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Promotional Tools on Facebook and Twitter to Grow Your Business

Growing your business productively means understanding all of the tools available to you.  Just as smart phones and tablet PCs have redefined productivity on the go, social media has redefined how people communicate, and more specifically, how consumers want to communicate with businesses.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the three major social media platforms.  It’s worth taking some time to look at how Facebook and Twitter can help promote your company while boosting your productivity.

Facebook basics for business

Facebook now has over one billion users.  While Facebook was originally designed as a recreational place to connect with friends, businesses were quick to see the potential.  In fact, businesses have embraced Facebook faster than the Facebook architecture has adapted, leaving Facebook often scrambling to catch up to how its subscribers want to use the site.

Being present on social media for a company today is much like being present on the Web: you are judged negatively if you’re not there.  Just as many consumers would not consider a company to be a “real” business without a Web site, so many purchasers look for a Facebook presence to see if you are “real.”  What matters is that consumers have decided that they want to have a two-way conversation with the companies they patronize, and firms that abstain from being part of the dialog do so at their peril.

At the very least, you need to have a Facebook Business Page.  As Facebook has adapted to the needs of business users, these Business Pages have become easier to create and use.  Facebook wants businesses to promote from a Business Page and not from a personal profile.  Ignoring this rule can get your page deleted from Facebook.

A Business Page works a little differently from a personal profile page in that a Business Page can’t “friend” individual users.  Instead, users are invited to “like” the page and thereby opt-in to receive automatic updates whenever the page adds new information.

Today’s consumers value a connection through Facebook because they want to be able to express their opinions, ask questions, and feel as though they are being heard.  They want to do business with people, not faceless corporations.  Companies that learn to listen can reap valuable benefits, from uncovering (and being able to fix) customer service issues to discovering competitive advantages when a rival firm has dropped the ball, to new product ideas from the suggestions of loyal purchasers.

When you create your Business Page, make sure both your logo and your photo are prominently displayed.  People need to find you as a business, but they want to connect with you as the person behind the business.  Fill in the Information section, making sure your content is all about the benefit you provide to your customers and what you do for them (not just a laundry list of products and services).  Include your other Web sites, links to blogs and podcasts and business contact information so your Facebook fans can find you on the Internet.

If you already have a profile page, Facebook wants you to use it primarily for personal/recreational content.  However, it’s OK to talk about business some of the time, just as you would in real life.  Also, with a profile you can invite people to “like” your Business Page, and suggest that your “friends” also visit your Business Page.  Just keep your profile mostly personal, to remain compliant with Facebook’s Terms of Service.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin

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6 Success Secrets I Learned from TV Sitcoms

By Gail Z. Martin

Remember sitcoms? Situation comedies were the shows before “reality TV” took over.  A few still remain, but nothing like the heyday of the 1970s and 1980s.

So what did I learn from spending my formative years with the Bradys, the Cunninghams, the Partridges, the Huxtables, the Romanos, the Bunkers, the Clampetts and all the other TV families who became an indelible part of my memories?  As it turns out, quite a bit!

1.  “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” Can’t you hear Jan Brady’s howl of frustration over her older, more popular, prettier sister?  How many times have we looked at another business that seems to be ahead of us, has more followers on Twitter or more likes on Facebook, or that got a plum bit of PR and turned green with envy?  Jan had to learn the hard way that being yourself is essential.  Learn from other successful companies, but realize that you can’t just copy what other people do, you have to adapt it to be unique for you.

2. “Come on, get happy!” Six singing kids and their musical mother set out in a psychedelic school bus to rock the world.  I loved the Partridge Family, and not just because of David Cassidy.  It’s the show that taught me why you need an agent (although fortunately, both of mine are much better than Reuben Kincaide), and showed me that no matter how big and crazy your dream is, you can find a way to make it happen.

3. Quit before you jump the shark.  Remember Fonzie from Happy Days?  He was a bigger than life character who always seemed to have everything under control.  In one episode, he did a daring motorcycle jump over a shark tank, a la Evil Knievel, stretching any semblance of believability.  Life lesson—go big, but keep it real.

