Important tips for making end of year donations of household goods

During this season of giving, Goodwill of Greater Washington would like to offer 10 useful “Do’s & Don’ts” when making a year end donation of clothing, computers, household goods or vehicles. Goodwill hopes that these recommendations will make the donation process a more convenient and pleasant experience.

When donating clothing, computers, furniture, household goods or vehicles, please DO

1. …try to make your donation as early in the day as possible when lines will be shorter.  Most donation sites are open by 9AM  Donation sites and hours of operation can be found on the DC Goodwill website http://www.dcgoodwill.org/.  If you're not in the DC area, your local Goodwill organization can be found at http://www.goodwill.org/.

2. …try to make your donation Monday through Thursday when the lines will be shorter.  While New Year's Eve falls on a Friday this year, it is a holiday for many, so lines may be longer than usual.  New Year's Eve is always the busiest donation day of the year.

3. …try to make your donations in one trip as the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the busiest week of the year for donated goods.

4. …remember to get a donation receipt, and make an accurate recording of your donation, as well as a copy of your receipt. You will need this if you wish to claim a tax deduction.

5. …make sure the donation receipt is signed and dated before leaving the donation site. It will save you an unnecessary trip back to the donation site.

6. …remember to check for the closest Goodwill donation site before leaving your home. A complete list of attended donation centers and donation bins and stores can be found on Goodwill of Greater Washington’s free mobile app for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, or by visiting http://www.dcgoodwill.org/.

7. …sort your donated items as best you can (tie shoelaces together so shoes don’t get separated, put suit jacket and matching pants on same hanger, please fold clothing if possible, etc.). Separated or lost items cannot be resold.

8. …remember to clean out your donated computer of all files, documents, discs and CDs before donating it. Cleaning software can be found at www.dcgoodwill.org. All computers and related equipment donated to DC Goodwill are now recycled: http://www.reconnectpartnership.com/.

9. …call Goodwill’s vehicle donation line at 202-715-2636 or visit http://www.gwcars.org/ to schedule a home pickup of your donated automobile.

10. ...call DC Goodwill's home pickup line if you wish to make a very large donation of household goods.  Goodwill now offers both a free home pickup service and a priority home pickup service for a small fee. Visit the DC Goodwill website to schedule a pickup.



Please DON’T

1. …donate large appliances such as dishwashers, freezers, hot water heaters, large refrigerators, stoves, trash compactors, washers or dryers to DC Goodwill. Goodwill doesn’t have the space to store or warehouse such large items. However, other worthwhile organizations such as Habitat for Humanity may accept them.

2. …donate broken, incomplete, severely damaged or other unusable items including furniture, toys, mattresses, box springs; mildewed or soiled clothing; firearms, ammunition, automobile parts, windows, doors or aluminum siding.  A good rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t give it to a friend or family member, perhaps you shouldn’t give it to a charity.”

3. …drop off items after donation sites have closed for the day unless a blue metal donation bin is provided (this is to protect your donation from the elements and from theft).

4. …donate recalled toys. Please consider the safety of all children. You can visit http://cpsc.gov/ if you aren't sure if a toy has been recalled.

5. …ask for a 2010 donation receipt if making a donation after December 31, 2010.

6. …ask someone to pick up a donation receipt for you if you forgot to pick one up when you made your donation.

7. …forget to estimate the value of your donation for your taxes (an IRS value estimator can be found at http://www.dcgoodwill.org/).

8. …forget to secure supporting documentation when claiming a tax deduction, such as an IRS form 8283 and/or an independent appraisal on all large donations.

9. …forget that Goodwill is very grateful for your donation and our attendants are working as hard as possible to expedite the donation process. This is a very busy time of year for donated goods, so your patience is appreciated.

10.  ....forget to confirm that the organization to whom you are donating your houseold goods or vehicles is a 501C3 charitable agency.  There are numerous thrift retail businesses and donation bins that claim to be affiliated with charitable agencies, but are actually privately owned, for profit companies.  If you donate to one of these organizations you cannot claim a tax deduction for your donation.

 
To everyone who donates used goods, cash or services to Goodwill or any other worthwhile charitable organization…thank you and Happy New Year!

What Marketers Should Expect in 2011

Well, 2010 is coming to a close, and traditionally the end of one year brings with it predictions for the New Year. 2010 is no exception.


CMO.com generously provided a handful of marketing predictions for 2011. Following these prophecies by some well respected marketing experts I’ve added a few of my own. Feel free to include your thoughts to the list.

From CMO.com –

Doug Kessler, Creative Director & Co-Founder, Velocity Partners:
"Lines between sales and marketing will blur, and the functional silos will start to blend into one revenue department. After all, a marketer is just the first salesperson, and a sales dude is just a marketer working a bit lower down the funnel."

Tim Suther, CMO, Acxiom:
"Broadcasting--a strategy based on reach, where targeting and segmentation are limited--will migrate to narrowcasting. Marketers will leverage data to reach the most valuable prospects with greater certainty of message delivery, acceptance, and, most importantly, participation. These narrowcast audiences will be multi-dimensionally defined across shopping, purchasing, and attitudinal behaviors. Utilizing the narrowcasting approach will require a shift in campaigns."

Bill Koleszar, Executive Director, The CMO Institute:
"With the increasing emphasis on transparency and reputation management, CEOs will work to add board members with deep marketing and public relations experience. This will result in additional expectations for already-stretched CMOs relative to increasing and protecting the value of their brands."

Jake Wengroff, Global Director of Corporate Communications, Frost & Sullivan:
"Some companies will actually scale back social media. Here's why: Some strategies are not working. So rather than, say, continuing to keep up a company's blog or collection of blogs by several company executives, companies are going to turn them off or instead have their executives or thought leaders serve as regular or guest bloggers for larger, more well-established sites."

Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director, CMO Council:
"Watch for the dawn of 'Mobile 2.0.' Mobile marketing will push beyond the one-way point to multipoint-message push of first-generation mobile marketing and then evolve into mobile relationship marketing--a multi-touch, bidirectional engagement channel. The quest for targeted, personalized, highly relevant, and localized marketing that seeks to activate customers, foster loyalty, and drive a passive customer into an active buyer will look to manifest in this next generation of mobile."

Steve Rubel, SVP, Director of Insights, Edelman Digital
"In 2011 marketers will begin to realize that return on attention--starting with their share of time per user per month--is a far better way to measure conversions. Reach and impression metrics will slowly fade into the background as supporting data points."

Paul Parkin, Founding Partner, SALT Branding:
"2011 is going to the year of 'brandalism.' Consumers want engagement, and this year they are going to get it--with or without your help. They don't want to just participate in your brands conversation; they want to shape it, control it, sell it, evangelize it, or even destroy it!"

