Letting go of Facebook friends: It’s Not You, It’s Me.

The more time you spend in social media – or maybe, the more time *I* spend in social media – the more I notice how much time it takes to keep up with everything. As such, I’ve developed certain strategies to deal with the onslaught, including putting my activity on various sites into specific contexts.

Twitter, for example, is a bit of a free for all – it blends personal and professional, informative and entertaining. It’s where I have no problem making “internet friends” with people I’ve just met, or barely know. It’s also where I put myself in front of people I admire – leaders in the communities that I consider myself a part of.

Facebook, by contrast, has become increasingly personal. While it’s nowhere near an “inner circle,” I’ve come to jealously guard my Facebook profile against people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with on a fairly regular basis.

As such, I’ve been slowly culling down my Facebook list to get rid of folks that I don’t have some level of significant connection to and/or interaction with – and the results have been interesting. It seems that some people get very offended when you “unfriend” them – I’ve even heard from folks on my friends list who are afraid to drop folks on Facebook for fear of their reactions. In one friend’s case, just the act of putting a near-stranger on the “Limited Profile” list upset said near-stranger to a frankly absurd degree.

For myself, I’m positioning it thus: my Twitter feed goes straight into my Facebook profile anyway. If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve already seen MOST of what’s in my Facebook profile. All you really get on Facebook is a bit of extra snark, and occasionally a silly video. If you’re interested in Facebook for business networking, why do you need that extra content? So really, I’m just trying to save you some time.

There’s often talk in the social media community about stances like this equating to “missing an opportunity” by not taking advantage of what Facebook can offer for your business. And there is some truth to that. But ultimately, as sole practitioners and entrepreneurs, what many of us have to sell is our time – and one of the things the experience teaches you is how to prioritize what you do with it. For some professionals, focusing on Facebook makes more sense; for others, Twitter or LinkedIn does. The point is to focus, and to think of each platform in terms of the goal you want to achieve with it.

And when you’ve got the goal in sight, it’s a lot easier to feel just fine about letting a few folks drop off the list.

Article first published as Letting Go of Facebook Friends: It’s Not You, It’s Me on Technorati.

How to get customers to not opt out of your e-mails.

Today, I made an important decision for the benefit of my sanity and mental wellbeing.

I decided, after receiving my third marketing e-mail from a random company instead of the important e-mails I’ve been waiting for, that it was finally time to opt out.

That’s right. Today, I’m opting out of every single marketing e-mail that I receive. And I think that you should, too.

There’s a good chance that I’ll catch a bit of hell for this. After all, I have been a member of the sustainable design and “green” marketing community for a while, and the green marketing community loves to recommend the e-mail newsletter. As does the SEO community, and the folks who tell you that social media is all about providing “useful content” to your audience.

I’m not saying those folks are wrong. I’m saying that it’s really easy to step over the line from “wow, this is useful!” to “damn, this is annoying.” And many marketers, especially from bigger brands, cross over that line repeatedly. For example, during the unsubscribe process, I discovered that AAA had me signed up for no less than seven e-mail lists. Citrix (who makes GoToWebinar and other products) had me signed up for eight. I have no recollection of signing up for any of these lists, and the couple of lists I did sign myself up for (DailyOm, Self Magazine), send me 2-3 e-mails daily that end up in my trash bin.

So, let’s say you are a marketer, and you do want to send an e-mail newsletter? How do you make sure that you don’t end up with a bunch of fed up customers unsubscribing from your list? Here’s a couple of things I noticed about the e-mails that I actually read:

1. They’re personal. Not necessarily personal as in directed towards me, but personal as in they share something of the person I’m getting it from.

2. They’re occasional. My friend Colleen, the Communicatrix, sends her newsletter maybe once a month. It’s a long one, but always entertaining, and always has some interesting perspective on life, business, and Everything. If I got this every week, I’d probably get overwhelmed (as would she!), but once a month or so it’s nice and digestible.

3. If they come more than once a month, they’re mercifully short. Let’s face it. We’re all busy folks. Who has the time to read a weekly, or even daily, e-mail? As a small business, who has time to write that? If you do want to send something more than once a month, try doing 2-3 times a month at most, and keep it short. Marketing Mentor’s newsletter has been a staple in my inbox for years now, and it’s because she keeps it short, focused and useful.

4. They involve things I actually want to read about or see. This is where subjective preference comes in. As much of a yogi as I am, I find Gaiam’s products expensive and rarely worth the price (and the constant spam, both digital and paper, has been a hot button for me for a while now). But Modcloth can send me as many e-mails about clothing specials as it wants to. I may not buy anything, but I always have a moment to ogle retro-inspired dresses.