4.  Don’t let “swimmin’ pools and movie stars” change who you are.  Jed Clampett and his clan struck it rich with “black gold, Texas tea—oil, that is” and moved to Beverly Hills, long before the Fresh Prince or the 90210 gang.  They were always out of step with the world around them, but they never lost their integrity, core values, or identity.  So make it big—but don’t lose who you are or forget where you came from.

5. Working moms can be great moms.  Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show, Ann Romano from One Day at a Time, Shirley Partridge and others blazed a trail for the kids who watched their weekly exploits.  Watching them, we saw a role model for a new kind of future, and cheered when they didn’t let obstacles get in their way. The moral? Don’t let other people’s restrictions limit your opportunities.

6. Value the memories, but change with the times.  “Those were the days,” sang the theme song to All in the Family.  We watched Archie Bunker wrestle with changing times, changing roles, and a culture that didn’t look like the world in which he grew up.  As Archie struggled to find his place, we went along for the ride. It was one of the first sitcoms to confront serious issues like cancer and racism, and by bringing tough subjects into our living rooms, we learned and grew along with Archie.  What I learned? Change is part of life, and you can’t hang on to the way things were. And when you get past the fear, new things can be wonderful.

What did you learn from the shows you watched as a kid, and how did it influence you?  I’d love to know. Want to continue the conversation and share your thoughts and questions? Connect with me on Twitter @GailMartinPR!


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Save Yourself $50 a Day–With Your Phone

By Gail Z. Martin

If you could get one more productive hour per day, what would it be worth to you?  Eighty cents a minute, or nearly $50 an hour, based on an annual salary of $100,000.

Now think about getting that extra productive hour EVERY day, and that $50 becomes big money very quickly.

Where does the extra time come from?  You’ve still got 24 hours in your day—but with the right apps on your mobile phone and tablet computer, you can turn the minutes you would otherwise be wasting—waiting for an appointment, for a plane, for your kids, for a meeting—into productive time, even billable hours.

Sound good?  It’s easier than you think.

Just because you’re out of the office doesn’t mean your productivity can come to a standstill.  While you can’t have your laptop with you everywhere you go, smart phones and tablet PCs make it possible to do all kinds of tasks that once required a full office setup.

Many of the Cloud-based programs discussed earlier in the book have smart phone and tablet PC apps so that you can utilize those same programs when you’re not at your desktop.  In addition, many social media sites also have mobile apps, making it possible for you to keep working your online marketing strategy when you’re on the go.  In addition, other apps just make it easier to have the tools you need at your fingertips, conveniently stored inside your mobile device.

Mobile versions connect with the Cloud

Need something from your desktop when you’re in the car?  GoToMyPC has a mobile app to make it easy for you to retrieve whatever you need.  Likewise, mobile devices with Internet access can connect with your Cloud-based storage programs such as Box.net, Dropbox and Google Docs so that you don’t need to wait until you are in your hotel room or at a temporary office to get the information you want.

Opening, reading or editing PDF files can pose a problem when you’re away from your fully-loaded desktop computer.  If your work entails being able to review PDF documents, consider PDF Reader.  This app lets you open PDFs from your iPhone as well as make editing changes such as strike-outs, highlights or underlines and save your edited file.

Use PDF Converter or PDF-it if you want to save an Office file into PDF format.  PDF Expert bundles the reading and editing capabilities together, along with the ability to sign your own signature to PDF documents and fill out PDF forms.  If you want to share your PDF-based presentation, consider PDF Presenter (for iPad), which offers easy-to-use fingertip controls to flip through your slides.

For those who live or die by delivery schedules, you can track your FedEx parcels with the FedEx Mobile app.  Breathlessly awaiting a snail mail delivery?  USPS Mobile not only lets you track and confirm package delivery, it also includes a handy way to find your nearest post office, look up ZIP Codes, schedule a pick-up, scan labels or calculate shipping prices.  Not to be outdone, the UPS Mobile app lets you do most of the same tasks that the USPS app permits, only with a UPS focus.

Social media apps make it easy to maximize “power surges”

Many business people lament that they “don’t have time” for social media.  Yet a growing number of customers have made it clear that they prefer to interact with businesses via social media, so you are notable by your absence if you aren’t part of the online conversation.

