Perfect Harmony

Stream Lines by r-z
Image by r-z

Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:12

The biblical heroes of faith call to us from the heights they have won, encouraging us that what man once did, man can do again. They remind us not only of the necessity of faith but also for the patience required for faith’s work to be perfected. May we fear attempting to remove ourselves from the hands of our heavenly Guide, or missing even one lesson of His living discipline due to our discouragement or doubt.

An old village blacksmith once said, “There is only one thing I fear: being thrown onto the scrap heap. You see, in order to strengthen a piece of steel, I must first temper it. I heat it, hammer it, and then quickly plunge it into a bucket of cold water. Very soon I know whether it will accept the tempering process or simply fall to pieces. If, after one or two tests, I see it will not allow itself to be tempered, I throw it onto the scrap heap, only to later sell it to the junkman for a few cents per pound.

“I realize the Lord tests me in the same way: through fire, water, and heavy blows of His hammer. If I am unwilling to withstand the test, or prove to be unfit for His tempering process, I am afraid He may throw me onto the scrap heap.”

When the fire in your life is the hottest, stand still, for “later on… it produces a harvest” (Heb. 12:11) of blessings. Then we will be able to say with Job, “When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). selected

Sainthood finds its source in suffering. Remember, it requires eleven tons of pressure on a piano’s strings for it to be tuned. And God will tune you to perfect harmony with heaven’s theme if you will withstand the strain.

Things that hurt and things that mar
Shape the man for perfect praise;
Shock and strain and ruin are
Friendlier than smiling days. 

Excerpt from Streams in the Desert {affiliate link} for March 4.

What’s Going On Right Now (2/28/12)

You’re probably aware that 2012 is a leap year. That means you have a whole extra day (tomorrow)! What are you going to do with that “found” time? Make it count for eternity, friends.

Leap by Bex.Walton
Image by Bex.Walton
  • The Front Porch Republic discusses the rising trend of people living alone. I have a roommate now, but I’ve lived alone several times previously and always loved it. Because I’m an introvert, it gave me more time and energy to devote to purposeful causes. I do understand the concerns he raises about making  yourself the center of your own universe, though. I definitely don’t like to think of myself as a dependent being.
  • Carolyn Weber, the author of the lovely memoir Surprised by Oxford {Amazon Affiliate link}, has a lovely blog where she’s doing a series called I Read Dead People. Her latest installment is about Frankenstein, and the thoughts and feelings surrounding her father’s hospitalization.
  • Speaking of hospitalization, here’s a good reminder from the Brazen Careerist blog about the ten health mistakes you’re making because you think you’re too busy. Guilty, guilty, guilty…
  • If you’ve been looking for good photography info, I hope you’re following the Digital Photography School blog in general. Today there was a good basic tutorial on how to choose the right shutter speed. I’ve been shooting in Program mode a lot but I need to experiment more with Aperture or Shutter priority before I make the leap to full Manual. I need to get in some more practice!
  • I could have written this post, but for all of you who’ve been asking since I made the move to full-time freelancing, here’s the blog’s take on how to start freelancing. I’ve been doing the prep work for years (I incorporated in March of 2009) and while I still need to learn a bit more about accounting, I’m absolutely loving making the leap (see what I did there?).

Back to Basics: How to “listen” to social media

by ky_olsen
(Image by ky_olsen)

You’ve heard a lot about social media. You know you should get involved. You’re just not sure you have time/not sure you know how/not sure you want to jump in just yet. That’s fine (for now). What do you do now, then? Ignore the conversation? Pretend no one is mentioning your brand because you’re not there? No way!

Whether you have profiles on every site, are waiting to jump in to social media or never plan to get involved, you should know what is being said about your company. Here’s how to do that.

Set up Google Alerts on terms you want to keep track of across the Web (your company name, your own name, brand names of your products or services, and– for best results– other terms related to your industry). Be sure to click Comprehensive! You can have these delivered to your email (in a daily or weekly digest, or as they occur) or to an RSS reader. (This step is really an absolute necessity. If you do nothing else, at least do this!)

While some tweets will eventually show up in your Google Alerts, for the most real-time results you should use Twitter Search. If you want to do this daily, you’re welcome to; but the easiest way will be to search the terms, then click Feed for this Query and subscribe in an RSS feeder.

