Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Study uncovers surprising social networking trends

posted by Andy Leff
Welcome back from Memorial Day, everyone! I hope you had a pleasant break from your energy-consuming business ventures (and cash-consuming gasoline prices).

I spent the morning getting back into the swing of things by trolling the blogosphere for interesting articles. I stumbled upon a fascinating article in a most unlikely place: Rent to Own Online. The site covered various studies, trends, legislation, news -- all the resources that impact business operations.

One article that caught my eye highlighted just-released survey results from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). Its key finding: 65 percent of business professionals now use personal AND professional networking sites.

Intrigued, I tracked down the original study: The Social Network Practitioner Consensus Survey, conducted by i4cp in conjunction with just this month. A total of 323 organizations participated.

Some of the highlights:

Professionals' top picks. LinkedIn, Yahoo! 360, and MySpace led the charge as the most popular sites for professionals.

New social networks for traditional business uses. Just over half (52 percent) of respondents whose organizations use social networking sites do it to keep internal staff and remote employees connected. Forty-seven percent tap the networks to connect with potential clients and showcase their skills. And 35 percent say they job-hunt through social networks.

Social networks as organizational IQ boosters. Over half (55 percent) of businesses who have internal social networks use them to share best practices with colleagues, while 49 percent use them to get answers to pressing issues or challenges.

Turn non-users into users. Some respondents don't use social networks. The top reason for 37 percent: They just don't know what networks to use. However, the majority of respondents (59 percent) said they would get on board with social networks if they knew it would assist their professional development. And 77 percent would definitely join the parade if they thought networks could aid organizational efficiency.

Interesting stuff. For me, the study raises as many questions as it answers. How do organizations set up these networks? How do they choose them? Do the business managers run them, or do they require IT staff and support? Do they rely on external networks, or build them internally? How do they get employees on board? And what do social networks offer to smaller businesses who have lean staffs?

I'm trying to get in touch with Jay Jamrog, i4cp senior vice president, to see what more there might be to this study, and see if he'd like to join me in a podcast to discuss same. Stay tuned.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

I get by with a little help from Sandra Wilks

posted by Seun Olubodun
And so do small businesses and non-profit organizations, thanks to Sandra's lifelong passion for helping people achieve their career goals.

She's a Philadelphia entrepreneur who works in conjunction with the Community Capital Works at Philadelphia Development Partnership. Her mission: to help microenterprises develop core business skills, and get their concepts off the ground.

It's a fitting role for a woman who got her start in business 50 years ago selling household goods door to door. And her later experiences running a grocery store with her husband taught her about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of small business ownership.

Now, she draws on these lessons to teach other start-ups how to find capital, obtain licenses, develop consistent marketing tools, and refine organizational vision.

We called Sandra up for her direct insights into the small business universe. The result was an informative, inspirational podcast that will give new business owners actionable advice about where to start.

And, whether you're a new business owner, or know someone that is, send the podcast along to spread the resources.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Presenting the classical online business example

posted by Andy Leff
You won’t find Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Billboard Top 100, but you will find it at Arkiv Music LLC. The online music store sells the hits from three centuries ago, and plays to the tastes of classical music lovers.

But why use a modern medium to sell antique music? The site’s creators, President Eric Feidner and COO Brian O'Connor, thought that distributing classical music through the Internet would be more efficient and cost-effective than establishing a brick-and-mortar store.

Their reasoning: Classical music doesn't sell the volume of CDs and DVDs that would warrant stocking shelves, but its demand is significant enough to generate brisk online sales.

Their instinct proved correct. Five years later, over 350,000 customers worldwide have purchased CDs and DVDs from Arkiv Music. The result: sales that return 25 to 30 percent growth each year.

Of course, it's best to hear the story straight from the source, so our podcast team interviewed Brian at the Main Line Chamber of Commerce event.

Brian’s background also includes Director of Operations of Music Boulevard, which has since merged with CDNOW.

Listen to Brian’s advice for starting a successful online business -- we promise it will be music to your ears.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Taking Pogue beyond user-generated content

posted by Andy Leff
I was catching up on some blog reading last week, and this post by David Pogue -- one of my favorite tech writers on -- caught my eye.

In his post, Pogue says many Web 2.0 and user-generated content capabilities are still waiting to be discovered. He spins a few ideas of his own, such as a site where people can report what sickness they're coming down with, and where they live, so other people can determine if germs are heading their way.

Interesting stuff, but there's much more to Web 2.0 than user-generated content. Read my response to Pogue's post for the full download. And don't forget to leave your comments for me here!

