The Art of Engagement

What are you trying to sell? Is it something that people might traditionally resist having sold to them…like religion maybe? Is it something difficult to differentiate like standard packaging? Or is it a service offering in a crowded market?

No matter what it is you’ve got to sell, there are probably people out there looking to buy your product. What’s been proven though is that pitching right off the bat is not the way to break through and get people to buy from you. Consumers and business managers who make purchasing decisions are barraged with advertising, marketing, and sales pitches. What’s more, a good portion of your business is likely to come from people who already know you, either directly or by way of their network. To make the most sales then, you need to depend on new and existing relationships. And that’s why when you are looking to generate new business, marketing is not about the product so much as they people who you are trying to reach.

At a small business networking event yesterday, Regional Development Director for Constant Contact Corissa St. Laurent explained that the way you reach out to people to start relationships is by “wowing” them–that is, giving them something that gets their attention. According to Corissa, it doesn’t stop with first contacts, either, because even after you have customers and have sold to them, you’ll want to wow them again–to reach out to them time after time to keep your relationship going.

After the “wow” there is a process for moving people from awareness through to actually purchasing from you. However, in this post I want to focus strictly on the “wow.”

What is it?

In a breakout session at that same small business event, I noticed many people struggling  to come up with ideas about how they could “wow” their customers. These were not neophytes either. They were marketing professionals.

One woman insisted that her product—packaging–was too boring to “wow” anyone. Another was stuck on the fact that he couldn’t publish worthwhile testimonials about his offering because the client company did not want their name associated with promotion of his product.

I saw these people as stuck rather than unable to figure out what “wow” means. It can happen.

This video shows a great example of “wow”. Watch it if you haven’t yet.

The tool they use is a flash mob. Brilliant. They go to where they know the people are during the holiday season: the mall, and they draw in everyone with the spectacle of a single person with a great voice singing out. Others join in, making it apparent that this is not just some weirdo looking for attention, but rather, something organized. This is a gift, a free performance that is at once moving, but also connected to what it is that the organizers are trying to sell. Beyond just being a lovely gesture, the event engages the audience by making it interactive. They allow, and then invite people to sing along by using familiar songs and encouragement by the performers. If they are looking to sell people on a particular religion, you wouldn’t know it by watching this. Still, they are successful in that they get people, who are probably more concerned with their holiday shopping than with the spiritual aspects of the holidays, to stop and a enjoy a moment that points out that religion (the “product” in this case) is available and can actually add something special to the holiday season that might be taken for granted.

Imagine if the marketers behind this event had gotten stuck in the usual proselytizing.

I heard one man at a recent talk about marketing say that it used to be about selling the sizzle and not the steak. Now it’s all about the steak. I don’t agree. I think it is still very much about the sizzle, the sound, the smell, the feel, or even just the essence of what you have to sell.

In the mall, the singers weren’t selling religion. In fact, they weren’t selling anything. Rather, they were creating awareness, giving away knowledge to condition the market, and invite people who might be looking to buy at some point to find out more.

Going back to the packaging marketer, she is not going to get a flash mob to demonstrate the relative qualities of her boxes and bags for meeting the needs of various manufacturers. Still, in brainstorming with her, we came up with lots reasons why her packaging might get people excited. Her audience: manufacturers, are people who need practical, economical ways to deliver their products safely to customers. So, while they are not likely to be turned on by a sing-along that glorifies plastic shrink wrap, they might respond well to a short video that demonstrates the ease of use of a packaging material that fits with existing machinery, or a database or computer tool that is a quick-look-up guide to packaging materials based on weight or chemical makeup of the product, or even just a curated article written by an industry expert that talks about advances in packaging materials, which her product happens to incorporate.

For the service provider, I would recommend taking a step back, away from testimonials. Yes, they are the most effective way to convince customers that your offering is worthwhile. But great, believable testimonials don’t happen overnight, and you can’t always get them in the ways you would like. Right now, the man says he is working on a book. Even if he is far from publishing, this gives him the opportunity to send out a sample chapter to people who have already used his service in the past to ask for their input and feedback on his work. Like the mall performance by the religious group, this “wow” has the potential to engage people who might be interested in returning or might be willing to refer him to a new contact.

In the case of Corissa and Constant Contact, there was also a “wow” being given out—that is, the networking event itself. Besides being extremely useful to the participants, it was a way to connect people who might be considering her product with people who are already using it. Corissa herself barely mentioned Constant Contact or its offerings, but people in the groups certainly talked about their experiences, both good and bad, which opened the door to further discussion.

