Lorton Data's Blog

Privacy – It’s Your Choice

March 3rd, 2011 by Ronda Hines

Recently my daughter sent me a picture of her son’s bedroom door.  My grandson, at the ripe old age of four, has decided that his younger sister is not welcome in his bedroom.  He used a large sheet of paper and drew a mostly round circle (I believe he might have used hockey tape) with a dark line through it.  In the background, you can faintly see a name written, so we definitely know who ‘is not allowed’ into his room.

Several days later a new sign was added that simply says ‘NO’.

No Entrance

The next time we visited, the first thing out of our grandson’s mouth was, “hey, do you want to see my room?”  “Well, of course I do” I said, “but it says ‘no entry’ on the door!”  He replied, “Oh that doesn’t mean you grandma!”

We should all have choices relating to how issues of privacy affect our lives.  Unfortunately, in the Direct Marketing Industry by the time we hear from an unhappy mail or telephone call recipient they are already disgruntled and they are really ready to yell at somebody!

You do have choices on what mail you receive.  If you want to control what you receive in your mailbox, go to www.dmachoice.org.  Log in and make your choices.  You can choose specific magazines that you would like to receive, or you can stop all magazine offers.  Same is true for catalogs.  Use the tab for ‘other mail offers’ to stop all other mail offers or, again, you can select specific companies from which you wouldn’t mind receiving offers.  To manage credit offers, you will be directed to a free website published by the major credit bureaus.  Even if you register with these sites, you will still receive mail from companies with whom you do business and those with whom you have signed up to receive offers.

Telemarketers always call during the dinner hour you say??  You have a choice to stop most of these calls by going to www.donotcall.gov.  You can also register your cell phone number at this site which would not only stop unwanted calls, but would cover unsolicited text messages as well. Again, even if you register, you will still receive calls from companies with whom you do business, along with non-profit organizations, political affiliates and those conducting surveys.

I’m sure you will agree with me when I say at times even I want to put up signs on the ‘doors’ in my life – but these may be a little more descriptive than a four year old’s sign!

Exploring a business relationship shouldn’t be this hard!

February 21st, 2011 by Ray Davey

We recently decided to explore a reseller relationship with a specialty software company. As an OEM partner to SAP, we have some experience with this type arrangement. The sought after relationship in this case would have us purchasing a software product in some volume from the prospective ‘partner.’ Having narrowed the field to a couple of likely software companies, I set out to gather information to support a decision. Sounds easy enough, right?

I placed a phone call to the first software company on my list and was promptly greeted by a call routing feature that didn’t provide an option to address my need. In these instances I always choose sales (hoping for a motivated member of the company).

The friendly sales person said that she could not help me, that I would need to fill out a form, and that I would have to provide other documentation (tax certificates, advertising materials, etc.) via FAX to their channel management department. This was before any conversation about the potential business fit between our two companies, and apparently based on the fact that I was asking about a relationship versus how to directly purchase their product. I grudgingly complied (well, I bent the rules and sent scanned docs via email).

Two days later I received a phone call from a fellow in Channel Management. After my detailed description of our need (and our mutual opportunity) he told me that I would need to establish a relationship with one of their distributors. He was kind enough to provide contact information.

I sent the distributor an introductory email explaining our need, along with a link to our website for context, and asked him to call me when convenient. What I got back was an email telling me that he could not help me directly, but that a sales representative from their company would be able to talk with me after I submitted the following:
• A completed Customer Application
• Bank reference information
• Credit references
• Sales and Use Tax Certificates
• Our “latest two (2) fiscal yearend financial statements”

His email was specific about not being able to talk about pricing until this information was provided. Again, this is before any conversation about the potential relationship fit.

My next step – write this post to let off a little steam. I want to explore an opportunity, and I’m running into administrative obstacles very early in the process. It’s this type of resistance that causes me to move on to the next software company in hope of a better experience – a potential loss for the once first-place candidate.