Kate O'Neill, CEO and Founding Partner, [meta]marketer:
"This coming year brings great opportunity for marketing to drive the decision-making process, provide strategic definition around cost and value, and deliver ROI insights for companywide programs. With the data available in most marketing departments, companies can prepare relevant programs to acquire and retain customers profitably, even as customers' motivations shift and they become increasingly savvy online."

Vikram Bhaskaran, Director, Strategy and Business Development, L2:
"In 2011, marketing will get harder--there are only so many brands that people will 'like' and 'follow'--but could also get cheaper as the most innovative brands develop creative programs and generate compelling content, allowing them to build direct relationships with their consumers as opposed to paying ad dollars to media companies."

Brent Dykes, Director, Consulting & Excellence, Adobe Systems:
"More companies will invest in social plugins and Facebook for Websites (Connect) in order to bring Facebook's single sign-on and features to their own Web sites. It's win-win for both sides. Customers use the same features they love on Facebook, and companies can acquire new visitors and gain valuable demographic insights into their customers."

Now just a few 2011 predictions of my own:

1. Companies will begin to place much greater emphasis on the customer experience both on and offline. Consumers are getting weary of sales associates who don’t seem to value their business, and ecommerce sites that make it virtually impossible to get a quick response to a simple question. Management is finally beginning to realize that consumers have far too many options to put up with poor customer service for long.

2. Brick & mortar businesses will pay more attention to brand loyalty online. With geo-based mobile and social media platforms like Yelp, Foursquare and Places allowing online users to instantly influence consumer behavior virtually at the point of sale, companies will proactively seek to impact perceptions by offering greater rewards and incentives to loyal customers and advocates digitally.  (See Donovan Neale-May prediction)

3. Companies will begin to realize that the rewards of corporate social responsibility come from practicing it for the benefit of the customer and community, not for the benefit of the corporate reputation. When CSR is practiced appropriately, the brand benefits will take care of themselves.

What do you think marketers should expect to see in 2011?

CMO vs. CIO: Who rules the digital world at your company?

Last week, I received a call from a colleague in Canada asking for my opinion on the role of IT in the development and management of an organization's digital and web based initiatives.  She was being challenged over that role by her new CIO who felt that the IT department should be managing content as well as technical support.  I told her quickly and candidly that I didn't think IT should play any role at all in the content management of our digital initiatives, and that they should play only a supporting role in the development of those initiatives. I think my exact words were, "they should help ensure that we have the technical resources and bandwidth to achieve our objectives."

Shortly after having this conversation, I stumbled across an interesting article on the animosity between CMOs and CIOs over the challenges of meeting customer expectations in a digital world.  It suddenly dawned on me that this was a real issue for many organizations.

According to a recent study by Accenture and the CMO Council, "69% of marketers said the CMO should be the primary leader of digital marketing, and only 19% of them see the CIO and the IT department important to defining digital marketing strategy. However, 58% of IT executives see themselves as the true champions of digital marketing."

I guess I'm fortunate that I've not experienced these challenges at my organization.  Our CIO and I are both in lockstep on what needs to be done to try and improve the quality of the customer experience both on and offline, and who is responsible for the technical development and content management of our digital initiatives.  We actually share the same primary frustrations as most organizations:  limited time and resources.  Though we have a common vision and work well together.

However, my belief has always been that marketing is the manager of the message and how the message is delivered.  IT's role should be to provide the technical infrastructure and resources necessary to maximize the marketing department's ability to deliver that message in a manner that is most convenient and appealing to the consumer. 

If you can, download the executive summary from the Accenture study linked to above.  I think you'll find it a compelling read.

What role does the CIO play in the development and management of your digital marketing initiatives?  Have you been faced with challenges similar to my colleague's?  If so, what have you done to mitigate the fallout and create a collaborative environment?

Why are you paying to distribute digital coupons?

I've been reading a lot of stories lately about the popularity of online coupon sites like Living Social and Groupon.  As a consumer, I can see why these sites have value.  Who wouldn't want to get substantial discounts at local and national retailers, restaurants, theaters and other businesses?

But do online coupon sites have value for the advertiser?  According to some articles, small businesses that have used the sites are questioning the benefits of offering big discounts in the hopes of converting prospects into customers, when the costs are so high, and their level of control is so low.  Living Social and Groupon charge a huge fee for posting discounts on their sites.  To generate a measurable return, businesses need to start with large margins and/or hope that a significant percentage of consumers who redeem the offers will return at some point ready to pay full price.  The retailer also needs to hope that the coupon offer doesn't alienate the business' loyal customers who are already paying full price and are not being rewarded for doing so.

As a business, one of the competitive advantages of using location based social media platforms like Foursquare or Places is that a retailer can offer digital coupons, at no cost, to anyone who happens to be near one of its locations.  Additionally, the retailer controls the amount of time the discount is offered, how many coupons it wishes to distribute and whether or not it wants to require the user to "check in" multiple times before he or she can access the coupon, thereby significantly increasing the possibility of repeat business. 

While coupon sites like Groupon may presently have more members worldwide (35 million), they don't offer the geographic convenience of geo-based sites like Foursquare.  Granted, Foursquare offers aren't delivered directly to the consumers email inbox, but by simply logging onto a geo-site through a smart phone, a consumer can immediately identify any retailer in his/her vicinity that is offering a special. Therefore, any perceived inconvenience with redeeming the coupon is mitigated by the retailer's proximity to the user.  And there is no 24 hour wait for the coupon download.  It pops up on a smart phone ready to use.  Additionally, if the consumer wants to share his or her experience with friends, they can easily do so on geo-sites; a benefit that sites like Groupon and Living Social don't provide.

So if you're interested in distributing digital coupons to drive new business, don't be misled.  Big coupon sites like Groupon, WOW and Living Social aren't your only options.  Nor are they necessarily your best options. It's only a matter of time before burgeoning platforms like Foursquare or Places become the preferred digital coupon distribution channel for small businesses...and probably even large ones.

Guess what small boutiques can offer this holiday shopping season that big retailers can't?

There was a great article by Danielle Douglas in Capital Business this week about how small retailers are trying to compete with big box stores during the holiday shopping rush. 

Working for a relatively small retailer myself, I found the article fascinating. 

While the story points out that margins for boutiques may be much smaller than those for large retailers, and that trying to compete by offering deep discounts is unsustainable, the opportunity to close the year on a positive note exists if the independent retailers can find a way to entice shoppers with benefits other than severely discounted prices.