Here’s another way to think about the social media/time dilemma.  Do you ever have short periods of downtime, such as arriving early for an appointment, waiting in an airport, or cooling your heels awaiting your child’s dismissal from soccer practice?  If so, mobile apps make it possible for you to tackle your social media outreach in strategic “power surges”.

First, make sure you’ve loaded the mobile apps for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to your smart phone or tablet PC.  Once you’ve got the apps loaded, sign in to your accounts so that they will automatically connect you in the future.  Now you’re ready to hop online whenever you have a few extra minutes and leverage the power of social media.

Connectivity is only part of the story, however.  You need to have a plan for what you’ll do after you connect.  As I discuss in my book 30 Days to Social Media Success, you’ll get the most impact for your effort if you create a list of at least 30 short, strategically focused actions that you can take in 15 – 30 minutes. You can keep your list on a note-taking app on your mobile device.  If you’re pressed for time, use 10- or 15-minute “power surges” to get the same amount of work done in short bursts.  Here are some ideas:

  • Friend two or three new people through your personal profile and suggest they “like” your business fan page
  • Connect with two to four people who already “like” your fan page to start up a conversation
  • Comment on posts or reply to comments on your pages
  • Send a couple of tweets, upload a photo or link to an article that would be of interest to your audience
  • Use your smart phone video camera to record a short tip and upload it to YouTube.
  • Check in with at least two of your LinkedIn connections—congratulate them on recent career news, introduce them to some of your other connections, or ask how the family is doing.
  • Make a LinkedIn recommendation or ask for a referral.
  • Check in with your Facebook or LinkedIn groups to comment on a current topic, offer an answer to a question, or help out a fellow-group member.
  • Reply to a direct message (DM) on Twitter, retweet a good tweet from someone you follow, or do an @name public reply to a comment of interest to your followers.

Social media is designed for short attention spans, so it’s perfect for you to jump on and jump off when you’re on the go and your time is limited.  You may find that accessing social media through your mobile devices makes your wait time fly and actually makes you look forward to connecting online!

Your on-the-road toolbox

You never know what might come up when you’re away from the office.  Here’s a rundown of some other helpful mobile app tools to keep your workday humming along.

  • MyToolbox turns your smart phone into a setsquare, bubble level and caliper—just in case you have a handyman moment when you’re on the go.
  • MultiMeasures gives you a timer, stopwatch, ruler, plumb bob, protractor—even a seismometer—all in your smart phone.
  • DocumentsToGo lets you access, edit and save your Microsoft Word documents (including formatting) as well as sync to your desktop.
  • Want to keep tabs on your money?  Take a look at consolidated tracking apps like Rudder, Mint, Wesabe or Quicken Online, which can track your investment and bank account balances, help you budget and alert you to overdraft risk.
  • Need a better way to scan cards, receipts, or other documents?  CamScanner converts your smart phone to a scanner.
  • If you’re on the road and looking for the best local deal on gas, try the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest fill-up in your neighborhood.
  • Most road warriors accumulate lots of restaurant, hotel and other frequent shopper cards.  Who has room in the carry-on bag for all that?  CardStar stores all of your loyalty cards on your smart phone so that you get your discounts without bulking up your wallet.

Your goal is to find the apps and Web sites that help you be as comfortable and productive as possible when you’re away from the office.  Explore, experiment and enjoy!

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Martin.  Order this book at https://amzn.com/1601632266

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Lucille Ball, Ann Romano and Sheryl Sandberg: What I Learned from my TV Moms and Facebook’s CEO

By Gail Z. Martin

Thanks to Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, the headlines have revisited one of my least favorite memories of the 1990s—the “mommy wars.”

Back in the 1990s, when Nirvana was climbing the charts and Wolf Blitzer was the “scud stud” of the first Iraq war, pundits prattled on about the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay-at-home moms.  It was a take-no-prisoners battle that left everyone with battle wounds.  After twenty some years, I thought we might have reached a truce.

Then comes Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, and it reminded me that we’ve still got some battles to fight.  And as I thought about it, I realized how my views on being a working mom were formed long before I was an adult—sitting in front of my living room TV.

