Welcome to Wally World.

October 4th, 2012

My good friend Amanda recently wrote an article for the local paper about her less than ideal family vacation in Maine this summer. The crux of her painfully funny story is that the beautiful house that she had researched extensively online turned out to be an under-construction duplex shared by the owners complete with teenagers, poorly trained dogs, and paper thin walls. So much for the peaceful family retreat she had looked forward to for months.

Though Amanda tactfully left out the name of the property and the owners, less than truthful marketing is an extremely big risk for property owners to take these days. In this era of social media where many people chronicle their vacations on Facebook and Twitter and post reviews on TripAdvisor, it’s very unlikely that a negative experience will go unshared. It amazes me that the owners of this property would invest time and money into a website and other marketing materials, yet overlook this simple truth that in today’s hyper-connected world, customer experience is what shapes your brand.

Let’s face it, aren’t we all more likely to share a negative experience than we are a positive one? When you’re stewing mad about slow customer service, a rude waitress, or a dismal rental house, it’s human nature to vent that frustration. Only now, instead of venting to a few close friends, you’re venting to a network of hundreds of people. Had Clark Griswold had an iPhone, no doubt he would have been tweeting like mad when he finally arrived at Wally World only to find it closed for three weeks.

On the flip side, every customer is also a potential ambassador for your brand. If I had to choose just one piece of PR advice for everyone, that would be it. If your product or service is exceptional– or at a minimum is exactly what you say it is–your customers will take the seeds of brand identity you plant through your marketing materials and make them grow and flourish. But the reverse is also true. You can spend your life savings on glossy ads and and a flashy website, but if the customer experience falls short of expectations, it’s more than likely that your brand will suffer. PR has always been about word-of-mouth, and that’s more true now than ever before.

Guest Blogging Away…

August 27th, 2012

Really enjoying guest blogging about Peaks N’ Swells family surf camps…here’s one I wrote for my new friend Mara Gorman on her blog “Mother of All Trips” (such a good name!).

The Shoe Cobbler’s Daughter…

August 5th, 2012

Oh my, how I’ve neglected my blog! It’s the case of the shoe cobbler’s daughter who has no shoes. I actually found myself telling a client the other day that the worst thing one can do is start a blog, and then not post for a few weeks. Please don’t even look to see when my last post was! The truth is, I’ve been blogging like crazy…just for other people. I’ve been writing about everything from local education to Costa Rica to Vermont cheese. It seems that the biggest challenge most bloggers have is keeping their content fresh and robust, and most are blessedly relieved to have someone offer relevant and well-written content.

Here’s a link to a guest post I wrote recently for Active Travels that was also picked up by Everett Potter on Costa Rica: http://www.everettpotter.com/2012/06/active-travels-family-surf-camp-costa-rica/

And for Stowe folks concerned about school consolidation, here’s the blog I’ve been keeping as a member of the Regional Education District committee: http://www.lamoillesouthred.org/REDBlog2.html

Surf Camp Lessons II: When NOT Marketing Yourself is the Best PR

April 25th, 2012

We’ve just returned from our second year at Peaks N’ Swells surf camp in Costa Rica, and once again I found a PR lesson among the waves. After our trip last year, I wrote about turning customers into ambassadors– Hillary Harrison and her crew do this brilliantly and by gut-intuition– and here is another example of how they make it happen.

This year, at the beach one day, I looked around and noticed two groups wearing brightly-colored, heavily-branded rashgaurds and realized instantly that these were folks from another surf school. I jokingly thanked Hillary for not making us wear matching outfits and discovered that this was a very intentional decision for her. “I want everyone to have their own experience here,” she said. After that, I started paying more attention. Instead of a van with a huge logo blazoned on the side, we rode around in Hillary’s truck. “We want to avoid that herd mentality,” she said. “You don’t need to arrive at a break and be recognized immediately as a group of beginners.” Anyone who has tried to share a wave with a seasoned local knows the truth in that. And, god knows, I don’t need anything else working against me out there in the water.

True brand ambassadors are the customers who feel passionately about you, not the people who wear your t-shirt to clean the house. By NOT making us into walking advertisements, Hillary enhanced our experience and, therefore, the gushing reviews we give to anyone who will listen.

One of the other guests at camp noted that his favorite moment was riding in the back of Hillary’s truck through Montezuma at dusk after a full day of surfing, his arm flung over the surfboard. He said he felt like he was “part of the place.” Bingo. You can’t manufacture that.

