Thursday, January 29, 2009

Internet History - How about Your Industry

Here is a strong reminder of the power of time.

This video was made in 1981. Hey, I was one of those guys reading newspapers online in 1981. I had a 300 baud modem - lightning fast at the time.

Back to the power of time - last week I read that the Seattle paper is going to a three day a week publication schedule. Plus for the past couple of years we have all read about the decline of the newspaper industry.

My favorite quote from the video is...

"we’re not in it to make money, we’re probably not going to lose a lot but we aren’t going to make much either.”

They are apparently correct on the first part of this but completing wrong on the second. I think we can all admit to having this type of hubris. My biggest fear is what am I being so over confident about now that will put me out of business over time.

Internet Ignorance

Michael Jans had an interesting posting recently showing a spreadsheet which generates a hard dollar number for the cost of Internet ignorance to insurance agencies. I think you can apply the same thinking to your business regardless of the industry.

The post - The Price of Ignorance - highlights the cumulative effect in dollars lost over a several year period.

This is the most thought provoking statement Mr. Jans makes...

"My premise is that the internet represents a HUGE opportunity for agents…but INTERNET IGNORANCE will be the slow, quiet death of many thousands of agencies. (Don’t believe me? Ask your local Travel Agent. What’s that? Don’t have a local travel agent? That’s my point.) So, I added an INTERNET IGNORANCE cell. Let’s say the influence of the Internet creeps in slowly to your agency, nibbling at the corners and fraying the edges – and slowly eats away 3% of your client base."

To be honest,and based on actual statistics I have been keeping on a daily basis for the past 5 years, I think his 3% erosion of your client base is low. That has been about the number over the past couple of years. Now I believe you need to at least double that number.

The good news is there are things you can be doing today to turn this around. You are in control. Take action.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Social Media in 2009

From ReadWriteWeb recently there is a great post titled 10 Ways Social Media Will change in 2009.

You may just be ready to think about the first couple of issues - it's about people and creating value. But these are really very much worth thinking hard about as you learn to move your business online. Get these two right and everything else takes care of itself.

Here is the headline list on 10 ways...

  1. It's About People
  2. Creating Meaning and Value
  3. Enabling Convergence
  4. Building a Truly Cross-Platform Experience
  5. Creating Relevant Social Networks
  6. Innovating in the Advertising Space
  7. Helping People Organize Their "Old" Social Media Ecosystem
  8. Connecting with the Rest of the US and the World
  9. Preparing for New Social Media Jobs
  10. Making Money
Most of us are not all that directly involved in issues 3 through 10 but it never hurts to take a peak at the larger environment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

History of the Internet #2

I just love this kind of thing. At a minimum watching this will let you sound smart and bore folks at your Super Bowl party this weekend.

This comes from

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Job Losses and the New Economy

The BBC radio news this morning says the European Union is now officially in a recession.

Today a young man who worked with us in the past came by for a visit. He had left this Fall to go visit his family home in Taiwan. He was also thinking about doing his "mandatory service" in the Taiwan military.

He told us that the economy there has just completely fallen apart. The young folks that are graduating college are leaving because there are no jobs. In fact, so many are trying to get into the military that apparently the Taiwanese Army is no longer taking recruits. 

Then I read this CNN story about job losses announced just this year. They article says most experts think we will start a recovery after the 2nd quarter of this year. 

I am not so sure. Nevertheless I did my part this weekend by buying a new refrigerator.

But I do think each of us will put off spending - the old refrigerator died last year is my excuse for spending.

I do think prices on manufactured goods and commodities will be depressed. I think that will lead to no raises or wage cuts in order to maintain employment.

As an owner of a software company during the Y2K event, we had to pay extremely high salaries to get programmers. But when the bust hit those folks went out the door first and the folks who stayed got no raises for a good while. But they did keep their jobs.

This may well be the same except much broader. That event was limited to IT - and mostly in the US. This event is across almost all industries and worldwide.

What should we all do? Go carefully and plan for the worse. But remember the go part. And going carefully does not mean going slow. Spend extra time learning new things. They add value which grows.

Inflating your knowledge and skills is the balance for depressed prices and salaries.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Twitter Guidelines for Work

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the first Social Media Breakfast Raleigh. The early discussion was about the use of Twitter for business.

