Cisco Does B2B Facebook Right

Want a low-cost, fun and effective way to reward your most active Facebook contributors? Steal a page from Cisco, whose corporate page is one of the best B2B presences on Facebook.

Last year, Cisco started the SuperFan program to recognize its best community members. Each month, administrators recognize one fan and highlight him or her at the top of the page. Two of the monthly winners were just chose as SuperFans of the Year and celebrated on the Facebook page as well as on the Cisco Platform Blog.

Winners get no cash or large prizes, just some Cisco swag and lots of thanks and exposure. Co-winner Sandee Weiner commented, “VERY VERY proud of reaching SuperFan status with Cisco! I’m pretty passionate about technology and the way social collaboration brings folks together.”

Cost to Cisco: next to nothing. Value: a lot more than that. Next up is a photo contest challenging people to show the Cisco logo or products in the most unusual or exotic places. That’s another great low-cost idea.

Cisco B2B Facebook photo contest

So was last year’s Crazy Cabling Contest.

Best Gifts for Geeks: The Spiceworks List

As part of my work with IBM Midsize Business, I monitor and contribute to an active IT community called Spiceworks. This collection of hard-core geeks (1.8 million as of this writing) loves to get down and dirty about the day-to-day issues of managing infrastructure at small and midsize businesses, but they also like to have fun like playing computer games in the best monitors we can find at sites like http://themonitormonitor.com/144hz-ips/. The Water Cooler group features an unending stream of discussion about everything from the Zombie apocalypse weapon of choice to clueless user stories. There’s a curious fascination with bacon.

Just for fun, I asked the members What’s the Perfect Geek Christmas Gift?, and they obliged with plenty of great ideas. Here are the highlights, just know that the wooden watches would always be the bet gift for anyone.

Superheroes

Stormtrooper Motorcycle SuitStormtrooper SuitIf you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you know that techies love superheroes. UDReplicas sells full-blown costumes of most of the great characters (right). They’re gorgeous, but they aren’t cheap. Most cost more than $1,500 fully loaded. Still, for that special geek in your life, it’s an investment.

There are a few suppliers of bulk wrapping paper that will sell to the public. If you’re on a budget, consider satisfying the superhero within. Superherostuff.com sells wearable accessories for just about every superhero you can imagine. This includes pajamas and underwear for men and for women. Just please remember to do the laundry.

Just Geek Gifts

Star Wars Jedi & Sith Bath RobesSave time hunting for geek gifts on Brookstone and Hammacher Schlemmer by heading directly to ThinkGeek.com. The people who put together this bountiful store clearly know their audience, because it was the most-mentioned e-commerce destination by the Spiceheads. Highlights include the Blade Runner-Style LED Umbrella ($19.99), the LED Binary Watch (which requires you to translate 10 LED lights into the time, $69.99), and the awesome Star Wars Jedi & Sith Bath Robes ($89.99).

Geeks are fascinated with time, as evidenced by several recommendations of clocks and timepieces. The Time Machine Ball Bearing Clock ($49.95) lifts a ball bearing onto “a durable concentric track at regular intervals. Here it moves with others on a slow downward course, both halted and propelled by ‘see-saws’ that tip when correctly weighted. Correct time can be read by observing the numerals that the balls are aligned with.” It sounds like a lot of effort to find out what time it is, but maybe not as much as reading the binary watch.

Burning down the house

In the category of Stuff That Has No Practical Value But Is Too Awesome Not to Own come products from WickedLasers.com. Many of this retailer’s products are simply super-bright flashlights, but a few might require FAA approval. In particular, the S3 Krypton Series and S3 Arctic Series ($299.95 each) both vie for the title of “brightest laser you can legally own.” Of the Krypton product, WickedLasers says, “Our Earth’s atmosphere ends at 62 miles, but the Krypton goes beyond as it breaks through our atmosphere, into outer space.” Who says the U.S. space program is dead?

The Arctic model is “currently being tested by Guinness World Records [as] the world’s most powerful handheld laser…The 1000 mW output power of the blue laser beam is able to burn through balloons, plastic, and much more.” If you don’t believe me, see the video below. Enjoy, but please stay away from my neighborhood.

Practical and Cool

Nest Learning ThermostatNot everything on the geeks’ shopping list is pointless fun. There are Floppy Disk Sticky Notes ($9.99 for a pack of three) and my favorite: the Nest Learning Thermostat (available early next year for $249). This little marvel is a programmable thermostat with a brain. It learns from your behavior and over the course of a week or two automatically changes the temperature settings in your home to match your living pattern. “One-off temperature changes won’t confuse it, but change the temperature a couple of days in a row and Nest will catch on and adjust its schedule,” says the site. “Lower the temperature two Mondays in a row and Nest will remember for next week.” It has a lot of other bells and whistles, including a feature that tells you how much energy you’re saving. There are iPhone and Android apps, ‘natch.

Did I Mention Bacon?

Bacon OrnamentMost geeks I’ve known drink sparingly, shun tobacco and avoid recreational drugs because they are afraid of becoming addicted and having the need of an Interventionist later on. If you think you need drug treatment already, experience Ibogaine clinics at experienceibogaine.com. But that doesn’t mean they’re complete health freaks, it just means they don’t want to become addicts and end up in rehab like the one here. One major weakness: bacon. The Cooking with Spice group on Spiceworks has dozens of discussions on the topic, and breakfast meat came up several times on the holiday wish list between cooking knives and other implements from sites as https://ivyandwilde.com/. For $9.75 Geek Cantina will sell you  a thick slice of pork to hang on your Christmas tree. The bad news: It’s out of stock. But my favorite is Tactical Canned Bacon. That’s right, it’s bacon in a can. A 9 oz. container provides 18 servings of porcine pleasure that lasts more than 10 years on your shelf. I can’t say it better than ThinkGeek.com:

The zombies have fought long and hard, but the tide is seeming to finally turn.