Now I’m asking those around me what we do to make it difficult for potential customers and partners to connect with our organization. I want to believe that the answer to that is ‘nothing,’ and I bet that’s what leadership in these two organizations would say if asked. I hate to miss opportunities at my front door, especially given the investment made to develop sales leads.

Patio Season

February 17th, 2011 by Joel Ingersoll

As the temperature hovers around 50 degrees on this mid-February day, my thoughts drift to the summer: sitting outside, swatting mosquitoes and swapping stories with friends over a cold frosty beverage. I’m not the only one; just yesterday local Minnesota Brewery @Summitbeer tweeted, “The urge to drink a beer on a patio today is very strong in this one.” It’s ingrained in the Upper Midwest attitude, and many histories of the region discuss the fancy beer gardens built by breweries before prohibition.

The Twin Cities based Surly Brewing Company wants to continue the tradition of Midwestern beer gardens as part of a plan to build a new $20 million brewery. According to a recent article on Minnesota Public Radio’s website the company proposes a “60,000 square-foot brewery and restaurant with a beer garden, roof deck and bar.” The facility expects to create 150 new permanent jobs.

A beer garden, roof deck and bar sound like an absolutely fantastic way to spend the six evenings in the Twin Cities where snow isn’t either falling or melting.

There is only one hitch in Surly’s master plan. It is currently against the law for a brewer who brews more than 3,500 barrels of beer to sell alcohol directly to the public. In other words, Surly can certainly open a restaurant, but they can’t serve any beer at the restaurant. I had my brilliant lawyer wife read through the legalese and essentially the law states that if you have a license to manufacture “intoxicating liquors” you can’t also have a retail license to sell the liquor.

In other words, Surly Brewing Company needs the law to be changed to move forward with their plans.

To do this, not only have they appeared in traditional media outlets like the local news papers and radio but they reached out to their dedicated following on Twitter, Facebook and their own corporate blog.

They’ve shared with over 19,000 Facebook friends articles on the issue at hand, and asked for feedback on what their State Representatives have said about emails to change the law. Surly has done the same with their 8000 followers on Twitter. Finally on their Brewer’s Blog two days ago, they posted extensive information on the question posed to the legislature and how people can help.

Surly is a small organization, and makes fantastic beer, but no one is going to call them a titan of the brewing industry. However, the company has been very active on various social media platforms and their calls to action seem to have been heard. In less than an hour on Facebook, 46 people had already replied about communicating with their legislators and are sharing their experiences about lobbying to get the law changed.

We don’t yet know if Surly will be able to successfully leverage social media to help get the laws changed, but I wouldn’t bet against them. They make an excellent product (which I’ve tested enough to appoint myself as unofficial quality control) and they have a very dedicated following. While I can’t speak for my organization, I don’t really see anything negative with this plan. New jobs, a beautiful proposed destination, and another exciting place for Minnesotans to go and enjoy delicious Surly beer.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head off to my secret basement laboratory to make my special DEET and sunscreen concoction for summer patio season.

Etiquette Please. Thank You.

January 31st, 2011 by Joel Ingersoll

In an informal study by the University of Making Stuff Up, 95% of all Twitter users have a first tweet along the lines of “*Tap* *Tap* Is this thing on?” or “Still figuring this Twitter thing out.”

Still figuring this Twitter thing out… I’m pretty sure even the most successful social media folks will tell you they haven’t figured Twitter out completely, and if they propose that they have, they might just be selling you some snake oil.

Recently I’ve highlighted some successful uses of social media with Twitter and Tumblr, but today I want to talk about one of the pitfalls of not understanding the social media platform being used, and how simple things can have serious ramifications.

I was followed recently by a large non-profit after a tweet regarding their cause. I looked at their timeline and made the decision to follow back. I figured that with their small number of tweets, it wouldn’t introduce too much noise into what I am looking for from Twitter, and I could also help show my support. A few hours later, I received a direct message that said “Thanks for following, please friend us on Facebook.”

