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Category Archives: Vermont Today

don’t underestimate the internet

The power of a single person on the Internet has become more and more apparent. Companies and governments are not safe from the people.  Something that social marketing consultants, like myself, will often remind their clients of is the difference between traditional marketing and social marketing. Traditional marketing is one-sided. You create your brand and present it to the public. You tell your consumer what you want to and can control your message. Social marketing has turned the tables into a multi-sided conversation. Although you can still create your branding and the image you want to project, ultimately your customers will respond to your message and want to interact with you. Positive interaction is then promoted, viewed, and passed on to friends. It is like trackable word of mouth. And how your company handles your negative interactions is also scrutinized and passed on.

The power that I am talking about is how much of a voice the Internet has given back to the public. Let’s jump around a bit and look at some of these phenomena.

SOPA and PIPA

As I spoke about a few weeks ago in my post, SOPA stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” This was a proposal that was moving towards becoming a law at the federal level, supposedly about Internet piracy. The problem with this, was the wording was incredibly vague and appeared to severely restrict Internet usage.

On January 18, 2012, multiple sites, including the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, WordPress, and over 7,000 other websites participated in either a service blackout or made some sort of post or movement on their sites to raise awareness of the dangerous of these acts. Google also had a petition that gained over 7 million signatures. Boycotts happened of companies that supported the legislation, state representatives were contacted, and an offline rally was even held in New York City.

What happened next was amazing. Representatives and companies that had supported the bills the day before started backing off of them and slowly, the acts came off the table. This does not mean that the ideas behind legislation is completely gone, but it was an incredibly show of what people on the Internet could do together.

Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

On January 31, 2012, the Susan G. Komen organization, a breast-cancer organization in the United States, cut off its funding of Planned Parenthood. While many anti-abortion groups applauded the move, the public was not impressed. Women’s advocacy groups were fast to criticize the move, stating that the Komen organization was putting politics ahead of women’s health. The following 24 hours generated a lot of buzz around the Internet. $400,000 was given to Planned Parenthood from over 6,000 donors. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pledge a grant of $250,000 that matched a gift from the CEO of Bonanza Oil Co. They did this to replace the funding that was lost.

On February 3, 2012, just three days later, Komen’s board of directors issued a statement apologizing to the American public. They backed down from their previous statement, and instead said they would continue to fund exisiting grants, including Planned Parenthood. Four days later, on February 7, the director of Komen submitted her resignation, which went into effect immediately.

And these aren’t the only examples, and it is certainly not ONLY happening in the United States. In 2011, Tunsia decided it was time to boot out dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Social media and the Internet played an encouraging role in the success of their protests. Wikileaks released internal United States government that confirmed that the people in the US felt the same about Ben Eli as the people in Tunsia did. Hacker group Anonymous also supported the cause by not only defending Wikileaks, but hitting Tunsia websites, as well.

So how did the Internet get so much power? Why are governments, both democracies and other forms of governments alike, afraid of these Internet driven causes? Personally, I think that there are several factors that contribute to this fear. In democracies, the leaders, in order to stay in any sort of seat in power, need to listen to the citizens that voted them into power in the first place. I think that it is amazing that the “government for the people, by the people” is starting to circle around and bring some of the decision influences back down to the citizen level.  Also, I think the simple fact that “word of mouth” doesn’t take very long to spread any more. We can know what is happening in the world, including protests, news, causes, epidemics…in a matter of minutes.

To bring this to a local perspective, think back to the day Tropical Storm Irene hit the area. There were pictures of every corner on town, people were sharing what roads were destroyed and to avoid, and even seeking help out of their house.  I think back even further to 2007 when we had that terrible wind storm in April. Just 5 years ago, there were many fewer local people on Facebook and the same volume of sharing online didn’t happen.  After the wind passed, everyone was out in their cars surveying the damage. With Irene, you already had seen the damage as it was being caused right on Facebook.

Now, local businesses and organizations need to utilize the power of these mediums. Engage your followers. Post interesting and informative information. Support other businesses and organizations through your page. If you are posting interesting and informative information, fans or followers that find this information interesting will often repost or retweet the information, which will cause a ripple of effect, generating more followers and passing on your information to more people.