I jumped right online and ordered a e liquid uk 30 ml bottle. This just made my whole vaping experience reach an all time high.

We will survive this invasion…because we were smart enough to stock up on Tac Bac – Tactical Canned Bacon. That is why we are strong; that is why we’ll win.

Happy holidays.

Cool & Useful Sites for the Holidays

Webby AwardsThe folks at the Webby Awards sent along a super-helpful list of Web resources to use over the holidays. They range from social shopping to gift recommendations to real-time TV and music sharing. While I was familiar with several of these sites, I hadn’t heard of gems like Yap.tv, Wantful and Trippy. Definitely bookmarkable. The descriptions below were provided by the Webby Awards.

1. Skype 

Video chatting is now a standard activity for most Internet users – in fact, earlier this year, Skype reported that their users log 300 million minutes of video calls daily. Skype has recently added a new multi-party platform that allows up to 10 people to video chat with each other, which is a great way to get the family together, even if you’re all far away from each other.

2. Google+ Hangouts

Yet another way to connect groups of people over video chat – but Hangouts also enable the chat participants to share and enjoy digital content like YouTube videos in real time.

3. Crackle

Sony has brought together two of its popular platforms by creating virtual movie theaters on Playstation 3 that stream content from Crackle – and it’s planning to add more digital hangouts later this year.

4. Turntable.fm

Turntable.fm brings together the social experience of the Web and music. Users can create or join listening rooms for friends – or strangers – and DJ their favorite songs for each other.

5. YapTV

A great app that brings people together around their favorite TV shows – it shows every program on television at any moment and lets you socialize with other viewers. It pulls in tweets about the show and has a built-in chat functionality so you can talk while you watch. This is especially useful for every “Elf” re-run on TBS or if you’re sucked into another “A Christmas Story” 24-hour-marathon.

6. ShopWithYourFriends.com

Through sites like this, shopping online is no longer an isolated event. Shopping online is now social. These sites allow you converse with friends (through Skype and chat), compile lookbooks for your friends and family’s seal of approval, and most importantly, buy online.

7. SocialVest

SocialVest is an online retail platform that allows customers to buy and give at the same time. With SocialVest, you can make purchases at your favorite stores – like Target, Walmart, Bloomingdales, and more – and a percentage of all your purchases will go to a charity of your choice.

8. GiftaStranger.net

Make someone’s day brighter with this site that allows you to send a lucky person a gift of your choosing. All you need to submit is your first name, general location, and a picture of the gift you’re sending, and the site will generate a random address.

9. Wantful.com

The site suggests an array of thoughtful gifts based on information you provide about the recipient – everything from age and relationship status to how often the cook and their level of neatness.

10. HipMunk.com

With a well-designed, streamlined interface and smart use of filters, Hipmunk makes it easy to find the right flight or the best hotel. The site also has an app available for your phone or tablet device.

11. Trippy.com 

It makes it easy for you to get recommendations and tips for what to do (whether you are heading home for the holidays or on a dream vacation and have a nice picnic and bring your cooler from Survival Cooking List of Best Coolers) from your friends who already know you and your interests and needs, helping you travel better.

12. Amazon.com

Whether it’s a 6-hour flight home or over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, every trip is a little shorter with good book. Now, Amazon allows you to share your favorite books with your friends. Each loan lasts 14 days and are automatically returned to your library at the end.

Facebook Tips for Midsize Businesses

With Facebook presenting a tempting target of 800 million potential customers, small businesses are flocking to social network as a fast and easy way to generate business. But many SMB’s don’t take full advantage of the Facebook platform because they’re intimidated by the learning curve and the technical knowledge that Facebook applications demand.

Against the GrainThis is one in a series of posts that explore people and technologies that are enabling small companies to innovate. The series is underwritten by IBM Midsize Business, but the content is entirely my own.

That doesn’t have to be the case, says David Brody, Managing Partner at North Social, a software as a service company that specializes in serving small and medium businesses (SMBs) with a suite of Facebook apps that they can quickly integrate into their Facebook presence. I talked to Brody about tips for SMBs that want to optimize their Facebook presence.

It’s not about the likes. Research has shown that few people who “like” a Facebook page ever return to it. That means that getting a like is a means to an end, but not a goal.

“This is a test-measure-modify world,” Brody says. In other words, experiment with different offers and incentives to build fans and then measure those that deliver engagement and return visits. Remember, this isn’t direct mail, and your cost of trying something new is basically zero. On the flipside, simply getting someone to click a button is not enough. “‘Excite, Educate, Motivate’ has replaced ‘Awareness, Trial, Purchase,'” Brody says.

Match the offer to the business. Those ubiquitous iPad giveaways may not be doing much more than delivering business to Apple. Brody tells of one business owner in Atlanta whose offer of a flat-screen TV as contest prize yielded only 60 new likes. Maybe the problem was that the company is in the heating/ventilation/air conditioning business. An offer of offer of free or discounted air conditioning equipment might have played pretty well in Atlanta during the summer.