There are a couple of problems here. First, you should not send automated direct messages thanking people for following you. It’s considered inappropriate for personal Twitter accounts, and especially for corporate accounts. This has been true for several years now. With your corporate account, it proposes the idea that instead of just sending us news via your Twitter feed, you’ll also directly message us individually anytime you want to advertise something. Not that you necessarily will, but it illustrates that you don’t respect the direct messaging functionality of Twitter. On a side note, many people get notifications whenever they get a direct message. So if you send me a note, not only do I get the message but an email as well. In other words, you better have a good reason for making the red light on my Blackberry go off. Sending me a direct message thanking me for following you isn’t it.

The second problem with this message is that the non-profit was directing me to their Facebook account. I wasn’t sitting on my couch thinking, “you know Joel, you are following them on Twitter but maybe that isn’t enough. If only they had a Facebook account and maybe LinkedIn as well, then I could be assured of getting each message from the organization THREE different times. Then, and only then, would my life be complete.” If I wanted to follow this organization on Facebook I would have signed up on Facebook.

You need to be willing to engage your customers, or donors in this case, on the social-media platform they want to interact with you on. If your Twitter strategy is to try and direct your followers to Facebook, I’d suggest just having a Facebook account and deleting the Twitter account entirely. I have too many Facebook friends and I probably login every other day, but honestly Twitter is my social media application of choice. If you want to get your message to me, you need to be able to do it on Twitter. For others it might be Facebook, or even MySpace, but be prepared to meet people on their home turf. This would be similar to sending a direct mail piece asking people to listen to your radio advertisement. Just because it’s free to push your content on social media doesn’t mean you should abandon the most basic marketing fundamentals.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to clean my Gmail account of the “thanks for following” emails.

Pink Bathrooms Unite!

January 25th, 2011 by Joel Ingersoll

My Pink Bathroom

Thanks to social media, I took two hours of vacation last Monday to scour my shower to a glistening shine. I went inch by inch with a toothbrush and despite what my dentist would say; I did draw the line at flossing. What does my obsessive cleaning of the bathroom have to do with social media? And why were there a bunch of people hanging out in my sparkling bathroom? While it is a somewhat convoluted story, it serves to show how social media allows you to make interesting and unique connections no matter how esoteric your interests.

Two and a half years ago, my wife and I purchased a mid-century home with an original pink bathroom – the type of bathroom inspired by Mamie Eisenhower and apparently beloved by many people (please forgive the author for knowing very little about bathroom styles). At the time we purchased the home, my wife posted quite a few photos on Flickr, including one excited reference to “Our Pink Bathroom!” That caption led to her being contacted by the head of Save the Pink Bathrooms, a group she later joined on Flickr. From there, she learned about Retro Renovation, a sister site to SPB, which she friended on Facebook. When Retro Renovation put out a call for pink bathrooms in the Twin Cities metro area, my wife emailed them. A little while later, we had a writer and photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, as well as my wife and I, crammed into our tiny pink bathroom for a thirty-minute photo shoot.

If that story wasn’t enough to tire me out, the alchemy of cleaning supplies created a dangerous haze that I was probably warned about in the film strips of my youth. So even a week later, I might just be a touch light-headed.

What’s really interesting with this story is how social media helps you make connections—often more quickly than traditional means of communication—and those connections allow you to network in ways that may have been previously prohibitive. Just five years ago, it would have been a far greater challenge to find enough bathrooms to write a lifestyle section article on something that’s retro cool. With one picture on Flickr, a whole set of dominos fell into place, leading to a metro newspaper hanging out in my bathroom for an evening. There are a myriad of inventive ways to grow participation within your group or businesses using social media. Sometimes you can even be creative enough to get someone to clean their bathroom. And if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is. Actually, that my wife and I could become “retro cool” and hip without doing anything is much better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sit on the couch and wait until my flannel shirts and grunge aesthetic are in fashion again.

