Can’t Wait until November 7th

You know its bad when a marketer and Political Science major (college) – me- is completely fed up with the election. I can not wait until Wednesday. It’s not even noon and I’ve had three political calls, one person at the door and 6 mailers from political parties. I can’t even watch TV, because almost every commercial is political in nature. The only reason I’m not getting emails or social media messages is because I’ve either spammed them or blocked them.

Keep in mind, I love marketing.  I live and breathe it.  But, we (U.S. businesses) have standards.  We have opt-out lists, we remove people from call lists, we stop mailing people if they request it.  Our goal is to inspire and motivate consumers to do something-buy, sign up, attend, etc.  All of these things do not seem to apply for political advertising.  How did we let that happen?

Honestly, whatever side you may be on, after what’s gone on over the last year, can you really say you are proud of our current electoral process? Obama has spent $347 million dollars in advertising, 85% of it on negative ads. Romney has spent $386 million dollars on ads, 91% of them negative. For those counting, that’s $733 million dollars. Plus, the Super PAC’s, which estimates say put this over a billion dollars. Gone, poof, up in smoke, since that money mostly went for air time on TV, radio, and web. Not one job created. No sales tax paid. Sometimes its hard to imagine how much money that is. Here’s some other things that much money could buy:

1) Instagram

2) The entire New York Times, says Reuters’ Jack Shafer

3) 800 of AOL’s Microsoft’s patents

4) The cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease

5) 68 Lebron Jameses , 40 Kobe Bryants, and 83 Albert Pujolses

6) 25.6 million containers of Luxury Ramen Noodles

7) 60,900 Ten Ounce Gold Bar Door Stops

8) 1,562 Castawayesque 20 Acre Polynesian Islands

9) A 50% stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers

10) 125 million partridges in a pear tree

Is Facebook advertising prejudiced against agencies?

Recently Facebook starting a new campaign to encourage small businesses to get more fans on their page with “$50 in Free Advertising from Facebook Small Business Boost”.  Emails were sent out and if you registered in the program, and were accepted, you could receive the $50.  To redeem, they stated, “Click on “Claim Your $50 now to redeem your free $50. After you’ve created an ad, we’ll automatically apply it to your account”.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, not for everyone.  Although some of our clients were accepted into the program, when we tried to apply the promotion to their ad costs, we were declined.  Why?  Because it was another admin on the page they were targeting.  So, although its the same business, same page, they are discriminating the admins.  Not cool!

Here’s a look into how Facebook deals with this kind of issue.  Phone calls, nope.  Just an email that they can easily dismiss.  What really makes me mad, is the only reason many of our clients are advertising on Facebook, is because of our recommendations and management.

Step 1. Use the “Contact Us” form to contact the Facebook Global Marketing Solutions Team.

Subject: Facebook Ads & Sponsored Stories: Help and Tips

What types of questions related to your Ads or Sponsored Stories can we help you with?: Costs and Payment Please select one: I have a question not listed above Please describe your question or issue with as much detail as possible: We manage ads for various clients. Recently you sent out emails for $50 credits. Our clients have taken you up on this and are asking us to apply the credit to their invoices. However, it looks like it only took the first $50 credit for the http://www.facebook.com/client1 page. We have created new ads for these other pages, and are just looking to apply their credit: http://www.facebook.com/client2  and http://www.facebook.com/client3. Your help is appreciated.

Step 2. Receive an email directing us to a different form:

From: sales-support+bgttggg.aea5nuq4usfa4@support.facebook.com [mailto:sales-support+bgttggg.aea5nuq4usfa4@support.facebook.com]

Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 4:05 PM
Subject: Re: Facebook Ads & Sponsored Stories: Help and Tips

Hi Sam,

Thanks for reaching out to us regarding your client’s coupon situation. In order to provide you the best support possible, please submit your information at your earliest convenience through the form below:

http://www.facebook.com/help/contact_us.php?id=144829575575175

We appreciate your patience in taking this extra step. After submitting this form, a Facebook Payments Specialist will respond shortly. You will hear from us within 24 hours during the business week but may experience a longer wait over the weekend.

Thank you again for your time!

Best,

Ashley, Facebook Ads Specialist, Facebook

Step 3. Complete the form and wait for a response.