Moosejaw Mountaineering on FacebookCapture and communicate. Facebook pages and apps offer easy ways to collect e-mail addresses. This creates a permission-based vehicle to continue a conversation. E-mail and news feeds can be used to deliver an ongoing stream of information that reminds people of who you are. Clif Bar asks first-time visitors to like its page in order to sign up for a newsletter, while Moosejaw Mountaineering touts giveaways, rewards points and tips..

This doesn’t mean e-mail is obsolete, but with inboxes mail clogged and people spending an hour a day on Facebook, the newsfeed has become an attractive alternative channel.

Use Facebook for sampling. Conventional wisdom holds that product samples need to be distributed on the street or unsolicited to the mail. It turns out Facebook can be an even better channel. One North Social customer that makes pretzels distributed 10,000 samples in less than 24 hours by sending them to people who liked its page. People who have opted in for a sample are more likely to be buyers than passersby in a supermarket. Audience quality more than compensates for the higher cost of distribution.

Animal Print ShopBe creative with promotions. You don’t have to incur manufacturing or mailing costs to distribute incentives with value. Think of a digital asset you can create that has zero marginal expense. Dentoola consulting gives away reports on how to apply social media in the dentistry profession. The Animal Print Shop gives away desktop wallpaper. You can exchange a like for a customized press release at Hunter PR.

Having healthy teeth and a great-looking smile takes some effort, but the results are well worth it. And having a dentist on your side every step of the way is an important part of that journey. Visit San Diego cosmetic dentist for more information.

Buy ads against pages of competitors or similar products. The great appeal of Facebook ads is their narrow targeting. Davids can ride on the backs of Goliaths by targeting ads to fans of much bigger brands. “If your product is candy, buy ads on the Skittles page,” Brody says. It’s the fastest way to find candy lovers online.

Keep the message simple and change it often. Don’t flatter yourself by thinking people will spend a minute on your page trying to figure out your message or offer. “Facebook is the equivalent of an out-of-home billboard,” Brody says. “You only have a few seconds to make an impression. Keep your message to a few words and make it compelling.” Remember the earlier point: You can always change the offer and test something new.

Get people involved. Brody is no fan of the automated tools that enable page owners to auto-post content across multiple social platforms. “No one wants to be friends with a robot,” he says. “Motivate your alpha evangelists.” Games, quizzes and giveaways work well, particularly if they challenge the audience to be creative.

One midsize business that Brody thinks does a lot of things well on Facebook is footwear maker Sanuk. From its provocative “like” message to its offbeat video to an online store that juxtaposes user comments with product shots, it provokes conversation at every turn. North Social’s examples page has plenty more.

Social Marketing Wisdom from the Insurance Industry – Really

I was privileged to be on a panel with some outstanding social media practitioners from the insurance industry at the 2011 Social Media Conference for Financial Services put on by LOMA LIMRA this morning. Financial services firms – and insurance companies in general – are often seen as boring, but what these companies are doing within the confines of a heavily regulated business is anything but that. Farmers Insurance for example, hasn’t accumulated 2.3 million Facebook likes by boring people. Another example is One Sure Insurance which is one of my favorite ones. Car insurance is very important, but if you need business insurance then go to RhinoSure.co.uk.

I actually think insurance is a fascinating business, I even have the best motor trade insurance available for my car. It involves taking calculated risks about the unexpected. Insurance companies need to know a lot about the world around us, because their business deals with so many variables, from accidents to earthquakes to the chance of being hit by a meteor. This morning’s audience of about 100 social media practitioners truly believe in the value of new platforms to reach their customers, although they have understandable concerns about the many regulations that govern what they can say.

Here are some notes I took away from the three speakers on my panel.

Gregg WeissGregg Weiss (@greggweiss) of New York Life says the company’s social media content strategy is driven by constantly asking, “What can we do that isn’t about life insurance?” This was a theme that was borne out in every presentation: It’s not about the company but about what motivates customers.

A sampling of what New York Life has done:

New York Life Protection Index on FacebookNew York Life has carefully cultivated more than 100,000 likes on Facebook. “We believe 60% of our Facebook fans are prospects,” Weiss said.

His best story actually had nothing to do with insurance but everything to do with using social marketing to build loyalty and word-of-mouth awareness.

He told of buying a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts: milk, no sugar. But when he got to the office, he found the beverage was loaded with sugar. “I couldn’t drink it.” He tweeted his dissatisfaction. Within two minutes he had a reply tweet from the head of corporate communications at Dunkin’. She asked for a phone call, during which she apologized and offered a gift card, which arrived in the mail two days later. “I tweeted about Dunkin’ Donuts’ great response,” he said. “It was a huge win for them. “

His  advice to social media marketers: “Think big. Everyone in this room has the power to change things at your company. That’s incredibly empowering.”

Quotable: “The VP of Social Media at New York Life is the hundreds of thousands of people who have online relationships with us.”

And finally, “Seek a higher purpose. I hope someday to hear a story of a kid who got to go to college because a parent bought a life insurance policy from us.”


Kelly Thul (@kellythul), State Farm.

Kelly Thul, State FarmState Farm got started in social media when it set up a blog to find New Orleans-area employees and agents who couldn’t be located after Hurricane Katrina. “Within 24 hours, that blog was key to our locating ever agent and employee,” Thul said. Today, State Farm is all over Facebook, with pages for the corporation, careers, Latino customers, the Bayou Classic football event and an innovative youth-oriented forum called State Farm Nation (right), where people can “discuss life’s challenges and opportunities, connect with others facing life-shaping decisions [and] find helpful tips and information.” With 1.3 million likes, it’s doing pretty well.