According to the article, Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria, VA says,  "People are starting to get the fact that good customer service is starting to outweigh just the really good bargain.  If we can keep our prices in a range that makes it palatable for people, they will come to our stores."
 
As a consumer, I completely understand the value of deep discounts, having spent the past two weekends shopping at a local outlet mall with my wife.  However, I am also taking the time to get those very "special" gifts at independent retailers.  Not just for the quality of the customer service (which generally is much better), but also because there are far fewer lines, easier parking, and more unique products than you can often find in big department or chain stores.  There is someone on everyone's list who deserves the extra effort, and it doesn't hurt that shopping at boutique retailers also helps the local economy by providing a boost to small businesses.
 
Take the time to shop at your local independent retailer (blatant plug coming) or Goodwill store this holiday season.  You'll find great gifts that will make you a much more appreciated Santa, while also helping to protect someone's job.

The Top 10 Creative Viral Campaigns by The DigiWave

There are a lot of factors to measure the effectiveness of an viral ads or campaign. Personally, I have an appreciation for those that inspiring, creative and entertaining, obviously the one can touch the audience's senses, without showing too much the commercial side. Although most of the campaigns in my fav list are successful in terms of increasing brand awareness and driving sales, it doesn't mean that a creative viral campaign will guarantee commercial success. In most of the cases, it's more about hitting the right target to link the online message into real-life buying action. And that's another story. Digest the list first. It's delicious!


1. Carlton Draught - Big Ad










2. Trojan Condom - Trojan Games









3. Way back home – Red Bull









4. Transport in London – The Awareness Test









5. Berlits – What are you sinking about?











6. Axe – Clean Your Ball









7. Eepybird.com – Diet Coke & Mentos









8. Honda – The Cog









9. Volkswagen - The Fun Theory









10. Nike – Cross Bar









The Top Ten Successful Viral Ads of All Time by AdAge

Today, viral campaigns become more popular and part of many marketing campaigns. You should have watched a video with over 1 million views in YouTube and thought to yourself: “How the hell this video get so many views?”. In the past, at the beginning of YouTube era, this could happen naturally but nowadays, most of these hits are touched by companies and advertising agencies. It’s the time of viral era. Let’s have a review of top 10 viral ads of all time announced recently by AdAge and Visible Measures and discover the stories behind.






Here comes the A-list launched this year:




1. Blendtec – Will it blend
What was the best way for Blendtec to demonstrate the might of their blenders? Gun for product placement in films? Leverage food channels? No, all they needed to do was blend an iPod, a broom, golf balls and a multitude of other things. This one is a bit surprising. What this really speaks to is the mad scientist in everyone! People love to see things like crazy experiments, and this is just fun to watch for that reason. What's amazing is that a lot of the people who commented on the video online didn't even realize it's an ad for a blender -- they thought this is just some crazy man who put his iPhone in a blender for fun! These videos are effective because they do something that very few viral videos do – they drive sales. Blendtec has created a video series that is not only entertaining but also demonstrates the power and utility of their product. Sales of Blendtec blenders increased by 800% because of this cheap yet moreish campaign. Pure genius.




2. Evian - Live Young
It's well known that people love babies in ads. Babies, animals, and humor are three major appealing factors in ads, and this ad combines babies and humor. Whoever planned this out knew it would be a home run because of the babies, the fun music, and the great product placement. This ad was actually great for the brand in terms of getting the message out about the product. However, what makes this campaign stand out from the others is Evian’s use of social networking sites, most notably Facebook. They created Facebook profiles for the video babies, allowing fans to befriend these beloved rollerblading munchkins while inadvertently befriending the brand. 




3. Old Spice - Responses
There is no denying that the campaign was a huge success for the brand, catapulting them into the number 1 spot for men’s body wash and making Old Spice a legend in the world of online marketing. Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ began with a single video, which started out online and then went to television. It was an instant success, with Old Spice accounting for 75 percent of all conversations in their category for the first quarter of the year. But the real success of the campaign came later on when Old Spice launched their response campaign, a more personalized digital campaign, in which ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ interacted with fans via an onslaught of YouTube videos. Simply send Mr. Old Spice a message - through Facebook, Twitter or YouTube - and wait for his visual retort. The campaign goes hand-in-hand with the Old Spice worldwide promoted Twitter trending topic. This was one of the biggest winners in the Cannes Ad Festival, and got many accolades. It really appeals to young men and, while it seems a bit ridiculous and over the top, it works.




4. Pepsi - Gladiator
Soft drinks brand Pepsi recruited a teamsheet of international A-listers to appear in two big-budget TV ads, using the themes of pop music and football as part of its global promotional push for 2004. 'Pepsi Gladiators' starred Beyonce, Britney Spears and Pink singing We Will Rock You in a Roman amphitheatre, while 'Pepsi Foot Battle' featured Real Madrid stars David Beckham, Raul and Roberto Carlos slugging it out in costume. These ads went viral and hit the public as there is a truth that people love entertainment, they love to see faces they know and, at the end of the day, it's an ad with good music, pretty girls and handsome guys.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86Hp1l5s7hM


5. Microsoft - Xbox Project Natal
This one is purely functional. However, the video is visually attracted and entertaining. With something like that, it's interesting that people would watch it the whole way through, but if you think about it, for families to invest that much money, it's important that they know what the product does.




6.Dove – Evolution
Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, used time-lapse photography to show the transformation of an normal woman into a glamorous billboard model using beauty stylists and Photoshop enhancements. The clip was released under the slogan “No wonder our perception of real beauty is distorted”. Dove Evolution then took top honours in both the Cyber and Film categories pointing to the colliding worlds of consumer-powered digital distribution and brand building. It is fast becoming one of the most watched videos on the internet. In the two years since Dove decided to brand itself as the beauty company that celebrates real beauty that strategy has rewarded the company with double digit sales increases.




7. T-mobile – T-mobile Dance
Saatchi & Saatchi created this fantastic viral ad for T-Mobile in Liverpool Street Station with hidden cameras. Why it’s effective. Sure T-mobile weren’t the first to film a flash mob, but they still hit this one out of the park. This video is clever, energetic, human, beautiful, entertaining and just plain fun to watch. It has huge numbers at over 17 million views and it does a great job of supporting T-Mobiles ‘Life’s for Sharing’ marketing campaign. T-mobile has smartly followed up with a sing-along video in Trafalguar Square and will undoubtedly continue the ‘Life’s for Sharing’ viral video series – a wise decision, but it will be tough to beat the magic of this video.