Continue to may attention to what’s happening online, no matter your career. Chances are, it does affect you, and your action may make all the difference. For your pages and posts, make them engaging and interesting. You never know the full power of how your content may take off.

(Research from wikipedia.org and motherjones.org.)

 

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the power of the tweet

Last week, I wrote about Twitter; what it was and how to use it effectively. The perfect example of a great social media manager appeared in front of me this morning. A real life example popped up right out of the wood work.

I was looking at my Twitter feed this morning (my personal one), and noticed a tweet from one of my friends frommy undergraduate days at Hofstra. She posted a picture that she took with her phone from a page of Newsday. They had incorrectly labeled a picture of Amber Heard as Scarlett Johansson. I had no idea who Amber Heard was (and still don’t), and tweeted back at her, commenting on the obvious mistake the paper made. She quickly responded back to me, that she also had no clue who the girl was, and perhaps made a snide comment towards the graphics person at Newsday. In all three of the tweets that I’ve mentioned so far, Newsday’s Twitter username, @Newsday, was mentioned (therefore, tagged and received notifcation that we were discussing them). They almost immediately responded to our tweets and fixed the issue that my friend Tara had pointed out minutes before. See a full list of the conversation and images below:

Content from Twitter. Screenshots assembled from the tweets of @ordinary_girl84, @mungerette, and @Newsday.

I was very impressed with this whole exchange. Tara and I were talking pretty candidely about the mistake that Newsday had made, but not degrading them. We just were commenting on the situation and were a little surprised that the photo could have been labeled incorrectly. Now, I can’t tell if they fixed this earlier than Tara had pointed it out (which is entirely possible), and just didn’t point out the mistake themselves until they realized readers were noticing. But what I am impressed with, is the extent to which their social media manager was paying attention to their mentions and responding to them.  Actually, if you go to their Twitter page, you will see that they are very good about engaging their readers. Their page is full of tweets of stories, yes, but also responding to readers and retweeting followers tweets.

All businesses/organizations should engage users like this. This is one of the main ideas that I should have covered last week: the difference between Facebook and Twitter etiquette. The main difference between these two different platforms is on Facebook, pages do not want to over post.  It is completely possible to overpost and depending upon what kind of business you have, and what is going on in your community would determine an appropriate amount of posts per week. For example, a news source, such as the Rutland Herald or WCAX should post top stories and important news throughout the day. A retail shop, for example, should post at most two or three times a day, and space them appropriately. Now, during Tropical Storm Irene, and the time immediately following, many pages posted multiple times a day, such as Restoring Rutland, I Am Vermont Strong, and Vermont Emergency Management. These organizations/groups were incredibly active and trying their hardest to get all information out that they could. This was incredibly appropriate. On a normal basis, however, Facebook posting should be very pointed and planned. Facebook users are incredibly active and are quick to “un-like” a page due to over posting.

On the other hand, Twitter etiquette is much different. Many entities on the site post multiple times a day, sometimes a minute, and are praised for it, not chastised. I think this stems from part of Twitter’s function and layout. Since they allow only 140 characters a tweet and don’t have additional apps or all the “extras” that make Facebook “busy,” this allows a user to focus on their feed and the feeds of people or other groups that they are interested in. I am not in any way demeaning the use of Facebook, because they definitely have a huge fan base, and the benefits of being active and on Facebook can easily be evaluated and reaped. Twitter just allows you to present the same information, and more information, in a different format that is more susceptible for this information to be shared and absorbed by the followers.

The downside of Twitter in our local area at this time? Users. Although many organizations are on Twitter, it seems that there currently is not a clear way to find these pages. The best way to have local users find you, is by using the local Rutland hashtag (again, a hashtag is a way of organizing and categorizing tweets) which is #rutvt. This can be used for anything that is happening in the local area, and I would go as far to say the county. When you are talking about your business, or talking about some event or commenting on something that is going on in the area, use the hashtag. Then, you should search for the hashtag and see what other pages and people are using it and talking about the area on Twitter.  I think you will actually be surprised about the number of users in the county.

