Wednesday, June 17, 2009

40+ Terrific Articles/Resources for June 2009

And the winners for June 2009 are:

And last, but not least...another extensive list: 50 Top Noise-free Twitter Tips & Links in Marketing, SEO, Design & Writing @AlVinKoay @amerkawar

Do you have additional articles you'd like me to add? Comment below or let me know at Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Social Media Communities: Rules of Engagement

Balance of design, function and engagement
As an active social media advocate, I've found some sites are so much more intuitive to navigate and engaging than others. I'm a firm believer that the quality of engagement is sometimes a lot more important than quantity. I would encourage social media and community networks to "listen" to your audience and apply some basic user-experience fundamentals:

Why ask for everything upfront? You risk losing a potential customer and avid follower.
  • Implement an Open ID platform instead...just the basics...e-mail address as the user name and a password that has already been established with other community/social sites. You've made it so simple to register and that much faster to now engage a new follower.

  • Facebook and LinkedIn allows you to complete your full profile at your leisure. Sites that require a birth date upfront really is annoying. Sites that make it optional, even partially filled, is much more empowering to the user. Even better is choosing what information I want made public. MySpace offered that option but it was very difficult to find.

User Interface
This is a critical factor. Even more so when you have a complex architecture with lots of features. Simplicity is the key word here. There are some community sites whose pages are sooo busy and confusing, I rarely go back to visit. Here are other issues that come immediately to mind:
  • Branding - Do you really need a massive logo or header that explains the site on every single page? Once a value proposition was explained in the pre-registration process, the meat of your site should be all about engaging your users with your brand. The design, functions and features should also resonate your brand hallmarks. If your brand claim is innovation, then show some feature, content or functionality that's innovate. Remember...the "user experience" also equates to the "brand experience" as well.

  • Ad Space - Is it starting to get in the way of important content? Some ad placements are so huge that it pushes down the content or feeds on the page thus having to scroll down. Some sites need to revisit and restructure their ad placement.

  • Navigation - A good user interface implements a standard global navigation and visual cues so the users know where they are at all times. Regardless of a new section within your site, keep the navigation consistently placed. Imposing a new set of navigational elements on a new section without a consistent global navigation will confuse your users.

  • Load times - When experiencing long load times, I immediately exit the site. Especially if it holds up everything and makes my computer inoperable. Are your graphics, Flash components and ads optimized? Where are your videos streaming from? Check all your add-ons. Are too many widgets part of the problem? Long load times are indicators that elements on the page are not fully optimized or there are just too many add-ons or widgets. Be selective.

It's hard to believe in this day and age that e-commerce sites are not implementing good practices:
  • Purchasing an item should be intuitive and trackable. I just went online to order parts for a grill. After going through the online purchasing process, there was no confirmation page or e-mail confirmation of my purchase. Again, this should be a standard practice so users are assured their order went through and a means by which to track it.

  • If you need to include a :60 video on how to purchase an item on your site, then maybe you should revisit the design flow and function of the purchasing process.

  • Include a "back to search results" or "continue shopping" function after a user stores an item in their shopping cart or wish list. And take the user back to the search result list or category they were previously in. A lot of stock photo sites implement this feature quite well.

  • On the top of my wish list is for social commerce sites to create an incentive program for repeat buyers. And don't tease me with free shipping only good for a period of time. I may not be in the market at that moment, so inevitably the e-mail gets deleted. Incentivising your users will surely win you repeat customers.

Again, these should be standard best practices:
  • Just listing who posted a commented doesn't prompt me to visit the site. Include the comment within the e-mail with a link to view or respond.

  • Via CAN-SPAM laws, if someone unsubscribes from your site, you should honor their request at least 10 days after they've opted out.

  • On your unsubscribe confirmation page, allow the user to describe why they're leaving. Advise them you'll use this valuable information to assist and drive new practices and tactics when revamping the site.

Companies that require you to provide a W-9 form in order to receive a prize you've won is another big turn off. Why would I want to give away personally identifiable information, especially a Tax ID...come on! After validating who you are, a full name and mailing address should be all that's required. (It's true...a company actually asked for a W-9 form!)

I've visited some sites where the community group's message never changes. I urge you to enlighten me with something new and interesting. You've given the message prime real estate on your site, so here's an opportunity to motivate and compel your audience with a reason to come back.

Another missed opportunity is commenting back on some of the community posts...not just moderating them. It reinforces that you're really "listening" and value their input. Perceived perception is extremely important.

Here are other articles that will impart some knowledge of the "do's and dont's" when establishing an online presence:

In closing, there's a huge opportunity to enhance your brand relationship with your customers. Through simplicity in design, function and information architecture, you create positive experiences. Through innovative and compelling tactics, you build traction. If you decide to implement any changes, be transparent about it and continually encourage feedback. And don't forget to really "listen." You'll gain loyal followers who, by word-of-mouth (WOM), will inevitably market the site for you.