8. Doritos – Crash the Super Bowl
Crash the Super Bowl is one of many ways the Doritos brand continues to turn control over to consumers. The brand’s commitment to fan-empowerment began with the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” program, which started in 2007 and has turned the brand’s Super Bowl advertising over to its fans every year. The campaign allowed thousands of normal people, along with ad creatives and film makers create and submit their funniest Doritos ads in an online competition in the lead up the to Superbowl, with the winner, to be played at the main event and the finalists sharing in over $5million in prizes. In addition, Doritos has put consumers in control through a variety of other exciting opportunities, including its “Unlock Xbox” challenge where fans compete to have their Xbox LIVE® Arcade game concept developed and made available for download worldwide; and “Doritos Late Night,” which provided Doritos fans ground-breaking virtual musical performances by blink-182 and Big Boi through the power of augmented reality technology where fans could enjoy and control the performances in the palm of their hand.




9. Old Spice - Odor Blocker
After the Responses, the hits just keep going with a more insane and awesome Odor Blocker series. This time, we get a bodybuilder who punches, kicks, blocks and generally destroys odor—and everything else in his path—in the service of Odor Blocker Body Wash. This guy's on something, and it's not a horse. Plus, he has these crazy talking abdominals.




10. DC Shoes - Gymkhana Two
Ken Block is a person with two passions. His shoe label (DC Shoes) from which he is the co-founder and his professional racing career as a rally driver. In order to promote his favorite racing sport to the world, the unknown rally sport called Gymkhana, he created a highly viral video to show cast his own brand, his favorite sport and his sponsor: Subaru. By being honest to your viewers – “We’ll give you great entertainment, but mind that it is an advertisement asset” – the video took away the inner conflict among viewers to not spread commercial videos. Next to the honesty mentioned , the video is simply highly entertaining. A beautiful car, slow motion shots, explosives and speed are elements that catch the attention of the viewer. Everyone loves to watch eyecandy. Which makes it a strong branded entertainment video, which people love to watch. Even if it lasts for over seven minutes.








Top 10 Reasons why Marketing Gets a Bad Rap

Thanksgiving is only a few days away, so I thought that I would have some fun with this week's blog post.  For the record, I've got a great deal to be thankful for; too much to post here.  I only hope that in the future, I take the time to recognize the many gifts I've been given more than just one day a year.


Here are my top 10 reasons why marketing gets a bad rap.  These are phrases that I can't stand hearing or seeing a company say or use.

10. “If you want us to show you how to use it, that will cost you extra”

9. “That’s not what the ad said”

8. “Offer good Monday thru Thursday only, holidays excluded”

7. “If you don’t wish to receive anymore emails, please click on the link below”

6. “25% off entire stock (discount off of manufacturer suggested retail price)”

5. “25% off entire stock (after rebate)”

4. “It says right here…”

3. “Only 19.95 plus shipping and handling


2. We’d like to offer you a two month free trial (then you’ll automatically be billed for the remaining 10 months unless you call us to cancel)

1. “…with proper diet and exercise”


Feel free to add your own!  Have fun and Happy Thanksgiving!

So your company has multiple social media sites and a mobile app...but how are they contributing to the bottom line?

Yes, every marketer believes that you need to be well entrenched in social media to be competitive in today's customer-centric business environment.

While most marketers are still unsure what to do with their social media channels and how to measure or monetize them, they are still convinced that they need to be there.  Hmmm...sounds like a similar conundrum that business experienced about 10-12 years ago during the dot com boom.  Everyone had to have a website right?  But how did you measure its success?  A lot of businesses are STILL trying to answer that question.

In any case, I'm a firm believer in social and digital media, though my philosophy on measurement may not be consistent with many.  While the measurement methodology you choose can depend upon how far along your social media constituents are in the customer lifecycle; based on the relative recency of consumer activation through our digital channels, I don't believe that monetization of our social media initiatives is a necessity...yet.  I think the value is in the acquisition and cultivation of advocates for the product or service.  I tend to measure success today based on blog readers and retention, Facebook comments, Twitter retweets, app downloads and usage.  To me, this activity indicates whether my constituents are finding our content useful.  Strong (and positive) activity should result in greater brand loyalty and advocacy.  However, I recognize that even this form of measurement has its limitations.  Remember that most participants are "lurkers".  This means that they read your social media content, but don't actively participate by responding, posting or retweeting.  They simply appreciate the content for what it is.  Their lack of activity doesn't mean they shouldn't have value to your organization.  They may actually be your best customers. 

So what's the answer?  How do you prove that digital media has value to the sales process? 

One method may be the growth of marketing automation services.  Marketing automation can be a great tool for marketers who are struggling to integrate all of their digital media channels in order to ensure message and brand consistency, assess and deliver on customer needs, improve content quality and evolve from reactive to proactive.

According to a recent article by Erich Flynn, CEO of Treehouse Interactive posted on CMO.com, "One of the biggest benefits of using a marketing automation solution is that it has the potential to put sales and marketing teams on the same page. The ability to define what a lead really is and then use your marketing automation system to qualify, nurture and pass along those leads is a basic benefit. In 2010 there will be many integrations between marketing automation and CRM systems that will change how teams work together to close business."

Therefore, integrated marketing automation should enable marketers to better monetize the value of their digital channels because the data available through those channels can have a direct and measurable impact on revenue contribution.

Will marketing automation services be the ultimate solution to the question of social media monetization and customer conversion?  Don't know yet, but its certainly intriguing. 

When did the US government get into the pizza consulting business?

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was involved in consulting and recommending to Domino's Pizza that it add 40% more cheese to its pies!

I didn't realize that the government was in the pizza consulting business, but I could spend days discussing that.

According to the article, "Dairy Management, the 'consultant' [hired by Domino's] which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant at all. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture".  Yes, the very same Department of Agriculture responsible for leading the government's national anti-obesity campaign.  Talk about "speaking out of both sides of your mouth"!

One slice of Domino's pizza has as much as 2/3rds the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat.  So, on the one hand, the USDA is recommending to the nation's largest pizza chain that it add significantly more cheese to its pies, while on the other hand, recommending that Americans eat less saturated fat, something cheese has in abundance.  Obviously, I'm not the only one that sees some inconsistencies here that could be potentially problematic for Domino's, but highly problematic for the federal government.  Unfortunately, we're talking about a federal agency.  Traditionally, federal agencies have never seemed to be too concerned about their reputations.  They let congress worry about that.

Here's my favorite quote from the article:  "The department acknowledged that cheese is high in saturated fat, but said that lower milk consumption had made cheese an important source of calcium. 'When eaten in moderation and with attention to portion size, cheese can fit into a low-fat, healthy diet'."

I get such a kick out of health and dietary ads that use the disclaimer, "with proper diet and exercise".  The fact is that if everyone maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly, there would be no need for dietary supplements or weight loss pills.  With "proper diet and exercise", I could probably take diet pills made of bacon fat and still lose weight.

