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The difference between online and offline

February 24, 2014

The internet offers the ability to order things in just about any conceivable manner.
Real life doesn’t. Take your typical grocery story. The “order” is dictated by physics. Produce is over here. Can food there. Cereal in this aisle. There’s a science in the order of things, and milk is in the back left because people make right turns, so the store wants to pull you to the right, even if you want to just get milk. That said, milk can’t appear in more than one place.

Online however, things aren’t constrained by physics.

July's Tomato Haul

July’s Tomato Haul (Photo credit: statelyenglishmanor)

Online, there isn’t a need for order. We don’t need “files” or “folders”. Those are real world things demanded by the requirement to put things in places. Online, things are merely 0’s and 1’s and computers don’t need an elaborate hierarchy to find them.

That’s why at (a made up place), canned tomatoes can be tagged with ‘tomatoes, canned, vegetable, canned food, camping, staples, pasta, crock pot,  etc. In fact, there’s no limitation on how to tag the tomatoes – and since a tag is the offline equivalent of a place (ie, where you go to find it), the more things you tag the tomatoes with, the better chance people will find them in a search.

In the real world, the grocery store guesses and uses shopping carts to strategically placed to get you walking around (and some, like Wegmans, I think purposefully crate alleys that get you lost).

On the internet, things are way more miscellaneous. Don’t think of your content as being one thing for one person in one place (as one would a can of tomatoes). Online, the can be the beginning of a killer crock pot recipe, the start of a great pasta, or just a can of tomatoes.

When putting together a marketing plan, perhaps it’s time to consider ‘how will our target market find this information?”

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What you can learn from a college student’s Twitter feed

February 22, 2014

There’s a student at Colgate with almost 11,000 followers on Twitter. She’s currently a social media intern in my department. I hired her because she’s demonstrably good at social media.

Screen shot 2014-02-22 at 11.48.07 AM

11,000 followers with less than 5,000 tweets. She has no built-in celebrity – Brian Williams has over 187,000 followers, but he has zero tweets. He has celebrity. Jackie doesn’t.

So how did she get that many followers? Here are my thoughts:

1. She’s well branded. Her feed is called Jackie O Problems and it is the very real problems of a college student. It involves classes, boys, food, housing, etc.

2. She’s focused. Jackie doesn’t talk about her fandom, politics, or the specific school she goes to. She talks about the problems associated with being a college student.

3. She isn’t niche. While this might seem counter to the above, it isn’t. She could post about specific Colgate problems, but she doesn’t. Look at her feed and unless she’s taking over the Colgate Twitter feed, her problems are broad.

4. She’s consistent. In the same way that she’s consistent, that makes her predictable. Follow Jackie and you’ll get funny, witty posts about being a college student. You can count in it.

5. She uses pictures. Her platform is full of images. They work. How many ads do you see without a picture? How many magazine articles don’t have images? Images work. Use them.

6. She understands her audience. I’ve heard her say: “That won’t really work for my audience.” She’s thinking about who is watching and what they want. Her content is for them.

7. She doesn’t post all the time. There isn’t a rule about how often to post. Post when you have something to say that fits all the above.

So what can you learn from Jackie? First of all, Twitter is a marketing tool, but it doesn’t work if you don’t have a strategy. Without a strategy, you’ll lack focus. If you aren’t something, on Twitter you’ll be nothing (unless you’re a celebrity, then you’ll be something for a bit.)

Be consistent: your audience should have an idea what is coming. They don’t have to know, but they should never be surprised. If Jackie live tweeted a hockey game, it would confuse her followers. If she live tweeted the Emmy’s, it would more-likely fit her brand.

Finally: she’s graduating this spring. She gets social media. You really should think about hiring her. 

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An open letter to LinkedIn

February 15, 2014

Hi LinkedIn,

Can I call you Link? I fell like I’ve known you for years. I was telling people to add Slideshare to their LinkedIn profile four years ago. Five years ago I wanted our senior staff to use LinkedIn instead of the “people” page on our site.

I think I’ve written about LinkedIn over 20 times. This post, the 10 things you can do on LinkedIn right now was so popular it received dozens of blog spam posts about Good Credit (which I changed to Bad Credit).

Anyway, back to my letter. Thanks for adding “majors” and “skills” to the /edu/ section.

Colgate on Linkedin

Colgate on LinkedIn


You have one of the most awesome databases on the Internet. You are the outcome proof of Colleges and Universities. What do you want to do with a History degree? Why, just click History.

