Monday, November 30, 2009

Going Beyond Social Media at the MN AMA 2009 Annual Conference

By John Olson

My November 10 presentation at the MN American Marketing Association 2009 Annual Conference advertised that it would go “beyond” social media. Beyond would refer not to the next hot trend but to an ancient ideal: Connection is the heart and soul of our species. In fact, I brought examples of how so-called social media can prove to be antisocial in the extreme, with companies parodying the online memorial format, or creating anonymous blogs to deceive shareholders.

Rather than touting emerging technologies, we talked about the Great Leap Forward of some 70,000 years ago when our species used the nascent tools of community—fire, language, social structure, —and ritual to become a civilized race. It was connection and not aggression that allowed our earliest ancestors to flourish (organized warfare didn’t appear until about 16,000 years ago). Harvard researchers posit that there are four human drives: to learn, to acquire, to defend and to connect. Of these, connection is the defining gene. It is the urge to connect that suppresses destructive impulses and allows collaboration and social structure to arise.

Much of what we’re discovering about great civilizations is the power of connection, and much is contrary to what we thought we knew. For example, archeologists now believe the tens of thousands of Fellahin who built the pyramids were not slaves but paid laborers, workers with specialized roles in construction. The great civilizations that followed were marked by sustainable behaviors, most notably, joining and belonging. The United States in the mid-20th century was the most connected country in history, with citizens active in everything from bridge clubs to political groups to the Kiwanis.

At OLSON, we developed an anthropological approach to brand building—we call it the “science of social circles”—a decade ago, before the advent of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Craigslist. From this vantage point, we can use media of every kind to create a sense of connection to brands. What’s the next “beyond”? The rapidly changing field of ROI measures for brands, employing state-of-the-art metrics, data and technology. Thanks to the MN AMA for putting together a successful conference in such a volatile era.

John Olson, Founder and CEO of OLSON. Follow John on Twitter @OLSONagency

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 23, 2009

With SEO you too can lose that extra 5 pounds!

I was throwing around tips and tricks with some SEO pros the other day when the conversation lulled. One of the old hands, a self described reformed black-hat search engine optimizer, remarked wistfully, “When it comes down to it the only thing that matters over the long haul is content and links.” After some smiles and nods from his audience he continued, “You can try all the tricks and schemes, but Google eventually catches on and changes the game and then you’re back to what works anyway.”

It reminded me of people who after years of struggling with the diet-of-the-month game finally give up the shenanigans and start eating better and exercising. Losing weight is not easy to accomplish, but the formula is simple. Getting good search results is much the same: publish good content often, get good links, and (eventually) you’ll show up high on Google.

It is often the case that companies have to become ok with publishing information about themselves, their products and their industry. Many fear competitive leaching, breaches of etiquette, or are just plain shy. This is a new age of media and business and companies must engage online. So how does a company who has never published more than a website-on-a-stick and occasional press releases get started publishing valuable content online?

I recommend starting with a blog. I know, blogs seem almost pedestrian now-a-days. But you have to start somewhere and the act of putting thoughts into a post and clicking the PUBLISH button can start the ball rolling. I also recommend using WordPress. Sometimes a good tool can be a motivator. Anyone who can use Microsoft Word can learn how to publish a post in WordPress with a 10 minute tutorial. And WordPress takes care of most of the search engine optimization out of the box. Add a few plug-ins and you are golden.

Now, what to write about? If you’re entrenched in your business like most folks, you probably take for granted what other people don’t know about your business. Ask your customer service people what they get asked about and write a new FAQ as a series of articles. Talk to your salespeople, they know what questions people have about your company. Start a one way conversation. If all goes as planned, it will turn into a two way conversation and then you’re really on to something.

Getting links isn’t complicated – just publish content that people want to link to. It will take time for your audience to find you, so you have to reach out and participate in the online community, pointing people back to your site and blog. There are plenty of professionals who can help on this front, and their job will be much easier if they have strong content to work with.

Like any lifestyle change the beginning is hard, the initial results are motivating, and the goal is worth the effort. Start today.

Scott DeToffol is a Minneapolis based online marketer and technologist helping clients connect and convert at LYNX Interactive Marketing. Contact Scott at or via Twitter: @scottdeto

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Mosaic of MN AMA Annual Conference Reflections

Did you go to the conference this year? If you did not get a chance to attend the annual conference, take a look at what some of the attendees had to say about it. Over 300 came and we have a small handful of participants who offered their reflections below. We invite you to add your opinion- good, bad or indifference. Add your comments or reflections to this post now.

Rob McChane said, “Being a first-time attendee to the Annual Conference, I was really impressed with the quality and caliber of the guest speakers. They seemed genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge which created a level of interaction with attendees that I haven't seen at other events like this. I also really enjoyed the social media element of the conference. It’s nice to see the MN AMA promoting professional development in these new areas of marketing to help its membership stay ahead of the curve."

Barrie Berquist said, “This was my first time attending the MN AMA annual conference and I was excited to see what it was all about. Since I am currently in job transition, I was hoping to network with marketing professionals and take home new marketing-related information that would help me in my job search. I was also excited to hear presentations from marketing leaders from a diverse range of companies on the challenges and successes they have experienced, especially in this unstable economy. The MN AMA annual conference turned out to be everything I hoped it would be and I will definitely be returning next year.”

Ken Gregory commented, "The MN AMA 2009 Annual Conference was a big success. In a one-day event, it gave me an incredible opportunity to connect with so many leaders and marketing professionals, and gain amazing insights from the keynotes and track sessions. There was a great deal of variety with the track sessions and speakers, and I liked having the option to choose the sessions that I was most interested in. I also enjoyed working at the MN AMA booth - watching the 'Lovemarks' book fly off the table and listening to the tweet traffic throughout the day."

