like an advertisement than the personal endorsement that brands and readers are craving from bloggers.

I always provide as much product information to reviewers as I can, not with the intention of wanting bloggers to reproduce it, but with the intention of educating them on the product’s DNA, mission, features and brand philosophy. What is more meaningful than a reprint of the corporate message is a post that talks about the actual use of a product in a real person’s life: how it worked, how it looked, what the reactions of the users of the product were, how the product held up, etc. Review bloggers should tell a story; show pictures or video of the product in use rather than using glitzy studio shots provided by the sponsor. It may take more time and effort for bloggers to craft their own message, shoot their own pictures or produce a video review, but in the end that is what brands and readers want. If you give them what they want, readers will come back and brands will pitch you again and again.

What makes a great review is when it’s real and authentic. That’s what is meant by “finding your own voice.” Your voice is simply your own thoughts, ideas and opinions. Your voice doesn’t need to be found…you already have it! Don’t be afraid to write your own words, use your own pictures or video to tell what YOUR perspective on a product is. After all, that’s what makes a social media marketing campaign successful for brands…finding bloggers who can make a personal connection to a product and readers who can relate to that personal experience, and in turn may choose to buy.

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Mommy Bloggers, The Wonder Women of the Internet

wonder_wideweb__430x311The modern way of promotion, branding, PR and marketing is rapidly evolving. In fact, it probably just changed a little bit more in the time it took me to write this sentence. High priced ads are no longer effective or trusted by consumers, and especially in the children’s market, consumers are the ones who now have tremendous power and influence.

Moms are the primary spenders in most American households, but they aren’t turning to glossy magazines for information on what to buy like they did when I was a tot. Moms are not sitting around flipping through magazines, watching soap operas, and making cream sauce with Campbell’s mushroom soup. They are way too busy for all of that. They are raising their families, and/or working inside or outside of the home, while simultaneously blogging, tweeting, texting, social networking, commenting and bookmarking all over the internet about the things they love and the things they hate, and consumers are reading and listening.

These internet savvy moms are the new movers and shakers and opinion makers. Many SAHMs and WAHMs are marketers, writers, lawyers, educators, you name it. Some are women with a natural entrepreneurial sense and a penchant for blogging and twittering. Some use their blogs as viable businesses and have busy public speaking schedules, and some are in it as a hobby to express themselves, find great stuff for their families, or connect with other women and be part of a rapidly growing community.

But whatever their motivation, these moms (and a growing number of dads) are the new power players when it comes to building a brand. If you are a new brand, or a well established one for that matter, forget about your huge advertising budgets. Put your product in the hands of the right blogging moms and the results will be far more powerful and more meaningful than what an ad could produce. Blogging moms represent the modern women’s movement of the new century. They’re not burning their bras this time, no sir, they’re wearing them with pride – nursing bras, running bras and push up bras – the power bras of the new Wonder Women. So if you’re not paying attention, you’d better open your eyes and take notice of the teams of wonder women all around you, or your brand will surely be left behind.

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