The government is bad enough when dealing with bureaucratic legislative and regulatory issues.  I really wish they would stay out of the marketing business.  They're going to give us all a bad name.  Next thing you know, they'll be selling used cars or launching an airline.

SEO Don'ts - The 15 Mistakes You Should Avoid

You do SEO for the future. If you market your site with press releases but don’t optimize it for search engines, then you’ll have to keep writing press releases indefinitely. When the press releases stop, your website traffic is likely to stop as well. Another common mistake is that many organizations think the process completed once a site is launched. They don't realize that the web site needs to be promoted much like any other product or service. That’s why SEO should be continuously kept in mind to enhance your web performance. Last article, we mentioned some good tips in SEO and of course, along with any list of Do’s come the Don’ts. Then here they are…


1. Having no content

Your website needs content. The search engines need something to rank and you need a way to show authority with users and answer their questions. If you want to create a site that is rich in content and a popular resource amongst internet surfers, then adding quality, unique content is a must. Sure, the search engines like it too. It shows them your site is worthy of being ranked because it’s actively growing with information related to the theme of your site.



2. Lack of consistency and maintenance

If you want to be successful, you need to permanently optimize your site, keep an eye on the competition and – changes in the ranking algorithms of search engines. If you optimize your site today, you won’t see the results of your work tomorrow. You might not see the results even after a couple of months. Search engine optimization, like building a business, takes time to pay off. Therefore, try to focus on your long-term goals. Be patient, and keep working away at it. Eventually, your SEO efforts can turn into a steady flow of free qualified traffic to your website — potential customers coming to you. That’s a result worth waiting for.



3. Choosing keywords you can’t win

Even experienced SEO experts can make this mistake. People usually choose keywords in their mind that are descriptive of their website but the average users just may not search them. Or people may focus on very popular keywords which may not be relevant to the site. Even if you are very resourceful, you can't think on your own of all the great keywords. In fact, choosing the right keywords can make or break your SEO campaign. Most of the sites fail to do enough research on keywords. Using good keyword selection tools, such as Google Adwords Keywords and WordTracker, will help you find keywords that are good for your site. Be thorough in your research, don’t just do it once and forget it. Use as many tools as you can get your hands on – look at web stats and look at the logs for the search feature on your site – get a feel for what people are looking for.



4. Keyword Spamming and Stuffing

Many people may already understand is that keyword stuffing is an SEO technique of the past that should be avoided. Piling up the unrelated keywords needs to be reduced because most of the popular search engines including Google go through the content of the whole page. Therefore they index only the relevant keywords. So, just adding unnecessary keywords is useless. Don’t stuff keywords in your meta tags, image alt tags, etc. Don’t stuff keywords in your page footer with lightly-colored or hidden text.



5. Ignoring the Title tag and Meta tags

A common mistake is overlooking the importance of the title tag. More significant than the name of your business is what your business is all about. This is one of the most important places to have a keyword, because not only does it help you in optimization but the text in your title tag shows in the search results as your page title. Therefore tag should contain the most focused keywords.



Similarly, though you may think that meta tags do no good to your page rank but it cannot be a possible reason to leave your meta descriptions. The search engine research pages vary the description of your web page according to the search keywords. So it’s better to define your web page in the best way you think it will drag a reader towards your site. The tags you put in should be suffice and able to correlate to your page. A good optimized meta description can increase your CTR significantly. Also, a lot of search engines other than Google rely heavily on meta description for ranking your site.



6. Ignoring URLs

Many people underestimate how important a good URL is. Dynamic page names are still very frequent and no keyword in the URL is more a rule than an exception. Yes, it is possible to rank high even without keywords in the URL but all being equal, if you have keywords in the URL (the domain itself, or file names, which are part of the URL), this gives you additional advantage over your competitors. Keywords in URLs are more important for MSN and Yahoo! but even with Google their relative weight is high, so there is no excuse for having keywordless URLs.



7. JavaScript Menus

Using JavaScript for navigation is not bad as long as you understand that search engines do not read JavaScript and build your web pages accordingly. So if you have JavaScript menus you can't do without, you should consider build a sitemap so that all your links will be crawlable.



8. Poor internal linking

We talk a lot about the power of links in SEO. You want people to link to you with keyword-rich anchor text as a way of telling the search engines that you are relevant to those terms. Well, then why aren’t you linking to yourself the same way? When you’re linking between pages on your site, make sure you’re using preferred anchor text to give yourself a boost in the search engines and give users a keyword-rich path to follow. You may not be able to control how other people link to you, but you can control how you link within your own site. Make it count.



9. Flash website without an html alternative

Flash might be attractive but not to search engines and users. Great content embedded into a Flash website get invisible by the search engines. If you really insist that your site is Flash-based and you want search engines to love it, provide an html version. Similarly with Splash pages. A good alternative to both issues is to make use of a flash header. There’s no problem to include a flash animation at the top of your main site, or as a feature within the content area, etc. Because this is an addition to your web site, as opposed to a full separate element.



10. Overusing graphics instead of text

Many people think that an image looks better than text for headings and menus. Therefore, if you are too graphics-rich, you. Most search engines are not programmed to read graphics but instead look for text. may be bypassed by the search engines. An image can make your site look more distinctive but in terms of SEO images for headings and menus are a big mistake because heading tags and menu links are important SEO items. Whenever you’re using a photo, make sure there is also relevant text to accompany it.



11. Backlink spamming

It is a common delusion that it more backlinks are always better and because of this web masters resort to link farms, forum/newsgroup spam etc., which ultimately could lead to getting their site banned. In fact, what you need is quality backlinks.



12. Ignoring local.

You’re loco if you don’t do local! Therefore, make sure your site is listed in the relevant local engines or directories. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile! According to a recent survey, 1 out of 3 smartphone users have been led to a local business after finding in through local mobile search. Danielle Nohe, director, technology and entertainment for Compete, is calling on local businesses to optimize their sites for mobile/smartphone users.



13. Ignoring social media/networking

SEO and social media are interconnected in a way that many people don’t want to admit or acknowledge. Social media is not just a passing trend that is a distraction from “real work” – social media does impact SEO and it can increase exposure and traffic for your site. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to do it (if you care about keeping your site on the forefront). If it’s overwhelming, start with getting a killer Facebook Fan Page up and work on building fans, and then introduce Twitter and then move on to YouTube. It’s OK to do it in stages, just make sure you are working towards social media mastery.