Step 4. Here’s the response:

From: payments-support+mgivrqn.aea5k7cecbirs@support.facebook.com [mailto:payments-support+mgivrqn.aea5k7cecbirs@support.facebook.com]

Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 6:09 PM
Subject: Re: Advertising Coupon Inquiry – I am unable to add a coupon to my account

Hi Sam,

Thank you for your email.

The recent $50 credit is for a program called the Small Business Boost. The goal of this promotion is to encourage small business owners to use Facebook Ads for their business. In keeping with this goal, only one page per user is eligible to enter the promotion.

Unfortunately we are not able to activate multiple coupons for the same promotion on one advertising account. If your clients each received coupons via email for their individual registration, they are encouraged to activate these coupons on their own accounts. We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,

Cameron, Payment Operations, Facebook

Step 5: When I am out of options, the only thing left is to go public. So, we notified the clients and emailed back Cameron.  I actually don’t expect a response.  Facebook is too big and although they say they want to help small businesses, I guess it must be OTHER small businesses.

Something else I found interesting.  For the first time in two years of advertising on Facebook, this morning, one of our ads was “Disapproved” (although its been running for months without an issue).  Coincidence or a slap on the hand for trying to talk back to Facebook?

From: nxtConcepts Support

Sent: Thursday, January 26, 2012 9:09 AM

To: ‘The Facebook Team’

Cc: ‘client 1 and client 2

Subject: RE: Advertising Coupon Inquiry – I am unable to add a coupon to my account

Hello Cameron,

First, thanks for responding. Second, you wrote, ” The goal of this promotion is to encourage small business owners to use Facebook Ads for their business”, that’s exactly what we are doing. These are seasonal businesses that are planning on stopping advertising. This incentive gives them one other reason to continue.

Third, where does it state explicitly that a certain login must only use the promotion? As far as I can see and tell, it has to do with the page itself. That’s exactly what we are trying to do.

I am copying these clients to make sure they are aware that it is YOUR policy and YOUR not honoring the promotion that is the issue. We have worked with Facebook for quite a while, and although we do not have clients that you consider “prime” with ads over $100,000 a month, we believe every advertiser and campaign is important. We just wish you did too.

I’ll make sure that every one of my over 11,000 Twitter followers and Facebook friends and fans are aware of this too.

Samantha Rufo

President, nxtConcepts

Have you had a similar issue?  I’d love to hear about it.

Who Benefits from Daily Deals Sites?

Groupon, Living Social, Eversave, Facebook, Amazon, these sites selling deeply discounted deals are everywhere.  And, views about their use and value are also across the board.  Especially, for business owners.

Personally, I love a deal.  It means I have more money to spend on something else or save it for later.  As a business owner, I’m not a fan.  Let’s be realistic, frequent discounts or deals can devalue your product or service.  Eventually, no one wants to pay full price and it becomes harder and harder to cover costs without reducing the quality of the service.

So, how did we get here?

When this new concept of pre-paying deeply discounted deals came out, the attraction for the consumer was that they “would never pay full price again”. Of course at the same time, the merchants were being told, “you’ll get new customers who will stick around and pay full price”.  Anyone else see the issue?

There are numerous success stories.  But, lately it seems there are far more complaints from businesses that find these deal seekers are harder to please and more critical on the social networks.  Which leads me to ask the question, are these deals worth it for businesses?

Geek Humor

I needed a humor break today. So, I am going to share a few techie/web thoughts that made me laugh.

IMPORTANT: This blog post may contain information that is confidential privileged or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons, no sense of humor or irrational beliefs. No animals were harmed in the creation of this blog post, although the mutt next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you.

Marketer to coder: “You start coding. I’ll go find out what they want.”

“My software never has bugs. It just develops random features.”

“No trees were killed in the creation of this message. However, many electrons were terrible inconvenienced.”

Software isn’t released, it’s allowed to escape.

Technical support is how much a minute? Only one other industry charges per minute to talk to you, and at least you get some degree of pleasure out of that!

Three things are certain: Death, taxes, and lost data. Guess which has occurred…

“If things get any worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping me.”

“I do know everything, just not all at once. It’s a virtual memory problem.”

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to use the Web and he won’t bother you for weeks.

Don’t make me use uppercase…

The truth is out there? Does anyone know the URL?

Have any more to add?