A Swabbing Photo is Worth 668 Words

January 18th, 2011 by Joel Ingersoll

I don’t know Nevin very well. We are friends on Twitter and Facebook and I’ve read her posts on Tumblr, but we’ve never met face to face. She’s a wonderful person – smart, funny and warm, and because of her influence, I some day might be able to help save someone’s life. She’s the person who introduced me to the need for donating bone marrow. Because of her, I’ve signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program on Be the Match. I’m not the only one. Nevin shared her story and her need for a bone marrow transplant on the blogging site Tumblr and a significant number of people were moved to sign up with the registry.

Nevin’s story brings to light how Social Media has the ability to transform the way nonprofits and individuals can interact with donors and volunteers. Traditionally, these sources inundate us with communication that tells us that one person can make a difference. One person can make the world a better place. One person can save a life.

But we easily get lost in the numbers. The sheer number of requests and amount of time or money needed often removes the immediacy of need from the impact. We donate food at Thanksgiving and buy gifts for families at Christmas. We donate to victims of natural disasters. We are moved to act by stories of pain and suffering. Then once the cause drifts from the public eye, we don’t think about it again until the next news cycle or the next postcard in the mailbox. With social media, there’s immediacy to helping and an opportunity to keep the success stories fresh in the mind of people who’ve expressed interest in a cause.

After Nevin’s Tumblr post about her situation, people stepped up to be tested as potential bone marrow matches. What’s interesting is people didn’t just sign up for Be the Match. After completing their sign up packet, they posted pictures of their registration, or more comically, photos from swabbing their mouth for their sample. Every few days, there would be another picture and post to Tumblr of a new person signing up. So instead of reading a compelling post and maybe acting on it, or forgetting a day later, active Tumblr users were getting a weekly or sometimes a daily reminder of the importance of donating bone marrow.

Angela Helga shows off her Be The Match paperwork for Tumblr

Angela Helga, another person I’ve never met but am pleased to call a friend, responded to me when I reached out to ask people about the relationship with Tumblr and the National Marrow Donor Program. She said, “When she [Nevin] decided to use Tumblr as a forum to educate people about donating bone marrow, I thought it was so wonderful that a group of random internet people jumped right on it and registered.” Not only did they jump right on it, but people continued to sign up and continued to post their photos and messages on Tumblr. With a few minutes of effort, it becomes easy to keep the message alive and not contingent on a quarterly marketing cycle.

The ongoing immediacy of the interactions on Tumblr illustrates the value for nonprofits to be engaged with social media in a variety of ways. While the National Donor Program organization isn’t the one driving this on Tumblr, Nevin’s one post has helped to jump start a successful social media donor campaign.

One emotional and important story and some simple pictures posted on a blog site have created a compelling reminder that one person can do good. That one person can make a difference and save a life. This example stops the traditional cycle of marketing and allows for an ongoing message. In this situation we have a typical sense of urgency about how we can help, but it transcends the holiday stories or the quarterly mailer.

And that’s a great thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just got my kit in the mail. I need to fill it out and post my picture to Tumblr.

I See Dead Puppies

January 4th, 2011 by Joel Ingersoll

Actually I don’t, but apparently I do talk to them on Twitter.

Yesterday, I was reading about the forever stamps being released this year by the USPS and came across the story of Owney the dog–who will be featured on a stamp in July. Owney was the unofficial mascot of the Railway Mail service from 1888 to 1897 where he rode the rails with postal workers. He even traveled around the world in 1895. You can learn more about Owney’s fascinating story at the National Postal Museum website. Today, Owney is stuffed and residing at the Postal Museum as a representative from that era of mail service.

After reading about Owney, I was compelled to post the following (somewhat humorous) remark on Twitter, “There’s a stuffed dog at the Smithsonian’s Postal Museum which is all the motivation my cat needs to do something noteworthy before death.”

Yes, I do tweet about my cat a little too much.

Much to my surprise, I received the following response just a little bit later.