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Powerselling mother knows best

posted by Andy Leff
Danna Crawford is not your typical stay-at-home mom -- unless mothers who make their living entirely off eBay have become the norm since my childhood.

That's because Danna is an eBay Power Seller, trading assistant, and education specialist based in Ocala, Fla. She's also the proprietor of and, and the author/editor of various e-books ranging from instructional eBay guides to Irish cookbooks.

With her fingers in a wide array of digital pies, Danna has been able to work from home since 1997, pay her bills, and make her kids her No. 1 priority -- all because she had an Internet connection and the determination to make the most of it.

We got on the horn with Danna to discuss her techniques and strategies for self-employment through the Web. She gave us great insight into the eBay universe; offered advice on maintaining a consistent Web identity across multiple sites; and alerted us to some cool services geared toward small business owners.

This podcast is for anyone who wants to sell goods online, but has no idea where to start, or who wants to kick personal e-commerce efforts up a notch. Listen, absorb, and pass along!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

E-mail made the radio star

posted by Andy Leff
Remember my post on successful e-mail strategies?

I got to build out those ideas even further for Entrepreneur Magazine Radio last week, when Lee Mirabal interviewed me about ways to implement and execute effective e-mail campaigns.

Check out the third link on the right side -- '13 Tips for a Successful e-Mail Marketing Campaign.' And thanks for the opportunity, Lee!

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Artist architects new career online

posted by Andy Leff
What do you do when you suspect your avocation won’t pay the bills? Give it up? Choose a related career path? Or find a way to turn your talents into a viable job, and jump into a new venture with both feet?

Artist Jaye Coltharp chose the last option, and is now standing tall as a small business owner. She's the sole proprietor of Fashioned by Jaye, an arts and crafts store she opened in Springfield, Mo., this past September.

Seven years ago, however, Jaye was on her way to a career in architecture. It wasn't until she started selling her artwork on eBay that her true passion found financial stability, eventually enabling her to open a brick-and-mortar space.

Jaye's journey from trading wares on the Internet to buying a downtown shop is a great case study in using online tools to support offline business. Her presence on eBay and MySpace has gained her recognition, ensured a reliable customer base, and attracted artists eager to sell at her store.

And her visible storefront in Springfield fuels word of mouth from satisfied customers, encouraging local people to return. The upshot: Marketing is the one small business challenge Jaye doesn't have to worry about.

We caught up with this artist/businesswoman for a podcast to discuss her career path, successes, and lessons learned. So if you're thinking about pursuing your dream job, or want to reinvigorate your existing business, this is one interview you don't want to miss.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Seth Godin dips into book tour

posted by Andy Leff
Did you catch last month's podcast with Seth Godin? Intrigued by his latest book, The Dip? Interested in seeing him live?

If so, you're in luck. Seth is kicking off his book tour today in Philadelphia at World Cafe. Although tickets are already sold out there, seats might be available at the door.

And if you miss him here, he will also be appearing throughout the U.S., from New York to Santa Clara. So check your calendars for May, see if he's coming to your neck o' the woods, and make a date to hear him speak.

It's a terrific opportunity to learn actionable marketing advice firsthand, and transform it into new strategies for your business. And no worries if you don't catch Seth on this round -- his next book comes out in January.

Have fun!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Word gets out about word of mouth

posted by Andy Leff
What do religions, roadsters, and razors have in common? Their popularity and adoption is spurred by word-of-mouth validation.

That type of validation was the topic of our conversation with Ed Keller, CEO of Keller Fay Group; author of the seminal book, The Influentials; and President of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

Clearly Ed's career revolves around making sure the word gets out -- literally. Today, companies can no longer simply push brands on consumers. That's because consumers are pulling information themselves to share, discuss, and even contest.

The corporate impulse is to try to control online buzz. That's why many companies remain fearful of starting corporate blogs, for example. Instead of fostering word of mouth (buzz), they avoid it. They think it opens the floodgates for negative feedback that will tarnish their brand.

As you will hear in our podcast, Ed says that's all hooey. He counsels corporate marketers to join the conversation; accept, learn from, and improve products and services through online criticism; and ultimately, strengthen trust with customers.

In turn, they will spread the good word on your behalf -- the most powerful form of advertising.

Of course, that's just a nutshell of Ed's advice, so tune in our podcast get the full frontal on fostering positive word-of-mouth, both online +and+ off. Then practice what he preaches by passing it along!