Facebook Pages are Changing Again – Here’s What’s New

It’s been talked about for a long time and if you manage a Facebook business page, I’m sure you’ve complained about all the work-around’s.  That’s going to become a thing of the past with the new Facebook business page layout.  And, whether you want to change, you have no choice, all business pages on Facebook will appear in the new layout beginning March 2011.

Summary: Using the new business Facebook page will enable you to do almost everything you can with your personal profile. Note-In order to go back to editing your personal profile, you will need to revert back to “Use Facebook as “personal profile name”.  Biggest loss is the tabs across the top of the page.

Should you upgrade now or wait. I recommend updating now. That way you can control the features you want and don’t want.

What’s New?

1. How you Showcase Your Latest Photos

* The most recent photos that you post to your page Wall or photos that you tag your Page in will appear at the top. This area will not include any photos posted by your fans.

* There’s not too much functionality associated with it, but at least you can hide a photo (if you don;t want it to be featured), by rolling over it and clicking X.

2. Page Design.

The tabs are gone and the navigation links are now on the left, just like on people’s profiles.

3. Show the Top Posts on Your Wall

* You now have two Wall filters. You can show posts by your page and top posts from Everyone, a new way for people to see the most interesting stories first. As an admin, you’ll have additional filters for viewing posts on your page.

* To set a default filter for your Wall, go to Edit Page.

4. Use Facebook as Your Page

You can get notifications about activity on your page, see stories from the pages you like in your news feed, and interact with other pages as your page.

-You now have the flexibility to interact with the other areas of Facebook as a page (instead of using your personal profile).

-Get notifications when fans interact with your page or posts

-See activity from the pages you like in your news feed

-Like other pages and feature them on your page

-Make comments as your page on other pages

* To try this new feature, go to your Account page and select Use Facebook as Page. You can go back to use Facebook as yourself anytime – just click Account and select your name.

5. New settings

* You can set defaults for your email notifications and how you post to your page – as yourself or your page. You can also select which featured pages appear in the left column.

* To manage your settings for email and posting preferences, go to Edit Page and Your Settings. To select which pages appear in Likes, go to Edit Page and Featured.

Here’s some links to more information on Facebook page changes:

Introducing iframe Tabs for Pages http://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/462

An upgrade for Pages: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150090729064822

So, what do you think?  Has Facebook done enough to make Facebook page’s more admin and user friendly?  Are there other features you would like to see?

New Year–Time for your Website Annual Review

Annual Website Review Checklist 

Many websites grow almost as large as a house.  Throughout the year it seems to get new pages, links, images and user generated content.  That’s why I recommend performing an annual review of your website. To help get you started and get your site in shape for the New Year, here is an Annual Website Review Checklist.

1. Review Your Domain Name Record

Don’t let outdated information cause you to miss renewals and other important notices. Verify that the contact names and addresses on your domain record are correct once a year. Use these resources to review your domain record now:

  • InterNIC[http://www.internic.net/whois.html]
  • VeriSign[http://www.networksolutions.com/en_US/whois/]

2. Check Website Email Addresses

Added new staff?  Replaced some others?  You could have invalid email addresses on your site. Make a list of all the email addresses on your site and confirm that they’re still active.

3. Update Your Confirmation and Automated Messages

If the automated messages from your registration, request, order and other forms have not been updated in the last year, it’s time to review them. These messages can be powerful customer relations tools, but only if they’re meeting your customers’ needs. Make sure your automated messages are serving your customers—not spamming them.

4. Test Your Forms

In conjunction with updating your automated messages, you should test your forms to make sure that they’re still functioning correctly—and to review how easy they are to use. Simply submit each as if you were a visitor on your site. Be sure to review your error messages as part of this process. You should test your forms often and immediately look into any sudden drops in the number of submissions.

5. Validate Your Links

Do your part to stop link rot, while improving your site, by making time to check your internal and external site links—especially if you’ve neglected this task due to more pressing demands. Here are a couple of basic tools that can help:

6. Check Your Site’s Search Feature

Like most of the items on this list, checking your site’s search feature should be done more than once a year. But we know it’s not always possible to review all aspects of your site on an ongoing basis. That’s why it’s important to make sure your search is functioning effectively and that outdated content isn’t showing up as part of your annual review.

If you don’t have a search feature on your site, now’s a good time to see if adding one would enhance your site’s usability.

