Rocky Mountain Viral – 1/31/2010

Viral marketing news and other viral happenings in the Denver Metro and Boulder area.

Apparently, local local site examiner.com is about to hit 30,000 active contributors.  Examiner.com is a grand citizen journalism experiment, backed by Phil Anschutz and based in Denver. I guess with 30,000 contributors, I shouldn’t call it an experiment. If you are not familiar with the site, it is sort of like a cross between 30,000 blogs and a big, fat, digital Sunday newspaper. Contributors write about pretty much everything going on locally and nationally. One of my favorite recent stories covers the appearance of a giant monolith in City Park and written by “Denver Zombie Examiner”, Jessica d’Arbonne. Note that d’Arbonne does make it clear that the monolith is not the work of zombies.

Boulder start-up champion Andrew Hyde hit a nerve last week with a blog post describing how he is committing location based service suicide. His post quickly shot past 100 comments. Not unusual for the Huffington Post, but pretty impressive for a guy from Boulder. By “location based service suicide”, he means that he has stopped “checking in” using services like Foursquare, Brightkite and Gowalla. While each of these has it’s own flavor, all report a user’s current location to his or her network. You should read his post to get his POV – I think he is spot on. I have a nagging concern that I should be more careful with my own personal info, and am disappointed that most social networking services are so cavalier with user’s data. For another insightful perspective on this topic, see this recent post from Read Write Web.

And the cloud of entrepreneurial spirit rising above Denver Metro is a subject of wonder around the world, with recent news that we are now home to more dope dispensaries than Starbucks. And this is definitely not because we are short on Starbucks. I am undecided as to whether this whole thing has a benign or negative impact, but I will say that whatever these guys are smoking isn’t what was around when I was a kid. Quite a motivated bunch.

Office conversation across the country turned to bagels last week, due to a massive Facebook promotion engineered by Lakewood-based Einstein Bros Bagels. Einstein Bros is offering a free bagel and “schmear” in return for following their Facebook Fan Page. Prior to the promotion, Einstein Bros had about 4,700 Fan Page followers. They now have over 358,000! Given the cost of all those bagels, plus the cost of the Facebook ads they ran, they are still well under the $2.5 Million it takes to buy a 30 second Superbowl spot. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison, but I think this is a brilliant campaign. Note that it is difficult to tell if the promotion is still going on, and Einstein Bros didn’t announce an end-date for the promotion. So my apologies if you get there too late.

Lastly, I am sad to repot that the end-times are near. At least that is the argument of “the co-prophet of the end-times”, William Tapley. In a disturbing analysis of murals at DIA, he reveals many prophecies that harken the apocalypse. I wouldn’t have believed it if it weren’t for the substantial evidence he provides. By slowing down the video, I was also able to catch a glimpse of the other co-prophet, no surprise there:

I should point out that we cannot claim Tapley as one of our own. I’m not sure where he lives, but he states that “the long, cold Adirondack winters also afforded me a lot of time.” Some might argue a little too much time, but I find his style entertaining, particularly at a distance.

I will be doing a viral update every week, and welcome any suggestions for topics or items I may have missed.

Oops, I Forgot the Moral of the Story

After reading my last post, my wife reminded me of a letter that was circulating around about five years ago. We had just moved to the UK on a job assignment, and were in the midst of struggling to get basic services like a phone number and a bank account. The letter is to NTL, a cable and internet provider in the UK. It is written by someone who was hoping to receive service from NTL. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver – any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps bemused rage.

The full text of the letter can be found here, but I caution you that some of it is less polite than the above. The letter resonated with us and many others because it is funny and captured some of what we were feeling.

So the moral of the story is that keeping your customers happy is more important than ever, in a world where reviews and recommendations are the primary influencers of decision-making. You may not have a customer as clever as the above letter-writer, but a well-phrased complaint seems to get passed on more easily than praise.

I believe this principle can work in favor of small businesses, particularly ones that offer very personal service. Much of the NTL customer’s frustration came from the fact that he was getting passed around and around. It is basic human nature that we are less likely to show contempt for someone if we have a personal connection with them. But per my previous post, small (and large) businesses should actively seek the praise of their customers – it is a busy world and we often forget to show appreciation when it is due.

Unhappy Customer: Judge, Jury and Executioner?