While you can’t control all of the responses that your users have to a campaign, there are some things you can control. Keep it short, relevant and occasional. Most of all, show respect for people’s time and energy. There’s a lot of information out there, and the last thing you want to do is contribute to the overload.

Article first published as How to Prevent Customers from Opting Out of Your E-Mails on Technorati.

The difference between a logo and a brand; or, why design is like dating

Recently, I got an e-mail from a fellow designer asking me (and a few other friends in the design community) to answer three seemingly simple questions:

  • What is the logo?
  • What is the identity?
  • What is the brand?

One would think that, as a designer who has built her career on knowing the difference among these three, that there would be an easy answer to this. Interestingly, even among seasoned designers, this is a tricky question to answer in a soundbite-sized format, neatly organized into bullet points.

Logo and identity are often used interchangeably, but the key distinction is that a company’s logo is just that: a logo. It is a specific combination of color, type and symbol that, when done well, has been carefully chosen to accomplish the specific goal of getting the attention of the audience that your company is looking to reach.

Your business’s identity is the visual extension of that logo into every piece of collateral that your prospects touch. A well-thought-out identity system carries the intention behind the design of the company logo and transfers it into colors, fonts, photo and logo treatments that give the company an opportunity for visual variety while maintaining consistency across every prospect touchpoint.

The brand, however, is something much deeper than that. Whether you’re a solopreneur or a Fortune-500 company, your brand is the combined perception of every experience your customers have with your business. It’s the look of your ads, the copy on your website, it’s the service that your customers receive and the morale of your staff. It’s how easy, or how difficult, it is to work with you. It’s what makes some people stick by you for decades, while others walk away after the first experience and never come back.

But here’s the thing that often gets missed: all three are equally important.

Say you hire a design firm to do an amazing logo for you. You pay top dollar for something that’s truly astounding and speaks perfectly to the true value that you bring to your customers. But rather than continuing that investment into a cohesive identity system, you decide to take this amazing logo and throw it into your collateral without any sense of consistency. Or you pop it into a cheap template to make your website, or brochure. You may have a great logo, but there’s no sense of a consistent identity, and no sense of why the customer should trust your product.

Or maybe you do have a great logo and identity system. Everything looks slick, and beautiful, and makes sense to the audience it needs to reach. But when the customer actually takes the leap and buys what you’re selling, the experience doesn’t match up to the gloss. FedExKinko’s has a great identity – it’s simple, clean, and speaks well to the business customers and college students that they cater to. However, the stores (at least in New England) are notorious for being dirty and understaffed to the point where it’s hard to tell some days if anyone actually works there.

Contrast that with a brand like Starbucks. Say what you will about them, but every experience I’ve had with them the baristas have been friendly and efficient, and they’ve made the process of getting my morning coffee exactly what it should be – a quick cup of really good coffee so that I can be ready for whatever I’m on my way to. That, plus their relentless commitment to various social programs, makes them my coffee of choice when I can’t find my favorite independent coffeehouse.

Looking at it another way, the logo-identity-brand triangle is like dating. You see a product on the shelf, or visit a website, and you’re intrigued. It’s well dressed, adorable, friendly. You get curious to know what it would be like in your house. Or what it would taste like. So you pick it up, you bring it home – and it’s not at all as advertised. The “fine Belgian Chocolate” in the elegant packaging tastes like fake vanilla and pain. The gorgeous organic cotton blouse gets stained and stretched out beyond recognition the first time you wash it. You’re sad, disappointed, and never buy from the company again. But still, you think: “it just looked so promising!”

Your identity is what makes people buy. It’s how they get to know you, and how they make the decision to feel you out. But it’s up to the brand to create the relationship, and convince them to stick around. Have a miracle face cream that will revolutionize the industry? Pay attention to the packaging. This is something that needs to stay on someone’s bathroom counter, and it’s much harder to make the case that you’re selling a high-end, luxury product if the packaging doesn’t match the promise. But once they get it home, it’s up to the product to convince the customer to buy it again.

This situation is especially true for what I like to call “spur of the moment” foods: desserts, chocolate, alcohol, sauces, snacks. While there are situations where the customer is going to the store with a specific intention to pick up a particular brand, most of these purchases are made without a sense of what brand they’re looking for, or even that they’re looking for the product. The average shopper doesn’t go to a store looking for a specific brand of chocolate unless they’re baking with it. They buy the chocolate because they saw the packaging on a display and said, “wow, that looks really tasty. I need to try that!” It’s the experience they have when they get it home that tells them whether they want to buy that chocolate again.