7. Check Your File Sizes and Download Times

If a lot of updates and additions have been made to your site, it might be time to check your site’s performance. It’s not unusual for page and image files to slowly creep up in size with each successive update. Re-optimizing your files so your pages load faster will make for a better user experience.

8. Review Your Stylesheets, Standards, Accessibility and Compatibility

If you want to save some serious time for your visitors—and for yourself during site maintenance—the annual review is the perfect time to revisit or set site standards covering CSS, Web Standards, Accessibility and Browser Compatibility.

To help you wrestle with the issues surrounding evolving your site to new standards, we offer these articles and resources:

Web Standards

Cascading Stylesheets (CSS):

  • CSS Work from meryerweb.com[http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/]

Browser Stats:

9. Update Your Time References and Copyright

About Us and other background information on your site may contain specific time references such as “for five years”. Your site may also include a historical timeline or list of accomplishments that should be updated at the start of the year.

In addition, your copyright should be updated when your content is updated. During your annual review, check to make sure this task hasn’t been overlooked. Although you can simply use the date that the content was first created, it’s a good idea for your copyright to reflect when content was created and when it was modified. This is not only to protect your work, but also to avoid having visitors think that your content is out of date. Below are some examples of the syntax:

Examples:

  • Content created in 2009:
    Copyright (c) 2009 nxtConcepts, Ltd.
  • Content created in 2007 and updated in 2011:
    Copyright (c) 2007, 2011 nxtConcepts, Ltd.
  • Content created in 2007 and updated in 2009 and 2011:
    Copyright (c) 2007-2011 nxtConcepts, Ltd.

Learn More About Copyrights:

10. Check Your Search Engine Visibility

Search engines are one of the most important and cost-effective sources for attracting targeted traffic and increasing brand awareness for many sites. At the same time, many changes have taken place in how search engines return results and display paid (sponsored) listings. As a result, I check your site’s visibility on the top search engines by searching for your company name, products and other appropriate keyword phrases.

If your site isn’t coming up near the top of the results for these terms, you should look into the benefits of marketing your site through search engine optimization and paid placement:

Social Media Community Building

What is social media community building? It’s where people come together because of a ‘bigger’ idea. They have a common association or feeling that’s related to a person, product, organization, or event.

For me, creating a community online for a business is really the same as throwing a party offline.  You invite people to an experience and hope to keep them entertained with clear expectations and outcomes.  That way they can choose to spend time where they feel they can make a difference.  The problems arise when companies let their true goal (making money) become the main focus in social media.

The line between marketing and selling in social media is where many people and organizations get stuck.  Many people are ok to be marketed to in social media.  It’s when they are blatently sold to, they leave.  So, where’s the line?  People aren’t going to interact with you via social media so you can throw sales messages at them.   And, they aren’t going to come together and form communities so you can promote your product and grow your business.  Once you recognize that, then you can start using social media in the same way that your customers are, and for the same reasons.

There are three steps to building a community: exposure, awareness, motivation.

1. Exposure-Size matters.

Having influential people in your audience is important.  Audience size and influence does matter. You need to have both engaged followers, and a large number of followers.  Otherwise, your message will just not be heard.

2. Awareness-big and loud still works.  Personalize.

There’s almost an unlimited amount of options and noise in social media.  So, to get through, big ads, viral campaigns, videos, and exposure still work to get attention – to a point. Eventually, being the center of attention at the party gets old.   That’s where personalization becomes critical.  Once you get someone’s attention, you need to talk to them. Ever heard your name over the top of the noise in a crowded party? That’s selective attention; utilize it in your marketing.

3. Motivation-why do people share?  To make them look good of course!  So, help make your audience look cool.

Nobody likes to talk to the guy at the party who only talks about himself. Don’t be that guy on social media.  Your goal should be to motivate people to share stories and experiences.  Preferably positive one’s about your brand.  Some ways to do that: be relevant-focus on topics that your community will find interesting; use tools to increase the reach of your community such as sharing links, calls to action, and networking tools; provide something of value such as how-to/instructional information, warnings and alerts, even humor.  Be original but familiar.

One online community that has been very successful is Nike’s Nike+ running community. It meets every need of the consumer: ease of logging workouts, running accountability and connecting with others who have running in common.   It also has a coolness factor that lends to the passion the runners have for the sport.

