Archive for January, 2012

2880 Minutes of Silence

Monday, January 16th, 2012

We were somewhere northbound on Minnesota Highway 61, of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, when I posted a photo to Twitter of me at an ice bar enjoying a frosty beverage and shivering. Shortly after that picture, I went silent for nearly forty-eight hours. As we continued our drive north to the Bearskin Lodge, our cellular reception slowly faded. When we got so close to Thunder Bay, Ontario that my Blackberry actually went on international roaming, I did the unthinkable and shut it off for the weekend. My wife and I had joined eleven of our friends for a ski weekend in Northern Minnesota, and while the idea of propelling myself forward on fiberglass sticks at death-defying speeds wasn’t compelling for me, the opportunity to jab my wife with the pointy end of a pole was appealing enough to make me unplug from the electronic world for a weekend.

Those are not cell towers in disguise.

I wasn’t technically shut off from the electronic world. While there was no cellular service in our location in Superior National Forest, we did sort of have internet. The lodge had a satellite connection that was on such a tight bandwidth restriction that half of one “cat playing a piano video” would max out the connection for the day. Seeing as I didn’t want to be the cause of a digital Tragedy of the Commons, I turned the Wi-Fi off on my phone and didn’t turn it on again until the drive home on Sunday.

Instead, I talked with people. I laughed and drank a few beers. I hiked and played broomball and did the sorts of things I did before social media became such a large part of my life. To be honest I had an easier time staying unplugged from Twitter for forty-eight hours than some folks had going thirty minutes without asking me if I could survive forty-eight hours without Twitter. It was a relaxing weekend, and a nice reminder of the value of getting away from the non-stop, always on, post-modern world of being connected to everyone all the time. It was nice to escape the Pavlovian response of checking my Blackberry every time that little red notification light starts flashing like someone just tucked a hockey puck into the back of the net.

While I didn’t actually have a life altering epiphany while I was away in the woods, it was really nice to get away from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Gmail for a weekend and it really did allow me to recharge my batteries—of course that could just be the wicked bump on the back of my head from a particularly vicious fall during Saturday night’s broomball game. Either way, there’s something to be said for shutting it down for a few hours here and there to regain perspective on what is really important. It isn’t always about personal branding development while measuring the ROI based on cross-platform, value-added, thinking outside the box, content creation. Sometimes, it’s about getting a really bad night’s sleep on a tiny bed and spending some time talking to people without a computer screen as an intermediary.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” I realized the value of this ethos as I trudged alone through the snowy woods on Saturday. It wasn’t the thick wool socks and gloves, nor the Thinsulate boots and coat, or even the fleece lined hat keeping me warm. It was the burning embers of desire to have a loved one suffering with me out on the trails protecting me from the cold. In other words, one man’s harrowing tale of being in a world without electronic communications is another man’s story of growing a lumberjack beard, reading Walden and coming to the realization of what is really important—having your loved one be just as miserable as you. Honestly, based on how lost I was using the lodge map, a GPS unit would have been nice as well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go post a bunch of photos of my trip to Facebook because sometimes even new habits die hard.

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I Like You Is the New I Love You

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

“Will they or won’t they get together?” It’s a theme Hollywood has built an empire on and then ground to dust by the fourth season when every dedicated fan pleads “just get them together already.” By that point, most of us are wishing the show would end in a dramatic series of events like Romeo and Juliet. Just give us some finality to the story so we can get back to giggling manically at people getting hit by large padded swinging objects on Wipeout (Note: I don’t actually watch Wipeout, but I do make my wife replay the commercials over and over and over again). However, it’s the magic words “I love you” that drives the audience to wait for the big payoff. Those words reward the time and effort involved in watching twenty-two episodes and approximately 15 hours of insurance commercials a year just to see the main characters ride off into the sunset together. It’s the validation we’ll be rewarded with a happy ending rather than a conclusion of tragic love we learned about while drooling through the Shakespeare unit in high school English.

In social media, “like” has replaced “love” within the context of emotional validation. Like my Facebook update. Star my Tweet. Heart my Tumblr post. +1 my Google+ +thingy. Review my restaurant on Yelp. Check into my store on FourSquare. Enjoy my bamboo on Pandabook. Despise my minions on EvilGenuisSpace. It’s enough to give anyone validation exhaustion. It’s especially tiring when businesses expect it from us rather than friends or family and they are simply looking for the unrequited type of love.

“I’m the top garbage disposal distributor in the Northern Midwest Southeastern Region; follow me on Facebook to learn more.”

“We’ll cut your cat’s bangs just the way you want ‘em. We are the Twin Cities top hair salon for pets. Learn more on Twitter!”