In order to use Facebook Search, you’ll need a Facebook account. It’s worth signing up for, since anything within Facebook will not show up in your Google Alerts. If the mentions you see through Google are showing up in blogs, subscribe to search terms in the blog siteTechnorati. You might also search regularly through Alltop, a topic aggregator.

Once you have a good idea of the conversation happening about your brand (or related topics), you’ll have a chance to decide where you want to go from there. Do you want to set up profiles on existing networks, or try to start a community around your brand? Do you want to blog or just chat? Is there an educational gap surrounding your product? After listening for a while, you’ll know where the gaps are– and you can figure out (or get help figuring out) just how you want to fill them.

Without being active on the Web, you’ll have a hard time responding if you hear something about your brand getting out of hand, but at least you won’t be blindsided by something that arises “behind the scenes”. (Remember: Your customers have access to search engines and are usually on at least one social media site. It’s not behind the scenes for anyone but you.)

Back to Basics: 10 Things You Can Do with Web 2.0

It’s very common for me to have a conversation with a potential client that starts something like this:

“I know I should be on social media; I keep hearing that. But I don’t get it. What can I use it for?”

Let’s start with how you do business already– there’s no need to totally reinvent the wheel.

  1. Host a town meeting or focus group— via UStreamTwitter or another chat service.
  2. Host an educational seminar (in this case, a webinar)– use UStream, GoToMeeting, or another service.
  3. Publish educational content— via a blog (WordPress, Blogger, Facebook or another platform) or as multimedia (on YouTube, SlideShare, etc.)
  4. Provide top-notch customer service through Twitter, Facebook, or any number of forum or chat platforms.
  5. Send a newsletter— use ConstantContact, Emma, or the bevy of other products available. (By permission only, please!)
  6. Distribute informative literature by posting it on your website, Facebook fan page, or other platform.
  7. Send invitations or spread the word about events— store openings, special sales, educational seminars, campaign rallies, whatever! Use MeetUp, Facebook, Evite, or a range of other options.
  8. Distribute coupons, discount codes, or event tickets individually via email or generally to online fans/followers.
  9. Organize volunteers to political events, community service opportunities, or other causes (MeetUpFacebookEvite, etc.).
  10. Make announcements or distribute press releases. You can do this through regular communications on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, on a section of your website, or officially either through direct communication with reporters or by using a service like PitchEngine.)

(PS – This video on the social media revolution is worth seeing.)

Raving Fans: Ted’s Montana Grill

Ted’s Montana Grill is Ted Turner’s eco-friendly restaurant chain most famous for their bison burgers. They currently have a solid online presence and a very vocal raving fanbase. Here’s how they’ve done it:

  1. They knew raving fans existed and they wanted to leverage them to build more raving fans.
  2. They started email marketing, gathering email addresses from an easy-to-use signup box on their homepage. Emails are generally about specials or special events, not at set intervals. 
  3. They started a Facebook Fan page, and began offering a few special deals just for Facebook fans.
  4. Later they did a month-long trivia contest using the Fan Page Updates and the Wall where the first person to post the correct answers to three trivia questions each Friday won a gift certificate.
  5. Finally they launched a huge contest where fans had to create content (art, sound or video) about what made them the biggest fan of Ted’s bison burgers. The winner would get a new Prius and free food at Ted’s for a year.
    After a submission period (marketed by a few emails, but mostly on their Facebook page) Ted’s picked the top three submissions for the final round of the contest, and asked their fans to pick the fourth (out of ten selected entries). They have a YouTube channel for this purpose, as well as having the options easily accessible on their website (with voting highlighted on their homepage). Just a few hours after announcing this turn of events the contest had well over 6,000 votes.

The fans in these videos talk of flying to Ted’s locations (currently the chain is only in a few states) just to have a burger, taking their four burger-loving toddlers, going faithfully every week after church, knowing the names of every waiter at their local restaurant, the health benefits of bison over beef and the huge variety of burger toppings, among other things. Let me tell you, these fans are evangelists–and there are thousands of them.