Whether you have a social media community already or are just starting out building one.  The main thing to keep in mind is to be a good host.  Make sure to devote enough time and energy into encouraging involvement, responding to member’s comments and questions and making sure enough solid content continues to be published to give members a reason to come back.

When Marketing and Kitchens Collide – Red Bull Cola and Wiiings

Sometimes work and play do go together.  After attending the Red Bull Flugtag in St. Paul, MN, I had a mooking (marketing & cooking) moment.  Why not combine some of the Red Bull Cola with chicken wings.  Red Bull does say their products gives you wiiings, right?  I thought I’d put it to the test!  I’m happy to report it was a resounding success.

Want to try it yourself?  Here’s my recipe:

Red Bull Cola Glazed Wiiings Recipe

Servings: 4 as appetizer Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes

I had some chicken wings and some Red Bull Cola.  Seemed like the perfect time to out the slogan “gives you wiiings”.  If you really want your taste buds to take flight, add some thinly sliced jalapenos too.

Ingredients:

1 cup Red Bull Cola
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 jalapeno, finely minced (discard the seeds)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 pounds chicken wings
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Make the glaze
In a small sauce pan, bring the Red Bull Cola, lime juice, brown sugar and the minced jalapeno to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is syrupy, about 30 minutes; keep warm over low heat.

Prepare the wings
Cut off the wing tip and separate the wings at the joint. Place the wing pieces in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour about half the glaze over the wings and toss to coat Keep the remaining sauce warm over low heat.

Bake the wings
Position an oven rack 4 inches below the broiler element in the oven. Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the glazed wings on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes per side, brushing twice on each side with the reserved glaze. Transfer to a platter.

Viral Marketing-The next strain of marketing

Originally written and published for Ski Area Management in May 2006.  It’s an oldy but goody!

There’s a secret new marketing strategy circulating through the ski industry. It’s basically free, almost always entertaining, and rarely involves a visit to the doctor.

In the old days, marketing was considered a function of your organization, and managing your message was an art. You used “visible” methods, such as printed materials, press releases and ads, TV, and radio spots to build brand awareness and generate sales leads. It worked, but the majority of these tools were expensive and inefficient. As the old adage went, “50 percent of marketing dollars are wasted, we just don’t know which half.”

That’s so last century. Today, marketing has become more personalized. It’s become more of an interactive experience. Instead of being an “art” and a function of your business it’s now an “act” of an organization, one that relies on “invisible” science and technology. We still use technology to generate leads, but also to talk directly with consumers. This is why “viral marketing” is rapidly replacing traditional marketing methods and has become the latest strain of marketing.

Traditional Visible Marketing

“What’s Out”

Invisible Viral Marketing

“What’s In”

Print Collateral Website
Print Ads Banner Ads
Direct Mail Email Marketing
Mail in Sweepstakes Online Contest/games
Professional photography Individual Camera phones
TV ads Video-on-demand
Press release Gossip & rumor mill creation
Emails Instant Message/RSS Feeds
Mailed letter Mobile text message marketing
In-house sales manager Affiliate marketing
Customer comment cards Blogs
Broadcast ski reporting (Snocountry.com) Desktop ski reporting software (Snowmate)

Driven by consumers, viral marketing is rapidly gaining momentum and acceptance in the mainstream business world. A handful of early adopter ski areas are realizing the power the Web has to target the right consumers with the right message and to deliver the message inexpensively. These resorts have come to understand that their guests want three things: segmentation (talk to my group), personalization (in a way that I understand), and conversation (let me have a say). And they are shifting some marketing dollars into online efforts, including viral marketing.

What is viral marketing?

Have you ever visited a website and found an article, a coupon, a special offer, or something else that impressed you so much that you immediately sent an email to a friend about it? If you have, you’ve experienced “viral marketing.”

Viral marketing is a highly effective way to “bug your customers” by marketing your products or services using web-based technology. It is enticing because of the ease of execution, relative low-cost (compared to direct mail), good targeting, and the high and rapid response rate.

The term viral marketing was originally coined by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail’s email practice of adding advertising for themselves to outgoing mail from their users. The strategy was simple. On the bottom of each and every Hotmail email was the phrase, “Get your free private email at www.hotmail.com.” According to Jurvetson, this simple sentence helped to make Hotmail the largest email provider in India without spending a dime.