Are there any further insights you would recommend?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Journey Into The Social Experience

Being a small start-up business just entering the market, I realized I needed to step up my game and get actively involved in communities and the social media arena. I've also discovered there's a wealth of online information for start-ups — business development, intellectual property, business plans, best business practices and so on. I've immersed myself thoroughly in the past few months. To say the least, it's been an overwhelming experience with a bombardment of information overload. I'm now at the stage where I can discern what's valuable information vs. hype and clear out the noise and clutter. My take away thusfar:

The playing field is flat
Whether you're new to communities and the social media world or recently started blogging/microblogging, the playing field is flat. You may not be the Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang, Seth Godin, Gerald Weber or Guy Kawasaki's of the blogsphere (who I all highly recommend you follow), but you do have a "voice." You'll also discover there's a boat load of people willing to help...just be smart about it and use common sense.

Where do I begin?
Whether your goal is to market yourself, a product, service or company (in other words, what's your underlying objective?) — it helps to follow subject-matter experts. They provide invaluable information that can save you precious time and unnecessary headaches. So how do you find them?
  • Join groups, communities and affiliations: For me, is an absolute must since it gives you an opportunity to connect with people within your industry and outside your industry. LinkedIn not only allows you to link up with colleagues, but it also extends your reach by joining groups where you'd otherwise never have the opportunity. Here are a couple of useful links that will guide you through LinkedIn: CEO of gives you tips on how to use LinkedIn - CNN Video and my favorite LinkedIn Best Practices For Business.

    Rule of thumb: Conduct all your communications in a professional manner. Remember, this is a business community. Build your credibility by your postings and even your comments. If people are intrigued or enlightened, believe me...they will check your profile. Some beneficial connection may even result from it.

  • Open a Twitter account: You may ask, "Why do I need to bother?" or "What's the value for me?" As more and more companies are realizing the value of Twitter, it's being utilized as channel for customer relationship management, recruitment, marketing and advertising. It also helps you to find subject-matter experts. I highly recommend reading The Ultimate Guide for Everything Twitter. It also includes best practices on Twitter which is extremely helpful for those new to Twitter.

    Rule of thumb: Always be professional, it's also okay to be personable, be selective who you follow...remember the same goes for the online world as in real life, you are the company you keep. Post things you feel would interest and help your followers. And lastly, be real.

  • Facebook: I still have my reservations utilizing Facebook as a way to establish business connections or leads. I prefer keeping my personal connections exactly as it states...personal. I limit it to friends, family and a few colleagues. However, with that said, it is beneficial for businesses and companies to build brand awareness, create traction and really engage an audience within Facebook. Here's a great example on how Adobe engaged an elusive target audience with an innovative social media experience, "Case study: A Facebook campaign that connected."

    Rule of thumb: It's really up to you and your comfort level on how you want to engage within Facebook. Depending on your business, you may want to utilize a widget that posts to all your social sites and blogs or you may want to keep Facebook as just a personal tool. You may want to have 2 personal and one for business. There's really no "one size fits all" answer. Just be cognoscente of who your audience are within each given network and be very selective who you let in. Again, just be smart about it and use common sense.

Okay, so now what?
So you've done everything – joined LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even other communities within your industry. So now what? You've got a few more followers but no real connections.

Personally for me, I felt like that after a few months. I started feeling the whole social media stuff was really (un)social. Once I mistakenly reposted the same tweet a handful of times, then realized I should take a different approach. I even met up with some questionable characters who I won't mention (or really not worth mentioning). It's amazing how varied the responses you get depending on what community or social media channel you use. Only recently I've started to feel like I'm actually seeing results. Some of my connections actually came from recommendations I read on postings and various blogs. Ableit not a direct connection, but helpful nonetheless. And a handful have introduced me to some business partnerships. My advice to you is to be patient and your persistency will pay off! Celebrate every baby step you make...don't underestimate yourself!!

Helpful resources
Now for all you up and coming success stories, I've listed below other helpful resources that I hope you find useful and refer back to from time to time. I'll update this list periodically as I find other gems to share:

The Smart Way to Tap Social Media
Social Media Mistakes Businesses Should Avoid
The Top 50 Blogs for Startups In 2009
100 Terrific Twitter Feeds for Young Entrepreneurs
65 Indispensable Websites for Business Owners

Bottom line: What's your objective? Develop a strategy. Research, research research. Then just do it! Experiment and see what works and doesn't work. We're always learning. And remember, "The quality of engagement is equally, if not sometimes more, as important than quantity."

I'll continue to touch base and share my discoveries along the way. Please feel free to comment, share additional resources or drop me a line! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

American Express Online Experience

I'm kindly requesting American Express to please revisit your online user requirements and interface for registering or forgetting a password.

Your registration process was painful. Then when I was prompted to call, the line was dropped as I was holding. I went through the whole process probably 6 times having to re-enter my corporate card number. Very bad user experience both offline and online. So I respectfully ask you to restructure your registration and make it more intuitive and user-friendly.