Want to know what kind of skills you’ll learn? Click major and see the skills. It is the perfect tool for prospective students. It is also the perfect tool for alumni. That would be why there are 19,000+ of them on LinkedIn.

Here’s the thing though: students don’t see the value. A student goes to a Liberal Arts school and does more than get a history degree. They acquire skills. They participate in activities. They become complete people able to accomplish almost anything in the real world.

The schools have that data.

So here’s a thought: what if schools could feed LinkedIn the activity and accomplishment data to your database? This would encourage students to get a profile, while also showcasing the value proposition of an education. Especially a residential Liberal Arts education.

Additionally, the profile could have a College approved stamp on it, meaning the data on the profile is certified.

LinkedIn, you’re awesome for people who have “work experience.” I think you can be awesome for people who have “College experience.” You might not need help, but I’m offering it.

Lets talk.

Your friend,


The difference between Facebook and Google

February 8, 2014

When I have my marketing hat on, there are two kinds people online: shoppers and buyers.

Thanks to Google, buyers are easy to spot – when I was looking to buy black socks recently, I googled “black socks”, fought the urge to read about Shoeless Joe (did you mean black sox? Google asked sheepishly), and bought some black socks.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome (Photo credit:

Google sells adwords around the term “black socks,” and perhaps “black sox,” because marketers  only pay for the click. For someone selling back socks, a click on a Google search for black sox is basically a sale. That is the reason all the people at Google are gazillioanires.

On the other side of the generalization is everyone else. I rather glibly called them “shoppers”, but we also call them people who might be inclined to buy stuff at a later date. As you can see, that’s a pretty long title, and makes for the planet.

Buyers go to Google, then to a place to buy things. Google isn’t letting go of this market. They own it, have built an amazing Googleplex (I visited, I know) with the proceeds, and now want to make drivable cars and solve other world problems.

So what if a different company could predict what you might buy?

The Facebook “like” button is an attempt to predict your desires.

Here’s how it would work. A person writes on their profile that they like “beer”. That person then goes to the internet, still logged into Facebook, and is shown a beer ad (Facebook knows they’re the right age, they tell Facebook their age.)

Ads become relevant to desires. We can already do that on the Facebook platform. We can boost content to people in New York who like Yogurt and have kids under 3.

Imagine a time when that ad is on ESPN and is no longer a quant boost, but an actual ad.

In theory, the more a person “likes” on Facebook, the more data sets marketers can use to advertise to them.

We marketing folk can already use this data. If a marketer has an idea about what their target market (shopper) likes, then Facebook can tell them how many people are out there.

When Facebook launches their ad platform (and they will), we’ll have another option for “shopper” marketing. Google wins the buyer market, Facebook wins the internet.


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If the product is free, you are the product

February 4, 2014

As the author of a blog called “People Like to Share”, I often think about the implications for marketing for people sharing. As a marketer, I’m the beneficiary of the notion that if the product is free, you are the product.

As a consumer, I think about my own privacy and security online.

This week, NPR’s TED Talks radio did a segment on privacy. It is a very good episode, filled with ideas that are worth spreading.

Last summer I moderated a panel with some very knowledgable people around privacy and security. I tried to break it down to a few different points.

Security. Essentially, this is the role the consumer has in keeping their data secure. From effective passwords to being very conservative with sharing data. The experts I talked to said never save credit card data with a website. The convenience of not having to type in a credit card is not worth the risk of the company getting hacked.


Privacy (Photo credit: g4ll4is)

Data. All the likes, check-ins, photos and status updates are data points. Those data points are being collected by companies like Facebook and Google to create detailed profiles of people. On the surface, this isn’t bad. They are using this data to deliver more relevant advertising. For example, I can deliver a message to liberal arts graduates with a 13-17 year old in their household.  I can do that because people have thoughtfully told Facebook this data.

Are we making the right privacy choices?

The value exchange is an important element of this debate. I’m not sure people understand the value equation of giving and receiving. 10 years ago, we guarded our e-mail addresses from brands we trusted. Now, we offer so much public information for utility that isn’t even clearly defined. We currently post data online for likes, karma, RT’s and the like. These are “Internet points” that help us build a valuable community while also giving us the good feeling of positive reinforcement (that’s a great picture Matt, your kids are so cute.)

We share like crazy, but do we see value in return?