Do you remember Lucille Ball?  Whether you saw the re-runs of “I Love Lucy” or “Here’s Lucy” or “The Lucy Show”, she was a fixture on TV throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  And while some of the early episodes now appear quaint in their fixed gender roles, (“Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!), I remember how in her later shows, she played Lucy Charmichael (and later, Lucy Carter), a single working mom facing all kinds of workplace dilemmas.  I laughed at her problems with Mr. Mooney, her demanding boss, but oddly enough, more than a decade later, Mr. Mooney could have sat down for a cocktail with Dabney Coleman’s despicable boss character in the movie “9 to 5” and they would have been soul mates.  Things hadn’t changed all that much.

Lucy’s characters overcame workplace discrimination, overly demanding bosses, and people who underestimated her abilities, all while juggling the demands of motherhood.  And what did I, as an impressionable youngster, take away from that?  I learned that the workplace wasn’t a friendly place for women (especially mothers), but that humor, persistence and a good network of friends could get you through anything.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when actress Bonnie Franklin played Ann Romano, taking it “One Day at a Time.”  The workplace hadn’t gotten any friendlier for women, or mothers, but now women at least had a broader variety of jobs in which they could deal with the vicissitudes of life.  Where Lucy was a secretary and then worked in an employment agency run by a family member, Ann was an account executive at an ad agency—a step up toward management.

Ann Romano tackled much more serious issues than Lucy Charmicael, including divorce, suicide and harassment.  Where Lucy had coquettish humor and an old-school tendency to be sneaky, Ann had attitude and a willingness to take things head-on, but she still fell back on the loyal support of family and friends.  I learned that it still wasn’t smooth going for women (or mothers), and that there were times when humor wasn’t enough and you had to take a stand.

Which is why I find the reactions to the new “Lean In” book by Sheryl Sandberg so interesting.  The book appears to mean something different to everyone who reads it, depending on where the reader is in her career and what cultural baggage each reader is dragging along with her.  Sadly, some of the workplace situations (non family-friendly company policies) are ones that Lucy and Ann might have recognized, while others (too few women on corporate boards of directors) are what Twitter would deem “first world problems”—in other words, problems that you have once you’ve reached a fairly high level of advancement.  Interestingly, Sandberg’s prescription is for women to “lean in” and invest themselves in creating change rather than fleeing the corporate world.

Funny, but I think Lucy and Ann—and those of us who had mothers in the post-War period who worked outside the home—already knew a lot about “leaning.”  Here’s what Lucille Ball said: Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it and I’m afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work – and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.”
What does this have to do with marketing?  I believe that today’s under-40 workers, having grown up with moms like Ann Romano, and having seen their struggle, want more from their work life.  That’s especially true for workers in their 20s and 30s, who are among the most entrepreneurial young workers we’ve seen a long time.  To keep them, you’ve got to create a workplace where “leaning in” is expected and rewarded, and where trust, appreciation and flexibility combine to create a balance that is both productive and human-friendly.  Workplace culture still has a long way to go on that point, but for the companies that do a good job, such a culture becomes a potent marketing factor.

And in the meantime, we’ll keep trying to find the balance and get it right—one day at a time.

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Protect Your Brand: Easy Hands-On Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

By Gail Z. Martin

I’ve talked about the networking value of recommendations on LinkedIn.  Gathering online recommendations via LinkedIn is also a way to solidify your online branding and actively manage your reputation.  Don’t be shy about asking former co-workers, bosses, colleagues and clients to provide a recommendation if you had a positive working experience with them.  That’s part of the LinkedIn culture.  You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of recommendations for your current role, but you may want to also actively seek out recommendations for prior roles to bolster your credibility and show the depth of your expertise.

Naymz.com is similar in some ways to LinkedIn (extensive profile, forums, online networking), but it goes further to help you actively manage your brand and reputation.  Naymz has what it calls a “RepScore Ecosystem” where you aren’t just asking for a recommendation from former colleagues and clients; you’re asking for them to provide anonymous feedback on your honesty and ethics.  Naymz also has its own “Reputation Monitor” to provide you with yet another stream of information regarding what’s been said about you online.  Naymz also lets you know when your profile has been visited, although it does not tell you who checked you out.