Use your social media platforms well! Please make sure to understand the etiquette of each platform, as they certainly differ, or else you run the risk of putting a lot of work in to your social media management, and will not see a lot of return. Remember: “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” (Scott Cook)

 

 

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the great internet blackout

Since you are obviously an Internet user, you must have run into some information about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it’s sister legislation called the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA). If you had not heard about these proposals before Wednesday, January 18th, you may have run into odd “blackouts” on sites like Google, Wikipedia, and WordPress (yes, the very site that hosts this blog), among many, many others. Looking at the names of these two bills, you may think that their names make them sound like a good thing. We all like pirates (yay, Johnny Depp!), but not the kind of pirates who steal people’s copyrighted material and make money off of them.  This, we all agree, is wrong and illegal.

The wording of these proposals is currently very vague.  To be very simplistic, the only things that SOPA and PIPA do is protect the rights of artists and they apply due process to judge infringement claims. That’s it. There are a lot of words in the acts that are unexplained and leave a lot of doors open with what they can actually apply the laws to.  Under these bills, you may not be able to get to a site you were looking for because of the imposed breakdown of DNS (Domain Name System), which is essentially the “switchboard” of the Internet.

Response from Google Chrome when Facebook.com could not be reached.

Due to the amount of censorship and lack of clarity about how the censoring works, “SOPA would reduce freedom of expression and undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet…[and it] would impose harmful regulations on American business and slow economic growth in the U.S.” (Greg Jarobe, SEO-PR president).

Another issue is a website shutdowns or dismantlements.  If someone makes a claim about copyright infringement, they can contact advertisers and payment processors and make claims about the infringement to have the services disabled, without notice or a chance to respond from the website owner.

If you went on the Internet at all on Wednesday (January 18th), chances are you ran into least one website that was participating in the “blackout.” Sites Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia, whose content is user generated and created (hence the definition of a wiki, being collaborative information) are very concerned with the SOPA and PIPA act.

Screenshot of Oatmeal.com from January 18th, 2012

Screenshot of Wikipedia.com from January 18, 2012

Images from: Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia.com.

Sites like Google and WordPress did something a little different, but still participated in the protest.

Screenshot of Google.com from January 18, 2012

Screenshot of WordPress.com from January 18, 2012

Images from Google.com and WordPress.com

My friend Jim Sabataso and I, among other friends, changed our Facebook profile pictures and only posted, on both our Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, about SOPA and PIPA, including passing on the petition to stop the bills.  Did the protest work? Sort of is my honest answer.  Reports came in that at least fifteen Senators who originally signed their endorsement of SOPA pulled out by some time Thursday (January 19th).  But there is still some power behind both the bills and it isn’t over yet.

There is an alternative to these bills and it’s something that no one really seems to be discussing.  An act that has been drawn up that many opponents of SOPA and PIPA support.  This is called the OPEN act. This act seems like the most reasonable alternative, keeping in mind the creators of materials as well as keeping the Internet free and open. KeepTheWebOpen.com has created this great infographic to compare the three current proposals.

OPEN vs SOPA vs PIPA comparison

Infographic from KeepTheWebOpen.com.

If you use the Internet at all, which you must since you found my blog, I beg of you to keep your eyes on this. I hate to slap on a freedom of speech campaign onto my blog, but it is something that I have always felt so lucky to have. It is sad to me to think that instead of truly solving a problem, lawmakers want to essentially sweep it under the rug.

I have linked some sites that give better explanations of the bills then I ever could, including some that don’t seem to fully support the protest. So keep your eye on what’s going on with these bills.  No matter if you are a webmaster, business owner, student, parent, or casual internet browser, they DO directly affect you.

Research on SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN from, and to find out more visit:

Lifehacker

SearchEngineWatch

Wall Street Journal

Slate

Business Review USA

Tech Crunch

The New Yorker

Google: SOPA Blackout

 

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facebook: get a page, not a profile!

Now that everyone has a website (or at least sees the importance of having one), I’d like to chat a little bit about Facebook.

Facebook is “the” social networking site these days. Sure, it was not the first, but the Facebook team figured out a way to take what sites like MySpace and Friendster did and turned social networking into a phenomenon of connectivity. The idea that Facebook really capitalized on was the idea of enabling business, organizations, and events to be right in front of their users.

Let’s go back to 2004.

