Is your business a one trick pony?

As I was shopping this week, I saw this display of Kraft Trick or Cheesy. It's the usual mac and cheese, except the pasta shapes are Halloween-themed pumpkins, ghosts, and bats. This is the first time the company has offered a Halloween pasta--and that got me thinking.

Is there something you or I, as a business or a brand, can do to tweek our offerings? Is a new revenue source right at our finger tips if we slightly alter what we do or how we do it?

Going back to our example of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese product line, it's really just orange carbs. Pretty darn basic. But the brand continues to come up with new offerings that are modestly different than its staple product. Easy Mac (individual and microwaveable mac n' cheese), Macaroni and Cheese's TV and movie-themed pasta (e.g. Toy Story), Macaroni and Cheese Crackers (which I loved, but were discontinued), the new Cheddar Explosion with extra cheese sauce, and Homestyle Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese that launched this year in three new flavors. Now, this isn't a fluff piece for Kraft. I simply use these as examples to get us thinking. 

So, again, I ask, "Is there something you can do to slightly change the product or service you're bringing to the marketplace?" Consider these questions:
  • Can you expand your core product?
  • Are you able to offer specialized services?
  • Can you attract a new audience or demographic?
  • Will a new color, new shape, new size, or other variation broaden your appeal?
  • What are the additional ways you can improve life for your customers or clients?
  • Can a different approach add new excitement to your standard offerings?
  • Do you or your company evolve with the ever changing marketplace?
  • Are you showing customers and clients that they can't live without you? 
I know this is just a modest start to a long list of questions, but you can see where I'm going. Are you, or your company, truly seizing every opportunity to grow, succeed, and prosper? Can you bring more to the game, provide more value, and, in doing so, be better? Or, are you going light on the cheese sauce?

Is Suri Cruise Baskin-Robbins' new poster child?

While I was standing in line at CVS, I happened to see this issue of Star in the magazine rack.

The cover features Katie Holmes with her daughter Suri. Now, I didn't intentionally look at it. It was more of a glance as my eyes were headed to the candy bars, but what I couldn't help being blindsided by was the Baskin-Robbins cup.

Notice how the logo is front and center? See how Suri's little fingers do nothing to obscure the big "BR" logo? Now, maybe I'm a skeptic, but within two seconds I was wondering if this was flat out product placement.

Sure, paparazzi do their fair share of photo taking, but in this day and age celebrities have been known to submit their own photos to magazines. As such, I couldn't help but to question whether the Cruise-Holmes family had sold the image to Star. And, if Baskin-Robbins had paid Mrs. Tom Cruise to plant the cup, perfectly mind you, in lil' Suri's clutches.

Ok, I can accept the fact that this is starting to sound a little like a conspiracy theory (and I won't even talk about how Suri's top is pink and matches the Baskin-Robbins' color palate). However, don't underestimate the power of Corporate America, people. Product placement is an art. The goal of this multi-million dollar industry is to subtly make you want something you probably don't need.

Surely, I'm not the only one who thinks that the Baskin-Robbins cup is featured just a little too prominently and a little too perfectly. Or, am I?

Let me hear it, folks! Am I crazy? Or crazy smart? I'll defer to the majority on this one.*

* I can be swayed one way or the other on this topic with a scoop of Baskin-Robbins Cotton Candy ice cream. No, I wasn't paid to say that. But, I suddenly have a craving for it. Weird.

3 ways to add razzle dazzle to your #FollowFriday

I like Fridays. On Twitter, Fridays mean people say nice things about you. And who doesn't like that?

For the new kids in the class, Follow Friday was started by Micah Baldwin (aka @micah) as a way for users to recommend other people who are worth following. And, although most people's hearts are in the right place, the majority of folks just send a tweet that lists a bunch of Twitter handles which precede the hashtags #FF or #FollowFriday (e.g. @kevinminott @staceysoleil @janewmeade #FollowFriday #FF). If you see that tweet, unfortunately it gives you no insight into who those people are or why you might be interested in following them.