Somewhere out in the interwebs an employee for the Postal Museum or the Smithsonian, is tracking these types of comments in Twitter. Looking for key words like “Smithsonian” or “Postal Museum” and commenting where appropriate. So a random joke like mine actually got the attention of an employee of the museum who responded as @OwneytheDog. It’s brilliant marketing if you think about it. A tiny gesture of goodwill from a stranger helps ensure that I’ll be looking for these stamps in July when they are released. For once, I’m not joking.

You read a lot about how to market on Twitter. Social Media Gurus use terms like “generating brand awareness” to sell the value of Twitter to their clients – or just to fill blog space. Either way, you don’t need a massive campaign to be successful at social media; it’s really the little things that count. The minimum required to be “good” at social media is to respond to customer inquiries and complaints, or seek out people to help generate interest. Yesterday, when the folks operating Owney’s Twitter account came across my silly little tweet and took thirty seconds to respond with two words, I doubt they anticipated a corporate blog from me in response.

Honestly though, isn’t that what people really want from Twitter? To know someone is listening to them and is willing to engage in a conversation.

This was so much more successful than the individuals that send you a message with cryptic text and a link to www.ifyouclickthislinkyourcomputerwillexplode.com.

Before I wrap this up, getting a tweet from a stuffed dog isn’t the strangest marketing I’ve received. Months ago I tweeted about throwing away single socks. I received a reply from an individual selling socks in packs of three. In other words, it ensured that if I lost a sock, I’d always have a backup. I replied asking how I’d know to buy an extra right or left sock. I never heard back.

To summarize, you can build a lot of goodwill with Twitter or Facebook by doing the little things right. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to impress people and get them on your side. It can be as simple as using the tools provided for the application you are working with, monitoring those tools and responding when appropriate. So if you find yourself at the Postal Museum, say hi to Owney for me. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, be sure to pick up his stamps in July.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my cat a YouTube viral sensation.

A-Qua Mailer™ Selected as a ‘Worth-a-Look’ Product at Graph Expo 2010

October 4th, 2010 by Trudy Weiser

A-Qua Mailer, Lorton Data’s on-demand direct mail service, was selected as a ‘Worth-a-Look’ product at Graph Expo 2010. Must See ‘ems, and their companion Worth-a-Look products, were selected from the more than 2,000 individual products being shown at Graph Expo 2010 by just over 500 exhibitors. Products were nominated in a reiterative process from supplier information including pre-show briefings and input from an independent Selection Committee. Nominees were reviewed and voted on by a 19 person committee in a secret ballot that required more than majority agreement that a product was compelling for a large number of exhibition attendees to achieve Must See ‘ems recognition. Products identified as compelling, but of importance to a more limited audience, have been identified as Worth-a-Looks.

All of the products being exhibited at this year’s show were eligible for Must See ‘ems recognition consideration. Exhibitors submitted information and the Selection Committee surveyed the more than 2,000 products to be exhibited at Graph Expo 2010 to nominate 115 products for detailed evaluation. While all nominated products had interesting characteristics and merit for printer consideration, not all achieved Must See ‘ems or Worth-a-Look status.

To learn more about the selection process for this recognition click the link below.

Alert: Twitter Mouseover Hack

September 21st, 2010 by Joel Ingersoll

If you’ve logged into Twitter today via their website, it might be a good idea to change your password. I’d also strongly recommend accessing Twitter through a third party client like Tweet Deck or another service. While surprisingly there isn’t anything on the Twitter Status Blog, it appears that Twitter has been hit by a “mouseover” hack that’s causing people to tweet and retweet the same hack over and over again. If you would like to read more about the hack Sophos has an article that explains the flaw.

In simple English, hackers have exploited a security flaw within Twitter that allows for mouse over commands in JavaScript that allows people who hover over the link to be redirected to other websites, or replicate the message. Interestingly, the tweet shows as a block of text, like information on a redacted document. Also, as I learned this morning, the current hack appears to put giant letters overtop of the Twitter interface.

I’m sure more folks will write better explanations of what is currently going on, but as of now it’s best to stay off the main Twitter site, or access it through a third party application which appears to block the mouseover hack. As irresistible as it may seem, please don’t click on any tweets blocked out with color, but if you do please use a third party client to change your password as soon as possible.