14. Ignoring the trends in the industry

Search engines and social media sites make changes often. Staying current is important for many reasons: you want to be sure your site is cutting edge and taking advantage of all strategies and techniques that are proven to work, you also want to make sure you aren’t wasting your time on old school stuff that doesn’t work. SearchEngineJournal is a great place to stay current and hear all the latest and greatest!



15. Over-optimized pages

Sometimes people go off the deep end after learning about SEO. They start creating overly keyword-rich pages in an effort to move their rankings upwards. This can quickly make for a poor user experience, resulting in a decrease in conversion rates and/or the site being less attractive for others to link to.



Even organizations that are aware of SEO's importance have a tendency to start the process too late. The best way to prevent these mistakes from happening is with education. If you need help with putting that together, hire a senior SEO professional to come in and do the job for you. Once they understand the business implications of their decisions, most senior managers will make far better decisions about the website and SEO.





Can Social Media Improve Face-to-Face Interaction?

A recent article in BizReport shared the results of an ExactTarget and CoTweet study that found that many avid social media users are actually spending more time with their friends and colleagues offline even though they are also spending more time online.

According to the article by Helen Leggatt, "Over a quarter of those surveyed (27%) said they had spent more time with their fellow human beings, in person, despite also using Facebook more. Only 13% said their face-to-face time with friends had decreased.  Likewise, of those who are using Twitter more, almost half (46%) hang out with their friends more often and only 7% do so less."

Like many, I have always shared concerns about whether social media will have a long-lasting negative impact on the social skills of future generations.  However, these findings not only provide me with a muted sense of relief, but also reinforce what I've always believed is a strength of social media from a business standpoint:  To bring people together both on and offline.

Smart organizations will integrate social media with their offline social initiatives such as learning events, advocacy and fundraising gatherings, or simple meet-ups.  There are few communications platforms that can generate a call-to-action response faster than social media due to its reach and immediacy.

One well known example is the use of Twitter to mobilize international support and communicate what was actually happening behind the Iranian curtain following the country's disputed 2009 elections and government crackdown.  Massive protests sprung up around the world within days; some within hours!

With businesses strategically adopting more socially conscious missions today, they can and should use their large social media networks for purposes beyond just product promotion.  By supporting social causes both on and offline that are important to their stakeholders, companies can build greater goodwill with their constituents ultimately strengthening their corporate reputations. 

Therefore, don't limit your social media strategies to the online world.  To maximize their effectiveness, try to find ways to integrate them with offline and community based efforts as well.

Goodwill of Greater Washington Launches Mobile App to Improve Donor & Shopper Convenience!

I'm wearing my corporate hat today, but I'm very excited about making this announcement!

Goodwill of Greater Washington (GGW) just launched a new mobile app that will provide greater convenience to its diverse shoppers and donors while also educating users about Goodwill’s workforce development programs.


The DC Goodwill app, which is the first fully integrated mobile application within the 167 member Goodwill movement and can be downloaded for free through the iTunes app store, will allow users to locate any Goodwill retail store, donation center or donation bin throughout the entire greater Washington metropolitan area, complete with images, distances, directions, hours of operation and contact information. The app also allows users to engage GGW via Facebook and Twitter, read Goodwill’s nationally recognized fashion blog, learn about Goodwill’s workforce development services and even make a quick, easy and secure online gift.

The goal of Goodwill of Greater Washington’s new mobile app is to enhance the ease and convenience of supporting and engaging the charitable agency.  Goodwill is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to improve its ability to communicate with its constituents in a manner that is conducive to their busy lifestyles. This app will help.

In addition to the new mobile app, Goodwill of Greater Washington has also launched several other successful digital marketing campaigns including a customer loyalty program through Foursquare that rewards customers for multiple “check ins” on the location based social media platform. Fans of Good Willy (DC Goodwill’s handle) on Facebook can also receive monthly retail store discounts while learning about and discussing Goodwill’s mission, programs and workforce development issues. For the past several years, GGW has also been actively engaging supporters through Twitter and it’s nationally recognized English and Spanish fashion blogs.

For information on the mobile app or any other questions about Goodwill of Greater Washington, please contact Brendan Hurley at (202) 715-2605, via email at Brendan.Hurley@DCGoodwill.org, on Twitter at HurleyB.

Special thanks to Stella's Pop Factory, who designed the app interface and been hugely supportive of Goodwill; Mindsea Development for an incredible job developing the app, and SMthree, LLC for managing the development of GGW's Foursquare customer loyalty campaign, which is starting to take off!

SEO Dos - The 10 Essential Techniques for Your Website

It can be very difficult for small businesses to compete on a global level for competitive terms with high profile companies, especially on a small business budget. But that doesn’t mean with hard work and determination that you can’t be competitive and build and market your brand and website successfully. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an opportunity for small businesses to enhance their performance within a limited budget. SEO now becomes a hot topic with a lot of debates. How do you get your web site within the first page or two of the search engines? How do you increase your Google page rank? Here are the 10 SEO tips that would be useful for your website.


1. Content

There is no surprise that content formatting and presentation for the content are the main part of SEO process to build up interest and create huge amount of traffic to a website. Quality content should be compelling, informative, relevant and updated. You can put all the keywords you want in the meta tags, titles, image tags, etc., but if the actual readable text on the page is not relevant to the target keywords, it ends up basically being a futile attempt. Quality content will bring people back and create word of mouth to get forward links from other sites. The more the better!



2. Website Design

First of all, spend some money on web design to attract more visitors. In addition, going hand in hand with web design is developing user experience. It is better to spend some time with a professional web developer who has experience with site usability. Placement of elements in a web design really do matter, and the navigation of your site is very important if you want your visitors to effectively find and meet your end goals.



3. Keyword Density

This is very important section of your SEO crusade. Keyword research can guide you about which keywords have high volume or least competition. However, you should be smart in keyword strategy, by not relying on popular keywords but also looking into long-tail keyword options and local search results. In addition, a look out on keyword density, which is the percent that your keyword or keyword phrase area of your web page text, is also important in SEO



4. Incoming Links

Link building is probably one of the most important parts of any SEO campaign. Back links must be collected from different off page SEO activities and only quality back links are considered by Google. The more links you have the more often you are going to be crawled. It is also important to make sure that you have content that is worth linking to on your site. Instead of spending the time, effort and money on artificial links, put that into your own site content or SEO budget and watch others link to you willingly and naturally.



5. Meta Tags

Meta tags are placed in the head section of a web page. Some people may tell that meta tags don’t matter. The biggest thing they matter for is click-through though. There will be a lot of times when Google will use your meta description as the copy that gets pulled with your search listing. This can help to attract the visitor to visit your web site if it is related to their search query. Therefore, meta tag content is actually known as a weapon for top search engine positions; however, this is not as easy as it looks like. For adding content, description and keywords in Meta tag it requires a lot of research. Be sure to include a few relevant keywords in this tag, but don’t stuff it with keywords either. The description tag should read like a sentence — not a keyword list.