I’ll address the next step, the follow up on “wow,” in another post. For now though, think about your product or service. What could you do to “wow?”

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Is Facebook Really Making Us Lonely?

We aren’t lonely sailors in a vast, empty Internet ocean so much as people using Facebook to connect to the many people who have pooled around ideas, interests, and other real, human interactions.

I read a blog post  a while ago, written by a man named Stephen Marche,that asks, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

It’s a great article–rather long, but well researched and well thought out. It uses as a hook, the story of a former Playboy Bunny and B-movie star, who died alone in her apartment. Her mummified body was found weeks after she passed, surrounded by hoarded possessions and a still-glowing computer screen.

In the face of this, the author asks, “Is this who we have become?” It made me wonder. Are we just a lonely collection of individuals connected by wires and the window dressing of “friends” and “like” buttons?

Marche brings up arguments, both pro and con, quoting experts and puzzling over the meaning of the research they present. In the end though, he never manages to convince me that Facebook has in any way transformed us from highly social beings to a collection of near zombies, glued to the technology tit of the Internet.

Sure, Facebook can be like crack to an addict, as Marche asserts. It very well may feed a growing narcissism in our society. The research is inconclusive. Still, what it comes down to for me is something Marche brings up late in the article. That is, despite all the power we attribute to Facebook, it is still just a tool.

Marche says that in the past we were more likely to engage with people rather than machines, to talk with the neighborhood grocer, for example when we went out to buy a steak. While this may be true, lives absent the Internet and other machines like automated check outs, were mired in interactions with people with whom we likely had no real connection beyond the fact that we saw them regularly to say hello. With Facebook, it can be argued that the opposite is true. Particularly when it is used deliberately, with a plan and purpose, Facebook may encourage deeper connections than were possible in the past–and more of them to boot.

Think about it. Pre-Facebook, how likely would it have been for you to reconnect with childhood friends, long-lost family, or high school buddies?  Even given the opportunity to reconnect, how likely would it have been for you to stay in touch? With Facebook, we are granted the opportunity to get back in touch, to share photos and tell stories of our lives to people with whom we have history. While this has gotten a bad rap at times when people use Facebook as a new way to brag, you can’t discount the fact that interactions are at least just as often about sharing information and spreading ideas.

This remains true in marketing as well as in personal interactions. With Facebook, your posts shouldn’t be about crowing about the wonders of your business so much as about sharing and interactions.

So, if you are grocer, say, in the age of Facebook, you don’t have to worry that a shipment of steaks just arrived and I am in the mood to chat about what I’ll be making for supper that night. With Facebook, you can manage the conversation by sending out recipes for supper, along with coupons, invitations to tastings and contests, and maybe even photos of you and your employees sending holiday cheer or telling about a new project that makes you proud. In return, you can gather intelligence about people’s interests, likes and dislikes—and then respond to those in meaningful ways that can help build customer loyalty. It’s like being a neighborhood grocer, who meets up regularly with customers, but now can do it on a larger scale and much more effectively than was possible in the past.

The error I think Marche makes in even asking the question of whether Facebook is making us lonely, is that he tries to compare our lives to the lives of those who lived in the past. The research he points to shows that there are higher levels of loneliness these days—or admitted loneliness and narcissism. Still, there is no real correlation shown…and that’s not surprising. That’s because the Internet is not like other technologies that came into our cultures and even changed our lives. If you consider something like television, for example, which had an enormous impact on society, you might be able to find cause and effect. We watched more TV and became bigger consumers thanks to the golden age of advertising that ensued. With the Internet though, you aren’t talking about a piece of technology that impacted society in profound ways, so much as a total paradign shift, where the entire world entered a sort of feedback loop where a tool came into being that impacted every facet of the lives of nearly everyone on the planet, who in turn impacted the Internet, until the world appeared transformed into a new place, with new ideas, new ways of relating to people, new opportunities, and new pitfalls that we never could have seen coming from the vantage point of days gone by.

Unlike television, which changed some things, the Internet has affected everything from medicine to communications to business to personal interactions and entertainment—and it’s done so not just in how we do things, but how much, how well, and how often. It’s as if someone changed the composition of the air we breath, and we, being adaptable and resourceful, changed as well.