Ted’s online marketing strategy is pretty simple. They started with a solid, easy-to-navigate website; added email, then Facebook. It is not an inordinately expensive campaign, nor do the Ted’s staff have much direct interaction with fans (such as Twitter or back-and-forth on Facebook). They’ve just set up a forum for people to share good things, and given away a few (in the long run, also fairly inexpensive) incentives along the way to get more people involved.

How can your business replicate their success? Where are you raving fans, and how can you reach them so they can reach others for you?

[Edit: Alexa Scordato shared this great SlideShare presentation in the comments: The Fan Economy.)

Building a Community

If you’re considering building an online community from scratch (rather than leveraging one of the thousands that already exist), you’ll need to either find a passionate, socially-inclined niche or create a forum for people to share what they can’t share elsewhere. has done the latter. They know how women deal with clothes in person– they go shopping together, talk about clothes over lunch, flip through each other’s closets, and come over before dates to scrutinize. The next step is to move this interaction online.

Each user on the site uploads a photo of each piece of her wardrobe against a white background. She can then put together and save outfits, which can be sent to friends for a rating of 1-5. Friends can also suggest outfits for each other, or users can pay professional stylists to put together outfits and suggest new pieces (with links to those suggestions on retail partners’ sites).

The site was recently featured in Vogue magazine, where Jane Herman demonstrates why this is a profitable concept:

Forget Facebook. Give me an interactive Web site that lets me post pictures of my clothes in a virtual closet that other style-minded users can access to create looks they think will look great on me. My idea of a useful social networking site is one that involves a continual dialogue about clothes.

Jane doesn’t just want to socialize. She wants to socialize about clothes, like she does when she’s physically with her friends. She’s certainly not alone; the site was growing by approximately 150 users a day before being featured in the publication that reaches more women passionate about clothes than any other medium. (To recap: these women are so passionate about fashion they didn’t balk at taking the time to individually photograph every item in their wardrobe.)

Girls have liked dolls, paper dolls and fashion plates for centuries; and now this concept has not only gone digital but become a way to connect with friends (both real-world and new online acquainstances). Partnerships with designers, stylists and retailers shows the site is having no trouble monetizing (a problem the non-niche Twitter, MySpace and even Facebook are having).

In short, the same advice applies to building an online community as it does to any marketing venture: know your audience, and give them what they want before they even know they’re looking for it.

Handling Crisis: Advantages of Social Media

This morning, thousands of people in Florida and Georgia awoke to “SOS Only” service on their AT&T cell phones. While only a minor annoyance for some, for others (like me) who use the phones to run their businesses and/or have gotten rid of their land lines, this constitutes a major problem.

I called AT&T and sat on hold for fifteen minutes. A customer service representative told me they were aware of the outage and it would be fixed within 24 hours. 24 hours?! That is a long time to be without cell service. I asked if this service interruption would be eflected in my bill.  I was put on hold again, and then was told I would be given a 48-hour credit ($4.79). That’s good, but doesn’t really address the larger business problem I’m encountering by being without cell service!

I began searching Twitter to see whether others were having this problem. Many were. Soon local station Central Florida News 13 was talking about it on Twitter, getting lots of responses and starting a hashtag for the event: #attfail. The Orlando Sentinel picked up on the story too, and began live blogging the updates they received from AT&T’s spokeswoman.

Facebook isn’t searchable in the same way, but news about it has definitely been going around my newsfeed.

AT&T was nowhere to be found. As far as I can tell there was no acknowledgement of the problem on their website (although the system was so clogged I couldn’t log in to my account online), and no use was made of their Twitter account to respond to the growing number of people making this problem very public.

Etan Horowitz, an Orlando Sentinel technology journalist, wrote a blog that the outage had been confirmed by AT&T and began actively updating the blog entry and Twitter (even @-replying to each complainant he found via a Twitter search) to keep people informed of AT&T’s official response. In short, he was doing precisely what AT&T ought to have been doing!

If your company ever has a service crisis like this, how are you equipped to respond? Will you rely on a local newspaper reporter to assure your customers that something is being done? (Are you willing to trust the media to communicate as well as Etan did with your customers?)

If you are not active in social media (especially Twitter), you are not set up to control your own message through a crisis. That’s a dangerous place to be.