State Farm Nation on Facebook

The insurance company’s YouTube channel has had more than five million views, many for its TV commercials. The ads have spawned parodies, but Thul says the company is pretty sanguine about them. “If people care enough to have a bit of fun with you, that’s OK, as long as it isn’t brutal,” he said.

State Farm evaluates social media opportunities using four criteria:

  • Relevance to business strategy;
  • Role clarity: who is responsible for talking and responding;
  • Measurement criteria;
  • Activating platforms.

These four criteria provide a framework for making a rapid and relevant decision about new platforms and opportunities like Google Plus.

Words of wisdom: “People want to be heard. If they believe you’re listening to them, they’ll like you a little more.”


Theresa Kaskey, John Hancock Financial ServicesTheresa Kaskey (@TheresaKaskey), Director of Brand Management and Strategy at the John Hancock Financial Network, joined the company without any plans to get involved in social media. John Hancock had no social media strategy at time. Today, it’s 80% of what she does. There’s been a long education and adoption process, but company management is buying in, she said. John Hancock recently launched its first blog, Build4Success, and it’s posted nearly 40 videos on YouTube. Unlike the other two speakers on the panel, who speak primarily to consumers, John Hancock Financial Network’s audience is financial advisers.

YouTube has been one of its early successes. “We created more than 80% of our launch content in one day,” Kaskey said. “We had a meeting of our advisers and brought them into a room one by one to talk about how they delight their customers.” It’s been a low-cost, high-return recruiting success.

Words of widom: A key element of successful social media programs is “It’s not about us.”

Facebook Can Work for B2B Marketers, But You Gotta Know the Rules

In my work with B2B organizations, the question of how to use Facebook is invariably front and center. This Is despite the fact that numerous surveys have shown that Facebook is one of the least effective social networks for B2B marketing.

In a survey of marketers conducted by BtoB magazine last year, Facebook was ranked last in usefulness among the top five social networks, trailing blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, in that order.

Nevertheless, some B2B companies have mined gold out of Facebook’s audience, particularly for recruiting young college graduates. Let’s look at some examples of what they do well.

Storage maker EMC makes particularlyEMC page on Facebook good use of Facebook’s “Welcome” page. This is an under-utilized tool that enables companies to present an HTML page as their default front door. It’s done with an application called Static FBML (Facebook Markup Language) but there is little difference between FBML and HTML.

The advantage of a Welcome page is that you can use all the tricks of an HTML page, including hotspots, embeds and even forms. Buddy Media uses it to capture leads, as does e-mail marketing provider Infusionsoft. SAP plays inline videos. Use welcome pages to present an attractive and exciting introduction to your company.

EMC has several FBML pages, including a list of its other social media accounts and a game you can play only after liking the page. EMC doesn’t use Facebook’s wall to much effect, but its purpose seems more promotional than interactive. On that front, it hits the mark.

Other B2B companies that use their welcome pages well include VMWare, Lenovo, UPS and Intel. Fedex uses a cool Flash animation to link to its sub-pages. SocialMediaB2B.com has a nice roundup of Eight B2B Facebook Landing Pages

Conversation Equation

LinkedIn is all about efficiency, but Facebook is about generating discussion, even if it’s around trivial things.

For interactivity, it’s hard to beat Intel’s page, which has racked up nearly 2.7 million likes*. Intel uses its wall to great effect. Its language is perfect for the young Facebook audience, and its questions and challenges are often offbeat and fun.

It’s 2026…what are your devices able to do?” Intel asked last week. Nearly 1,100 people have responded. Wow. Earlier in the week it used an in-line poll app to ask “What content are you most excited to see on our Facebook page?” Interestingly, videos and product announcements topped the list.

Cisco is also terrific at generating discussion. A post on Monday offered fans the chance to win a Casio camera by telling how the Cisco Unified Computing System can benefit their business. That’s a great way to generate word-of-mouth, because posts are shared with people’s friends. Contests and giveaways work well on Facebook.

Cisco SuperFanCisco also has a clever concept called the SuperFan, which is a recognition awarded to their most active visitors. There’s no money involved: SuperFans get their name and face on the Cisco page, and that’s good enough for many of them. Here’s how it works.

Salesforce.com leverages Facebook to drive attendance to its many events. The company knows that its core audience is sales professionals, and it uses discounts, referral bonuses and contests to reach these individuals. Salesforce also post lots of photos of people, which reinforces the image that this is a company with a personal touch.

Desperately Seeking People

One of the most popular uses of Facebook for B2B companies is as a recruiting tool. Facebook has an app to support career postings on your page, but some companies take it to the next level.

UPSjobs goes beyond simply posting job opportunities. It makes the extra effort to quickly respond to inquiries from its fans, often within a few hours. As a result, UPS has turned the tables on traditional recruitment: People come to its page seeking jobs because they know they’ll get a rapid response. As a result, most of the wall comments are from people who want to work for UPS.

Microsoft celebrates its interns on its recruiting page, which is a smart move given the young demographics of the Facebook audience. Sodexo is a master of using social media for recruitment. It uses apps for Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Foursquare to pull its content from other social networks into Facebook. This company’s entire recruiting effort  – it hires about 5,000 people in the US every year – is built on social media. Check out its impressive recruitment site, which lists the many social channels it uses. Other notable careers pages on Facebook include Shell, Hilton and Abbott Laboratories.