Viral marketing campaigns are used to generate awareness or to stimulate specific action. By harnessing the network effect of the Internet, viral marketing can reach large numbers of people rapidly, like a bug or flu virus in humans. Instead of propagating itself by human contact, it does so by computer contact (in a good way). One minute no one’s heard of a product or service like Hotmail; next minute, it’s everywhere.

Viral marketing is effective because it capitalizes on referrals from an unbiased and trusted third party—your consumer. Let just one of your customers catch your “marketing bug,” and they will happily “sneeze it” to everyone they know. Viral marketing campaigns can have a long life expectancy and are usually much more cost effective than other marketing methods, since your “sneezers” take it upon themselves to spread your message for free—more precisely, as the by-product of your customers’ normal online activity.

Building the Bug

A viral marketing campaign should focus on something you do, NOT on who you are. A viral campaign is something that is so cool, so exciting, or so creative that it gets people very excited; they can’t wait to share it with others. Often the ultimate goal of viral marketing campaigns (and the proof of their success) is to generate media coverage worth many times more than your entire advertising budget.

“Bob,” an animated character created by Elk Mountain Ski Resort in Pennsylvania, is a great example of a concept that “went viral” due to its broad appeal and loyal following.  “Bob” is everybody’s Elk insider-buddy who gives them the scoop on what’s happening. He came to life on the web in January 2006. According to general manager Gregg Confer, “Bob is just an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job… especially for an animated character.” Customers can’t get enough of Bob, so he will soon be appearing in the resort’s coloring books, new clothing line, and on employee uniforms.

The “Bob” concept was developed to appeal to consumers in a fresh and entertaining way that differentiated Elk from its competition. For about $3,000 in development and implementation costs, “Bob” helped drive the resort website visits up 92 percent over a three-month time span during the 2005-06 season. To see how cool Bob is, go to www.elkskier.com.

Making the bug cool

Since viral marketing is relatively new, most organizations are confused about what viral campaigns are and how they work. The method is still evolving. However, there are three basic types of viral marketing: word-of-mouth, pass-it-on, and virtual tools.

1. Word of mouth involves integrated web technology that encourages you to  “Tell a Friend,” “Send this coupon to a friend,” or “Recommend this website to a friend.”

Killington has done a great job of word of mouth viral marketing with their weekly email newsletter “The Drift.” Unlike traditional (and boring) newsletters, this one is off-beat, with a personal writing style that caters to Killington insiders. Besides entertaining content, there’s a contest in every issue. Named “Gimme, Gimme,” the questions keep readers coming back for more. One “Gimme, Gimme” question asked, “If you weren’t planning to go skiing or riding on a given weekend, what could a resort do for you to get you motivated (hint, hint, wink, wink, and a nudge)? Free tickets and a foot of snow are not acceptable answers only because I can control neither.” Respondents could win two 2-Day lift tickets valid for the rest of the season.

Nick Polumbus, Killington’s marketing brand manager (and the personality behind “Drift”), was not able to share the area’s in-house subscribers numbers, but admitted that “our email subscriber list has stayed pretty consistent for the past 3-4 years. We’ve worked hard to deliver content, giveaways, and cool new things such as podcasting to keep our subscribers reading and hopefully coming to Killington.” He admitted that The Drift receives an average of 600-900 email responses to every “Gimme, Gimme” contest. Considering the only cost involved is a bit of creativity, that’s viral! To get the drift of The Drift, go to http://www.killington.com.

2. Pass-It-On is the ultimate viral technique. Ever pass on a joke or political cartoon? Sure, you and everyone else. A January 2006 study by Sharpe Partners revealed that 9 out of 10 adult Internet users in America share content with others via email.

Pass-it-on viral marketing relies on social networking, where the receiver feels compelled to “pass on” and share an article, cool tool, funny video, etc through email to a friend, family member, or associate. Echo Mountain, Colorado, has exploited this in a most unique way. To spread word of the all-park area’s impending opening last March, the resort tapped into the social networking power of snowboarders and freestyle skiers through Myspace.com. For those who have somehow escaped news of this infamous and wildly popular social networking website, it offers a plethora of instant communication (i.e., viral marketing) tools, including music & photo sharing, blog creation, anonymous matchmaking (match people of similar interests), community group space, and an internal email system to send messages to other MySpace.com friends. MySpace.com has recently been criticized for allowing members to post indecent pictures and use high levels of profanity, and for some advertising that violates good taste, none of which deters its fans. According to Alexa’s web report in March 2006, MySpace is the world’s fifth-most popular English-language website.