Luckily for you, I'm happy to share three stellar examples of how to give your Follow Friday shoutouts a healthy dose of steroids:
1) Kevin Minott's blog post, Twitter Follow Friday Leading Ladies, lists 20 women you might be interested in following.
The visual presentation is spectacular (and, I imagine, a bit time consuming!). Kevin has listed each woman's Twitter bio and also pulled a tweet from each gal so you have an idea of the kind of content you'll see from her. By putting both bits of information in his blog post, people can make an educated decision and connect with those who most closely match their own personal interests.
2) The blog post, This Week's Follow Friday Top 50, was written by Stacey Soleil.
Stacey has compiled a list of 50, yes 50, people worth checking out. She's written a short sentence or two about each person and has linked to his or her blog or website so people can learn more. Again, another very time consuming task (I mean, just inserting the links alone must have taken forever!), but the end result is extremely useful. You can browse Stacey's list and easily pick out the folks who might be of interest to you.
3)  Jane Meade wows me every Friday as she tweets Follow Friday recommendations with a lot of love. I call her approach, The Follow Friday Tweet with Heart.
Jane has only 140 characters in which to convey her message, but she uses each word skillfully. When you see her Follow Friday stream kick into high-gear, you'll get a nugget of insight into each person she recommends. Because she takes the time to write a brief note about each person, I've been able to find some great, new people to follow. 

So, let's get today's Follow Friday started on a good note. Who do you recommend on this fine day? Feel free to put your suggestions in the comments below if you got 'em!

LinkedIn chips away at privacy controls

This week, LinkedIn made more changes that make it harder to maintain your privacy. Much like earlier this year when Facebook abolished its setting that allowed users to be "invisible" to those outside their network, LinkedIn is following suit. 

Up until a few days ago, you could click on "Who's Viewed My Profile?" on the homepage to see who has checked out your page. Every user has always had the option of customizing what another user saw when that link was clicked. There were three options: 1) A user could display his/her full name and LinkedIn headline, 2)  The user could show anonymous profile stats, such as industry and title (the most popular option), or 3) Users could be invisible so no one could track their activity. With the new changes, if you completely give up the right to see who's viewed your page, you can maintain the "anonymous" or  "invisible" option. What that means is you must choose option #1 of full disclosure if you want to continue to see who's checked out your profile.

Now, lots of people look at my Twitter page. I don't know who they are. Many people visit my blog and, again, I don't have their exact names and job titles. Same thing with Facebook. So, LinkedIn is the first of these networking sites to mandate a looky loo setting.

The site's argument is that if I can now see that John Johnson (who I don't know), director of PR at Gamble's Gizmos has looked at my profile, I can send John a note saying, "Hey, noticed you checked out my profile. What's up?" Talk about calling someone out! Personally, if I look at someone's LinkedIn page, I certainly don't want him or her to shoot me an email to ask why. I obviously have my reasons and if it's important, I'm going to contact the person regardless.

I know the privacy line is continuing to shift in this age of social media. I know that if you utilize any of these sites, you are agreeing to make many aspects of your life public. However, the fact that LinkedIn (and previously Facebook) have offered settings to ensure privacy and then yanked them away bugs me. I mean, gosh, a stranger can't see my search history on the internet, so why is my search activity on LinkedIn now public?

I admit, I have a stronger opinion about privacy than most of my social media peers. However, this is also about choice. If someone wants to maintain some aura of privacy, why can't they? Do we really have to know all the activities and habits of every Tom, Dick, and Harry? I mean, really, must everything be broadcast to the world?

If someone looks at my LinkedIn profile, they have their reasons and if they choose to contact me, I welcome it. However, I have no intention of hassling that person to inquire why. Will you?

Chris Brogan: Marketer, do-gooder, and stand up comedian

Chris Brogan at Oakley Headquarters 
This week, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Brogan speak at an event sponsored by my favorite networking group, LinkedOC. For those who don't know, Chris is the best-selling author of the New York Times bestseller Trust Agents and writes one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world, Now, lots of people will provide you with a solid recap of the event, so I'm not going down the path most traveled. What I will do, however, is give you with a look at the man behind the hype.