Mismatched and happy at Peaks N' Swells

Timeline for Brands: 10 Tips for Fan Pages

March 5th, 2012

Timeline for Facebook is here, and it has some very cool features for brands. While the way fans interact with brand pages remains to be seen, the new format encourages engagement– not just “likes”– and will allow brands more control over how their story is presented on Facebook. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Visual Appeal – The biggest change with Timeline is the nice big cover image. This is a great branding opportunity and license for creative thinking. Keep in mind that you can NOT include a call to action or “fan-gating” (forcing people to like your page) in your cover photo. Think of this spot as branding opportunity, not an ad. Nike does this beautifully:
  2. Your Story – The new format allow brands to tell their story by highlighting key events throughout history– product launches, events, major announcements,etc. This is really important and should be given some serious time and consideration. Ben & Jerry’s does a nice job with this.
  3. Highlight the Highlights – When you hover over the right corner of a post, you’ll reveal a star and a pencil icon. Use the star to enlarge the post (this is especailly relevant for photos and videos), giving it visual priority for your fans.
  4. Take Out The Trash – Along with the ability to highlight important milestones from the past comes the ability to hide irrelevant posts that serve no other purpose than filling up space. Use the aforementioned pencil icon to get rid of anything that doesn’t support your brand.
  5. Feature Posts – One new feature that I really like is the ability to “pin” a post prominently at the top of the timeline for up to a week. This is great if you have a big announcement or are running a contest. Use the pencil icon to pin a post.
  6. Content is King – This has always been true, but Timeline really emphasizes the point. Fill your page with content-rich material that gives your fans a reason to come back. Videos, photos, recipes, blog posts, and contests, for example, will keep things interesting. I recently read that 96% of fans never come back to your page– give them a reason!
  7. Apps are the new Tabs – The familiar tabs in the left-hand column are replaced by Apps in Timeline. These are located below the cover photo and can link to any pages or applications, such as contests, YouTube, or a contact form. Only 4 will display on your page at a time (the others are revealed when a user clicks on a little down arrow), so choose those 4 top apps wisely. Check out this design on LiveStrong:
  8. Dimensions to Know: The dimensions for the cover photo is 850 x 315. The profile pic (which appears in feeds) is 180 x 180. Apps are 111 x 74 pixels.
  9. Contests – Consider launching your new Timeline page with a contest or other app to pull fans into your story. Red Bull is running a “Timewarp” that encourages fans to dig into their new Timeline and offers prizes and incentives for doing so.
  10. Emphasis on Engagement – The success of a Facebook fan page lies with your engagement numbers, not the number of “likes” you receive. The average engagement rate is 2%, even for major brands, but I’ve seen rates as high as 40-60% (check out Irish, Truly)! Higher engagement means your fans are ambassadors for your brand, telling your story and selling your product for you– the holy grail of PR.

Making the most of your Facebook page with Timeline will take some time. Take advantage of the preview function that allows you to play around with layout, add important milestones, increase content, and nail down your apps. Timeline for brands automatically goes live March 30!

Here are a few articles I found helpful:

Facebook Timeline for Brands: 10 Things to Get Right, Social Media Today

What PR Pros Need to Know About Facebook Timeline for Brands, PR Daily

How to Use Timeline for Brand Pages, Techcrunch

Preparing for Facebook Timeline: Tips to Tweak Your Editorial Strategy, Digital Pivot

Welcome to Facebook Grammy

January 10th, 2012

For most of us, Facebook has become second nature. As we read about changes in security settings or what the new Timeline will look like, we can absorb that information into an established understanding about how Facebook works. Recently, however, I helped my mom set up a Facebook account which made me realize that it can feel a bit intimidating.

She shrieked in horror when we suggested a nice photo of her standing solo outdoors (“How inappropriate. I am a married woman!). Once we convinced her that no one would think she was trolling for men and showed her how to add “married” to her profile, things went pretty well. But, since 10.4 million of the 800 million people who use Facebook are between the ages of 55-64, I started thinking that perhaps a few simple tips for getting started might be helpful.

1. Choose a photo that shows what you look like. Names change, time goes by. If you’re planning to find old high school friends, they might need the visual clue.

2. Facebook is not Email. Commenting on a photo or status update is fine, but it’s not a place to have a lot of back and forth.

3. Facebook is about what is happening right now in your life. My mom just spent a weekend with the grandkids and, upon leaving, said she might write an “article” for Facebook. Nope. Keep it brief, keep it current.

4. There are a number of ways to find your friends. As soon as you have a few friends, Facebook will start to recommend other people you might know. Facebook will also search your email address book and/or mobile phone for you and then find those individuals on Facebook. Here’s an entire article on effective people searches.

5. Do NOT hit that “poke” button! In the early years of Facebook, poking was a means of virtual flirting. A lot of people attribute sexual meaning to a “poke.” Some people have no idea what it means. Better to play it on the safe side.

6. Boring is as boring does. After you’ve been on Facebook for 12 minutes, you’ll know what I mean. My growing list of topics to never post about include the weather, sick kids and what I made for dinner. Research has shown that politics, social causes, and medical ailments are among the leading topics that cause people to “unfriend” you.