According to Eric Pettit, marketing director for Echo Mountain, “we chose to build a page on Myspace.com after listening to recommendations from our interns, who are closest in age to our target market. It made sense for us to go where there’s already a [freestyle skier and snowboard] community interacting online. The fact that it’s free didn’t hurt, either.” As for the controversy that surrounds Myspace, Eric said, “People are going to talk to their buds online. We can either join in and help lead the conversation or let it go on without us. We just try to watch what WE say.”

Their viral thinking has paid off. Just a few weeks after creating their page on Myspace.com they had already gathered hundreds of “friends,” comments and pictures. The best part? Their network of sneezers continues to grow, all without spending one single penny. You can see it online at www.myspace.com/echomtnpark.

3. Virtual tools are usually product- or service-based. A viral tool is used online and embedded with a marketing message, like Hotmail’s free emails.

In January of 2004, Vail launched “Snowmate,” a downloadable computer program that website visitors and resort guests could leave on their desktop to get up-to-the-minute information on weather, snow conditions, video clips, and travel offers. Snowmate lets users seek information in a fun, unique, and playful way. It includes “Trevvor,” an animated cartoon character, and animations such as piles of snow on the computer screen when it was snowing at Vail. Vail included “tell-a-friend” tools in the program that made it easy for users to email others favorite images or deals.

Although this type of viral tool is more expensive than most, it is still relatively cheap by traditional standards, and it produced significant returns. According to Kam Rope, director of online marketing and sales for Vail Resorts, there were 55,000 downloads in the first five months, and more than $200,000 in measurable revenue from click-throughs (users who used their mouse to click on a link in the program to visit a website or get additional information). The 2006-07 season will see the third generation of the application, with new elements to make the viral tool more compelling for the user and more rewarding for Vail Resorts.

Spreading the Bug

Coming up with a cool concept that people will embrace and share with others is not easy. But if you can get your “sneezers” involved in building the concepts, they will be more likely to spread your bug. That’s just what Snow Trails Winter Resort in Ohio did this past season.

The Snow Trails “Wanted Video Contest” focused on creating a place where terrain park enthusiasts could show off their best video tricks to all their friends. Snow Trails created a micro-site on their website that allowed registered contestants to upload personal video for “fame and prizes”. Here’s the viral part: to win fame and prizes, the contestants had to engage their network of friends to visit snowtrails.com and vote for their videos. By integrating “tell a friend” and “voting system” software into the micro-site, it was fun and easy for contestants to “spread the word” about their video—and the Snow Trails brand as well.

Snow Trails marketing manager Nate Wolleson says, “For less than $1,000 we were able to excite a target market that is normally very hard to reach, and to generate ten times our investment in sponsor money and prizes. The Wanted Video Contest not only generated a 12 percent increase in visitors on snowtrails.com during the campaign but also spiked an 18 percent jump in people that spent two or more minutes on the site. And, as you know, the longer they hang around, the longer they think about Snow Trails.”

How to Keep from Getting Sick

One of the most exciting things about viral marketing is the fact that anyone can do it. No matter if you are a 25,000 skier-visit area or a 250,000 skier-visit resort, the only thing you need (besides an open mind) is to create something that people WANT to share with others.

Remember that. Many marketers will be tempted to quickly throw together a campaign while viral marketing is still relatively new. Unfortunately, most will fail for one simple reason: lameness. To become viral, the email, website, application, or video being shared must be unique, informative and/or entertaining, or create a definite value by solving a problem. If it doesn’t appear to originate from a credible entity (i.e., a relevant organization or individual to the sneezer), it can be seen as blatant advertising and immediately discredited. Finally, if the leave-behind message doesn’t resonate with the target/intended audience, or provide a meaningful call to action, it’s a waste of time and money.

Spreading your own Bug

So don’t be lame! Inoculate yourself against failure—follow the top 10 best practices of the six areas mentioned above.

Ski Resort Viral Marketing Best Practices:

1. Know your audience

Start with something relevant to your sneezers to get their attention and encourage them to act. Understanding and delivering what your sneezers want is the key to “going viral.” This includes going to where they are (Echo Mountain and Myspace.com) and speaking their language (Killington’s The Drift).