Is Facebook making us lonlier? I say no. Rather, I think Facebook, like many things on the Internet, is making us more aware, more available, and more able to Interact on a scale never before possible. Suddenly, we can see and even begin to understand, the size and complexity of the world, and the social networks around us. This makes it possible for us to fathom our relative insignificance in new ways, while at the same time, feeling the power each of has to reach out and talk to an enormous audience. In my case, I have no research to back this up, but in thinking about what Marche says and the research he mentions, I would guess that our sense of isolation is more a factor of that than of Facebook holding us hostage in front of a computer screen.

Perhaps this is why, more than ever people are looking to band together into groups that help them feel more connected. Thanks to the Internet, we can do that more effectively than ever before—through Facebook, but also through sites like, which allows people with similar interests to find each other quickly and efficiently and to turn Internet interactions into personal encounters.

Going back to the marketing aspect then, to be effective in using Facebook, or any Internet tool, think first about who your audience is and why they might come to you to satisfy feelings of belonging, acceptance, and fulfillment. Then provide information and ideas that encourage them to see you as the “neighborhood” grocer, who offers a friendly smile, great advice–and oh, yes, the goods they came to buy.


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Fear Not Potential Bloggers!

Graphic of eyeballs watching everything we do

Graphic thanks to

I went to a great presentation the other day by Journalist Jennifer Hollett about blogging. In a workshop session, I started talking with a fellow member of the audience, who said she was nervous about starting a blog.

True, blogging is very public and it can be intimidating. Still, as I talked with the woman next to me, I found that she was an elected official, who had already been publishing a column in the local news for some time. I asked what she thought would be so different about putting her thoughts out in a blog, to which she replied, “It’s just so so out there, where anyone in the world can see it.”

As we talked, she acknowledged that her column was probably posted online anyway, by the newspaper, which meant her writing was already searchable. She said the blog seemed to open her up to criticism more. Certainly, though, she must be confronted with controversy all of the time as part of her job, and given that election season had just ended, must be used to handling negative attacks.

The encounter brought up an interesting point for me. It is tough to put yourself out on the web as a blogger. The Internet is so vast, and so filled with people, who seem to really know what they are doing. The dirty little secret is that very often, those people feel just as insecure as anyone else. The difference is that they realize that the Internet is just like the world. You have a right to be here. You are one of the people who inhabit the space, and as a thinking individual with something to say, you can speak up and say it.

Before the Internet and blogging, there seemed to be more gatekeepers–publishers, committees, supervisors, etc.–who judged who might be worthy enough to publish. These days, though, everyone has access to the Web. Anyone can blog. Maybe it is that lack regulation that makes us think we are more likely to appear foolish for speaking up without some kind of permission.

I’m no therapist. I’m not really sure about why people feel the way they do about blogging or anything else. What I do know is that the Web is self regulating. You may make mistakes, but then you’ll either hear about it and correct your ways, or you’ll simply be ignored. Either way, as in real life, you have the opportunity to fix whatever might be wrong with your writing and move forward. Items may persist on the web, but people have neither time nor the inclination to inspect everything you do. They are much more likely to seek out things of value, and if you manage to create enough value, you’ll establish yourself as someone worth watching and following. Little by little, you’ll gain attention, and with such a potentially big audience, you may break through to become more well known than might have thought possible.

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Blog Your Way to Business

I have been known to rush in where those so-called angels fear to tread.  But virtue and vice aside, there’s nothing like a little risk taking when you’ve got nothing to lose.  The economy may be down still, but blogs are cheap or even free, and, despite the fear they invoke in some would-be bloggers, are a great way to get your name out and promote yourself and/or your business, especially when times are tough and you may be stuck with more time than money.

The way to start blogging (happily for those who are a little timid) is to just read.

  • Use services like Technorati, which rates blogs, to find those that are interesting.
  • Search using Google or some other search engine to find individual blog posts that fit with what interests you.
  • Pretend you are a potential customer looking for a product or service like yours.

As you search and read, jot down ideas that occur to you on a notebook or spreadsheet. Click on the links in blog posts, too. They’ll lead you to some great places. There’s also Stumble Upon, which makes suggestions for blogs based on criteria you set. Overall, in this phase you just want to explore the landscape without worrying too much about you and how you’ll stack up once you start to write.

The next step, once you’re comfortable with what’s being said and who is saying it, is to start writing comments. Like all social media, blogs are opportunities to create conversation, and comments are opportunities for readers to get involved in what is being said. As a commenter, don’t worry if you’re not noticed right away. It takes time to establish yourself in a community no matter where you are, online or off. Don’t try to shortcut the process by saying things just to insight controversy or to undermine others. It’s not necessary to agree or even hide your outrage. Just consider that the people you are talking with online are people you could just as easily be talking with in person. Be nice and think about what you are saying before you press the post button.