Angela Conner, one of the organizers - thank you Angela - has posted some of this discussion on her blog . Angela had continued the discussion on Twitter as the week went on. The blog posting shows both sides of the issue.

Here is more on my thinking. For me, Twitter, email, IM, phones, snail mail, Fed Ex, texting, and talking are all about communications from one person to one or more other people. I think human nature causes us to over think things when they are new. Either that or, as in the cereal commercial, we let Mikey try it first. This is very natural.

The problem with technology is that late adopters probably go through the cautionary steps more slowly. On top of that they start later - hence the name "late adopters".

I know only a year ago I was at a meeting of about two dozen insurance companies and I listened awestruck as they all agreed that "this Internet thing" really wasn't very important to them yet. They thought it might be a the next 5 years or so.

So what should you do?

Take delight in your competitors who don't think this is an important tool. You are getting ready to lap them several times.

Realize this is not something new. I assume you have been communicating with your customers since you got your first customer. New technology does not equal new functions. It only equals new, more and better ways to perform existing, basic functions.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Look Who is #2 in Search

YouTube is now the #2 search engine

"In November, Americans conducted nearly 2.8 billion searches on YouTube, about 200 million more than on Yahoo, according to comScore."

This was a big shock to me last night when I read it.

Miguel Helft had this New York Times story on Jan 17th, 2009.

Think about this and the implications for your business. I have to admit I did not have a blog entry last night because I have worked the past 20 hours on creating and posting online videos for several product lines.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Beaver Dams in Pennsylvania Require Building Permit

I am told this is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries regarding a pond on his property. It was sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality, State of Pennsylvania. This guy's response is hilarious, but read State's letter before you get to the response letter.

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. DeVries:

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files shows that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2009.

Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action. We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.


David L. Price

District Representative and Water Management Division.

Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries:

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. Price,

Your certified letter dated 12/17/07 has been handed to me to respond to. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania .

A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood 'debris' dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skilful use of natures building materials 'debris.'

I would like to challenge your department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

These are the beavers/contractors you are seeking. As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

My first dam question to you is:

(1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or

(2) do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request?

If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued.

(Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.)

I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren't the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation – so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names.

If you want the stream 'restored' to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers -- but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers' Dams).

So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2009? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality, health, problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump!

Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.




Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Are People Saying About You?

People online talk about everybody and everything. You can believe they are talking about your business.

Do you know how to find out what folks are saying? What they think?

The easiest way is with a Google / Yahoo / Microsoft search.

Most folks have done vanity searches on their name. Have you done one on your business's name.

I did this recently with a service we have had on the market for the past 3 1/2 years. I was amazed to get 98,500 results.

Take the time to go way past the first page or two. Look for entries on forums or blogs. I found the forums especially helpful. Plus I had never heard of most of these forums before so now I monitor them every few days. With several I have even begun participating.

Much to my surprise I found forum entries comparing us to specific competitors. I would never have been able to see such honest opinions if I asked these questions myself. Most people are too polite to be that honest.

After you do this a few times you may start thinking about setting up a forum on your own web site. Let your customers talk to each other - both good and bad.

Learn to listen online and you will find ways to provide your customers with a better experience. That's good for both of you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

More on How and Why Folks Use the Web

Yesterday I listed reasons your customers use the Web.

Reinforcing that line of thought is this post from Dots2Connect. She is talking about how to predict what people will use online, but it is the same logic as why they are online.

Ilieva's view is that we all use the web to fulfill basic human needs. She breaks those needs down into 4 groups.

  1. Social & Communication
  2. Personalization
  3. Speed & Convenience
  4. Security

In working on your web business strategy keep these basic needs in mind, Make them a touchstone for determining the value you are able to deliver. The best solutions will include all four.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How Your Customers Use the Web

When figuring out how you are going to use the web for your business, take a moment and think about how your customers are using the Web.

In a very good post on Dosh Dosh Maki provides great insights which are worth a read.

Here is the summary...

  1. To communicate and socialize
  2. To find information, learn new things and be entertained
  3. To do work, generate income and run a business

Which of these things will you participate in with your customers?

What advantages do you have which give you an edge on larger competitors - think faster and quicker response time.