What happens when a negative comment is posted on a ratings site and you can’t get it removed or retracted, but it’s not serious enough to sue for defamation?  One tactic is to make the comment more difficult to find by increasing the searchability of other, more positive content.  The Internet favors recent and highly targeted information, rewarding it by pushing it to the top of the search results.  This pushes older content off the first pages of results, and few searchers bother to go more than one or two pages deep.

How do you do this?  One tactic is to ask your clients and professional friends to add ratings of their own (you don’t have to disclose the reason behind your timing for the request).  You can spiff up your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on your most relevant sites, like your home page and your blog, assuring that they jump to the top of the search results.  Or, you can hire a PR agency or reputation management firm to make positive posts on your behalf on a large enough number of sites that the sheer volume of new positive mentions pushes old copy off the first page of search results.

Use this last tactic (hired guns) with caution.  Mobilizing actual clients, friends and even family to post genuine testimonials or positive reviews is still authentic and organic, even if you reminded them to do so.  (Never offer rewards in exchange for positive comments.)  Hiring people to manufacture testimonials is unethical, and you’ll be found out eventually, which will send your online reputation plummeting.  If you do decide to use a publicist, a better tactic would be to post a wealth of factual, but positive, information (such as verifiable high satisfaction ratings or award announcements) or repeat testimonials or positive reviews from legitimate clients and reviewers.  Just creating a blizzard of new, positive, highly relevant and keyword-optimized informative posts can go far to push down a negative review.

Yet another reputation management tactic involves making it difficult for anyone to create a profile or Web site using your name or products by claiming them yourself.  Some people make it a practice to buy up all of the domain names available for their own name or their products, such as the .biz, .tv and other domain suffixes.  This keeps cyber-squatters from purchasing these domains and attempting to sell them back to you later at an inflated cost, or using them to create fake sites purporting to be from you.  If you consider this tactic, remember that you’ll have to pay domain registration fees annually, so buying up dozens of URLs that you never intend to use can get expensive.

If you don’t have the time to actively monitor and manage your reputation, there are companies that will do it for you.  Some of these specialize in particular industries, such as hospitality or construction, while others serve a variety of business types.  Services range from monitoring and reporting to assistance in handling complaints or dealing with malicious comments.  Fees vary according to the services provided.  If you decide to use a monitoring and response agency, do your homework before making a commitment, and check out the reputation of the company online before hiring them to work on your behalf.  Some reputation management companies have been caught using unethical strong arm techniques against people who have posted legitimate complaints that were well within their constitutional rights.  There’s a big different between hiring someone to help you keep an eye on what’s being said and employing cyber goons to intimidate or harass consumers who have merely stated their opinions.      The best way to protect your online reputation is to always deal ethically, both online and offline.  Keep your word, don’t overly hype your products, and deliver what you promise.  If something goes wrong, do everything you can to make the situation right.  You’re far better off putting effort into delighting customers and running a clean operation than to invest resources into cleaning up avoidable messes or attempting a cover-up.  Nothing stays hidden for long in today’s online society.  Honesty (and vigilance) are your best online reputation management tools.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin


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Online Reputation Basics: Manage Your Brand and Reputation in a Google World

By Gail Z. Martin

You’ve created an online presence for yourself via your Web site, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, blog, Twitter feed and other Internet activity.  This presence becomes part of your personal and professional branding, which is why it’s so important that everything you post online is consistent with the professional image you want to project.  Yet at the same time, other people are free to tag you in photos, mention you in their blogs and Facebook posts, refer to your company and products in articles and reviews, or re-tweet your Twitter content.  You control what you post yourself, but how can you possibly track everything posted by others, including people you’ve never met?

Google Alerts is a first line of defense.  It’s a free tool that enables you to track keywords any time they show up on the Internet, and those keywords should include your name, company name and product names.  Any time your keywords are used, Google Alerts sends you a report which includes a link so you can see for yourself.  It’s not perfect; I’ve found it to work well for content on blogs and Web sites and less so for content on Facebook and other social media sites, but it still snags a tremendous amount of information and is useful as a basic reputation management tool.

SocialMention.com is also valuable as a reputation management tool.  Social Mention fills the holes left by Google Alerts by focusing specifically on social media, and covers an impressive variety of site types.  While no program will capture everything, Google Alerts and Social Mention used together should give you a very comprehensive picture of what the market is saying about you (and how much they’re talking about you).