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Putting Web 2.0 on the map

posted by Seun Olubodun
Ferdinand Magellan was the first to sail around the world. Lewis and Clark were the first to go overland to the Pacific and back. And now xkcd is the first to give us a cartographic breakdown of Web communities.

I wouldn't recommend using this map to traverse the globe, but even with tongue firmly in cheek, the cartoon highlights where people are congregating online, and how they're using the Internet. Case in point: the enormous MySpace continent.

Think for a moment what this map would have looked like 10, five, even two years ago. Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, chat rooms, and other Web 1.0 states would have taken up half the area, crowding smaller players into their own island clusters.

One can only imagine what changes lie ahead, as Web 2.0 continues to alter the online landscape, and whatever comes next (Web 3.0 anyone?) rattles the planet. Boundaries will be redrawn, continents will shift, seas will shrink, and fortunes will be won and lost.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The not-so-accidental tourist

posted by Andy Leff
Actually, make that the not-so-accidental tourism marketer. We're talking about -- and with -- Annie Heckenberger, Social Media Director at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. (You have to love her title!)

Annie is part of the dynamic team behind the City of Phildelphia's image. She's an expert in new media, which includes online outreach, mobile content, and even computer gaming.

One of Annie's most visible efforts has been uwishunu, a blog her department created to tap the talent of Philadelphia's creative class, and tout what Annie refers to as "unconventional city life." (Here's the complete 411.)

The secret to uwishunu's success as a tourism initiative: Annie's team used the right approach for the right audience. They needed to reach tourists who wanted to 'stay like locals' in the city. And they knew these people had near-total use of Internet tools to research, purchase, and plan travel.

So they met them on their own turf, with a funky, well-designed blog that attracted fresh content from local artists, musicians, foodies, and more. The result: a fun, informative source on the newest regional hot spots that reached its intended audience, and convinced them to visit Philadelphia.

Listening to Annie's podcast is a fast and effective way to glean her proven insights on creating and leveraging a successful tourism blog. And if you like what you learn, pass it along to spread the good word!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Web advice you can bank on

posted by Andy Leff
Here's another dose of business guidance from the Main Line Chamber of Commerce event -- this time, courtesy of John Durso.

John is the marketing manager of St. Edmonds Federal Savings Bank, one of Philadelphia’s oldest, yet smallest banks, with only six branches. He helps organize local events that encourage small and mid-sized businesses to leverage the Web and technology.

When we interviewed John, he echoed what I've long evangelized here: Using the Internet to grow your small business is the only way to increase market visibility. Competing against larger businesses is difficult, perhaps impossible without it.

John practices what he preaches at St. Edmonds. The bank recently upgraded its Web site to make it interactive, and increased its leads as a result -- proof that a well-conceived Web presence works.

But better to hear the story directly from John, as he stresses the importance of being online.

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Monday, May 7, 2007

Untangling Web 2.0, part 3

posted by Andy Leff
Let's get the week started by picking up where I left off last week. I've laid the groundwork for understanding social networking, creating profiles for your business, and learning best practices for building contacts.

And now the best part: How to leverage those guidelines to build traction for your business.

Like skinning a cat, this can be accomplished in several ways:

Send individual e-mails. A feature of every social network is a personal Inbox where you can send messages to your contacts and other members. By crafting clear, well-focused, short messages, you can pass along brief information about your business.

This works well when you want to converse quickly with one person. They're also good for individual follow-up questions about your company.

However, sending e-mails one at a time is time consuming. And if they're not short and punchy, the receiver might not even read it. So it's important to quickly and succinctly sneak your message in.

Comment on your contacts' profile pages. Leaving a friendly hello on your contacts' profiles is a good way to get to know your neighbors and form relationships. Once you build rapport, you can try subtly plugging your product, service, or business in your comment.

You can take it a step further by adding an occasional picture or video to your comments. Think of commenting as a public e-mail. Anyone who comes across that person's profile can see it. Also a bit time-consuming, but it's a great way to market yourself, have people stumble upon you, and request you to be part of their contacts.

Post bulletins. This is where the real bang comes from. Posting bulletins basically means sending mass e-mail to your contacts. However, instead of going to your contacts' Inboxes, the message is posted in their internal bulletin boards page. This way, you can efficiently spread your message to your entire network without clogging mailboxes.

Just go to the internal bulletin board (MySpace has the best one), click 'post new bulletin,' and type a message. It's in the same format as e-mail, so use the same guidelines that you would for any e-mail message.