Customer reviews are fast becoming the primary currency of business information on the web. Google Maps is putting increased emphasis on reviews, and has been aggregating business reviews from all over. And AT&T just announced the impending launch of a new consumer-review-focused site, buzz.com. Presumably some of the motivation behind the new site came from the fact that the review site Yelp.com is eating AT&T’s lunch. Specifically, Yelp.com is crushing AT&T’s Yellowpages.com site, in terms of unique visitors.

And Google, AT&T, Yelp and others are putting reviews first because that’s what consumers care about. According to Nielsen Online (April, 2009):

When making purchase decisions, North American Internet users trust recommendations from people they know and opinions posted by unknown consumers online more than advertisements on television, on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, or in other traditional media.

But there has been some backlash against this increased emphasis on customer reviews. Many businesses believe that review sites give too much power to a vocal minority. An Inc. Magazine article recently described a business owner who began fearing and harassing her customers because of Yelp. While the proprietor in question sounds a-few-monkeys-short-of-a-barrel, there is some validity to the concern. One or two unhappy customers can create a bad impression, and if reviews of a business are sparse, prospective customers have little else to go on. It can even create an atmosphere where subsequent reviewers feel they have to respond to the earlier, negative reviews.

On this topic I have an instructive anecdote concerning my former dentist, Shauna Gilmore. (Note that she is no longer my dentist because I moved too far from her office.) Several years ago, I recall getting an email from her office after an appointment. I don’t remember the exact words of the email, but it went something like:

Thank you for your recent visit …

We would love to hear from you how we are doing. We would very much appreciate it if you would post a review of your experience with us on doctoroogle.com.

Again, I’m going on memory here – I don’t recall the exact wording, but the gist was that they were asking me to write a review, positive or negative. Since I’d just had a very positive experience in her office, I was happy to take a few minutes to write a good review. And so did a lot of other people. If you have a look at the Good Dentist Guide for Denver, Dr. Shauna Gilmore is the highest rated dentist there is.

If, like Dr. Gilmore, you provide excellent service, think about respectful, unobtrusive ways you can ask your customers to review your business. Try to ask when you are still fresh on their minds as gratitude tends to have a very short half-life. And don’t ask for a positive review, just ask them to say what they think. For the most part, customers will appreciate that you value their opinion, and most if not all should have positive things to say. By encouraging a broad cross-section of your customers to speak out, you minimize the impact of a vocal few.

Also see this follow-up post: The Moral of the Story

Rocky Mountain Viral – 1/24/2010

This is my first effort at a weekly round-up of what’s happening of note in viral and social media in the Colorado Front Range. In general, I will be favoring projects and campaigns that have a big impact on a small budget, but will throw in other stories if I find them particularly interesting.

A highlight of my month was reading local advertising celebrity Alex Bogusky’s attempt at neighborhood detente:

I congratulate you on the turn of phrase, “septic scum.” The vitriol and imagery, and creative use of alliteration more than make up for the fact that it’s a bit redundant.

This is an excerpt from Bogusky’s post: Blogging on Telephone Polls, which has been viewed more than fourteen thousand times since he posted it on January 12th. While I doubt that Bogusky received his recent promotion because of this post, it does make me happier for him.

Another story I love is that of the Gatorade bottles that were modified to display “Unfaithful” labels, featuring Tiger Woods. This prank was executed by Longmont resident Jason Kay, and received a bit of national and international attention. Unfortunately, Kay now faces federal charges for product tampering. He probably helped sell more Gatorade, while also drawing attention to our commercial idolatry of sports figures. In my opinion, everyone wins except for Tiger Woods, so can’t they just drop the charges and stop wasting taxpayer dollars?

“Haiti” is one of the fastest-gaining search terms locally as well as nationally. While the tragedy of what is going on there is beyond description, I am glad to see people wanting to help in so many different ways. In one example, the vibrant Denver/Boulder software community is participating in a remarkable crowdsourcing project called CrisisCamps, where developers from around the world are creating and refining applications and tools that are contributing to the relief effort.

