Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Christmas - Greater Gifts (& Hot Artochoke Dip)

I'm not getting any presents this year for Christmas. Well... that's not true, I already got my presents really early. I sit here in the midst of a recession self employed, a new home owner, capable of taking care of myself during a crappy economy.   I owe all this to my Greater Gifts. Nothing tangible or valuable in a monetary sense but gifts of friendship, of family.  Gifts of using my intelligence and showing leadership and openness. Gifts of being able to relate to other human beings. Being able to smile and talk to strangers, or help those in need. Being able to learn something every day is a Great Gift. Being able to apply all these lessons to my world every day is a wonderful life.  I hope other people are realizing that the Greater Gifts matter more than money, or ego, or self.

I make this Hot Artichoke Dip every Christmas Eve... This year I promise I'll add a photo.

- 2 (13 3/4-ounce) cans artichoke hearts (drained & broken into smaller chunks)
- 1 14 ounce can of tomato with jalapenos. 
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup packed grated Parmesan Cheese
- 2-3 tablespoons tobasco sauce (more or less to taste. You can try other hot sauces too.)
- 1 large garlic clove, mashed
- A few cranks of fresh black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, stir well. Scrape into an oven proof dish, cover and bake for 40 minutes. Serve this savory dip HOT, with bagel chips, corn chips, crackers, bread... anything! Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Steph's Top 10 Internet Marketing Rules FREE

Many people don't know that I dabble in a little online marketing as well as doing Interface and User Experience Design. This internet marketing helps me observe a much greater view of the people's online landscape. It's making me a better UX designer since I can see all the complex connections that data and people make together. Nowadays many small business people are asking me for help with social networks and social media marketing. They say things like, "I just don't know where to begin," really lost sounding remarks. Groupon scares the crap out of people, it's perceived as a business killer. And Foursquare is confusing, lots of people don't "get it". It seems like regular people are just now getting comfortable with Facebook. Anyway... here are my top 10 web marketing rules designed to help you use social media like a pro. 

Marketing Rule #1 - Reciprocate! 
The social web is … social. People don’t want to talk, they want to converse, exchange photos, share links, read stories, participate! If a client or vendor keeps liking everything you post in Facebook, reciprocate! It makes a big difference. If a customer is blogging about their awesome service from you, that’s FREE marketing so thank them, give them credit and reuse it on your blog. It’s good to thank people on Facebook, LinkedIn and yelp. It’s good to publicly write thoughtful comments on relevant news articles, go ahead and link to your business in this case. Always be polite, like you would to anybody in the real world. But it’s the reciprocity that really pleases people and an actual connection that feels authentic so try not to hog all of the attention, give back.

Marketing Rule #2 - Be Relevant!
Just sending out email blasts alone is not a great idea anymore because people's inboxes are getting crazier by the minute. The best thing about social media is that it allows almost anybody to reach their “target” audience in a way which is very relevant to consumers. It’s not art, it’s science, easy science! So, pick the websites that will give you the most bang for you buck, and forget those that don’t. Almost everyone has a Facebook account and there are millions more using twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media services like yelp. Plus there are more online social networks which are industry and location specific that could be extra relevant for you and your customers. Add in the magic of highly refined advertising tools which let you target people down to gender, location, education level, and more. Plus internet reporting tools that literally show you exactly how well your marketing efforts are going. If you want to advertise online, do research first to determine whether Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a combination of these (or others) are best for you. Are you a craft person? Then is your thing. If your a musician, you have a lot to look at. Skip the research and you’re just gonna waste money which will make you sad. If you hire a pro, listen to them, they do the research so you don't have to.

Marketing Rule #3 - You gotta deliver the goods. 
You don’t need a User Experience Designer like me to tell you that you shouldn’t disappoint your visitors by letting them down after building up their expectations. All the online marketing in the world won’t make up for a bad website. Imagine this scenario > Somebody sees your nifty ad and they go and click on it. > They come to your website and find something ugly, or stupid, something wrong, or too provocative. > This is bad design. Ask yourself, “Will anybody Like this on Facebook? Will people feel good about sharing this with their friends?” The web is fickle place, one single disappointment is all it takes for a visitor to go away forever.