I've followed Chris on Twitter for quite awhile and I read Trust Agents last year. It's obvious that Chris gets it and is putting the onus on all of us to humanize our businesses. His presentation to the group, however, was more human than I expected. Chris is a riot.

A self proclaimed nerd with an affinity for comic books, his presentation was better than any stand-up routine I've seen in years. With references to Star Wars and the Matrix, a quote from Yoda, stories of stunt sandwiches and the value of nipples, Chris' talk was jam-packed with quotable quotes. Two of my favorites were, "Foursquare is the AOL of the future" and "I am a self-proclaimed bag whore" (as he talked about his addiction to buying travel and business cases). I had no idea this incredibly successful man was king of the one-liners. I laughed so hard I felt like I was in the audience of a Comic Relief show (a dated 80s reference, but I somehow think Chris would approve).

I tell you this story for one reason. News alert, my friends, being human is the new black. Chris is hot stuff on the speakers' circuit these days and gets paid big bucks to speak with very important people. He could very easily maintain a seemingly friendly relationship with all us social media types who worship the ground he walks on, but keep up a wall that separates him from the little people. Not only is that wall non-existent, Chris seems to go out of his way to make people feel special.

I watched him before the event started as he graciously took business cards from every person who thrust them upon him. I saw him take people's words of thanks and turn them back around to thank them for coming out. I looked on as he wrote lengthy notes in people's books, not just scribbling his name and a word or two as many authors do. And, I marveled as he remembered the people he met and called on them by name in the Q&A session. Color me impressed.

The people who really understand the power of social media, know that it's all about the relationships you form. Helping one another succeed, supporting each other, and forming a community. From this point forward, I'm inclined to think of Chris as the Papa Smurf of Twitter. Encouraging all of us to do good, help one another, and make the world a better place.

So get your human, on. It's the latest rage and it's here to stay. And, boy, do we all look good in it.

12 reasons I won't follow you back on Twitter

If you know me, you know my favorite social media platform is Twitter. Through Twitter, I have made friends across the globe and connected with new people in my own back yard. It has made my world a bit smaller and whole lot better.

Now, I'm not one of those who's obsessed with numbers. I'm a firm believer in quality over quantity. My follower numbers could be much, much higher if I followed every single person back to retain their follow. However, I want to use Twitter to connect with people and form a really solid network. I want people in my stream who enrich me in some way, people who I can learn from or grow with, people who I can engage with and who are interested in engaging with me.

That said, here's my top 12 reasons I won't follow you back on Twitter:

1. Your stream has no @mentions (i.e. you're talking at people, not with people)
2. Your tweets indicate you and I have no common ground (e.g. your stream is made up of only one topic which doesn't interest me or has no relevance in my life)
3. You are following significantly more people than are following you (i.e. you're only following people to collect the followbacks and you have no interest in really connecting with me, per se)
4. You have spammy tweets (no, I do not want to win a free Costco gift card or buy a program to get more followers)
5. You've followed me in the past to boost your numbers and then unfollowed me after I followed back (Yes, Dave, I know your M.O.)
6. You do nothing but sell
7. You tweet so much it feels like an assault that has taken my Twitter stream prisoner (i.e. 10 tweets per minute is not acceptable)
8. Your tweets are excessively frivolous and of no value (e.g. I just ate an egg, there are three steps on my porch, etc)
9. You are an unknown singer who's trying to build your follower numbers, but I have no interest in that particular music genre
10. You have a low tweet count or no tweets at all (i.e. all your effort is going into building your follower count, but you have yet to show us who you are or provide any value)
11. You tweet primarily about religion, politics, or how wonderful your child is (there's a time and a place for this and that's not how I want to use Twitter)
12. Your tweets are full of profanity

Do you follow everyone back? If not, what is your criteria?