Start and join groups. You can form groups about ANYTHING -- from the serious, such as Green Thumbs (if you have a landscaping business), to the wacky, such as People Who Love Cherry-Flavored Lollipops (if you love cherry-flavored lollipops). Then you invite members to join.

You can use groups in a few ways to build traction for your business. One is to form a focus group, and ask members for their opinions on your products and business. People will usually be honest -- whether positively or negatively -- especially the college kids. If they think you are selling junk, they will tell you exactly that.

The key is not to get discouraged by negative comments, and instead dig deeper to find out why that comment was posted. How do you do this? Simply use the e-mail function, and do a follow-up with that particular person in the way I outlined above. (See how all these tools eventually come together? They make life a heck of a lot easier.)

Likewise, be on the lookout for groups to join. You can easily search for groups by topic, and click to join them. You can view the members' profiles, too. It's a great way to network and build more relationships with other like-minded people.

Blog within the community. I've talked about blogs so much lately that I'm blue in the face. So, check out my 13 blog tips. They all apply to blogging within a social network, since there's no difference between having a blog on your personal Web page, or within a social network.

The purpose is the same: Opine on your passion, cultivate an audience, and get people talking about your business. A blog on a social network can act as your everyday blog if you want. Just direct all your clients to that blog through your social network profile.

This might look like a ton of stuff to digest, but if you look at it piece by piece, you'll see that none of it is tough to do. Plus, you don't even have to be tech-savvy. That's the beauty of the Web 2.0 revolution, as it makes the Internet accessible to anyone. And now that the Web is untangled, it's more understandable, too!

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Ben McConnell reveals marketing's 5th 'P'

posted by Seun Olubodun
Any B-school grad worth their salt had the four P's of marketing drummed into their heads: product, price, place (distribution), and promotion.

But did you know there's a fifth P? Neither did we, until we spoke to author, blogger, and consultant Ben McConnell.

Ben and his business partner Jackie Huba are the brains behind the pioneering Church of the Customer blog. They're also the authors of "Citizen Marketers: Where People are the Message," which hit bookstore shelves last month.

The book discusses how regular people are the new cultural influencers, using nothing more than a laptop, a broadband hookup, and their own research and opinions to shape business products and practices.

And they are directly responsible for the marketing mix's new 'P' -- participation. By giving customers ownership in the business world through participation, a business can build loyalty and grow profits.

There's more good stuff where that came from in the podcast, so click it, take it, share it, and learn from it.

Here I am with Ben (center) and Andy (right):

And here's our producer, Warren, interviewing Ben:

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sasha Issenberg: Raw and unedited

posted by Andy Leff
I've got one of the biggest fish tales you've ever heard -- that's hundreds-of-dollars-per-pound big.

It starts in Japan, about 30 years ago. The fish in question is tuna. Sports fishermen caught the fish, and sold it for pennies as an ingredient in cat food.

Fast forward to today. That tuna isn't going for pennies anymore. It's being harvested at record rates, and Tokyo auctioneers sell millions of dollars of the fish every day to create one of the world's most coveted epicurean delights: sushi.

Now you see sushi restaurants at every street corner and on every menu -- even at places like pubs and sports bars.

Why? Well, I wondered that myself. And there's no better person to ask than Philadelphia Magazine writer Sasha Issenberg. His new book, "The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy," has all the answers, and it hits bookstores today.

The book is the product of a 15-month global tour interviewing fishermen, chefs, and just about anyone else involved in the sushi trade. The result: The entire history of sushi, from its beginnings as a Japanese snack to its current status as a global phenomenon.

But we couldn't wait for the book to come out to learn how this fish story ends. We met up with the author earlier this week at Genji, a great sushi restaurant (come on, was it even a question?) in downtown Philly.

Sasha dished on how the sushi trade grew in a global market over such a short span of time, reflected on whether we might be in a sushi bubble, and reveals his favorite type of sushi (we couldn't help but ask).

And as luck would have it, we captured the convo here. Although you can't mount this one on your wall, you can download it, sync it to your iPod, and take it with you.

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More untangling of Web 2.0

posted by Andy Leff
The first step to solving your problem is admitting you have one. I'm admitting it. I'm addicted to blogging. But I'm not too interested in solving it, because where would that leave all you loyal IncPlace readers?

Case in point: I just had to return to my keyboard and bang out part two of social networking how-to's. Let's get started!

First, activate your account and build your profile. This can be as easy or as difficult as you want. Most social networks have templates you can choose from, so you don't have to be a designer in order to have something that looks professional.