This is also a good time to start writing blog posts. You may not be ready to post yet. Starting to write even without posting allows you to establish a routine and to create posts that may or may not make it onto your blog in the end, but will certainly help you get your ideas to a place where they can be refined and edited. If you don’t know what to write, you might start by telling the story of what led you to your business or area of expertise.  Write all you need to get your story out, but then be sure to edit. Brief posts–those that are 300 words or less–are more likely to be read. If something in a post is unclear, revisit it in another post to explain in more detail. You can also use installments to break up longer posts into logical sections.

Remember as you write, that your intention should not be to pitch a product, service, or even you and what makes you so great, but to provide people with information they may find useful. For this reason, you’ll want to write pieces that demonstrate rather than describe your knowledge or expertise. Keep doing posts like this and people will recognize your value without you having to tell them.

It is tough waiting for business to come in, but blogging has made it easier than ever to establish your presence in the marketplace and especially to target your market.  Sure, there are lots of blogs out there, but by choosing topics that pinpoint customer concerns you can cut out a whole lot of that competition, and be there with fresh content and worthwhile ideas when your customers search the Internet.

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Tweet Tweet

TwitterIf you find Twitter mysterious or even just a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone. Everyone hears about those 140 character messages you’re supposed to send. However, not everyone can figure out why or even how to do it.

If you’re serious about using Twitter to market yourself or your products, it can be a valuable tool for keeping you in the conversation. Particularly in situations where you might not otherwise get noticed at all, Twitter can help you have your say.

The trick is to be brief (not that you have a choice) and to say something that encourages further discussion and/or works to bring more people into the conversation.

There are few ways of doing this:

1. Tweet real time during an event.

2. Think ahead and push out Tweets regularly using a tool like HootSuite that let’s you schedule your Tweets.

3. Tweet randomly as the mood and/or opportunity hits.

In the first case, Tweeting an event, the idea is to bring people in from all over. People love news and this is a chance to be on the scene, hearing about something as it happens from the point of view of an eyewitness. Not everyone will care about every event, but choosing the events you Tweet strategically can help position you as a source for news and real-time ideas from a specific type of event. An example of this can be seen here: It’s from a talk I attended on Election Day 2012 at the Shorenstein Center featuring Journalist Mark McKinnon that was collected into a Storify. I Tweeted this using Tweetcaster, which allowed me to spread my Tweets out beyond Twitter users to Facebook and other social networking sites. In the case of the Shorenstein talk, using Tweetcaster encouraged at least one other discussion by a group of my friends on Facebook, who would not otherwise have benefited from McKinnon’s talk.

A word of caution about Tweeting events: you don’t want to miss the opportunity to be present because you’ve got your head stuck in Twitter the whole time. To avoid this pitfall, you need to practice, and learn to think without thinking about what you are putting out for people to see. The activity reminds me of taking notes in a class. Your main focus should be on the speaker while you note interesting points or questions that pop up in the briefest way possible.

One advantage you have when Tweeting events is that others will be Tweeting, too, and often fill in the blanks you left, or reinforce thoughts you had. Gathering Tweets from an event into Storify takes advantage of this, and is another way you can add value and make the most of your Tweeting.

Hopefully, other Tweeters will fill in the blanks, but either way, your goal is to encourage further thought and talk on an issue.

In the second case, scheduling Tweets, you have the opportunity to put ideas out daily. With so much information and many people vying for attention, having your face show up regularly on your followers’ Twitter feeds is a great way to demonstrate your commitment and to keep yourself in the mix. To work well, you’ll want to consider the mix of Tweets you send, including re-Tweets of materials you found worthwhile.

Finally, with random Tweets, you’ve also got a chance to start and continue discourse with your followers and others. Even here though, consider who your followers are and how they might feel about hearing thoughts that don’t match they reasons they decided to follow you in the first place.

Overall, you’ll want to treat Twitter as you would any other communications tool. That means thinking ahead about why you’re using it, who you are trying to reach, and how the tool can help you accomplish your goals.



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Integrated Communications Planning: Four Steps to Success

Four Steps to an Integrated Communications Plan by Susan Sirois EllisFour (Sort of) Easy Steps to an Integrated Communication Plan

Lots of people ask me how you go about making an integrated communications plan. This overview breaks it down to four steps. Don’t be misled though, making and maintaining a plan takes time if you want to do it right. It can save you lots of time on the backend though, and make your communications efforts much more effective.

