Social Media Week: The Future of Social Media

February 11, 2011 by  
Filed under All, social media

Lyn: “Where We’re Headed”

This is always one of my favorite topics, as in the world of social media this is an ever-changing ever-evolving target. Certainly the two trends that emerged in 2010 that I think/hope will gain popularity in 2011 are location based tools and social buying.

Location

Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, Yelp and the like are all tools that allow you to “check in” wherever you are via your smartphone. I think it’s an amazingly powerful marketing tool for businesses who want you to come to their location. You can offer deals to people for checking in, encouraging them to promote your business to their friends, follow them on Twitter so you capture them forever and help drive traffic to your location during slow periods. One of the best tools I’ve ever seen for driving traffic. I think as soon as the discount shoppers realize that they can cash in on special deals just by checking in, more businesses will offer deals and off it will take…

Social Buying

Do I need to say anymore than Google offered 6 billion to buy Groupon? That speaks volumes. However, despite that some people think this is just a trend that will die away. Do I think so? I think if this industry can keep focused on the one deal a day concept and not overload us with all kinds of different deals that dilute the offers and confuse, they’ve got a good deal going J! However, if it becomes overwhelming and cumbersome, they’re dead in the water. We’ll see…

Bailey - “It’s All About Mobile”


I hate to admit this, but my brain doesn’t work well when it comes to predictions. My hesitation in disclosing this is due to the fact that people who predict what will be next are usually the ones who create some of the most amazing technologies, companies or products. My brain wants to take concepts that are popular now and perfect them, so that’s how I’ll approach the future of social media.

It’s all about the mobile! I read recently that soon more smart phones will be bought than laptops and that made my jaw drop. Although I am surprised by this, it does make sense, as we do so much on our mobile device. We’re telling our friends where we are, making payments, playing games and downloading every app imaginable all on our mobile devices.

Mobile platforms are growing so popular that the new Apple Operating System will be app based, making our iMac or Macbooks look like our phones. My point here is that there’s so much room for growth in this mobile world, and that is our future.

All companies having a mobile website or mobile app, companies expanding their marketing campaigns to include using mobile games and all retail stores taking mobile payments is where the future is. I personally can’t wait to see what all is in store for mobile and how it affects social media!

Saving Money But Wasting My Time

January 26, 2011 by  
Filed under All, social media

I will totally understand if at the end of this blog post most people think I’m crazy and decide to never read my thoughts again but I’m over the group-buying craze. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good deal and the four-letter word that gets my heart a-pacing is SALE not LOVE, but I’m oversaturated at this point with good deals so much that I don’t know which ones really are good deals.

A colleague of mine mentioned the LivingSocial and Amazon deal and how it surpassed any Groupon deal out there and how phenomenal that is. While I think that’s an awesome accomplishment for LivingSocial, my immediate response was “eh, I don’t want to write my blog about that today.” After seeing my “annoyed face,” my colleague said, “You should write about why you are over group buying.” Bingo!

I get Groupon, LivingSocial, Swirl, Gilt Group and HauteLook emails daily, which are followed by email deals from specific stores like Gap, Urban Outfitters, Saks Fifth Avenue and 100 others. Then I log into Facebook where many of the retailers I have “friended” are now running specials of 30% off for just mentioning the Facebook post. I probably spend 1-2 hours in the morning or at night just looking at deals.

I have purchased a few Groupons and clothing from Swirl but the vast majority of the time I just delete them. When I saw the Gap/Groupon I was stoked, but then decided I didn’t want to fight the crowds for a pair of jeans. Glad I didn’t because a week or two later they were on sale for only a few bucks over the Groupon price. I guess my only point is should I really be wasting so much time each day to just save $5 at the local bagel store or should I just eat breakfast at home?

PR is about the Relationships

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under All, PR

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, public relations professionals would occasionally ask me to meet for lunch or coffee. I truly didn’t mind meeting with them to put a face with the press release.  I also felt it would give me the opportunity to better explain our newsroom and our publication so the PR folks could better target their messages, rather than blanketing the entire newsroom with the same release or coverage request.

Now I’m on the other side of the desk, asking editors out on coffee dates so we can get to know each other. I find the majority are willing to sit down and chat, and I take the same approach I did as an editor myself – get to know more about the publication so we can better target our pitches.