Kristi Kottschade said, "This has been my fourth year attending the MN AMA Annual Conference and every year I have been impressed with the speakers. They all do a fantastic job and provide some good information that I can use in my job. The volunteers really put a lot of hard work into making it a success. Looking forward to next year's annual conference. I will be there!"

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Introduction to Social Media News Releases - Part 2

By Mike Keliher

This is the second post in my little two-part series on social media news releases. In my first post, I offered an introduction to what social media news releases are and how they're different from traditional news releases. In today's post, I'll share some thoughts on why you'd want to use a social media release, what exactly you do with one, and ideas for how you might gauge its value.

By now you should at least have some vague idea of what a social media news release is and what they might look like, and you're probably starting to get a sense for how you'd put one together. To get a better understanding of what you should put into your social media news releases, let's talk a bit about why and how you'd use one of these fancy things.

In most cases, when I publish a social media release, I'm also paying a company like Marketwire, BusinessWire or PR Newswire to distribute a traditional news release at the same time. Write a traditional release -- you need some client-approved language to use in the social media release anyway -- to send out over the wire for the sake of reaching some mainstream media newsrooms and, perhaps more importantly for most news releases, getting a nice little bump in your search rankings.

Include in that traditional release a link to your social media release, which complements your traditional release with whatever photos, videos and other Web content you have -- content that would cost you an arm and a leg (maybe two legs) to distribute via one of those wire services. Then, when it comes time to send pitches to your carefully selected list of media folks, include a link to your fancy, multimedia-stocked social media release instead of your boring, plain-text traditional release.

Once you get in the habit of sharing photos of your products, events and the like, or publishing videos on YouTube, you'll quickly find yourself thinking, "Boy, I wish I could easily show this reporter our photo set, and our videos, and our news release, and give her links to our Twitter profile and our Facebook page..."

That's what social media releases are for. And trust me, if that "Boy, I wish..." sentence sounds odd, just wait. You'll get there.

To gauge whether your social media release was effective, consider these questions:

- Think about how you gauge the success of your traditional news releases. Did your social media release help with any of those metrics?

- Did it increase the quantity or improve the quality of coverage you received? Did reporters or bloggers use any of the photos or videos you shared? Did they pick up any of your key "news facts"?

- Did it save you money? Were you considering paying a news release distribution service to host some photos or videos for you? If so, using a social media release platform like probably just saved you anywhere from $50 to a couple of thousand dollars. Seriously.

- Does the social media release show up one the first page or two of Google search results for a couple of your key phrases? Keep in mind, if you paid to distribute a traditional release via PR Newswire or the like, those are probably more likely to show up higher than your social media release.

- Did it make your job any easier? Was it helpful to have just one place to point people for all of those photos, videos, links and release text?

- Did a reporter or blogger tell you, "Hey, that's cool"? Did he say it made his job easier?

- Did you get your money's worth? This is sort of a trick question, as many methods for creating and publishing these things we call social media news releases are free of charge.

I hope that helps. If you have more questions, let's hash it out in the comments section below, or you can e-mail me [].

Mike Keliher is a Client Relationship Manager for Minneapolis marketing firm Fast Horse and blogger at The Same Rowdy Crowd and Unjournalism.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where ROI Hides When Growth Stalls

By Steve McKee

In 2002, my advertising agency was named to the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America. It was quite an honor, and very exciting for a company that was only in its fifth year of existence. My business partner and I made plans to attend the Inc. 500 gala in Palm Springs and take our bows with the other 499 fast-growth companies.

There was just one problem. In the months leading up to the conference our growth stalled. We went from stellar returns to sagging revenues almost overnight, and we had no idea why. It was disconcerting, to say the least, and the conference ended up being less a celebration than a reminder of our ineptitude.

Necessity being the mother of invention, after months of soul-searching we made the difficult decision to spend some of our limited resources on a comprehensive study of corporations that had been named to the Inc. 500 list over the previous two decades. We wanted to see if we could unlock the secrets of those that had remained successful, and perhaps uncover other organizations that, like ours, had been tripped up. We wanted to learn from their experiences, both good and bad.

It was an eye-opening exercise. The first—and perhaps most comforting—thing we learned is that we were not alone. We learned that in any normal year, some 15 percent of companies experience flat or negative revenue growth, and over the course of a decade half of all companies do. (In 2009, some estimates suggest up to 90 percent of all companies are struggling with flat or negative revenue. Stunning.)

The reason most often blamed for stalled growth is, unsurprisingly, the economy. Other external events include aggressive competition and changing industry dynamics, such as the introduction of technological advances that change the playing field. But what we found is that external events, while significant, are not the real story; after all, every company has to deal with them. We wanted to know why some companies successfully navigate their way through difficult circumstances while others do not.

Our research told us why: When growth stalls, the real challenges come from within struggling organizations. We identified four internal, psychological factors that tend to do their damage by stealth, catching most corporate leaders unprepared. They include a lack of consensus within the management team, a loss of focus in the marketplace, a loss of nerve (as fear takes the place of good judgment) and inconsistency of execution.

Making matters worse is how these four internal dynamics tend to play off one another, creating a vicious negative feedback loop. If company leaders are unwilling or unable to look within, face facts and address these destructive internal dynamics, a return to healthy ROI may remain a dream long after the economy returns to health. When growth stalls, our research found, it’s what’s inside that counts. Leaders of struggling companies ignore that at their peril.

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, a columnist for and the author of When Growth Stalls: How It Happens, Why You’re Stuck & What to Do About It.

Bookmark and Share