If you’ve been online very long, you’ve discovered that lots of people have a name that is the same or very similar to yours (and perhaps to your company or products).  One way inaccurate information finds its way into the Internet data stream is via mistaken or confused identity.  Most of the time, these mistakes are honestly made, and can be cleared up with an email or a clarifying post.  If you find that you’re frequently being confused with a particular person or company, you may want to add a note in your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) stating who you’re not.

People in the public eye (which includes prominent business people as well as writers, speakers, and educators) may sometimes be the victim of pranksters who set up unauthorized sites to detour legitimate Web traffic, make a negative statement, or just cause havoc.  This is especially easy to do in social media, and the result can be a site purporting to be written by you that is making statements you would never make, statements that could be damaging to your brand and reputation.

One way to assure that people are finding the real you is to use a site like Zoolit.com provides a landing page that shares all your sites: social media, Web sites, blogs, etc.  Using a landing page like Zoolit enables you to give readers a way to verify whether or not a site that purports to be from you is really yours.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin

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Online Reputation Protection: 4 Reasons to Care What Google Says About Your Business

By Gail Z. Martin

Productivity takes a hit if you have to spend time cleaning up a mess.  The bigger the mess, the more time gets wasted on clean-up.  Needless to say, preventing or containing messes can boost productivity and give you peace of mind, which enables you to keep your focus on your top priorities.

That’s why it’s so important to know what’s being said about you and your company online, and who’s saying it.  “Reputation management” refers to being aware of what is being said about you online so that you can work to remove inaccurate or defamatory content, respond to legitimate complaints, and capture positive comments and testimonials.  The term can also refer to techniques to reduce the impact of unfavorable content via search engine optimization techniques.

Let’s be clear: If you’ve done something unethical or have shoddy business practices, you’re better off cleaning up your act and making restitution than trying to suppress legitimate negative comments.  And as discussed in the chapter on online directories, other people have a right to their opinions and to speaking those opinions online. They aren’t required to like your products and they may say so publicly.  Reputation management should never be seen as a way to cover up bad business practices.

That said, it is important to understand how you and your company are viewed in the marketplace so that you can make course corrections as needed or reap the benefits of glowing reviews.  And, inevitably, incorrect information will make its way online, so it’s also important to have a way to become aware of erroneous content and straighten out misunderstandings.  We perform all of these tasks daily in the real world, without really thinking about it.  Reputation management is just the online equivalent of staying plugged into the grapevine to see what others are saying.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin

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Online Customer Reviews: Harness the Power of Yelp and Amazon to Grow Your Business

By Gail Z. Martin

While directories like Yelp permit customers to add comments, there are also plenty of other sites that specialize in reviews.  These include dedicated review sites like ConsumerReports.com, which covers a wide array of consumer products, and more specialized sites reviewing movies, books, camera equipment and other niche interests.  As newspapers and magazines have cut “soft” news, such as reviews, online sites have sprung up to fill the gap.  Some of these sites, such as RogerEbert.com, are from a well-known expert (in this case, Chicago Sun Times long-time movie reviewer Roger Ebert), but many are written by citizen-journalists out of a passion for the subject.

Love reading?  You can start with reviews posted by readers on Amazon.com, and even read best-of lists compiled by other Amazon users.  But if you want to go deeper, you’ll find dozens—perhaps hundreds—of blogs and review sites in your favorite genre or non-fiction topic dedicated to book reviews.  In many cases, the reviews are the opinion of the site owner and will be colored by their personal likes and dislikes (which is part of the charm for readers).  In other cases, the review site will recruit reviewers who agree to submit reviews according to the site’s guidelines.

You’ll find review sites for cameras, camping equipment, board games, computer peripherals, video games, luggage, sound equipment—just about every hobby under the sun.  Some sites have only a few hundred readers, but more established sites can get millions of hits from a legion of dedicated readers who turn there first for information.  So, how do you get included?