A few videos of local interest have gone hot on YouTube. The first features CU Senior, Paul Robinson. It is a Prana-sponsored mini-documentary of Robinson’s extraordinary climbing talents. Robinson also writes a blog with a strong following in the climbing community. The second is actually a series of videos featuring the National Western Stock Show in Denver, put up by Brad Hook. Hook also promotes the No Bull Auction, in Unionville, Missouri. The auction is a “sexed semen special event”. I really don’t want to know what that is, but Hook’s videos are very well done, and capture a side of American life that most of us don’t see.

And last-but-not-least, former Denver resident Jack (he’s a dog, he doesn’t have a last name) is getting some buzz for the fact that he has been nominated for the 2010 VPI Hambone Award. As prestigious as the award is, this is not the real cause of the buzz. The buzz is because he earned the nomination by almost being eaten by a carnivorous Australian lizard. In general, encounters with bizarre carnivores are an effective, if risky way to get attention.

I’m sure I’ve missed important and/or noteworthy goings-on, so please comment if you know of something I didn’t mention.

Driving Cabs, Telling Stories

I am working on gathering sources to do a weekly round-up of local social and viral campaigns. In so doing, I came across this video promoting Metro Taxi in Denver:

Believe it or not, this is the most-watched recently-uploaded video on YouTube that promotes a local Denver business. (Ok, it’s the most-watched excluding those that feature pretty women blowing smoke rings.) So, on the one hand the taxi video reminds me of a Saturday Night Live spoof of a bad cable commercial, but on the other hand Dale Finney (the guy in the video) inspires me. He inspires me because with no budget and apparently little knowledge of video production, he went ahead and did it. And people are watching. Not all that many people, but I’m guessing the ROI is pretty good. I’ll be calling Dale when I need a taxi, in any case. If you didn’t take the time to watch the video, I’ll tell you that he offers free, high-speed internet access in his cab. That’s pretty cool.

So, thank you and congratulations Dale! I’m no expert at video production either, but let me share a few of my thoughts. Unless you are a cute baby animal (or a cute smoke-ring-blower, apparently), telling a story is always a good idea. People like stories, and I bet you have a few to tell. In your case, I can imagine a story or two that illustrate the lengths you have gone to to serve your customers – maybe involving a blizzard or a trip to the maternity ward. People will forward a good story to their friends, and a great story will catch fire. Here’s an example of a great one: Shep Hyken: Customer Service Cab Story.

Ira Glass, the creator of This American Life on NPR, did a series of videos describing the art of storytelling. I found them incredibly helpful. And media theorist Gord Hotchkiss recently did a fascinating analysis of why stories work: The Psychology of Entertainment: How Our Brains Connect With Stories. There’s a real art to telling short, compelling stories. But in my experience it is an art that many cab drivers have mastered.

A Little More on Business Twittering

Yesterday I posted about the Twitter list I created for local businesses: Denver-Boulder-Local-Biz

I reviewed over a thousand Twitter feeds to come up with the list, but I didn’t provide much explanation for why I think the businesses I selected are worth following. I’ll start with a quote from Aliza Sherman:

Twitter is about listening to what others are saying, thoughtfully engaging others in conversation, contributing meaningfully to the conversation, and building real contacts and connects.

Well said. I was looking for businesses that fit that description, while actively seeking to promote themselves. I do think that businesses can gain benefit from tweeting without being conversational, but a salesperson who doesn’t listen gets pretty tiring after a while. There is more benefit to be had by actively engaging with the Twittersphere. Here are a few tweets from @ClearViewWater, one of the businesses I put on my list:

There’s a lot of goodness in just these few tweets. For example, he is very positive. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine he’d be that way to work with. And he is promoting other businesses. You can bet that those businesses will return the favor. And he is promoting himself with a real, compelling example of a project he’s worked on. To be sure, he also occasionally tweets in a more overtly self-promotional way, but he keeps people engaged with interesting content and meaningful, positive commentary on what’s going on around him.

In my list I tried to find a variety of types of businesses using Twitter in different ways, but all engaging with prospects and/or customers. If you know of others I should include, please let me know!

Here are a few resources to help an aspiring business Twitterer:

Aliza Sherman’s How To Avoid Seven Common Twitter Mistakes – this is a good list, and I much prefer advising on what not to do. The businesses I like to follow don’t appear to follow a formula, they just express themselves. But they do avoid these mistakes.

Kris Skavish commented with this great article on various styles of business Twittering: Four Styles of Marketing on Twitter – thank you Kris!