Takeaways

Now that we’ve looked at examples of Facebook best practices, what can we learn from them? Here are some of my takeaways:

Firehouse.com on FacebookHave fun. I think of Facebook as the after-hours social network. The style that works best is relaxed, informal and a little edgy. Be personable and distinctive. No company does this better than M&M Mars, whose Skittles page is closing in on 19 million likes. Its style is unique: funny, unpredictable and tuned to generate response.

Respond. Facebook is a place for conversation, not publication. If people ask questions, you need to respond and quickly. One common mistake companies make with their Facebook pages is to launch them and leave them. Successful fan pages feature a constant stream of new posts by the company and quick response to visitor comments.

Be Colorful. Welcome pages are one of the big differences between Facebook and LinkedIn. They enable you to add a colorful and multifaceted dimension to your presence. The best welcome pages have lots of entry points and a vigorous, hip feel.

Share. One aspect of Salesforce.com’s Facebook presence that I particularly like is its willingness to share content from other sources that its audience may find useful. This not only makes the Salesforce.com fan page a resource but builds goodwill with the sources it links to.

Ask. Firehouse.com has built an impressive Facebook presence for its audience of firefighters and emergency medical technicians. “Is your department participating in National Night Out?” It asked earlier this week. It’s “Sunday Morning Roll Calls” sometimes generate hundreds of responses. Something as simple as asking people what they plan to do for the weekend can create interaction.


* I’m personally not a big fan of tracking page likes as a measure of success, particularly since Forrester has estimated that less than 15% of people who click that button ever return. What impresses me more about Cisco’s Facebook presence is the number of likes and comments that individual wall posts receive.

 

How Much Should You Pay For Content?

Underwood keyboardMarketers often ask how they can train engineers and technical people to blog, podcast and otherwise engage in deep online conversations with customers. My advice: don’t bother. You’re better off investing in professional communicators and teaching them what they need to know about your business.

The ability to communicate well in any media demands a certain amount of innate ability and it’s a difficult skill to teach. The technology trade media learned this long ago, and that’s why they have hired professional journalists to fill their pages for the past 75 years. It’s a lot harder and costlier to train  technology experts to write than it is to teach writers what they need to know to about technology.

So if you’re going to create your own blogs, white papers, e-books and such, you should probably use professional communicators to help you do it. What’s that going to cost you? Like most things in life, it depends.

Media Dividend

The rapid decline of mainstream media (more than 45,000 journalists have been laid off in the last five years in the US) has put a lot of good communicators out of work, and many can be had today for pennies on the dollar compared to what they made a few years ago. I recently noticed a bylined article by a veteran Wall Street Journal reporter on a Cisco promotional website. And I’ll bet he was happy to have the work.

The cost variable is the level of technical skill you need. If you’re in a consumer industry where the necessary level of technical knowledge is quite low, decent freelancers can be hired for as little as 25 cents/word, although the norm is between 50 and 80 cents. Demand Media, whose formulaic, keyword-driven approach to topic selection enrages many journalists, is rumored to pay as little as $.10 per word.


A word on words: Freelancers are usually paid by the published word. It seems an odd metric, but it’s the one that’s been used for decades and will probably persist until somebody comes along with a better one. Payment is based upon the published word, not the number of words the writer submits. You should always specify an upper limit.


Many journalists who were making $60,000 to $80,000 salaries working for newspapers a few years ago are happy to work for $35,000-$40,000 today. Any journalism pro should be able to produce 2,500 words/week for you. Do the math to figure out if it makes more sense to hire or freelance, remembering that a full-time employee carries less administrative overhead – but more overhead cost – than a loose staff of contractors. If you’re negotiating for basic, off-the-shelf freelance help, start with a 30 cents/word offer and work from there.

The higher the level of technical expertise you need, the more it’s going to cost you. In the computer industry, which is what I know best, $1 to $1.50 is the going per-word rate for marketing-commissioned pieces these days. I imagine that in a highly technical field, like bio-engineering, the rate is even higher. The fewer options you have, the more you’re going to pay.

Where Writers Hang Out

“I once commissioned a story from a freelancer who had an impressive portfolio of published work, but who apparently had also worked with some outstanding editors. The piece she turned in was such a disaster that I almost cried.”If you’re looking to hire professional journalists, sites like JournalismJobs, WritersWrite and MediaBistro are good places where writers hang out and look for assignments. There are several large groups of freelancers on LinkedIn, including The Freelance Writers Connection with 5,600 members. Search for others.

If you’re more of a risk taker, sites like e-lance, Guru.com, Freelancer.com and iFreelance are places to fish for talent. Try posting your needs and what you’ll pay and see who responds. Be sure to ask any prospective writer for samples of his or her work in your field of expertise. You do not want to pay a freelancer to learn your business on the job.

Hiring freelance help blind is a risky affair. Published samples won’t do you any good. I once commissioned a story from a freelancer who had an impressive portfolio of published work, but who apparently had also worked with some outstanding editors. The piece she turned in was such a disaster that I almost cried. I spent more than four hours trying to turn it into something that was at least publishable, hoping that nobody would actually read it. Moral of the story: ask for raw copy, not clips.