6. Of course, there are worse things than being unfriended, like having your identity stolen. Here’s a great article from the Huffington Post on security considerations when creating your profile. The year you were born, phone number, home address, and vacation countdowns are all on the list.

7. Welcome to Facebook…welcome to Farmville. All I can say about this is that if you hover over the Farmville link in your news feed you can hide any and all posts from any person about Farmville FOREVER.

8. When you post on someone else’s wall, that message is seen by everyone who you AND the other person are friends with. If you want to send a private message, use the “message” button, which will be delivered to that person’s Facebook inbox. Or better yet, use email.

9. Facebook is a great place to share photos. You can “tag” photos with a name so that the person in the photo is notified when you post their picture to Facebook. Here’s a how-to page from Facebook’s Help Center.

10. Last but not least, check into Facebook’s Help Center (mentioned above) or do a simple Google search to find answers to your questions. There are hundreds of videos, articles and blog posts that contain information about Facebook. If you look hard enough, you might even find a book in the library.

And, by the way, my mom is loving Facebook– connecting with family on the West coast and old friends, sharing photos and laughing at videos. It may have taken a few minutes to get her going, but this iPad-toting, Mini-driving Grammy is well on her way to her very own social network.

Rekindling the love for Twitter.

October 30th, 2011

Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on all the reasons I loved Twitter. And, for a while, I really did. But there is this commonly followed rule of Twitter etiquette that almost caused me to throw the baby out with the bathwater– the rule that says it’s polite to follow everyone who follows you. At first, I was thrilled that people started to follow me, and happily followed them in return, even if I had no clue about or interest in their tweets. But pretty soon, my feed was full of tweets that were irrelevant, boring and downright strange. Inevitably, I lost interest. Twitter and I lost touch and I found I didn’t really miss it much.

But recently, we have reconnected and the love is rekindled. One of the things I enjoy most about being a consultant is the diversity of clients I work with. But being knowledgable about all these diverse industries can be a challenge. Enter Twitter. Want to know what people are saying about Vermont wines? What’s the buzz about Augmented Reality in education? What new cheese are the foodie aficionados raving about? Where are people talking about taking surf vacations? With just a little bit of organization, Twitter can tap you into a global conversation on just about any topic, offering up a custom-tailored multi-media intensive. (And, yes, these a few of the areas I’m currently immersing myself in for clients). Here are a few tips for those of you whose relationship with Twitter is strained:

  • Create and use LISTS. So basic, I know. But also so key to effectively using Twitter if you have a diverse area of interests to follow. I have lists for each client as well as a marketing/pr list for myself. This saves me from having to wade through the main news feed.
  • Use hash tags to create and save SEARCHES. Once you’ve created a useful search, you can save it and revisit those same criteria frequently to see what’s trending.
  • LISTEN to what other people are saying, but don’t assume everyone is an expert just because they post something on Twitter. If you find a video or article that is particularly interesting, take a few minutes to Google the person or company and be sure they’re legit.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to use Twitter as a RESEARCH TOOL. You do not have to tweet unless you want to.
  • When and if you do decide to jump into the conversation, VARY YOUR TWEETS. Retweet interesting information, comment on trending topics, post links to your own blogs, photos and videos. A constant stream of self-promotion is not a good idea.
  • QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but really, it does not matter if you have 8,000 followers if only 7 of them are your target audience. Don’t waste time with silly gimmicks to build up your followers. And don’t believe anyone who says you have to tweet X number of times per day or hour. Be authentic, be interesting, be relevant and the right followers will come.
  • Help people find you by INTEGRATING Twitter into your other marketing platforms. Add the Retweet button to the bottom of every blog post, link to your Twitter profile from your home page, add your Twitter handle to your email signature and business card to start.
  • REPURPOSING MATERIAL is fine (in fact it’s a great idea), but think about your audience and how you want to convey your message across different platforms. Check out #3 on this list of “social media secrets” from KSV.

So, for me, I’m feeling the love for Twitter once again. Hope these tips are helpful!

The Naked Table…How I Wish This Had Been My Idea

August 26th, 2011

My first thought: brilliant! My second thought: damn, I wish I had thought of this.

A client recently shared with me The Naked Table Project, a Vermont experience and PR coup that has inspired me to do some “big idea” thinking for my clients. Conceived by ShackletonThomas Furniture, the Naked Table invites people up to picturesque Woodstock, VT to build their own dining table from locally harvested sugar maple, and then to line those tables end-to-end under the town’s covered bridge for a localvore dinner provided by the Woodstock Farmer’s Market. In between building their tables and dining on some of the most delicious foods available from the Green Mountain State, the group goes on a hike with a forester to learn about sustainable forestry practices. And, of course, they bring their heirloom quality table home along with a pretty good conversation piece. Sheer brilliance.