She is also dead on in saying that success comes form execution, not perfect planning. Your going to make mis-steps. Measure compulsively so you can see the mis-steps and correct them. Get started and start improving.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Adults and Social Newtork Websites

There is an interesting new Pew Study out documenting the growth of American adults using Social Networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc.

In 2005 only 8% of adults used such sites. In 2008 that had grown to 35%. And because their are more adults than teenagers in the U.S. Adults now are the largest number of users of these sites.

Just more data showing this is the place to be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Women, Social Networks and Your Customers

Social Media Optimization has a good post with hard numbers on women and social networks.

You know I can't resist graphic representations, so here is theirs...

Compare this to my earlier post showing what small businesses' are planning for this year . That is the sound of opportunity knocking my friend.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Small Business Marketing Plans

eMarketing has an interesting article on small businesses' online plans for 2009.

Here is a chart from that article...

My thinking on this is that you have one last great opportunity to get there first - or at least way ahead of the crowd.

Remember when having a fax machine was new and now everyone has one? How about email or websites?

Well, all of the items on this list are going to be just like that no later than sometime in 2010. But right now you can get in front of almost all of your competitors.

So get to it!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Small Local Company Using Social Media Well

In trying to understand how a small, local business can use social media I have a great example in the 3Cups. Begging their forgiveness in advance, and without their permission, I am going to review the things I see them doing which seem to me to be most of the basics you should consider for social media for your local business.

I discovered 3 Cups through Twitter. One of the people I follow gave them a mention. So obviously they use Twitter.

Here is their Twitter page....

You will notice that in their Twitter profile they list their website. So after I clicked on "Follow" to begin following 3 Cups, I clicked on their website link.

The web site is very attractive and informative.

It takes you to their Blog. Notice their blog has a Digg button very prominently to make it easy for readers to submit the page to Digg. You can subscribe to their blog with an RSS feed prominently displayed.

The web page also has a tab for their "Manifesto" - I really like that idea - kind of an about page but stronger.

The web site takes you to their newsletter. It is easy to sign up.

Back to the main website home page - at the bottom it invites you to follow them on Facebook.

So they have a Facebook page.

On their FaceBook page you can sign up to be a fan. That is pretty neat. I am not certain how they are using that yet.

On Facebook you can tell your experience. They have discussions. They have pictures and you can add your pictures.

Back on their website they have "Subscriptions". You can buy these directly online.

They have an easy to use shopping cart.

This is a very good checklist for planning your online marketing.

How much of this are you doing? How are you tracking the results? What are your results?

Movage versus Storage

Recently Kevin Kelly, one of my favorite thinkers, wrote an article he called Movage.

The basic premise should scare you and make you take action.

Most of us back up our files and servers. Heck, I back mine up automatically daily and have them picked up by armoured truck and taken to a secure storage site with armed guards.

Kevin's point is that we have no real idea how long the back up media will last. I can not believe I did not start worrying about this long ago. I guess I have a false sense of security because my 20 year old VCR tapes of Magnum PI can still be played in my 10 year old VCR player. Of course now with 5000 channels and DVR I don't need them. But watching AT&T commercials pushing long distance calls for only $1.00 a minute is worth it.

Apparently DVD's you do yourself have a less than 4 year shelf life.

Also, who does have a machine that can still read the floppy disks from my Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III?

Kevin's conclusion - and the action you should take - don't just store your back ups. Back them up regularly to current devices and data formats. Move them from storage to storage to keep them fresh and retrievable.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Be Like StarBucks

Liz Kittell thinks you can have your business be like Starbucks. Check out her New Years Resolution post.

Can your business do these things?

  1. Consistency and Image
  2. They are always available
  3. They have a plan
  4. They are focused and good at one thing

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Getting the Most Out for Twitter

For those who are new to social media in general and Twitter in particular, here is a good post on getting the most out of Twitter.

I would say you should think about this list with all forms of social media.

The list is...
  1. Be welcoming & friendly
  2. Engage people
  3. Be humorous
  4. Inform
  5. Regular time
  6. Monitor self-promotion
  7. Promote others
  8. Link in post
  9. Listen
  10. Be human

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Working with Your Customers Through Mobile Devices

I fly commercial often. MediaPost had an interesting observation about trends with travelers and mobile devices.

As they point out, commercial flyers are often the leading edge of trends. True over and over again.