Marketing Rule #4 - A picture actually is worth a thousand words. 
OK serious moment number 1... I have sat in usability testing labs and I have read many a white paper and report about this... Nothing, I mean nothing sells something like an image. People literally click on photos or images without even thinking about it. If you really want to bump up your business, take lots of photos of your products, of your business, of your team, of your partners, of your clients, and of your events. Hire a professional photographer to follow your business around! Photo - photo - photograph all-of-the-time! And keep all of it in a repository somewhere like Flickr. From there you can blog, post, share, tweet, and email the crud out of it to your fans or target audience anywhere, anytime or share it with your designers, contractors, and vendors. I will be adding images to this post, seriously.

Marketing Rule #5 - Plan ahead! 
Serious moment number 2. This is what the pros do and there are numerous benefits to planning ahead. If you want to promote your business for Christmas for example, you should start planning no later than September. You need to start promoting wedding season no later than January. Why? You may need to do research, hire a freelancer, devise an advertising campaign, source or produce photos, or other creative, budget, or simply get your stuff together. You should create a schedule of what you will post in sequence, over time so as to maximize all of your work. All of this takes time so plan for it. If you have to send out anything printed, like postcards or fliers for a trade show, you need time to get this together and coordinate your online marketing with it so make the calendar your friend and get your colleagues addicted to planning.

Marketing Rule #6 - More content = more love. 
The more you post to your blog, or Facebook, or twitter - the more content you’re publishing to the world. Period. Content is gold on the Internet. The more conversations you have with customers on Facebook, twitter or in a forum on LinkedIn, the more content you're actually putting online, and  more people will connect to your business. This does two things - 1) It engages and entertains people. 2) It pleases the algorithms behind all of these networks. Google promotes fresher websites over stale ones in it’s search results. This is part of the reason blogs make great websites. So please your fans, your clients, and the gods of the internet - at the same time - and post some fresh content appropriately for your business. Listen to your clients to determine which delivery methods work best for them. And remember, sharing too much can be annoying. There is such a thing as twitter and Facebook spam as well as email spam. I try to post no more than once a day on average to Facebook.

Marketing Rule #7 - Assume your customers are really smart! 
You know exactly what I mean. You’ve seen those dumb ads on TV that simply insult your intelligence. Perhaps you’ve seen the gross “belly fat” ads online (which by the way has been proven to be a nefarious “phishing” ad). YOUR CUSTOMERS AREN’T THAT DUMB! So be authentic and don’t take a dumb approach with your online marketing.

Marketing Rule #8 - Use the analysis tools. 
Serious moment number 3. There are FREE or inexpensive yet powerful analytical tools provided to you by Google, Facebook, and many other websites. USE THEM.  The great thing about the web is that you can observe so much of what goes on. Which means, you can see when people visit your website, what people click on, what they like & don't like, how often people visit your blog and for how long. You know how quickly they leave. You can see what tweets, emails, or ad campaigns are sending people to you. You can literally gauge the effectiveness of everything you do. All these analytical tools will help you greatly IF you use them. You don’t need to spend a lot of time just use them.

Marketing Rule #9 - Communicate well. 
Basic English and politeness rules apply here. I use these strategies to help me stay organized and on top of online correspondence. Get good at writing concise but thoughtful comments & emails. Always put a subject in email. Always be relevant and avoid any confusing or misleading text in anything you write online. Just because it’s the Internet, and you might be using a smartphone to update your blog does not excuse typos and bad grammar. Make the time to appear professional. Don’t forget how smart your customers are.

Marketing Rule #10 - The web is plastic. 
Number 10 is the anti-rule. It’s simply erroneous to assume that you can throw up a website, or a lone Facebook page and be done. Sorry. You should expect to update content on your website, blog and other pages pretty regularly. You could "just set something up" and let your site sit there getting stale, but that’s how your visitors will perceive it, "stale". And they won’t come back, and your search engine rank will suffer. The worst thing I think stale sites suffer from is the perception by visitors that they could be “untrustworthy”. Remember your smart, social followers want to hear from you so plan on making at least quarterly updates to your website. If you use the web to be in contact with your customers, and show some of that “social proof” on your site, you will do very well.

Does this seem like a lot of work?
Feel free to get some help, contact us at: design @