I’ve also found developing these relationships is critical. I’ll admit when I worked in the newsroom, I would be more likely to take a call or respond to an e-mail from a PR professional I knew than from one I didn’t know. I had developed a relationship with that person and felt more confident that his or her pitch would be on target.

Understanding newsroom operations, such as who covers which beat, is even more important in today’s media world. Newsroom staffing has been cut … and cut … and cut, so fewer reporters are doing the same amount of work and they are stretched to their limits. Now is not a good time to send the same release to the entire editorial staff.

Be thoughtful in your approach, figuring out who on the staff writes on which issues and subjects. Then approach that reporter with an actual news story or a useful source. The can-you-do-a-story-on-my-client-just-because strategy will get you nowhere and will hurt your credibility.

Pay attention to what’s happening in the news and how it might impact your clients. Can they serve as thoughtful sources for a larger story? Do they have a unique story to tell? Find that news angle first and then approach the appropriate reporter. The reporter will appreciate your efforts and you’ll establish yourself as a PR person with some sense – and that can really set you apart.

Do you agree with this approach? Are you a PR professional who has modified your tactics from blanketed news releases to targeted pitching? As a journalist, what do you prefer?

Facebook or Finals?

January 17, 2011 by  
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This is a wonderful guest blog by our intern Lucy McNerney, enjoy.

A new semester is in full swing at the College of Charleston. Fall 2010 classes came to a close in December. Students are now able to break away from the confines of the Addlestone Library and begin again this Spring.

I recently updated an amateur video on my personal blog. The “independently-directed” video interviewed several students inquiring about their Facebook usage within the timeframe of final exams.

The idea to shoot the “film” sprang from a friend named Hallie who claimed that her social networking time cramped her ability to study. Hallie said in early December that she would deactivate her Facebook account until the end of the semester when she finished her last exam. I found her discipline jaw-dropping.

I attempted to deactivate my Facebook account last year ahead of finals, but the sacrifice lasted a few short hours before I uploaded a new photo album. A recent article was published on Mashable.com, addressing the idea that “we are too obsessed with Facebook.” (Read the statistics in this article! Now that’s something to Tweet about!)

Between constant status updates, tagging (or de-tagging) pictures, competitive interactive games, the marketplace and corporate and personal advertising, Facebook has become a perceived necessity.

The video “Facebook or Finals” illustrates the overwhelming urge to constantly be logged on to our electronic utopia despite the academic success of our college careers suffering for it. Is it a fear of missing something, or as some interviewed students mention, is it a way to escape from the “real world”? When the real world is becoming a digital one, there’s really no way out, is there?

Mobile Payments: Convenient or Creepy?

January 3, 2011 by  
Filed under All, social media

Walking into the Apple Store several months ago, I was amazed at how easy it was to check out. The sales guy reached into his back pocket, pulled out a handheld device and took my credit card payment right there, no waiting in a line or anything. As convenient as it was that day in Apple, I’m amazed at how far mobile payments have come in the last year.

You can now buy an attachment for your iPhone and swipe your credit card through your phone to make a payment. Banks are now working extremely hard to be the first to perfect the mobile deposit, and it leaves me wondering, is this more creepy than convenient?

There’ve been several stories about Android and Apple smart phones keeping screenshots of sites that you visit on your phone and the chances of the phone memory keeping a screen shot of your bank password is high. But the CEO of eBay, John Donahoe says that paying via a mobile device is by far the safest way to pay. Donahoe suggests that no financial information is stored in your phone and all your financial information is stored in your wallet.

I feel there’s always instant resistance to any new technology that completely changes the way we do daily tasks. That’s probably why my initial reaction was creepy, but after all, everyone is looking for convenience, so I say oversized wallets (especially for women) are out and mobile payments are in!

Is Google Voice Ready for Prime Time?

December 28, 2010 by  
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The good: Powerful features, no cost at all. The bad: No support, occasional outages, no guarantee of future service. Here’s what you need to know about using Google Voice for your business.