They focus on TV and Movies being watched on mobile devices - not just phones, but also the i-Pod Touch - as opposed to on laptops.

I found myself taking the next logical step this past summer. I quit traveling with my laptop altogether. I use my mobile device to get online with a real browser - in my case Apple's Safari. Then I do all my work online.

What do you need to do to be able to interact with your customers not just online, but online through mobile. With cell phones finally moving to full browsers you do not have to do as much as you think.

Mobile is not just phone calls and texting anymore. Full, rich customer interaction is the idea to focus on for this year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yellow Pages Death Watch?

Most agency owners I talk to tell me they are either dropping their yellow pages ads or cutting them way back. When I owned agencies the yellow pages were at best break even on the monthly cost versus the monthly sales generated through them.

Personally, for the past several years, I have just been mad when I come home and another set of phone books is lying in the puddle of rain water at the head of my driveway. To me it is littering. They go straight in the recycling.

The folks over at SearchEngineLand have a great post on the state of the Yellow Pages. You can read it here...

Are you still using the Yellow Pages? Do you think any of these ideas can save them? More importantly, do you think your business faces some of these same issues?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Social Media for Small Business

John Jantsch, of Duct Tape Marketing has released a free e-book with sponsorship from Microsoft titled Social Media for Small Business.

Here is a link.

This is a pretty good 101 type tutorial for those just learning. Thanks to Rick Morgan - Twitter rickjmiv .

Friday, January 2, 2009

For a Moment I Thought It Was 1999

Today I read an article in the January 2009 print issue of Insurance Networking News titled "Online Sales Aid Insurers". Whoa! Blast from the past.

Since about 1999 the insurance industry has been in a struggle with itself about selling directly online. The issue is always - always - about the insurance company saving money by cutting out the sales agent's commission. Those rascally agents are just all getting rich for doing nothing I suppose.

I tried to find this article on their site with no luck. So instead of linking to this I am going to quote it - sorry.

"Given the state of the U.S. economy, the competitive marketplace and ever-changing customer habits, U. S. insurers have begun to invest in online sales strategies."

" developing an online sales strategy, insurers are able to lower customer acquisition costs as well as gain control of the customer relationship." (Emphasis mine)

"..customer acquisition costs can be dramatically reduced, due in part to low or no commissions." (Emphasis mine)

"...insurers can conquer the policyholder relationship...". (Emphasis mine)

I thought this was a settled issue. How about you?

All I have read about in the past few years is how "Real Time" was going to save the independent insurance agency. I have never believed that myself, but that's just me remembering that I have been hearing this same line for the past 30 years and it has never, ever, ever made any real headway. For me, if something doesn't work after 29 years of the industry pushing it, I start to have reasonable doubts and look for alternatives. Call me crazy.

Both direct sales by most insurance companies and agency Real Time are beautiful dreams and emotionally satisfying myths. I hope you will spend your time and build your future on realities you can control and implement yourself.

The best part of these two myths is that they let you off the hook. After all they are completely dependent on almost everyone else agreeing to do the same thing. If I remember correctly there was a Tower in Babel about a similar issue a few years back.

Looking at my calendar I see that it is in fact 2009 - I also checked the atomic clock, CNN, Google, and for old times sake a paper copy of the Raleigh News and Observer.

The problems that these two issues address are real. Your customers do want to have better service and if possible lower cost. They do want you to be available in some form 24/7. They know it is all about their experience with you.

This year, instead of waiting, there is a tremendous amount you can do right now to address these problems. You can...

  • Create interactive communications on your website, with email, with texting, etc.
  • Create collaborative space for you customers to work privately and securely with you online.
  • Let your customers pay you online.
  • Learn how to follow and participate in online forums for industries you do business with.
  • Don't ever send you customer to the insurance company if you can provide that same information or service on your own site.
  • Host an online video competition for your customers for the best insurance commercial and give a great prize to the winner.

You will think of many more things.

Personally I can't wait for 2010 to come around because of all the great things that will have been accomplished in 2009. I hope you feel the same way for the same reasons.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year - Obsession and Sucess

Happy New Year!

Here is a late holiday gift - a video of Adam Savage of Mythbusters showing his level of obsession. It makes him happy. It makes him successful. It makes Mythbusters one of my favorite TV shows.

Are you this obsessed about anything you do?