Like I said before, these social networks are geared to individuals, so the areas to fill out info might seem a bit strange. However, they can be adapted for business use. In the "about me" section, fill out any info that you want people to know.

In the "interests and hobbies" section, you might list your products, or keywords relating to your business.

The pictures section is a great place to put your company logo, and those shots of you at the company Christmas party.

Don't forget that you can join more than one social network, so your messages should be tailored to the audience that visits the networks. If you can relate to them, they can relate to you.

Once this basic info is set up, it's time to grow your network and meet vital contacts.

Don't be intimidated -- this is pretty easy to do. Start by browsing profiles and adding them to your buddy list. Browsing for profiles is a very simple task, since all social networks do it the same way.

It's important to keep two things in mind when adding people to your friend or contact list. You can add anybody you want -- but remember, you're a business, so you want to add people who share common interests with your product or service. You also want to find your target market.

This is why I recommend MySpace as the best option to date. You can do a site search to find members who fit your audience. For example, if you sell trendy clothes, you might want to search for people who are into fashion and friend request them.

Once you start adding friends, you'll see the networking effect take place. Soon people will be requesting to add you to their contact list. But beware, some of these accounts are fake. The good news is, it's pretty easy to tell the fake from the legit. Here are my guidelines for what's fake:

Friend requests from a celebrity, such as Tom Cruise or the ever-popular Jenna Jameson. Chances are celebs don't have an interest in your business. The proof? Search a social network for Tom Cruise. There are hundreds of impersonators.

On the other hand, if your goal is to just add as many people as you can, then by all means, accept Tom's invitation. You're not going to be in any type of online danger. However, it might weaken your credibility if you have a ton of celebs as buddies (unless you're an agent).

Friend requests from someone in Alabama. In order to create mass spam accounts, people use computer programs to automatically make specific profile choices. The easiest location choice is the first on the drop down menu: Alabama.

This is also the reason many webcam girls come from Alabama. Check out this post from Seun for an explanation.

Friend requests from someone who asks you to check out their webcam. Don't click on the webcam -- no matter how tempting it might be.

Profiles without pictures. Social networkers tend to be quite a photogenic bunch, so accounts without pictures, or just one picture, are likely fake.

Profiles full of nonsense comments. Something like "Thanx for da add" is probably the work of a robot. Also, accounts with no signs of intelligent back-and-forth chit-chatting between friends are probably fake as well.

Profiles containing get-rich-quick schemes. They're a scam, simple as that.

"Now Andy," you might say, "it sounds like I'll be stuck with a ton of fake accounts, and all my personal information will be stolen." This is not the case. I'm just giving you a heads-up about what is out there.

Above all, use your common sense. Street smarts work well in the online world, too. If someone off the street offered you free money, you'd just keep walking. Online is no different.

Now that you've got your profile up and made some friends, what do you do with them? PARTYYY!

Well, not quite ... Uh oh, Seun just walked in front my desk with an urgent matter. BRB, friends, I'll have the final installment of social networking 101 soon!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Oh, what a tangled Web 2.0 we weave ...

posted by Andy Leff
Quick! When I say Web, you say 2.0. Web! [2.0!]

Web! [2.0!]

Web! [2.0!]

You got it! ... Or do you?

Web 2.0 is all about community, collaboration, and social networking. This is all fine and well if you understand how to use it to your advantage. And that's what I'm here for, folks.

Many business owners ask me how they can become part of these online communities. Most believe it's hard to get involved in community-based networks, and even harder to use them. This is a myth. These things are so easy to use, even a diaper-donning baby can have great success with them. (Well, you get the point.)

For those who don’t know what social networking is, let me take a moment to clarify. It’s the new buzzword for what used to be called word-of-mouth advertising (WOM). The buzzword was created so that some guy could rake in millions by making something people already did sound brand-new -- a total crock, but who am I to argue with a great business plan?

In order to understand how to use social networks to grow your business and spread the word online, we have to first define what networks will give you the most bang for your buck. And by buck I mean time put into networking, since most of the sites are free.

Consider the big three: Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace. These sites are the most well-known social networking sites. Facebook caters to the college- and high school-based audience.

LinkedIn is a resume-trading site that's fairly complex and difficult to navigate. It's the only network of the three that was intended for any type of business use. But there really isn’t much else to do on it besides share resumes with friends and coworkers.

And then there's MySpace. Anyone can join it. And even though it's not business-oriented, it is the most viable option for businesses right now because of its open policies.

The real work starts from here, so buckle your boots. I'll have more social networking tools and tips soon!

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