Going the Full-Time Route

Ginny Skalski

Cree Lighting blogger and former newspaper reporter Ginny Skalski

If you can afford to hire a full-timer, I highly recommend it. Journalists are quick learners by nature and their time to productivity is short. Staffers turn out more content per dollar than contractors, and you don’t have the overhead of legal documents, busted deadlines and flaky freelancers who simply disappear in the middle of the night

If you choose to hire a journalist as a corporate blogger, you’re in good company. Among the brands I know that do so are IBM, HubSpot, Eloqua, JetBlue, Cree Lighting and Sybase. I’m sure there are many more. Every single journalist-turned-corporate blogger I have met is happy to be out of the burning building that is mainstream media and into something with a manageable lifestyle and a boss who isn’t a screaming maniac.

If you prefer to go the freelance route, stick with a small group of reliable freelancers rather than playing the field. They’ll learn your business and require less hand-holding the longer you use them. They’ll also go the extra mile for you when you need them. Freelancers treasure steady work more than high pay. Most would rather work for a handful of reliable clients then constantly bid for the highest dollar. Paying within two weeks, rather than the corporate-mandated 60 days, will make you their best friend.

Final Note: Be Reasonable

I’ve been writing for BtoB magazine for nearly six years, some of it paid and some not. Like many media organizations, they pay less than any of my commercial clients, but I always put BtoB at the front of my priority list. Why? They’re just such damned reasonable people to work with.

Freelancers know that $2/word is no bargain if they need to produce 8,000 words and four rewrites over three months in order to get approved and paid. BtoB and I work so well together at this point that there is very little waste in our interaction. I actually make more money per hour working with them than I do with some corporate clients who pay considerably more.

The moral: The easier you are to deal with as a client, the better deals and favors freelancers will cut with you. This doesn’t mean dropping your standards, but the next time you’re ready to ship a draft back to the writer for a fourth revision in order to move two paragraphs around, you might consider just making the change yourself.

 

Five Tips to Make Your Writing Sparkle

Now that we’re all publishers, writing has become a core skill for marketers. I love good writing, and whenever I get the chance to teach it, I share these five tricks I’ve learned to make anyone’s writing better.

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing cover1. Write in Pictures. Former Wall Street Journal page one feature writer Bill Blundell used that phrase in a seminar some 15 years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s the single best piece of writing advice I’ve ever had.

Human beings think visually. The words we read continually conjure up images in our mind. So why settle for ordinary words when vivid images are available?

Consider this passage from a Journal story from two years ago about the declining popularity of Grape Nuts cereal. Describing the factory in which the century-old breakfast staple is made, reporter Barry Newman writes (emphasis added):

All day every day, objects with the proportions of hewn firewood and the heft of cinder blocks hurtle along a conveyor, dive into a steel chute, disappear down a black hole — and emit what sounds like a startled scream.

Each of the bolded terms creates a mental association that makes the scene come to life. Words like “hurtle” and “dive” are so much more descriptive than “travel” and “fall.” These are words everyone knows; we just don’t think to use them.

2. Tell stories. In writing The Joy of Geocaching with Dana two years ago, I had the chance to use one of the best opening sentence I’ve ever written: “In early 2003 Ed Manley decided to kill himself.”

The following paragraphs went on to tell about an injured and embittered veteran who discovered a game that gave his life new purpose. It was a powerful story that encapsulated the curious appeal of geocaching in a way that no statistics could have matched.

Storytelling is the oldest form of human communication and the most instinctively effective. They hit us in our gut. They are one of the most effective tools we have to grab a reader’s attention. Tell them whenever possible.

3. Get angry. Newspaper columnists use this trick all the time. We write best about topics that stir our passion. You may think your situation doesn’t lend itself to such emotion, but with a little imagination, you can get angry about even seemingly mundane things: the way people behave in meetings, the antics of an industry standards group or the way a company treats its customers.

Getting angry doesn’t mean going on a tirade or hurling insults. That’s embarrassing. Anger is better expressed with irony, sarcasm, counterpoint or wry condescension. The more eloquent your words, the more appealing your message. If you make people laugh, all the better.

One of my favorite angry writers is the Baltimore Sun‘s John McIntyre, whose You Don’t Say blog should be in every writer’s RSS feed. In a recent entry condemning restroom devices that periodically emit a spritz of perfume, he wrote,

“It does nothing to cancel out the underlying smell of the premises, merely adding one offensive aroma atop another. It’s rather as if someone went to the zoo and spritzed the bonobos with Dollar Store perfume.”

If you can send your readers scurrying to Google to look up “bonobo,” you’ve won.

4. Remove Unnecessary Words. Do you ever get memos about how someone “facilitated the process” instead of just “did?” Is there ever any reason to use the phrase, “We all know that…?” Have you received an e-mail stating that “Greater emphasis and guidance was placed on ensuring…” when it could have said, “We stressed…?”

Verbose writing and passive voice are drilled into us beginning in junior high school, and we suffer the consequences of this injustice every day. We don’t always have the time to tighten our messages, but it’s a service to readers when we do.

Try this with your next essay or staff memo: Re-read what you’ve written and remove every unnecessary term. Change passive voice to active: Instead of “succeeded in accomplishing,” try “did.” Substitute short words for long ones. See how many words you can remove without diluting the meaning. You’ll be surprised.

Writing coach Don Fry5. Surprise Your Reader. Writing coach Don Fry (right) calls these “gold coins.” They’re the little nuggets of information that delight and reward readers for staying with us. Or they may just make us laugh.