The lesson: No amount of pretty packaging can make up for a lousy product or service. But having the right packaging up front gets you in the door – from there, it’s up to you to convince your customers to keep you around.

How 20 minutes on Twitter landed a profitable client relationship

My “strategy” (if you can call it that) with Twitter is to simply share whatever’s on my mind – if I think it might be of interest to the people I’m engaging with. This could be as work-specific as HTML5 infographics or articles about social innovation, or it could be as completely random as Lady Gaga’s meat costume at the VMAs. (No, really. Meat.)

Since I do focus my tweets so specifically on whatever’s on my mind at the moment, very often this ends up meaning that I’m tweeting about food – what I’m cooking, what I’m eating, what I’m doing with my farm share. While this is one of the most common complaints about Twitter (“who wants to hear about the sandwich you ate for lunch?”), it’s also what landed me a long-term and very profitable relationship with one of my favorite clients. Here’s how it went down.

Sometime in 2008, when I started focusing the zen kitchen‘s work on the specialty food industry, I noticed that a company named TankaBar had started following me. I didn’t pay it much mind at the time. About 3-4 months later, I was having a conversation with some fellow designers about ways to get in front of potential clients, and posed the following on Twitter: “Some designers say that critiquing a prospect’s work is an effective way to reach them. I say it’s rude and risks offense. What say you?”

Within a few minutes, TankaBar had responded via @reply confirming that they got that quite often and couldn’t stand it. Out of curiosity, I replied, “well then, as a prospect, how do you like to be approached?”

The response? “Well, we need to redesign our website. Want to send us a pitch?”

Three days later, I was in touch with their marketing firm. Six days later, I was signing a contract. The TankaBar refresh led to another project for their marketing firm last year, and there’s another potential project slated for first quarter of next year.

The lesson here? Social media works best when people connect with other people. Twitter opened the door for my studio to take in a great piece of new business in exactly the market we were looking for – but the actual relationship was built through conversation and mutual respect. And, it happened among people – not “brands.”

This is just one example – 75% of the prospect requests we’ve received in the last year have come through Facebook or other mostly personal social media outlets, largely because I share so much of what I’m in the middle of that my friends know exactly what I do, and ask me first when that’s what they need.

Do some people dislike the transparency? Absolutely. But that’s what the “unfollow” button is for. And frankly, the idea that social media is somehow a numbers game is a throwback to the old way of marketing – the “spray and pray” approach. In my experience, it’s much more effective (and easy to maintain!) to be who you are, and focus your energy on people who Get It. The rest of them will be just fine without you.

Want to impress your Twitter followers? Don’t do this.

Shortly after publishing my last article, about how my affection for Facebook games has inadvertently helped me network professionally online, I posted a link to the article (as I often do) on Twitter. Among the various “great article” comments that I received for it, I also received one @reply from someone I’d never met – who said “if you use Facebook for business, here’s how you can get banned from Facebook.” With a link to a blog post by some Internet marketing company that:

  1. Had no relation whatsoever to what I discussed in the article;
  2. Was clearly a thinly veiled sales pitch for their services;
  3. Assumed I was a neophyte who couldn’t tell the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page – despite the fact that neither of those things were the actual subject of the article they were responding to.

Normally, I’d just hit the “report for spam” link and send this person on their merry way – and believe me, I did. But the more I think about it, the more I see a need to comment on the problem inherent with situations like this. There are companies like this all over the Internet – who target small business owners with promises of connecting them directly with their target audience and helping them make more money through online sales.

It’s these same people who believe that sending blanket tweets in response to random keywords – with no sense of context, and no intent to actually *read* the thing that they’re responding to – is an effective marketing tactic. And in the last seven years of working with countless startups and small businesses to help them build their businesses, I’ve seen many of them fall prey to this shtick – only to realize that they spent a lot of money on something that just doesn’t work.

Here’s the deal. If you want to make money online, if you really want to “get directly in touch with your target audience,” DO IT. Get out there and talk to people online. Sign up for Google alerts and find out who’s talking about you – and then get in touch with them to ask them questions and thank them for noticing. Set up a Facebook page and tell people where you’ll be so that they can connect with you in person. Most of all, be real, and be interested.

Article first published as If you Want to impress your Twitter followers, Don’t Do This on Technorati.