Begin by reading the site carefully.  Many sites explain how they acquire the items they review.  In some cases, reviewers speak solely from their own experience with items they buy and use themselves (you’ll find this true for many book review sites, for example).  Other sites have a policy for receiving free samples from companies, and will disclose that the items were sent free of charge instead of purchased.  Big review sites (such as ConsumerReports.org) have a budget to purchase items for review, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Next, read the reviews to determine the personality of the reviewer.  Some reviewers try hard to be impartial, citing both the positives and negatives.  Others enjoy trashing everything, or take a very snarky tone.  That’s part of their personality and it draws their loyal readers, but it may not be a good fit for your product.  Know what you’re getting into before you try to place your product with a reviewer.

Follow the site’s guidelines for requesting a product review.  They may want you to query first before sending the actual item.  Some sites will review certain types of products only on a seasonal basis, or may have designated months for different categories of items.  If so, their guidelines will tell you how far in advance to submit your request and/or items to be considered for a review.

Should you only shoot for reviews from large sites?  Not necessarily.  Smaller sites, blogs and social media review pages may not have millions of readers, but they probably do have a loyal core of followers who could be valuable early adopters and spark buzz.  These sites are usually more approachable than some of the very large review pages, and may provide quicker turnaround.  Treat every reviewer with respect regardless of the site of his or her following, and be sure to follow their guidelines to the letter.

Realize that when you submit your product for review, you agree to accept whatever they post.  Reviewers are not required to like your product just because you sent it to them for free.  Even a positive review may include some criticism just to be balanced.  It’s also possible that a reviewer may write a negative review, especially when the review is highly subjective, such as reviews on books, restaurants, food items, and other products dependent on the user’s tastes.  You can’t demand that a negative review be withdrawn unless it is truly vulgar and profane or meets the legal definition of slander, which can be difficult to apply given the protection afforded to journalists, even for unpopular comments.  Where user comments on a directory might be removed by the site administrators, when you’re dealing with a review site, you’re usually dealing with the owner whose “product” opinion.  That’s why it’s so important to assess the personality of a reviewer before submitting items for review.

Getting a great review online can provide tremendous visibility to consumers who might not otherwise have become aware of your product or service.  Excerpts from great reviews can also be quoted in praise of your product, and links to positive reviews can be posted on your site.  (Never copy the entire review without the writer’s permission, since reviews have copyright protection.)  While there is some time and effort involved in compiling a list of relevant reviewers and sending off items for review, you can receive tremendous promotional value for a relatively small investment in time and shipping costs—a truly productive way to market your company!

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin


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Online Reputation Management: 5 Ways to Protect Your Personal Brand and Manage Your Reputation

By Gail Z. Martin

The idea of customers posting reviews for the world to see makes a lot of business owners nervous.  While they believe in the quality of their product and service, they fear that competitors or mean-spirited people may post unfair or inaccurate information online that could damage their business.  It’s certainly possible that, despite sterling quality, a disgruntled person might post a negative review.  However, according to Yelp’s own analytics, the vast majority of reviews posted are very positive.  Most people posting reviews want to alert readers to their favorites, not trash companies.

What if someone does post a negative review?  If you find a negative post online, take a deep breath and let yourself calm down, then read it again to see if there is any truth to the customer’s disappointment.  Business owners can post replies to reviews, but you should do so carefully and strategically to avoid making a bad situation worse.  If the customer had a bad experience, you can make a public apology, offer them a replacement, and try to make it right.  You may not sway the unhappy person’s opinion, but you’ve publicly demonstrated that you heard, you listened, and that you attempted to correct the situation.          Most consumers realize that mistakes happen; they just want to know that you care enough to fix it.  You may not win back the disgruntled consumer, but you’ll go a long way toward preventing one comment from souring the opinions of others.

If the comment is minor, saying nothing may be the best way to handle it.  If the customer didn’t like the seasoning in your soup, for example, you probably can’t change their opinion without changing your recipe.  People are entitled to their opinions, so if it’s a matter of taste and not quality, readers will probably take it for what it’s worth and make their own judgement.  By replying or trying to argue with the consumer, you just draw attention to the post, turning a minor comment into a major argument and making yourself look argumentative.