When Facebook launched in 2004, the site was exclusively for college students. By the end of 2004, Facebook reached 1 million users. In 2006, the year that they opened up the site to everyone, they reached 12 million users. Most recently, Facebook has reached 800 million active users. It’s no wonder some of the biggest brands and organizations are taking advantage of this utility to reach out and put their message right in front of consumers. It’s no wonder, though, how big brand names, like Kellogg’s, Ford, and Old Navy, can pull a lot of interest and attention. The question is, how do small businesses effectively use Facebook and what it has to offer?

There are many ways to utilize Facebook to benefit your business, and some of them are business specific. The first reason, and probably the most important, is how you set up your Facebook page.

Many small businesses make the mistake of setting up a profile instead of a page. This is detrimental to the business. Facebook has gone to great lengths to ensure that businesses can measure the analytics for their pages, track their virality, and connect with their users. Here are some of the features and benefits businesses have by setting up a page:

Insights

You really only need one reason to have a page, and Insights is it. Facebook has really harnessed what businesses should know about how effective their page is, and turned it into this analytics page. The information is easy to narrow down to specific dates, track posts, even see how many of your fans’ friends viewed your posts, as well. You can track your page’s likes, including demographic information on your fans. I think knowing what countries your fans are in is pretty neat, too.

 Moderation

Once on the web, always on the web. We have all heard this before. Facebook for pages has arranged it so you can easily control the level of profanity you allow on your page, as well as block certain words from being able to be posted on your page. Also, if Facebook believes a post is spam, it will not immediately place the post on your fall, but hide the post and an administrator of the page will have to review it and either confirm that it is ok to be posted or delete it. This protects your page, your business, and your fans, really.

Something important that I would like to note here is social marketing differs a lot from traditional marketing. Traditional marketing is one-way communication, like a commercial, for example. A commercial is putting information out to you, and there isn’t a way to comment on it, share it with friends, or give your feedback. Social marketing enables fans to receive costumer service, file complaints, follow new products, and connect with other customers. It is an active, on-going exchange of information. It is common practice to allow negative comments on your page. It is how you, as an organization handle the negative comment that will be remembered.

Best Practices and Social Plugins

Facebook also provides some marketing and engagement tips for their page users. These are located under your settings page. Here, you can find information on how to use social plugins, such as a Like Box to connect your Facebook page to your website (I know, that word again!). Do you have a sign in on your page? You are able to have users sign in with their Facebook information and subscribe to your site.

As a consumer and a customer, it is important to me that organizations have their own pages instead of profiles as I don’t want all of my personal information shared with the business. What I do want is to be able to connect with that organization, receive information from them, and share their information with friends.

Intrigued? If you have your business set up on a profile page, it is not too late! Facebook has realized that many pages exist this way and has made it possible for you to migrate your profile to a page without losing your friends! I have linked to the instructions on how to do this, so please, take a look and get migrating! The only thing I can say, is to make sure you download your information first, as this process does not move everything over, but it does move the most important information over.

After you build your website, create your Facebook page. If you already have one, make sure you are using a page and not a profile. Your fans will thank you, and you’ll love the analytics and tracking.

And maybe next week, I won’t have an assignment for you. I’ll try to just keep it informative.

 

All screenshots are from Restoring Rutland’s Facebook page.

 
 

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wait, you don’t have a website?

Picture this: a group of friends sitting around two days before New Years Eve, trying to figure out what they wanted to do on the big night. They were going to stay local, in our rural Vermont town, and trying to see what they could do within a reasonable distance. They are sitting around, late at night, all pulling their smart phones out and Googling different local businesses.

“What is going on up on the mountain?” someone says. Someone else quickly pulls out their phone and pulls up different sites. “Well there is X, Y, and Z, and they have a cover of W amount,” the friend says. “Too much for my budget!”replies another friend.

“What about a limo? That’d be fun!” I grabbed a computer and Googled “limos in Rutland, Vermont” and what were the results? (See them here.). Only one of the companies in the area had a website. One! I don’t mean to rag on these businesses, but what is this about? Why don’t these businesses have a website? Why don’t all businesses, big and small, have some form of website?