It isn’t so much the volume of companies that want you to like them, it’s the volume of companies that want you to like them but fail to provide any value in return. Generally it’s repetitive status updates sharing a website link or the exact same tweet every day. Maybe it works for your business or maybe the one-way street method of communication is being ignored by current customers, or worse being passed over by your potential customers. While the tenants of direct marketing still apply to social media, it isn’t as tangible or front of mind as mailing a coupon. While I always have Twitter in hand (thanks to my smartphone), I don’t remember marketing messages for long. If your tweet doesn’t have an immediate impact, I’ve already moved on to the next one. I’ve probably thought a hundred times that something is cool, but it doesn’t stick in my head for more than five minutes because I’m not really engaged.

Social media needs to be interactive. You need to “like” your customers as much as you want them to “like” you. We can’t all be selling Ding Dongs or sneakers or the world’s most amazing fish tacos that can drive an unrequited relationship without customer interaction. So if you want to be successful on social media, you need to give your customers a reason to like you, and more often than not, it’s by letting them know that you like them too. I may have grown up in a Sam and Diane Cheers world, but I know Sam would have moved on to someone else well before the surprise end of season four. It’s the same thing for businesses. If you don’t give your potential fans or followers a reason to like you, they’ll pass you right over for someone else. If social media is a part of your marketing efforts, make sure you are directing those efforts in the right place—meeting your customer’s needs.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get my cat’s hair cut before her audition for Feline Wipeout.

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Hairless QR Codes

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The six of you that faithfully read this blog may remember that last summer I traveled to New York and was inundated with QR codes and felt the need to share my disappointing experience at the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve thought a lot about QR codes since then, but didn’t feel compelled to write about them (there’s enough hyperbole being typed about them already) until a coworker sent me an interesting article from Shelly Bernstein, the Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum. QR in the New Year? is worth a read if only to get a thoughtful story beyond the statistics and rationale for using QR codes.

Her results, much like my experiences as an end user, were mixed. She explains, “So, I think what we end up with is simply a project that isn’t an overwhelming success or failure.” That’s a pretty blah result and hardly a motivation to keep plugging away with the effort involved to manage information for the mobile market. So if her results were mediocre with a concerted effort to make them useful to the museum consumer, why are they being slapped on everything from rental cars to bald spots? Okay maybe not bald spots yet, but if Google Earth is looking to advertise, I’ve got a large available space. Call me.

I can just see the meeting right now.

“Hey Bob, what do you know about QR codes?”

“Not much, but I hear the kids love them as much as they love the Twitter.”

“Well, we don’t have a budget for it, but let’s slap a bunch of them on our marketing materials and have ‘em link back to the main page of our website. It’ll be great!”

Six months later they don’t understand why people aren’t scanning them.

A new article from BizReport explains how people are interacting with QR codes and they found the following scan rates. “Newspapers and magazines are where most QR Codes are being found and scanned (35%) followed by on packages (18%) and on websites (13%). Surprisingly few were scanned from billboards (11%) or a piece of direct mail (11%).”

This makes sense to me, but the one I don’t get at all is the 13% that scanned on websites. If you are sitting at a desktop, laptop or using a tablet, why in the world would you whip out your mobile device to scan a QR code on a website to see a smaller version of where you already are? It would be like printing a tiny map on a highway sign. I don’t quite understand the logic there. When I was in New York City, I struggled getting a good angle to scan a billboard QR code, and if they were implemented on roads Burma Shave style, I’d be concerned about people accidently mowing down cows that have liberated themselves from an idyllic Midwestern pasture. According to Ad Age, some of the other interesting places QR codes have appeared are in the subway (with no cell reception) and on in-flight magazines where even Alec Baldwin isn’t allowed to have internet service to play Words with Friends. Finally, and possibly my favorite, MillerCoors teamed with some Seattle bars to allow patrons to scan a QR code and get a cab. While well meaning and a great experiment, the manual dexterity required to operate a smart phone was a little too much after a few frosty brews—which probably also explains why Apple keeps forgetting iPhone prototypes in bars.

The Ad Age piece continues to explain, “Experts cite three reasons that QR codes haven’t caught on. First, people are confused about how to scan them. Two, there’s little uniformity among the apps required to read them. Last, some who have tried the technology were dissuaded by codes that offer little useful information or simply redirect the user to the company’s website.”

I think the third part of this argument is the most compelling because people will eventually figure out the first one, and the second will shake out as the technology advances. If you want a QR code campaign to be successful it really needs to consider three factors. It needs to be optimized for mobile platforms. My Museum of Modern Art experience illustrates this. It was nice to have the QR codes, but I couldn’t get information to load on a Blackberry or iPhone because the landing page was too complex to be managed by most smartphones. QR codes should be used sparingly. Marketers should not just slap them on everything because that’s what the cool kids are doing. If all your advertising, products and collateral have a QR code that leads back to the main page of your website, not much is accomplished except annoying your potential customer. Which leads into my final point, QR codes need to have a purpose. Lead users to product reviews, or give us a coupon (but just one because how are we supposed to manage them all on a phone), or provide something of value. Make the pause required to pull out the phone, select the app, and wait for the camera to scan worth something. If the code provides value, people will keep using it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wash this black Sharpie QR code off my bald spot.

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