6. Heading tags

Including title attributes on links is another important step that any good website will have. When you are laying out your site’s content you have to be sure that you are creating the content flow in such a way that the heading tags are based on prominence. The most prominent of course being the heading tag, which says this is what this block of copy is about. That’s the little “tooltip” that pops up when you place your mouse over a link. These are especially important for image links, but equally useful for text links.



Construction of your title tag is one of the most important things you need to do. Each page should have a different title with 2 or 3 of your keyword phrases at the beginning. When search engine results are displayed the title is the first thing people see.



7. Domain, URL Structure & Website Title

First, it can help to have keywords you are interested in ranking for within your domain, but only as much as the title, heading and content matters. One very important factor that is coming to light is that domain age is important. The older the site or domain, the better it is not spam and can do well in search results. The domain age definitely isn’t a make or break factor but it does help quite a bit.



Second, ensuring that your URL structure compliments the content that is on the corresponding page is pretty important. Complex URLs are often dubbed dirty URLs because they tend to be littered with punctuation and identifiers that are at best irrelevant to the search engines. Having a descriptive URL still assists search engines in determining what is on a page



Last, making sure that you have the right web site titles for your pages is extremely important. The keywords you place in your title are important in order to ensure that your topic is understood by Google. One of the primary factors for ranking is if the title is on-topic with the search results. Not only is it important for robots to index and understand the topic of the page either. Try to put keywords that describe your product / services optimally in title of a page to get good results. It is important for click-through rates in the search results.



8. Internal Linking & Sitemaps

Making sure that your internal linking helps robots and visitors to find the content on your site is huge. Using relevant copy throughout your site will tell the robots and of course, visitors more effectively what to expect on the corresponding page. You do want to make sure that on pages you don’t want to rank in Google that you add a no-follow tag to ensure that the ranking flow of your site corresponds with your site’s topic and interests. No one is going to be searching Google to find out what your terms of service or privacy policy are.



In addition, search engines also use XML Sitemaps in order to index through your site. For a dynamic website, use of xml sitemap is very much essential. Otherwise crawlers will not be able to search all the pages of your website.



9. Image Optimization

Through Image optimization search engines can drive many visitors who search for images. Putting alt attributes on your images actually serves two purposes. In terms of SEO, putting a brief yet descriptive alt attribute along with your image, places additional relevant text to your source code that the search engines can see when indexing your site. The more relevant text on your page the better chance you have of achieving higher search engine rankings. In addition, including image alt attributes help the visually impaired who access web sites using a screen reader. They can’t see the image, but with a descriptive alt attribute, they will be able to know what your image is.



10. Social Media Optimization

SMO is considered as the part of SEO these days. It actually focuses on driving traffic from sources other than search engines. There are many social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, Digg, Stumbleupon etc. in which we can submit our web pages and gets a lot of unique visitors. This also includes participation in discussion groups, commenting on other websites, blogging and posting status updates on social networking websites etc.



Do you have any tips and tricks that you would like to add? How has traffic from search engines helped the development and growth of your website? Please leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you.





Better Get Your Holiday Shopping Ads Online NOW!

According to a recent article in Marketing Daily, research shows that online shoppers tend to be less receptive to holiday ads as the holiday shopping season progresses.

Max Mead, VP of Business Development & Analytics for PointRoll, who conducted the recent study, told Marketing Daily, "On average, anywhere between 4 and 6% of online shoppers interacted with retail ads in the fourth quarter -- beginning in November at 6%, then drifting lower, with interaction rates hitting their lowest points in early December, most likely due to the heavy levels of online ads. In the final weeks of December, interaction rises to 5% again".

The likely culprit for the fall after early November:  Online retailers offering greater discounts for early buying. 

Why the rise on the backend?  Because late online shoppers can also take advantage of last minute sales from retailers trying to move extra inventory.

Christmas shopping has become a year long process for many.  Though the convenience of shopping online hasn't reduced the cattle drives at the mall.  Personally, while I enjoy the "spirit" of holiday shopping; I can do without the long lines of traffic trying to get into the mall and the longer lines trying to get out!

However, while my online shopping has increased over the past few years, I'm a traditionalist at heart, and I will never stop shopping at brick & mortar stores during the holiday season.  Regardless of the hassles; the decorations and the music at the malls just make it feel more like Christmas.  I guess it still brings out the kid in me.

If you want to get a head start on the holiday bargains though, begin your e-shopping right after Halloween.  If you're a retailer, you better get those online ads placed now!

Yes, Social Media is the Future, but Here are 10 Reasons Why Traditional Media Still Rules…For Now

10. Terrestrial radio is still a powerful tool for reaching a highly targeted local (or national) audience

9. Television is still the primary entertainment and news medium of choice for baby boomers and gen-Xers

8. Celebrities will provide endorsements through traditional media, but few, if any, will utilize social media to promote a product or service

7. Print media coupon distribution is a great support channel for targeted radio or TV buys and a preferred coupon distribution channel for baby boomers

6. Prices for traditional broadcast media are much more competitive today than they have been in years (However, print is still overpriced)

5. Most TV and radio stations will still write and produce your spots for you at little to no additional cost

4. Direct mail is still a very cost effective medium for geo-targeted, call-to-action marketing campaigns and for measuring coupon redemption

3. While intrusive (unless you have Tivo), broadcast media advertising still reaches large numbers of consumers and continues to be impactful

2. You can still leverage the use of social media through your traditional media buys, enhancing your reach, frequency and ability to engage and activate your target market

1. You should never put all of your marketing “eggs” in one basket. Social media can generate powerful and measurable results, but in most instances should still be integrated into a broader multi-channel approach that includes and is often led by traditional media

Convenience Rocks My World!

In a recent article in Advertising Age, Hulu CEO, Jason Kilar, was critical of Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, for trying to protect outdated business models. Kilar was quoted as saying to Zucker that, “Content is discretionary, so you better focus on convenience.”

The point Kilar was trying to make with that comment was simple: People may want NBC’s content, but they don’t need NBC’s content. If Zucker doesn’t make it easy for viewers to access the network’s programming online, they'll simply find their entertainment elsewhere.

We no longer live in an age of three television networks that basically share a monopoly on mass entertainment. Internet based programming is virtually endless and new content is being created every minute of every day. Therefore, the more convenient you make accessing your content, the more likely people are to view it.

Marketing other more tangible products is no different. The easier you make it for consumers to find, browse and purchase your product or service, the more likely they are to do so.