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Should I Be on Facebook?

This is a reprint of a post I did in 2009 when Jenny Spadafora worked for Intuit. I liked her presentation and still do. Also, while three years ago is ancient history in digital terms, there are still those struggling with some very basic questions…which is to be expected. There are a lot of us after all, and communications is not everyone’s first priority (…hard for me to imagine, of course…but…) Even if you are media savvy, consider reading on. Sometimes getting back to basics is what you need when you’re feeling stuck or need to be reminded how you got to where you are in the first place… No matter who you are or why you’re here, the important thing is to remember is that you’ve got a story to tell…about your work

Jenny Spadafora is a cool human being.  She takes pictures, writes, thinks a whole bunch…I mean even her job is cool…her title is Web Evangelist at Intuit Software.  I met Jenny a couple of months ago at a networking meeting…(where else?!)  Being a web evangelist, she is all about networking…especially online networking through all those social media sites.

Jenny wrote a slide presentation called, “Should I be on Facebook?”  There’s a link to it here…

Not sure whether you want a Facebook presence? Think again…

.  It’s worth watching because it is so so simple and so personal and it really gives you a sense of why you probably do want to consider Facebook, or if not Facebook, then one of the many other social networking sites out there.  Lots of people feel that Facebook in particular is not a place where they want to be.  They feel it is risky, will give people too much access to their personal stuff, and might work against them in business.  Like Jenny, I feel Facebook, and all other social networking tools, are really what you make of them.  She talks about a continuum that involves the private, personal, work and public realms.  If you think about your presence in these ways, Jenny says you can choose how, whether, and where you see certain social networking tools fitting in your life.

So, why would you want to fit it in?  Well, Jenny points out that social networking online is actually good for introverts.  It can put you on a level playing field with others in your office, too, even if you work in a remote location.  I would go a bit further.  I think Facebook and all social networking is important, because in a way, it helps you compress time.  Consider all you have to do in a day.  It is really hard to keep up.  That bit Jenny says about helping to put you on a level playing field with others even if you don’t show up in the office…that works in lots of different ways.  Suppose for example you don’t have an office you go to, but are a freelance writer like me, or a consultant or contract worker.  Part of my job is really letting people know I exist, working to keep them aware of me, but also the things I do.  I suppose that’s always helpful whether you are inside a company or out.  You want people…busy people…to know you exist, that you are interested in what goes on, and that you are part of the conversation.  Social networking sites help keep your face in front of people, even if you never set foot in their physical space.

What conversation you ask?  Well, it doesn’t matter.  That’s where your private, personal, work, and public realms come into play.  If your interest is photography (like Jenny), then you get involved in websites and blogs that talk photography…you read, you learn, and you comment as you are comfortable.  If you don’t have time to devote to doing that, then maybe being part of that conversation is not something you really care about.  Maybe what matters to you is smart growth, or town politics, or schooling your children.  Whatever it is, there are social networking sites and groups and connections that will put you in touch with people who have similar interests but maybe very different thoughts.  Sharing thoughts is what it is all about.  Even if you don’t feel comfortable adding your ideas to the mix, you can learn a lot.  Still, getting involved is best because it does help you form connections and have a presence that matters…that shows you matter.

No time you say?  Well, Jenny addresses that, too.  She has a routine she follows everyday that takes her to each of the sites where she participates.  In her case, social networking is a specialty and so something she has to do as part of her job. She budgets time for visiting her sites and does it first thing every morning. But even if you’re not Jenny and consider social networking a luxury or leisure-time activity, think again.  A social networking habit of even 15 minutes a day can allow you to go to a site or two, scan updates and inputs, and make your presence known somehow.  This is where I think Facebook is great because even clicking a “like” icon shows you’re noticing what goes on…you are there and like so much of life, it is showing up that matters most.  Depending on the site you choose and how you set things up, you can have access to industry experts, thoughtleaders, customers, and constituents.  And what’s amazing about it, is that they can see you there, too, showing interest and eventually getting in on the conversation in ways that make sense for you.

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Patience Please..We’re Remodeling…

The world moves fast. We try to stay a step ahead… but with election season upon us, freelance gigs, a tough economy, and daily changes in technology, education and industry sometimes we need a few minutes to take a breath.

Consider this our breathing time…

…and don’t give up on us. You should begin to see changes here within a few days…and then, continuously after that. Check back regularly to see how we evolve… Check our blog (by week’s end) to know why and how we approached our new look and feel.

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