We All Like A Feel Good Story

September 13th, 2010 by Joel Ingersoll

It’s a pretty safe assumption everyone other than the crankiest of curmudgeons likes a feel-good story. I know that after being bombarded about news that makes me sad, or angry, or both, I like to hear about something good that happens to the deserving. I don’t think I am taking any risks with that premise. So when a small park 250 miles north of the Twin Cities, that features a bear and her cubs, is able to increase its annual budget by half and beat out some of the largest national parks in the United States for a $100,000 prize, this sounds like a story that is going to have a happy ending.

Lily is a black bear living in Bear’s Head Lake State Park near Ely, Minnesota. She also is probably the most popular living bear on Facebook with over 112,000 followers. Last year when Lily was pregnant, a webcam was placed in her den and the world was able to watch the birth of her cub, Hope. Soon after the webcam was set up, www.bear.org was overloaded with visitors to the site who wanted to catch a glimpse of Lily. Soon after, a Twitter feed and Facebook fan page were set up to disseminate quick updates regarding Lily and to provide educational information about American black bears. Many look to social media as a quick way to get the latest celebrity gossip, breaking popular news trends, or just to catch up with friends. Lily was able to transcend the traditional assumptions by being a conduit of knowledge for her followers. A look at Lily’s Facebook Page illustrates not only how people can keep up with their favorite Minnesotan black bears, but also how they can gain extensive knowledge from bear experts. Facebook is allowing interested individuals to learn from people they might never have been able to communicate with before and to learn more about bears than a watered-down TV special could provide.

So what does this mean? By putting up the webcam, and providing information through blogs, tweets and Facebook status updates and interacting with their followers, the research group working with Lily raised a significant amount of money to continue their work. Through direct donations and the sales of Lily-branded goods (like t-shirts), the North American Bear Center can continue to “advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans” as they state on their website.

Just as exciting as the money coming into the North American Bear Center is this news for Bear Head Lake State Park. The park only has about 100,000 visitors a year, but this year had hundreds of thousands more virtual visitors. When you considered that 285 million people visited national parks in 2009, with the Great Smokey Mountains National Park garnering 9.5 million of those visitors (according to a USA Today article), the next piece of information should come as a shocking surprise. Coca-Cola’s LivePositively website’s contest for the most popular park in the United States, allowed voters to select Bear Head Lake State Park as the most popular park in the country. Out of the 5.7 million votes, the Minnesota park received 28 percent. So a park with an annual budget of only $230,000 gets another $100,000 from Coca-Cola to use on park improvements. How awesome is that?

I know in my last blog posting I had to walk a fine line when discussing the value of social media and email campaigns, in relation to traditional postal mail. I think in the case of Lily the Bear we had an extraordinary event, which helped to drive the success of social media campaign—Lily’s social media success wasn’t manufactured, instead it grew organically from the webcam, the expertise of the researchers, their willingness to share their knowledge, and people’s thirst to learn more about wild bears beyond what they saw in Yogi Bear cartoon. There’s a wealth of context to make Lily’s story interesting.

I understand this is unique. However, nearly every organization has something interesting to say and the ability to share it with their members, donors, customers or just the general public at large. Social Media should be fun, and engaging and *gasp* sometimes enlightening. That’s what makes it great. The North American Bear Center can determine its ROI from Lily because there would have been significantly less in donations without the bearcam. I highly doubt they were sending out tons of fundraising requests each year.

You might not be able to measure the value of your social media spending, but that doesn’t belittle its value. For small organizations, it can provide a lifeline to raising donations by finding an audience you might not have previously been able to access, or by reaching customers in a very niche market. Organizations and businesses shouldn’t feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to social media. Just because you have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, doesn’t mean people must follow you. Instead you have to be engaging and interactive and actually provide content people are interested in. If you do that, you may be able to reap significant rewards for your hard work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look at some cute cub photos on Lily’s Facebook page and smile.