Is Google Voice good enough to use for business? The answer is a resounding “yes” for Lyn Mettler, co-owner of Step Ahead, a social media marketing company. Mettler began using the service when she lived and ran her business in Charleston, S.C. At the time, she and her small staff worked out of their homes and Mettler wanted to eliminate her land line. But her cell phone, part of a plan shared among her family, had an Atlanta area code. She didn’t want to change mobile plans, but she did want her Charleston customers to have a local number where they could reach her. She signed up for Google Voice, which forwards calls to any number or numbers you wish.

The service became even more useful more recently, when she moved to Indianapolis. “Now my Charleston customers can still call me on a Charleston number, which makes them feel like I’m not so far away,” she says. “My Indianapolis customers call me on an Indianapolis number. And it all rings to the same phone.”

To her surprise, she also found Google Voice improved work flow. “What I like about it that I didn’t expect is that voicemail messages arrive in email.” That’s handy, since most customers call Mettler’s number with questions or concerns, and she hands them off to whichever team member is working on that project. Instead of having to compose an e-mail or have a conversation about the client’s question, she now simply forwards the phone message itself.

For Barry Greenstein, co-founder of bGreen lifestyle + building, Google Voice makes an all-mobile operation workable. bGreen sells environmentally friendly flooring and other building supplies, so it makes sense to have a mobile showroom — a refitted van –rather than a stationary office. Greenstein says he hasn’t had a land line in years — and in any case, without a traditional office, there was no place to install one. On the other hand, he didn’t want his business number to be recognizable as mobile, so he uses a Google Voice number instead. An added benefit is that voicemail messages go to both Greenstein and his business partner, so they get the same information at the same time

Powerful features

Anyone familiar with Google Voice knows that these are only a small portion of what the service can do. It also keeps a record of every incoming and outgoing call, text, and voicemail, lets users create special greetings for particular callers, allows for blocking specific numbers, call screening, and even for listening in on a caller’s voicemail and picking up mid-stream, among many others.

Its most-mocked feature is also the most unusual: Google Voice attempts to create a transcript of every voicemail, and sends that transcript as an e-mail and text message. Needless to say, errors are common — “Hi Minda” becomes “I’m in the” — for instance. But, flawed as they are, these transcripts can be hugely useful. “Ninety percent of the time, I don’t even listen to the message, because the transcript gives me a general idea of who left the message and what it was about,” Greenstein says.

“With a text of the transcript, I can check my voicemail while I’m in a meeting, and find out if it’s anything urgent,” says Dave Michels, a consultant and analyst who closely follows unified communications, and author of the blog Pin Drop Soup. “That isn’t an easy feature to get elsewhere.”

Possibly, Google Voice’s most powerful feature is its cost: $0 for the service, $0 for calls within the United States and Canada, and very low rates, starting a $.02 per minute, for international calls. That’s a powerful incentive for a startup or small company on a tight budget. “We use every Google product we can because they’re free and good,” Greenstein says. In the absence of Google Voice, he says, he would look for the lowest cost VoIP solution available, or use a Skype phone number.

No guarantees

But if Google Voice offers huge benefits, it also has a few drawbacks that businesses should know up front. First, there’s no support. If you encounter a problem, your only recourse is the online FAQ and user forums. “If you’re not a little tech-savvy, you might get lost,” Greenstein says.

There’s also no service level agreement, which means no guarantee of how reliable the service will be. Indeed, it has had occasional outages, though most were relatively brief. “I have had some people say they got a busy signal on one of the numbers,” Mettler reports. “I’m not sure whether that was an issue with Google Voice or with my iPhone. And I have had people occasionally say a number just rang and rang, without going to voicemail.”

Another possible drawback for businesses is that Google Voice is designed for individual users who control their own phone numbers. There’s no option for centralized administration. This means that a departing salesperson can take his or her phone number along, which makes it extra-easy to take customers along too. Also, Google Voice does not currently allow users to import their existing phone numbers. But Michels speculates that both features will be offered if Google someday introduces a business-class version of Google Voice, akin to Gmail for Business.

Perhaps its most worrisome down side is that it comes with a degree of uncertainty. “There’s a lot of risk using any service you don’t really own, and people underestimate that,” Michels says. If an employee using Google Voice violates its terms of service, you might find that number or numbers abruptly cut off. Or, the company could simply decide to discontinue Google Voice altogether, as it recently did with another highly popular free service, 1-800-GOOG-411.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t use Google Voice — it’s a valuable tool for many businesses. But, Michels advises, go into it knowing the risks. “Google Voice must cost the company a lot of money. It has no advertising so it isn’t generating much revenue. What could their plan possibly be? It’s fun to have those conversations. But the last thing you should do is assume that the service will be available –or free — forever.”