Consider this passage from The Rubber Room, a withering assault on the way the United Federation of Teachers protects some of New York City’s worst educators. Describing a competency hearing for fifth-grade teacher Lucienne Mohammed, Steven Brill writes that her case “is likely to take between forty and forty-five hearing days—eight times as long as the average criminal trial in the United States.” That little nugget of comparative data validates the point of the story more effectively than any quote from a frustrated administrator ever could. Brill did a little extra work to make his point a lot more powerful.

Or how about this gem from Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess, Gary Wolf’s wonderful exploration of the enigmatic classified ad site in the August, 2009 Wired:

“Jim Buckmaster is tall and thin, [Craig] Newmark is short and round, and when they stand together they look like a binary number.”

I laughed out loud at that. It was a reward for reading the 3,000 words that came before it (which were also very good).

The three feature articles I’ve cited above are fantastic examples of great writing. Here are a couple of others that I’ve used in recent classes:

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? This gut-wrenching 8,700-word feature story in the Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Read it and you’ll see why. It will touch your soul.

The No-Stats All-Star – Michael Lewis’ profile of Shane Battier, a seemingly unremarkable NBA forward who raises every team he plays for to a higher level continually delights us with gold coins and features one of the best conclusions I’ve ever read.

What tricks have helped you become a better writer? Share them as comments.

How to Promote an Event with Social Media

How to Promote Your Event With Social Media

As a frequent speaker at events of all sizes, I’ve had a chance to observe some of the best practices conference organizers used to promote their events through social media. In most cases, these efforts cost little or nothing more than your time.

Here are some suggestions for leveraging social channels for event promotion. I’m sure I haven’t covered all the possibilities, so please contribute your ideas as comments. We’ll look first at tactics the can work for any event, then I’ll propose a few ideas for large conferences covering multiple days and many speakers.

Events of all sizes

  • Set up a unique landing page for each event. You need a single Web address that people can refer to in their social channels. Use this page to describe and “sell” the event, not to gather registrations. Send visitors to a different landing page to register. If there are several events in the series, create a unique landing page for each.
  • EventBrite is a great service, but I recommend against using it as your event landing page. Use a page under your own domain and use EventBrite (or similar services) for registrations.
  • Publish an announcement on Yahoo’s Upcoming or Eventful. They help you publicize to a local community. Also consider professional associations, which may give you a calendar entry for free.
  • Regardless of the size of the event, set up a Facebook page or create a dedicated event sub-page under your Facebook page. It costs nothing and gives you access to the extended social networks of registrants and potential registrants. When people “like” your page, that action is shared with everyone in their network. The average Facebook member has 130 Facebook friends. That amplifies your message pretty quickly.
  • Create a Twitter hashtag and promote it to your colleagues and registrants. Ideally, the hashtag should be unique to the event (#AcmeForum11), but it’s OK to use your organization’s hashtag if your main goal is to build your brand.(#AcmeForums). Use the hashtag in all your communications and always link to the event landing page.
  • Schedule Twitter promotions to go out at different times of the day, including on weekends. Free clients like Tweetdeck and HootSuite make this easy. If you’re trying to attract an international audience, don’t forget to schedule some promos to go out during the local work day in those areas. If you can customize to the local language, that’s even better.
  • Ask registrants for a Twitter address and then follow them on Twitter. Retweet their messages from time to time. They’ll notice you and are more likely to follow you and retweet your event-related messages.
  • Use a unique tracking code with each promotion and make sure to use a different code for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail (Here’s a primer on Google Campaign URL Builder). You want to know which sources are sending traffic to your landing page so you can better focus your resources.
  • Link to the event page from your e-mail signature line. Make sure others on your team do this, too.
  • Create short-code URLs using a service like Bit.ly. Many services let you customize the short code to something that’s easy to remember, like your event name or hashtag (for example, bit.ly/AcmeForum). Do that.
  • Your speakers and fellow organizers are your best sources of social media promotion. Make it easy: Create suggested messages for them to use in each medium (For example, “Come see the latest in Acme widgets. Special discount if you use this URL http://bit.ly/AcmeForum“). It’s better that they use your message than create their own. Create a couple of short messages for Twitter and a longer one for a blog or Facebook. Limit Twitter messages to 120 characters to allow for retweeting.
  • Provide a suggested tag for attendees to use when posting photos or videos from the event. This enables you to assemble photo galleries by stitching together tagged content from a variety of sources.
  • Create an event badge (right) that speakers can embed in their blog sidebars or on their websites. Link to your landing page using a custom URL. Don’t send speakers an image, but post the image on your site and send them an embed code. This enables you to tell who’s sending you traffic. It’s a good idea to offer speakers a special discount code they can share with their friends and followers.
  • Something that’s rarely done but worth trying is to customize discount codes and offer a rebate to attendees who successfully recruit other registrants. All you have to do is give each badge-holder a unique registration code to promote, and then track who sends you customers. Then refund promoters a percentage or fixed amount.
  • Create SlideShare and YouTube channels for your event. Post all appropriate pre- and post-conference materials there. SlideShare is a particularly good place to post speaker presentations as a way of raising awareness about follow-on events. Be sure to point to your event site from the SlideShare and YouTube profile pages. Embed media from your SlideShare and YouTube channels on your event website.
  • Content from past events is your best promotion for future events. Record as many presentations as possible and post them as podcasts or video podcasts. Be sure to provide an RSS feed so that potential attendees can subscribe to new content as it’s posted. If you can’t record the sessions, set up brief interviews with selected speakers and post them as podcasts.