Twitter conference focuses on humanity rather than technology

The 140 Characters Conference on Twitter hosts events across the United States and in foreign countries. This week, the event came back to Los Angeles for its sophomore outing. Per usual, organizer Jeff Pulver put together an eclectic assortment of speakers and panels which spanned 18 hours over two days. From tech and celebrity to philanthropy and journalism, Jeff delivered yet another worthwhile event to the social media community.
If you want to learn the basics of how to tweet, this isn't the place. If you want to hear the step-by-step tactics of how to execute a social media campaign, look elsewhere. However, if you want to hear interesting stories of how Twitter is changing lives, business, culture, and community, there is no shortage of fascinating tales or memorable speakers. The success stories are incredible.

Last year, when I attended #140conf (my review can be found HERE), I wasn't sure what to expect. After two solid days of presentations, my head was whirling. Since that time, I have remained actively involved in Jeff's #140conf movement and have come to appreciate the nuances of what he's trying to do.

Jeff is all about creating community. Moving online connections into real-world relationships. Motivating people to use the real-time web for social good, to stand up for important causes, to shed light on important issues (see my story on the #140conf autism panel HERE), and to prompt positive change in the world. Jeff's goal is to tap into the humanity that is behind the technology, and use online tools and platforms to make the world a more compassionate place. A place where we can learn, grow, and prosper together.

If you want to be inspired by real-life stories of how Twitter is helping cancer patients, the homeless, parents, non-profits, and third-world countries, #140conf delivers. If you want to more fully appreciate how news organizations, small business owners, creative and artistic people, public figures, and real estate professionals are utilizing Twitter, there are a plethora of panels to keep your head spinning. If you want to connect with people who know the power of social media, and those who are just starting their journey, the networking opportunities are priceless.

For those of you who are interested in fully embracing the real-time web, and the people who inhabit it, be sure to check out #140conf when it comes to a city near you. For those of you who have attended and reviewed one of Jeff's events, feel free to post a link to your story in the comments below so others may learn from your experience.

Thank you, Jeff, for giving a big city like Los Angeles the soul of a small town for at least two days a year. Love live #140conf.

How social media gave me autism

I've enjoyed many benefits from social media. New friends, business leads, and great knowledge are some of the most tangible, but the thing I least expected to get is one of the most rewarding.

Last year, I connected with Robert Moran on Twitter (a.k.a. @aspiejourno). I traded occasional tweets with him about journalism, grammar, and TV; he was funny, smart, and likable. Robert quickly became one of my favorite people on Twitter.

One day, Robert and I had an awkward exchange and I visited his Twitter bio to refresh my memory on what this guy's background was. Turns out Robert has autism and Asperger Syndrome. I hadn't even realized it.

In the months that followed, I read Robert's incredibly candid tweets about the challenges that autism brings. He sometimes had what he calls meltdowns, he was occasionally so blunt in his tweets that it made me gasp, he shared blog posts about his life and how autism affected his interactions with people. I read and I learned.

Robert was so incredibly engaging and personable that I wanted to understand how to best interact with him. I soon learned that he's uncomfortable being touched, so I never hugged him hello when I saw him at tweet-ups. I came to understand that autistics frequently lack a self-editing button in their brains so they can sometimes be incredibly frank, which many people perceive as rude. I also learned that Robert forms bonds very quickly, which he says scares people away.

Robert Moran speaks with moderator Stacey Soleil at #140conf
I've known Robert for about 10 months now and today I was happy to share a very special day with him. He was one of the featured speakers at the 140 Characters Conference on Twitter (#140conf) that I attended at Los Angeles' Music Box Theater. Robert addressed hundreds of social media devotees and shared how Twitter has brought him out of his shell and into a community. He shed light on how Autistics think and act, and I learned yet another helpful bit of information. He has a hard time understanding sarcasm. Sarcasm is a major part of my DNA, so going forward I'll be sure to remember that when he and I speak or tweet.

One of the best things about social media, in my opinion, is that you are exposed to new people, folks you may have never met were it not for the social web. New ideas, different lifestyles, unique personalities. It's all out there, if you want to see it. And, maybe, if you open your mind--and your heart--wide enough, you'll meet someone who changes you for the better. Robert is one of those people.

Congratulations on your conference speaking debut, Robert. I'm proud to know you.
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