In Just 10 Years, a New Way of Communicating

December 21, 2010 by  
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Like everyone else over the age of 25, I arrive at the end of the year saying, “What happened to this year?” There’s just something about growing older that speeds up the passage of time. And this year is particularly monumental as we close out the first decade of the 21st century.

A mere 10 years ago, not everyone had an e-mail address, a cell phone or certainly not a Facebook account (what was Facebook?!). In 2000, I got my first laptop computer – a thick Dell that probably weighs twice as much as the one I bought earlier this year. In 2000, people still read newspapers and thus I assumed a career as a newspaper reporter was a solid decision.

Ten years ago, we didn’t have iPod, iPads, iPhones or app stores. We didn’t have gmail accounts (remember hotmail?) or Twitter followers. We didn’t know anything about 4G this and 3G that. I was simply excited to get a DSL Internet connection. Hey, I could surf the Internet and people could still call me on my home phone (another relic of the past).

Sometimes I long for the days when were slightly less connected, and if someone needed me, they just left a message on my answering machine. I didn’t feel compelled to answer calls and texts while out to dinner.

And yet, this proliferation of technology and the dawn of social media have brought about a number of new opportunities – the chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new people via Twitter and tap into a wealth of information and knowledge.

I suspect we feel much like our grandparents when television arrived, eventually making its way into every living room in America. Each new invention has both pros and cons.

I do know we have entered an age of rapidly-developing technology, social media and new forms of communication. We certainly won’t be going back, but how we’ll communicate in 2020, I can’t even fathom.

What do you remember from 10 years ago? Are you amazed by all the new technology we’ve seen?

Meet Our Intern: Lucy!

December 10, 2010 by  
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Step Ahead is excited to welcome a newbie into the social media fold.

Lucy is a corporate communications major at the College of Charleston who’s joined Step Ahead for the coming semester. We’re so glad to have her on board and hope to utilize her performance theater minor in some client videos!

She’s extremely interested in social media and will be helping us by doing research and staying on top of new trends.

When she’s not the in the office, she enjoys reading, dancing, blogging (you can follow her blog here) and is an avid sports fan. Her teams include the Bengals, Wake Forest (a girl after my own heart), College of Charleston and the Reds.

If you want to follow her Step Ahead journey, you can catch her tweets @lucymcnerney.


Holiday Deals, Now in Your Twitter Feed

December 7, 2010 by  
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Shoppers looking for the best discounts this holiday season won’t be able to get them all on their own. They’ll need a little help from social networking sites and their cellphones.

The technology behind these deals was already in place on Black Friday, when shoppers who “checked in” to a Hollister store using app FourSquare got an exclusive coupon for 20% off that could be scanned at checkout. Earlier, Radio Shack (RSH: 18.86*, -0.18, -0.94%) offered $10 off a purchase of $40, and a 20% discount on all accessories, only to its Facebook fans.

Retailers have been experimenting for months with exclusive deals via apps and social media, but this is the first holiday season they’ll be using those tactics, says Lynn Mettler, the founder of Step Ahead, a marketing firm in Mount Pleasant, S.C. And it’s an important time for this push. More consumers plan to use technology to check off items on their holiday lists. The number of consumers using their phones to compare prices and find deals is expected to grow by 25% this year, according to the Mobile Marketing Association, while online and other non-store shopping is expected to grow 15%. “Retailers are realizing they have to pay attention to this space,” Mettler says.

Read more: Holiday Deals, Now in Your Twitter Feed – Spending – Deals – SmartMoney.com

Groupon Expands in Indiana

December 7, 2010 by  
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Social coupon website Groupon has launched in Evansville. The Vanderburgh County city joins Indianapolis and Fort Wayne as Indiana’s third Groupon market. Read More Groupon’s move into Evansville is another example of the growth of social buying. Step Ahead Founder Lyn Mettler talked about the concept in September with Inside INdiana Business Host Gerry Dick.

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