Large events

  • Set up a branded Twitter account specifically for the event. This enables registrants to follow you to learn about developments in the program and it also creates a channel for post-event follow-up.
  • Use the Twitter account to promote announcements such as new speakers, sessions, sponsors and parties. Ask staff and speakers to retweet these messages in order to gain followers. Don’t forget to include the Twitter hashtag!
  • Create an event blog. Ask speakers to contribute posts of 300-500 words. Space out entries so that there’s a constant stream of new content. Focus speakers on writing about the topic of their presentations, not promoting their businesses. Promote each new entry on Twitter and your Facebook page. Post a description and link in relevant groups on LinkedIn.
  • Create an e-mail newsletter with frequency of at least every other week. Make it easy for website visitors to sign up for the newsletter, even if they don’t register for the event. Promote a newsletter sign-up page on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Be sure to post the content of each newsletter on a page on the conference website so that people can link to it.
  • Create a series of pre-event audio and/or video podcast interviews with speakers. You can use VOIP services like Skype and inexpensive recording software like Pamela to capture this audio. Post the podcasts on the conference blog and on a dedicated multimedia page on the conference website.
  • Create a page to aggregate news media coverage of the event and/or topic of your event. An easy way to do this is to use Delicious link rolls. Embed a small piece of Javascript code on your Web page and whenever you bookmark an article on Delicious with the designated tag, the headline and link post automatically to your page.
  • Create a “buzz page” that monitors mentions of your hash tag and automatically posts them to a comment stream. Here’s an example.

Post-Event

  • Send a summary e-mail to all attendees with referrals to conference materials on SlideShare and YouTube. Send people to a page on your event website that hosts that embedded content. The landing page should include calls to action to register for future events. A “repeat attendee” discount is a good idea.
  • Set up a survey form to capture evaluations from attendees. Google Documents supports simple forms at no charge. Publish the best comments as validation of the quality of your content. Here’s a simple form I use to gather feedback on my presentations. It took 10 minutes to set up.
  • Continue to use the Twitter account to update attendees and provide fodder for future promotion.

What did I miss? Tell me what works for you and for conferences you’ve attended.

“Content Rules” Is an Essential Desktop Reference for Social Marketers

Content Rules bookMy mother used to justify her massive collection of cookbooks by saying that a volume was worth buying if there was just one outstanding recipe in it. By that metric, pages 157-168 of Content Rules are worth the cover price alone. I thought I was pretty savvy about creating content, but authors C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley gave me at least a couple of dozen new ideas. This is a practical and useful book that every marketer who’s struggling with the new world of democratized publishing will find of value.

Chapman and Handley start out with a list of terms that they would like to see banished from the marketing vocabulary, including “leverage,” “proactive,” ”solution,” “drill-down” and “drink the Kool-Aid.” They have good reasons for hating these buzzwords, and I winced to realize that several regularly turn up in my own writing. The authors practice what they preach, though. This book is written in clear, declarative and hype-free language. It bubbles with enthusiasm for the topic and its recommendations are the kind you can take to the bank (there goes another buzzword).

Chapman and Handley are clearly fans of great writing, and it shows in their use of simple language and playful asides that inject a human touch when the text strays into the realm of the academic. They even invented a few new words, such as “re-imagine” as an alternative to the more mechanical “re-purpose.” Early on, they pay homage to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, prompting me to haul out that 105-page masterpiece and re-acquaint myself with the beauty of simple language.

Pages 157-168 lay out 25 rules for successful webinars. As a veteran of more online events than I can count, I found at least 10 great ideas here. For example, how about taking audience questions during the webinar rather than at the end? Or promoting the event with a short podcast? Follow up  with an e-mail inviting follow-up questions. Post the whole thing on SlideShare. Why didn’t I think of those?

Content Rules doesn’t pretend to be a visionary treatise on the future of social media. There are plenty of books out there that do that. This is a hands-on guide that’s meant to be marked up, so bring a  highlighter. The book includes practical tools like the worksheet that Kodak uses to stimulate ideas from prospective bloggers and tips on where to find free art to dress up blog posts. It will even help you decide when to use in-house content experts and when to contract for those services (though some payment guidelines would have been helpful there).

The authors tracked down many new case studies to provide a welcome break from the Zappos and Blendtec examples cited so frequently elsewhere. For example, there’s Sears Yard Guru, which helps potential buyers of lawnmowers choose equipment, and Army Strong Stories, which tells of military life in the words of soldiers in the field. There’s even a chapter devoted to B2B marketing, an often overlooked category that the authors assert can be just as innovative as the consumer marketing sector.

There’s even advice on how to write headlines that are catchy but not cliché. For example, compare “Insights from Social Media Research” to  “The Naked Truth: What’s Hype, What’s Not in Social Media.” Both can describe the same content, but which do you think is more likely to grab attention?

Throughout the book, Chapman and Handley encourage marketers to think big and take chances. Attracting attention on the crowded social Web isn’t about playing it safe, they say, so get comfortable with risk. “I’d worry less about shocking customers than I would about boring them,” says Jellyvision founder Harry Gottlieb in one notable quote.

Content Rules isn’t a book for corporate strategists or CEOs. It won’t give you great insight about what’s coming down the social media road. But it doesn’t pretend to do these things. This is a disarmingly informal, friendly and approachable book that you will want to keep on your desk and consult when the creative muse has fled you, as it does all of us at times. As a recipe for content, it would have made my mother proud.