According to internetworldstats.com, smaller markets lead the nation in Broadband growth, and the nation’s largest markets are close to reaching their saturation points (Source: www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm). For businesses that exist in these smaller markets, now is the time to finally jump on the “web” bandwagon. Looking at the latest census information, you will also learn some surprising things about Internet users.  I was surprised (and somewhat excited, for argument’s sake) to learn that the age group with the most Internet users at home or work was NOT the 18 to 34 year-old group (boasting only 30.48% of the 228,112,000 of the collected surveys), but it was the 35 to 54 year old group that used the internet in these common spaces. The younger group mainly used their mobile devices to access the web on the go, which I am sure we all assumed. Researching this data a bit, I would have guessed that the 18 to 34 age group dominated all of the categories for Internet usage across the board.

The point I am trying to illustrate is you have to know your market. Understand that if you are a clothing store that is trying to specifically target women between the ages of 35 to 54 in a rural area, you need to advertise on sites that these women would visit when they are at home and at work. These Internet ads need to link back to your website. If you own a local young adult hangout who wants to reach the “under 35 club,” you need to be present and active on main social networks, including advertising, and again, link back to your website (Source: www.census. gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1157.pdf).

No matter your demographic, the Internet is where people go daily for information; banking, news, connecting socially. The top two uses of the Internet are using search engines and social networking. Since the dawn of the web, experts have stated point-blank, “If you have a business, you need a website. Period.” (Source: entrepreneur.com/article/65204). It is not just enough to have a website, you need to have a professional looking website that reflects your ideals and your business’ brand. Think about how you use the Internet, both in your business and personal daily activities.

If you are worrying about the cost of your website, look to support local businesses that specialize in website design. Not looking for an overly fancy website, but something more straightforward to get your information out there? Contact Bloomer Consulting, where Matt will help create the perfect website for you and your business. For more advanced websites, including server capabilities, contact one of the several larger companies in the area, that can build the perfect complex site for your business.

Over the next few weeks, I will address a few other “musts” for small businesses. Do me, and all the other consumers out there a favor first; get a website.

 
 

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reunion time: in person or online?

It is the end of the 2011 and high school reunions are in the air. The Rutland High School class of 2001 has made its way home this week to celebrate their ten year reunion. But in an age where social media is readily available and anyone can easily connect and essentially “stalk” almost every member of their class, what is the importance of these personal encounters?

As you may know, I have a Master’s degree in Media Studies, focusing on Online Marketing and Social Media. I am very much an advocate for the importance and usefulness of these mediums, and see them emerging and developing even more over the next decade. People who know me personally, know that I am a very social being. I love personal contact and could certainly end up on the phone with you for hours at a time, talking about everything and nothing at all once. My ten year high school reunion will come at some point in 2012, and I honestly can not wait. Yes, I have been keeping tabs on people I graduated high school with through various social medias, but nothing can replace those one on one conversations.

We all know high school is tough, mostly because people are attempting to figure out who they are, what their styles are, how to be a good friend, a good member of society, how to be the best them they can be. There are people I interact with now whose paths never crossed mine in high school for one reason or another. I am interested in how different people have grown, what their lives are like, how maybe our lives have changed and morphed in ways that we now have a million things in common and will become good friends.

Tonight, for example, I was out on the town with friends of mine. Looking around at us interacting, you would think we had all grown up together and been friends for years. Honestly, I have only been a part of this “group” of friends for a little over a year. Only one member of the group was I friends with in high school, and our relationship has certainly only grown stronger in the passing years. The remainder of the group of friends all grew up in the Rutland area, but we were not friends in high school. These new friendships did not spring up through social media “meet-ups,” although we do all use social media to communicate with each other, to plan events, and a few of us use social media in our jobs, even. This is one side of the spectrum.

The other side is maybe that witch from high school is still a witch. But her Facebook wall is most likely not going to tell me that, and I would like to give her a chance, in person, to prove she has matured and changed.

I think personal interaction can be viewed as another “medium” of media and communication. Yes, social media has emerged as an important way of receiving news or of keeping up with friends who live far away, but conversation is faster and on different topics when you have the personal communication. Even a media form like Skype, where users can video chat for free, does not replace the organic need for human touch, interaction, and engaged conversation. Similar to the way Google+ works, where you can post certain information to only specific “circles” of friends, is the way that social media versus personal communication works. There are some conversations that I want to have with only my closest friends through the act of discussion. There are some viewpoints, discussions, and stories that never need to make their way into print. You, being human, surely agree with this statement.