What if someone posts a really bad comment?  If the comment is abusive, uses vulgarities, racist language or profanity, it’s likely that you can appeal to the site owners to have the comment removed.  Many sites include internal filters to remove over-the-top comments or to push them far down in the results, making it less likely that an outrageous comment is seen.  It is also possible to contact the user who posted the comment and politely ask them to remove it.  If that doesn’t work, and the comment is truly both malicious and defamatory, it is possible to bring legal action for slander.  How far you take it depends on just how much damage you believe the comment can cause.  Another way to deal with negative comments is to ask your loyal customers to help you out by posting their own positive comments, which will push an unreasonable review so far down the queue that it will be seen by fewer people.  And, you can ask your friends to also request that a truly objectionable review be removed (sites may pay more attention to multiple user requests).

In my experience, companies worry far too much about the possibility of negative comments.  Does your company operate in an ethical manner?  Do you offer a quality product that lives up to your claims?  Do you strive for good customer service and follow through on  your promises?  If so, there should few reasons for your customers to say anything bad, and lots of cause for them to sing your praises.  Here’s something else to consider:  consumers have talked about businesses to their friends and neighbors since the beginning of commerce.  With today’s online directories, you now have a chance to hear what they’re saying, and if the comments to reveal areas for improvement, you can make the changes necessary to avoid future problems.  View comments as feedback, and recognize that it’s impossible to make everyone happy.  The positives of visibility and good user comments far outweigh the negatives.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin

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Online Review Sites: The Power of Word Of Mouth with Yelp and Citysearch

By Gail Z. Martin

Productivity is all about getting more results from the time or money invested.  Promotion is one of the areas where businesses look to increase their productivity; in other words, to get more bang for their buck.  Online reviews and directories are yet another tool businesses can use to get their name out in front of more potential consumers and reach them during their decision process, when prospects are actively planning a purchase.

Many people remember when there was only one directory: the phone book.  As a growing number of consumers migrate to cell phones instead of land lines, phone books have become less valuable, both to businesses looking to be found in their pages, and to telemarketers using them as a way to cold call.  But with the rise of the Internet, a new breed of directory has taken hold, a hybrid of the old phone book category listing crossed with a dynamic, interactive social media tool where consumers can provide feedback to merchants and communicate among themselves.

Yelp, Yahoo! Local, and Citysearch are three of the most popular online directories.  They include a wide variety of business types, ranging from products to services to hospitality/entertainment, combining basic information such as company name, address and phone number with the option for customers to add comments.  The company information may have been added by a consumer, or by the company itself.  Categories are rarely an exhaustive listing of every business in that service type (but then again, the old phone directories only included companies willing to pay for an ad).

Most directory sites create their basic content in two ways: collecting publicly available information from other published sources, and allowing users to add sites live online.  This means that your business may already be out there, so it’s a good reason to Google your company on a regular basis to see where you’re showing up and to make sure that your basic information (address, contact information, category) is correct.  You may have also been added by a recent customer, or by a helpful bystander who knew about your firm and wanted to make the listing more complete.  You can also add your own company, and there are some strong reasons why you should consider doing so, if you’re not already out there.

The first reason for making sure you’re represented in online directories has to do with consumers’ preferences.  Today’s consumers turn to online sources for information gathering far more often than they pick up a printed directory of any kind.  Online information is believed to be more accurate because it can be frequently updated than a printed document.  Obviously, this isn’t always the case (incorrect information can be posted just as easily as accurate information, and sites don’t always get updated as frequently as they should be).  In general, though, consumers have had good luck finding the information they’re looking for online, so they come back again when they need to search for something else. Most directories for the general public (i.e. not a membership directory for an organization) list companies for free, because they want users to add content.  If your company isn’t in the directory, consumers in a hurry may not bother to look further, and you lose out.

The second reason for being in online directories is word of mouth.  Consumers have always trusted what other “real” people say about a business more than they trust paid advertising.  Before the Internet, those conversations took place over the back yard fence, in the line at the grocery store, or at social events.  Now, consumers like to read reviews posted by other customers before making a choice to buy.  They’re not only interested in the quality of the product; they also want to know about the quality of the customer service provided by the merchant.

The third reason for being in online directories is search-ability.  Every time your company appears online, it helps to boost your search engine results.  The more people are talking about your company and the more places it appears online, the higher the search engines place it in their results pages.  Being present online pays off, not just in being visible on an individual directory site, but also through the secondary boost every online mention gives to your Google results.

Excerpted from 30 Days to Virtual Productivity Success by Gail Z. Martin

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