Goodwill of Greater Washington is about to launch a new mobile web app. The goal behind the development of this app is simple: convenience. Goodwill hopes to make it easier for donors and shoppers to find its retail stores and donation centers. They want to make it easier for fashionistas to find the DC Goodwill fashion blog and for friends of Goodwill to engage them on Twitter and Facebook, or learn about Goodwill's regional workforce development programs. Want to get exclusive discounts on already low prices at a DC area Goodwill store?  Just check-in on Foursquare!

Goodwill understands that its constituents have a lot of options available to them.  By making it more convenient to support the charitable agency while providing rewards for doing so, Goodwill is much more likely to build loyalty among its followers while gaining new advocates.

Convenience is a strategy that businesses have been implementing for years.  Many just haven't yet made the digital transition.

Here's a simple equation to live by:  Convenience equals value. Value equals loyalty. Loyalty equals revenue.

Why do celebs promote products, but not social media sites?

Companies have been using celebrity endorsements to promote products and services almost since the advent of advertising.  Today celebrities are promoting everything from skin care products to automobiles.

However, while celebrities seem very willing to promote products, shouldn't the manufacturers also be requesting that celebrities  promote their social media channels as well?  If social media sites are being used to develop and cultivate relationships with customers and prospects, wouldn't it make sense to have the celebrities who are endorsing the products communicating directly with the product's users? 

Why aren't Katy Perry, Jessica Simpson or Justin Bieber posting a few comments on the Proactiv Facebook page, or writing guest blogs about skin care and how readers may benefit from Proactiv.  Sure, there are short video snippets from the celebrities on the company's website and Facebook page, similar to what you see in the Proactiv TV ads, but those videos aren't interactive. 

If Katy Perry were guest blogging on the Proactive site, can you imagine how many new visitors it would draw to the site and how many new fans it would generate?  If Justin Bieber commented even once a month on the Proactive Facebook site, how many customers would return regularly hoping for an opportunity to read his comments and seek feedback?  Talk about a strong endorsement, customer experience and relationship building opportunity?!  Why doesn't Kate Walsh blog about the luxury of her "Cadillac driving experience"?  Wouldn't that be a nice supportive effort to what most customers know are "paid" endorsement ads?

I'm not sure why more companies haven't already integrated these efforts into their celebrity endorsement deals, but believe me, its only a matter of time.  Digital cross promotion between the company and the celebrity endorser seems like a logical next step in the evolution of social media as a marketing channel.

It's not the plan that counts, it's planning that counts!

I once had a professor in graduate school who was very fond of the phrase, “It’s not the plan that counts, it’s planning that counts”.

His point was that the most important part of any plan is the planning process itself. A good strategist is smart enough to understand that plans may require adjustments. If you develop what appears to be a sound plan, and then discover that it isn’t working, do you stick with it or do you consider other options? I think most would argue that making adjustments would be both prudent and logical. This isn’t to say that sticking with a foundering strategy may not ultimately result in success. Sometimes a strategy takes time to build, and requires early losses before generating results. However, failing to even consider change is neither strategic nor wise. It’s a sign of arrogance and stubbornness.

Having to adjust your plan doesn’t mean you’re wrong or that you’ve failed. It means you’re learning and adapting. A good strategist is constantly scanning the environment, gathering data and evaluating alternatives. This applies to almost any type of planning:  military, sports, personal finance, or of course business.

A good business plan is developed based on the information that you have at the time the plan is created.  In a dynamic business environment, knowledge that you glean today, may be obsolete tomorrow. A smart business will constantly be scanning and observing its surroundings, while reviewing and evaluating its strategic plan, then making the appropriate adjustments to help ensure the business succeeds.

How often do you review your strategic plan?

How much social media is too much?

Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Foursquare, Places, Yelp, Blogs, Vlogs, YouTube, Flickr, Linkedin, Plaxo and the list goes on and on.

How to properly utilize social media continues to be a very hot topic in marketing circles.  But how much social media is too much? 

Should you be everywhere?  Should you limit the number of comments and posts?  How do you know if people are paying attention or if you're wasting your time?  When is more, better? And when is more simply...more? 

Unfortunately, regardless of what any "Social Media Expert" might tell you, there are no black and white answers to these questions.  It is completely subjective and only through experimentation and self analysis can you know for sure whether or not you're over using or under utilizing social media.  However, here are a series of questions to consider as you launch your social media campaigns:

1.  What social media sites make the most sense for my business operation?  Review your business model and the nature of how your customers and prospects use your business.  Make sure that the functionality of the social media channels you choose is aligned with your strategic business goals.  Linkedin is generally better for B2B or professional networking, while Facebook and Foursquare might be better for B2C operations.  You may even realize that social media isn't right for your business.  Don't automatically assume it is.
2.  How much time should I dedicate each day to managing my social media sites?  There is no magic number here, but you should understand that the less time you can dedicate to it, the less frequently you can post new content or reply to posts  Social media shouldn't monopolize your day, but you should be prepared to dedicate a portion of your day to managing the content on your site/s.  You must also consider social media a long term strategy as it takes time to build fans and followers.  An immediate financial return should rarely be the primary objective when launching a social media campaign.
3.  How often should I post new content?  Again, no magic number.  However, the first contacts that I delete from Twitter are those who seem to feel that the only thing I have to do all day is read their minute by minute updates.  The frequency of your posts is less important than the quality of the content of your posts.
4.  Should I be on as many social media sites as possible?  It depends upon your strategic objectives.  However, I believe that a Facebook account and/or a blog are the best places to launch your social media campaigns and should be the cornerstones of most social media efforts.  Primarily because they give you the best opportunities for content development, customer engagement and feedback. 
5.  If people don't respond to my posts, does that mean that my content has no value?  The answer to this question is unequivocally, "NO".  Just because people don't respond doesn't mean they don't find value in your content.  Most people prefer not to actively participate.  They like hearing what others have to say before formulating an opinion.  It doesn't mean they're not engaged.  It just means they aren't vocal.  The best measurements of the success of your social media efforts are retention and referrals. 
6.  How much should I promote my social media channels?  As often as possible. You have to treat your social media channels like a product.  It is a meeting place to engage your customers and prospects.  If you're not telling them you're there, how are they supposed to find you?  If your social media sites aren't getting much attention, this may very well be the cause.

Most importantly, don't feel that you should jump in all at once.  It will only confuse you and burn you out.  Start slow by opening one channel, then build an audience before you consider launching a second social media channel.  Once you have a built in audience, it will be easier to migrate that population to your new platform than to build a completely organic following.  Plus these visitors will become your best advocates and a resource for driving new traffic.