We’re currently in an interesting worldwide experiment where we offer up massive amounts of personal; data for utility. And while you don’t have to go far to find people who worry about the consequences of giving away all this data, we honestly don’t know the ramifications of being fully open. Perhaps the only cost is more relevant ads. Perhaps the cost is more dire: a warehouse the size of five massive big box stores creating a dossier of data about every person.

The President of the Unites States 40 years from now will most-likely have a picture of his or her first poopy available on the Internet. Maybe we’ll learn that he or she didn’t walk until they were two? Maybe we’ll learn he or she had a serious heart operation when they were five because the mom posted about it on Facebook.

Sound crazy? Maybe, but I’m keenly aware that if my daughter ever seems on track to be president, it will be impossible to clean the internet of images of her. There’s no delete button on the Internet. So people will find images of her first poop, her first steps, and her first bath.

What do you think? How much do you wonder about privacy?

Also, what do you think of Ted Talks? What podcasts do you like?

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Why sharing content is like giving a gift

February 2, 2014

To me, the sharing of content is like giving a gift.

Christmas gifts.

Gift giving is about trying to think of the thing someone will like, and then getting it for them.

Gift giving is really an exercise in thinking about what people will like.

On a much smaller scale, the sharing or forwarding of an idea or content is the same thing.

“I really think Jennifer will like this.”

“I really think my Twitter followers will dig this.”

Indeed, people share content mostly because they like their friend or like their community.

So before people share something, they think about who in their network will like it. Then they think about why. They might write a personal note like: “Knowing your sense of humor, I thought this would make you laugh”. Or, “I know you like this [product], here’s how to get a coupon.”

For a University, it is sharing content based on shared experience. A picture of the Chapel is shared because of an experience in the Chapel. Even with massive platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, there is something personal in the act of sharing.

At least, that’s what we should think when designing messages or ideas that could get forwarded. Why do we want our alumni to share this? Why do we want our current students to share it?

We should think that for a person to forward our idea, they are giving their friend a gift. It might be the gift of information. It might be the gift of a laugh. It might be the gift of insider-only information.

But if it doesn’t feel like a gift, it won’t be shared.

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How marketing can help with our irrationality

January 29, 2014

If you don’t think we’re irrational, you’ve never watched Dan Ariely. The good news – you can watch his TED Talk.

I’ll wait.

If you insist on reading on, then lets highlight the best part. He takes us through the illusions of our decision making process. First though, he showed us some famous visual illusions. Here is one of them.

In this image, you’re asked what color the two blocks are. When we look at this image, we’re sure that one is brown and one is yellow. Turns out though, if you take away the background of the blocks, they are the same color.

Once people learn the illusion, they still can’t tell it’s there. Seriously, go back and look at the first picture. Even though we ‘know’ the colors are both brown, our brains won’t let us see it. Indeed, some of you might even be thinking this is a trick.

They are both the same color, we’re told they are the same color, and we still can’t see that they aren’t.

Dan wonders if our brain can be easily tricked by color, what about our irrationality? Can we be easily tricked in other ways?

The Paradox of Choice.

There is a great book called the Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less that explains how too many choices can lead us to be irrational. We’re not hardwired to make a choice when faced with more than 7 options.

In a classic experiment described in “Choice”, one of my favorite Radio Lab episodes, they describe an experiment called “The Magic Number Seven.”

In the experiment, people are asked to remember either a two or seven digit number. Then they are told to go to a another room to to relay the number. As they walk down the hall, they are interrupted by a woman who offers them a “Thank you for participating snack”. The choices are a healthy bowl of fruit, or a piece of chocolate cake.

The results are bizarre to say the least:  the people who memorized a two-digit number almost always picked the fruit. The people with a seven-digit number almost always picked the cake.


The rational part of the brain is in constant competition with the emotional side of the brain. Emotional side wants cake. The rational side knows that fruit is better for them. However, when the rational side is given seven numbers to remember, it can’t compete with the emotional side of the brain.

The more information the rational side has, the more emotional a decision a person will make.

Listen here.

So what are the implications of all this?

Design matters – when we place a communication in front of people, we are often offering a choice. In the case of higher ed, the choice is a considered one, with many, many, many variables. On the one hand, too many choices make people walk away. On the other hand, many choices make people less rationale (ever notice how many options come on a car?)

If the choice isn’t clear, people might simply walk away. If the choice has just enough options, rationality will leave the building and emotion could take over. Remember that when you’re designing and/or writing a communication, or when you’re buying a car.

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