RHS’s class of 2001 only used Facebook to contact its members. I have to say, that it is likely the most affective way to reach most people. I say most because there are those diehards from that class (like my husband) who do not subscribe to social media and prefer only personal interaction (lumping phone calls and texts into this category). I think that this still works, because even though he is not on Facebook or Twitter, or any other social media platform, I am and several of his friends are, linking him back into the conversation.

The point I am trying to make is, perhaps social media, instead of replacing the high school reunion, is actually helping to enhance it. For those who can not make it home for their reunion, Facebook will let them know who is going to be there and let them reconnect with someone from their past through the platform. Twitter will allow live tweeting of the event, if someone chooses to do so. Both of these mediums will also encourage, and I guarantee it will happen, the immediate posting of pictures, so the classmates who are missing the event will seemingly still be apart of the buzz and be able to see what went on very easily.

Social media is helping to back up and increase the value of these interpersonal live communications. I encourage you to reconnect with someone from your past using the social media tools that are available to you, and plan a time to meet up with them in person. Nothing beats throwing back a drink or grabbing a coffee with an old friend.

 
 

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the long, dreary road ahead.

We are not out of the woods yet.

 

I had the opportunity to drive on Route 4 from Rutland right through Woodstock on the 16th of September. I felt several different emotions that day as I drove by the river.

 

It was shocking to see the damage the water had done in person. I have driven up and down Route 4 so many times throughout my life, always taking the view for granted. Now, looking over the embankment where the trees used to be, honestly brought tears to my eyes. But do you know what quickly made me smile? Watching the road crews work.

 

We have all driven through construction zones where the road is being worked on, or a bridge is being repaired. This was different. I am not saying that these road crews do not typically have a good work ethic. I am saying that they were carrying their emotion in a fashion that was motivating them; inspiring them, to use an artist’s touch with every placement of a piece of gravel or a section of guardrail. These workers are residents of the “island” communities, family members of those residents, friends of them…

 

I went to a conference in Manchester, New Hampshire that day. On my return, I not only noticed more devastating damage and loss, but I noticed that an incredibly long stretch of guardrail had been completed since I had driven by earlier. And although it was well past 6 pm, the crews were still working.

 

How amazing it is to think that they were able to build a road in less than 3 weeks where there was nothing but a hole previously.

 

It is great that we are able to travel on Route 4. It is great that residents are slowly being able to feel “free” to travel and go to work again. But I fear we have a long road ahead of us, and it is one we have to build as we move forward.

 

I was speaking to Kara from Evening Song Farm this weekend at the Downtown Farmer’s Market. Evening Song was hit hard by Irene (you can view pictures and video here: www.eveningsongcsa.com). Kara was obviously sad (how could she not be?) but she was surprisingly slightly upbeat. She felt and had experienced the embrace of our kind, generous community and was very moved. When I asked her what Restoring Rutland could do to help, she said they aren’t ready for volunteers yet. It wasn’t until this moment during our conversation that the reality hit me; we are going to be working for a long time. A lot of you are saying, “Duh!” to me right now, but think about your perspective of the situation. How hard were you directly affected by the storm? Did you volunteer for a few hours, or a week of time, to help out your neighbor or a local organization? People lost everything in the flood and can’t rebuild overnight.

 

What I am trying to say is, yes, I realized and knew that the road in front of us will be long and dreary. But what I am asking is for everyone to stay passionate. Stay selfless. Keep offering to help. Keep donating whatever you are able. But please, do not give up. Do not forget as roads are rebuilt and you can go back to your normal way of life, that Vermont still needs your help, and will continue to need help. Something as simple as offering to babysit your neighbors’ children to give them a night off from rebuilding can go a long way. Do what you can to help your fellow Vermonters as they have helped you in the past, and will surely help you in the future.

 

I don’t mean to be “preachy” in these posts, I just ask you to please continue to think about the destruction of Irene and the long road we need to work together to build.

 

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