Klout is a service that measures influence and audience. You type in your Twitter name and it provides a detailed analysis of how you rate. It also has helpful tips for how to improve. I rate a pathetic 16, so I guess I have some work to do.

This post is part of

Two Octobers Local

Denver + Boulder Local Businesses on Twitter

I’ve been looking around for a list of local businesses that are making good use of social media. So far I haven’t found any, so I decided to create my own Twitter list as a starting point: http://twitter.com/nicobrx/denver-boulder-local-biz#. If you are a local business, I recommend that you follow this list as a source of ideas for how to create and strengthen relationships. There are also great businesses on this list, which anyone in Colorado should want to follow!

My list is not comprehensive. I’ve done my best to find out which local businesses are actively using Twitter, but there is no authoritative source of such information that I have found. It is also very subjective. My intent is to list businesses that are engaging with their customers and the local community using Twitter. This rules out, for example, @denversolarguy who is incredibly prolific and has many followers, but is mostly one-directional as far as I can tell. This also rules out the many businesses who follow the crap out of people to up their follow numbers, but don’t have much of interest to say.  I have also tried to represent a variety of types of businesses. Since restaurants and bars are making heavy use of Twitter, I set the bar a little higher for these categories. Otherwise, the list would be hundreds of restaurants and bars with a few other businesses strewn about.

I plan on updating this list frequently and welcome any suggestions. Sources of information I have used include:

Holographic Sales Assistants?

Motorola just released their annual holiday shopping survey, and it is a gold mine of local shopping data. I won’t summarize the whole report, but here are a few tidbits:

  • The #1 cause of customer dissatisfaction was a lack of available coupons.
  • More than half of consumers used mobile devices for shopping-related activities while shopping.

One of the charts that interests me most is this one:

It appears that most consumers would like to see more in-store technologies that assist shopping. I can’t say that I’ve ever wished for any of these things myself, but apparently I’m atypical. I am pretty curious about the Holographic Sales Assistant, though. What is that?!? I guess I am supposed to be imagining that I could be waited on by Angelina Jolie, but for some reason what comes to mind is Stella from the classic Star Trek episode I, Mudd (8:10 in to the clip).

Thanks to Greg Sterling for pointing me to this research.

To do (right now): claim your listing on Google Maps

I’ve talked with a few businesses recently whose Google Maps listing is either incorrect or out-of-date. I suspect that this is true of most local businesses. The good news is that this is free and easy to correct. If you are involved in marketing a business, go to Google Maps and search for the business. Find your business in the results, click on the “more info” link next to the listing. On the business listing page, you should see either “Owner verified listing” or “Business owner?” If it says the former, you’ll need to find out who at the company has already claimed your listing. If it says the latter, click on “Business owner?” and you will be stepped through the process of editing and claiming the listing. Here’s Google’s video describing the process:

And if your own a small businesss, Google Maps loves you just as much as Walmart. As long as you can validate an address, you can create a listing in Google’s Local Business Center.

Also keep in mind that what you put in your listing affects whether or not it will be found when people search Google Maps. Use keywords in your description that reflect how people search, and make sure to select all categories that apply to your business. And you can use additional fields to list brands carried, services offered and other search-friendly content. In addition to its success on the web, Google Maps is the most popular local search application on the iPhone and on Android phones. This is going to be an increasingly important way to get your business found.

oncemany

oncemany.com is a site/project conceived of by Boulder creative/photographer Shane Rich. The project will last for 365 days, and people or businesses can buy any day or days to promote “any message/theme of (their) choice through photography.” I can see getting hooked on the site. Shane has a very personal, but observational style, and his photographs are striking. I think the photograph “Tattoos by Preston Shomo” is outstanding. It will also be interesting to see who signs up and what they will have to say.

The site has a strong promotional angle as well. Shane is explicit about the fact that he will promote each participant “through (his) Blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr”, but participants also have an interest in promoting oncemany. As the year progresses, a community of participants and their close connections will naturally form around this project. If you are a local business, this is a great opportunity. Just the photograph and the link are well worth the cost. Any other visibility you get out of it is icing on the cake.

(And yes, I’m thinking about buying a day – October 2nd, naturally – I just need to have a good story to tell.)