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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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so, what’s this twitter thing?

People come up to me all of the time and ask, “What is Twitter? I just don’t get it.”  I stumble for the right words all of the time.  It’s not that Twitter is all that complicated, really.  I think that it is almost too simplistic that people are grasping for more.  Therefore, I am going to do my best to explain simplistically what Twitter’s functions are and how you can use it personally and professionally.

Twitter is essentially 140 character status updates, otherwise referred to as microblogging or “tweets”.  Really; that’s it.  So the question is, why should you use that in addition to Facebook?

Let me go back a second.  Facebook, as we have discussed, was started in 2004, starting on college campuses. When it first launched, it was focused around the college connection. You could input your class schedule, for example, and other people that were in the class at your school, or had been in the class previously, would be grouped together so you could easily find them, share information, or ask them questions. It is actually a function that I have heard college students where I work (Castleton State College) ask for and attempt to build groups for their classes. Anyway, when Twitter first launched, it was immediately open for anyone and everyone. You create a unique user name and short profile. Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, wanted a SMS-based (SMS is the text-messaging component of your phone and stands for “Short Messaging Service) social media sharing sight. In his original blueprints, the examples of statuses are “in bed” and “going to park.” The reason for the 140 character limit was the constraints of SMS.

Facebook and Twitter have different functions.  On a personal level, I feel that Facebook is more of a social, personal network (including sharing about and discussion with businesses) and Twitter, although can be social and personal, can also be an extremely helpful professional network.  I have multiple Twitter accounts; one personal and one professional.  On my personal Twitter, I follow friends, news, organizations and businesses, celebrities, and social media and higher ed professionals.  On my professional Twitter account (@localsocialvt), I follow social media, marketing, web professionals, and organizations.  The benefit of having both of these accounts is on my professional account; I connect with other people that provide great tips and news. These people follow me to see what information I share and advice I have to give regarding social marketing, as well.

The difference is the categorization and sorting that you can do on Twitter.  Twitter has this cool function, called hashtags that group talking points into specific categories. Sometimes, they involve a topical conversation, such as #StateOfTheUnion, for when people are actively involved and commenting on the State of the Union. Last week, during the Internet blackout, many tweets had the hashtag #SOPA. Categories can also be just silly, on the spot made up things, as well. As I write this, #30WaysToMakeAGirlSmile is trending (trending refers to topics that several people are talking about). These hashtags are searchable and the searches can be saved.  I have searches saved for #HigherEd, #SocialMedia, #RutVT (category about Rutland) and #Castleton, as these are categories I like to keep up with. Facebook, on the other hand, auto-sorts topics people are talking about, which sometimes does not present topics you want to read about. The search within Twitter targets exactly what you want to find out about.

“So, hey…what happened to Twitter being simple?”

Ok, it is hard to put into words. But Twitter continues to be a popular place to find information and connect with people who share similar interests without ever meeting them or having them know too much information about you. That sounds a little vague, but your profile on Twitter is extremely small and contains very limited information.  Therefore, people don’t need to know lots of personal information about you. What they are interested in is the information you have to share; the advice you can give on the expertise you have in an area, for example.

Businesses have found it to be a fantastic customer service and outreach tool.  Jet Blue posts their cheap flights once a week. When actor/director Kevin Smith was asked to leave a South West flight because of his “size,” he tweeted about it and started a huge boycott. When Alec Baldwin was recently told to stop playing Words With Friends on his flight, he tweeted about it, which sent fans into a tweeting uproar. Television shows, like the currently-on-hiatus Community, has created Twitter accounts for the characters of the show.

I can not put into words as well as Twitter can why your business should be using their site:

“Twitter connects businesses to customers in real-time. Businesses use Twitter to quickly share information with people interested in their products and services, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and influential people. From brand lift, to CRM, to direct sales, Twitter offers businesses a chance to reach an engaged audience.”

Check out Twitter 101 for Businesses for more information on how to use the site for your business. It is easy to set up and maintain and get real-time feed back.  Set up a quick, free page and tweet your new username to me: @localsocialvt.

 

 

 
 

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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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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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Vermont: Post-Irene

I am sitting at 34 Strongs Avenue, Restoring Rutland “HQ,” as we coordinators have so lovingly called it, and I can’t help but get a little sad. It is surreal for me to sit here and think about the whirlwind experience I have had in the past 14 days. I do not know if I fully understand what has happened here or how it happened.

 

The first day we were open, my friend Alexis Voutas was here even before I was, and when we received our first bag of donations, she looked at me and said, “What are we going to do with this stuff?” I looked at her and replied, “You know, I’m not sure. But I am really not worried about it.” She was a lot more worried than I was, and now, looking back over the week, I am surprised that everything worked out as well as it did. Everything fell into place. The minute we said that we were here to help, those who needed help and those who wanted to help, reached out to us. There was no emergency plan in place. There was not too much prior knowledge of who to call or what to do. The amazing thing is, we worked together with firefighters, towns, volunteers; all around amazing people and this marvelous movement occurred.

 

I have been working with the Creative Economy for over a year and a half. I have seen and heard many people talk about a lack of a sense of community from the smallest towns in our county, to the largest ones. And not just within a community, but a sense of community between these towns has also been criticized for missing. I have seen the struggles that each town is faced with and it sometimes surprises me that so many people in these areas either are not aware of or do not care about what is going on in their home town. Comparing “pre-Irene” Vermont to “post-Irene” Vermont is astounding. Vermont is very much a community oriented state, but I think over the past few years, we somehow lost ourselves and had been extremely lucky to not have experienced devastation this great. I am not trying to be cliché and say that a horrible event can drive people together to do what they normally would not. I am saying that Vermont needed to find our way back to who we are. Vermonters as individuals helping individuals has always been a way of life. We needed to get back to communities helping themselves and each other. Though I would never wish Irene or any further devastation on my wonderful state or country to occur again, what comes out of that devastation illustrates the character of those affected.

 

It is quite obvious by now that I am pro-Vermont and pro-community. I have seen what communities are capable of within themselves, and what they can offer to others. I hope that as roads get reconstructed, businesses open back up, and homes are rebuilt, that we do not lose this great sense of a statewide Vermont community. I so often say that I am thankful to be a Vermonter, and I truly believe that I always will be. I am so proud of my little Vermont, that we have proven to the nation; no, the world, that we are strong.

 

We are not easily scared.

We can overcome any obstacle.

We can work through our tears and continue to laugh.

We are strong.

We are Vermont strong.

 

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