2. Remember who you are

The tone and personality of your viral campaign will either build long-term relationships or destroy them. A fun and friendly viral campaign (Elk Mountain’s “Bob”) will reinforce how your customers see your resort. A borrowed campaign that is not aligned with your overall marketing objectives or your personality will almost always backfire.

3. Keep it short and sweet (K.I.S.S.)

Always keep your content brief and relevant. You have 7 seconds to make an impression that captures the reader’s attention. Use bullet points or short paragraphs to make information and sentences easy to absorb.

4. Layout and design

Appearance and style can play a major role in making your viral campaign a success. Build your viral tool around the niche group you are trying to attract. Keep in mind that not everyone has broadband. Readability and quick on-screen reading should be number-one priorities. For those that do have broadband and are web savvy, exploit it (think Snow Trails, Wanted Video Contest).

5. Covertly embed promotional concepts into your viral tools.

Encourage people to visit your website more often by offering the things that appeal to them the most, such as coupons, e-specials, contests, and fresh content (Vail’s SnowMate).

6. Be unique.

Do things that are unique and grab attention. Be subtle, not forceful.

7. Provide a call to action.

Tell people what you want them to do. Make it simple. Make it intuitive. Make it easy. Vail encourages visitors to download the application and start having fun.

8. Offer an incentive.

Greed is the most common motivator. Use it to encourage your sneezers to act on your behalf: “Tell a friend and be included in a drawing for …” Then, leverage, leverage, leverage! “Tell five friends and get a free …” Snow Trails’ video contest compelled contestants to get their friends to visit the snowtrails.com website to vote.

9.  Trust no one…

…because no one trusts you or what you will do. Post your privacy policy. Highlight opt-out options. Most people won’t consider giving out an email unless they know what you plan to do with it and can remove themselves if they so choose. Killington includes contact and subscription information at the bottom of every email.

10. Be prepared for a big response.

Viral tactics are designed to grow exponentially and are uncontrollable. You tell two friends, then they tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on. Often, these hordes will jam your web site, registering, downloading a large file, requesting a freebie, or buying something. If the campaign is strong enough, you might see a 10- or 100-fold increase in traffic within a day. Make sure whatever technology you use can handle the spike. There’s nothing worse than offering something you can’t deliver on.

15 Practical Tips for Marketing a Business Blog

Just because you build a blog and write good content, doesn’t mean it will become an overnight success.  Like anything worth doing, blogs also need some nurturing and support.  After working with a number of blogs (personal, corporate, and for clients) I’ve assembled a list of blog marketing and optimization tips:

  1. Setup a Google account for Sitemap and statistics for tracking – Google Analytics.
  2. Identify authoritative blogs, web sites and hubs for outbound resource links and blogroll.
  3. Submit RSS feed and Blog URL to prominent RSS and Blog directories / search engines.
  4. Engage in an ongoing link building campaign.
  5. If podcast or video content are available, submit to Podcast and Vlog directories.
  6. Optimize and distribute a press release announcing blog.
  7. Request feedback or reviews of your blog in relevant forums, discussion threads. If you have a resourceful post that will help others, point to it.
  8. Research and comment on relevant industry related blogs and blogs with significant centers of influence.
  9. Post regularly. If it’s a news oriented blog, 3-5 times per day. If it’s an authoritative blog, 3-5 times per week, but each post must be unique and high value.
  10. Monitor inbound links, traffic, comments and mentions of your blog – Google Alerts, Technorati, Blogpulse, Yahoo News, Ask Blogs and Feeds.
  11. Always respond to comments on your blog and when you detect a mention of your blog on another blog, thank that blogger in the comments of the post.
  12. Make contact with related bloggers on AND offline if possible.  If there are other blogs in your industry, ask around and see if they’d allow you to guest post for them. In return, you’d get a link back to your blog in your profile, or post, on their site.
  13. When making blog posts always cite the source with a link and don’t be afraid to mention popular bloggers by name. Use keywords in the blog post title, in the body of the post and use anchor text when you link to previous posts you’ve made.
  14. Print your blog address everywhere you print your phone number.
  15. Give Away – If it’s a product blog, run a promotion on the blog giving away one of your products. Sometimes the value that can come out of giving something away can be more beneficial than all the items above.

Have a few more?  Please add them below.

President of nxtConcepts, Ltd

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