What I love most about this idea is how the experience touches on so many aspects of the Shackleton brand– sustainable forestry, association with the Vermont brand, handmade quality, and an exceptional dining experience. And it touches on each of those brand characteristics in a experiential and enjoyable way. Throw in some beautiful photography and a free t-shirt, and send all proceeds to the local Sustainable Woodstock charity and it’s an absolute winner.

Facebook at its Finest

August 8th, 2011

Last week, a new page showed up among the billions on Facebook called Friends of Tags that has inspired me to see Facebook in a new light. “Tags” refers to Chris Tagatac, a husband, father, athlete, and local musician in the Stowe community who had a tragic accident that has left him without any feeling below the sternum. Within days of his accident, one of his close friends launched the Friends of Tags page as a way for his friends and family to send messages of love and support. And, boy, did they ever. Within a few hours, the page had over a hundred fans and today, just over a week later, has 771 actively engaged people from all over the world posting notes of support, prayers, sharing stories, links to articles, medical references, advice, quotes, and inspiration. Equally important, his wife has been posting daily updates, which even those of us who don’t know Chris super well read religiously.

As the page grew, so did its usefulness, connecting folks wanting to donate time or make a meal for the family. Someone posted a link to MealTrain and the family now has meals every day through September 15. Friends and community members with specific skills have volunteered to help renovate the house prior to Chris’ return home. Last night, well over 100 people gathered at a local restaurant to find out what else they could do, record video messages to Chris, and send him positive energy for a strong recovery.

This is Facebook at its finest. 10 years ago, there is no possible way at over 700 people could gather around one individual, creating a community without any regard to geography. No way people could show their support in a way that allows the family to access it on their own time without the pressure of returning a phone call or email. No way that every single person who cares for Chris could be updated on his progress every day. I know plenty of people who complain about the banal nature of Facebook, and plenty more who worry about privacy issues, but this is a shining example of the best that Facebook can be.

what’s your mission?

July 22nd, 2011

I recently heard a presentation about the way our schools’ curriculum is created, and what was most impressive was the time and thought that went into a clearly defined mission statement. It got me thinking about mission statements and the general usefulness of having a goal as we move about our lives. Every business has one…though most are stuffed away in a dusty filing cabinet somewhere. But, when well done, they really do serve an important purpose and can be a guiding beacon for businesses, family and individuals. Here are a couple of examples:

1. Mission for a Common Goal. The “mission circle” for our local school that I referenced above was so impressive. Teachers and administrators spent many, many house debating the ultimate goals of the school curriculum and came up with 3 key components to a core knowledge all students should have at graduation. They should be 1) effective communicators, 2) responsible citizens, and 3) thinkers and problem solvers. Any curriculum ideas are weighed against this end goal– the ones that don’t stick are tossed out. The time and thought that went into creating this mission circle really helps to guide a diverse community of educators and brings them all under the same umbrella with a common purpose.

2. Mission for Giving. I recently met with a really neat couple who have a woodworking business here in Vermont. Like so many other small businesses, they are often asked to donate time or product for various good causes. If you are going to donate time or product to charitable causes, it’s helpful to clearly identify a cause that aligns with your values– personally or as a business. Having a focus to your giving allows you to incorporate charitable contributions into the bigger picture of your brand, and makes it easier to say “no” to those great causes that are not a fit.

3. Mission for Business. My husband flat out laughed at me when I brought him my business plan 10 years ago, but it has two very clear objectives that have been my guiding principles– and that have never failed me once. You ready? Here it is. 1) I want to work with companies whose products and/or services I believe in. 2) I want to work with people I would have at my dinner table on a Friday night. That’s it. And, let me tell you, every time I have strayed from these tenants of my business plan, I’ve regretted it deeply.

4. Mission for Life. A few years ago, my husband and I went out for a glorious cross country ski at Trapp’s and had a long discussion about our kids’ education. Living in a small Vermont town has a lot of perks, but lots of exciting options for education is not one of them. Luckily, our public school is wonderful and we decided on that beautiful ski that it was important for us to supplement our kids’ education– specifically through travel that would expose them to other parts of the world and different kinds of people. Having this goal has helped us make a lot of decisions about where and how we spend discretionary money…and we got to go to surf camp in Costa Rica:-)

Here’s my last piece of advice with a mission statement. When you’re done, run it by a 5 year old. If he or she can understand what you’re saying, then you’ve got a good statement. If it uses the words “innovative,” “teamwork,” “leadership,”or “forward-thinking” or benign, unquantifiable terms like “cutting-edge,” and “best” scrap it and start over. Spend the time doing some soul-searching to really delve into what’s important to you, not on finding the perfect words.

I love hearing about clearly focused goals that have impacted other people’s lives and business. What is yours?