It’s still about the website, stupid.

courtesy: wellplannedweb.com

Just read a useful blog post from Vinci Designs  which reminds small business, among others, about some good fundamentals on social marketing. Fundamentals – something that from time to time is forgotten the more we fall in love within the vagaries of the ‘social media tools’ at our disposal.  At the end of the day, any visitor to a mobile platform, a Facebook page or Twitter post needs a ‘call to action.’  Yes, many understand the need to interweave these, but the number of ‘likes’ or retweets does not a business presence make. The fundamentals remain that a web site should be the destination where visitors learn who you are, what you sell and and the core reasons why you exist. It is your office.  This is particularly important for small businesses. Your social media ring, I submit, still needs to serve your prime business objective: to engage customers. “If you build it, they will come.” But, they will only come if there is somewhere to go – a place that wholly represents how you are a responsible steward of your product or service.  After your chat at the proverbial “cocktail party” on the social platforms, your prospective clients will always want to drop by your home ‘office’ the next morning.

KidZNotes hosts Gala May 2 at Carolina Theatre in Durham

KidZNotes hosts its 2nd Annual Gala Wednesday, May 2 at the Carolina Theatre of Durham, NC. Join supporters for Salsa dancing, food, music and celebrate the work KidZNotes is doing to help turn Durham into a world-class city. Visit kidznotes.org for ticket information. 

Poole’s Diner in Raleigh a natural urban destination

I took a quick pic outside Poole’s Diner in Raleigh this week before a business meeting. Poole’s is one of Ashley Christensen‘s unique venues that takes eating to another level. Christensen competed last year against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America (Thanks NewRaleigh.com). And oh, their beer and wine selection is extraordinary.  A true downtown hub.

From the historic to the health of Wake County’s art scene

When family and friends come to visit, don’t let yourself fall into the “been there, done that” frame of mind. There’s so much to see and do, and some of the best places to see it all are Wake County’s museums. Take a look at five we picked this week that range from large to boutique.

1. The new Raleigh Museum of Contemporary Art has local and national works, and the state-of-the-art structure is work of art itself. Visit http://camraleigh.org/

2. Page-Walker Arts & History Center (PWAH) is an off-the-beaten path
destination in neighboring Cary. Built in 1868, the PWAH was originally a hotel, but it became a museum devoted to local artists and events in 1979. Visit Town of Cary to learn more.

3. The Triangle is home to the finest medical centers in the world. But you migh
t be surprised there’s art to be seen there! Check out the Wake Med Art Exhibition. It’s supported by the United Arts Council and exhibits change every six weeks. Visit United Arts/Wake Med for info.

4. It’s large and has plenty to offer: the Progress Energy Art Center. This venue features local and regional artists and has become the hub of Raleigh’s cultural movement.  Visit http://www.nprgallery.com/

5. First Fridays have been a mainstay of the Raleigh art scene for many years. If your visiting uncle’s eyes glaze over in the galleries, he can groove to the free music and sample the nearby cuisine. First Friday showcases the established and up-and-coming artists the first Friday of every month. Visit godowntownraleigh for more.

But, don’t limit your guests to the visual arts. Sundays, stop by Tir Na Nog around 2pm to check out a true Irish Gaelic “jam session.” Take a look and see part of what makes Raleigh and this area special. 

(It’s 50 seconds, actually.)

KidzNotes creates more than music for Durham kids

(Don’t often post a placement I earned for a client, but it’s a great organization. Originally published 12.18.11 in the Raleigh News & Observer)

photo: Liz Condo

BY ANNE BLYTHE

DURHAM The performance inside the Holton Resource and Career Center auditorium in east Durham late Saturday morning was billed as a “Winter Concert.”

But there was no “icy chill in the air,” as the chorus belted out in the song “Winter Fantasy.”

photo: Liz Condo

Nothing but warmth exuded from the stage as 110 young musicians in the making – from kindergarten through the fourth grade – shouted out holiday songs and sawed bows across the strings of violins and cellos that in many cases were almost as big as they were.

Parents beamed as they trained cell phone and video cameras toward the stage.

Pride swelled in grandparents, friends and teachers as the orchestra delighted them with unique renditions of such seasonal favorites as “Jingle Bells,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Deck the Halls” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.”

Occasionally, a particularly ornery string squeaked or squawked.

But the audience, teachers and volunteers cheering the children on could turn a deaf ear to a misplayed note or a few extra exuberant “ho, ho, hos” from the chorus.

KidZnotes' Katie Wyatt (photo: Liz Condo)

Katie Wyatt, the true conductor in chief of the program, stood to the side as performance conductors took their turns during the concert.Wyatt is the executive director of KidZNotes, a program for Durham school children who might otherwise be blocked from music by economic and social barriers.

The two-year-old program is modeled after the venerable El Sistema, an instructional system born in Venezuela nearly three and a half decades ago that since has unleashed hundreds of thousands of instrumentalists and choristers across the South American country.

The idea is to give the children access to instruments and hundreds of hours of instruction each year with hopes that they will become an orchestra that represents the community.

photo: Liz Condo

The community, then according to the ideal model, the utopian dream, nurtures the children in their musical endeavors and more.

“It takes all of us to raise a child together,” Wyatt said after the well-attended show.

And many financial backers.

It can cost $2,500 per child. The instruments are pricey and only sent home for good with children who demonstrate that they are ready for the responsibility of practicing and taking care of a violin, viola, cello, trumpet or flute. Each musician in the making receives 10 hours of free instruction a week — or 400 hours of after-school and weekend training.

“This is excellent,” said Arvilla Taylor, the grandmother of fourth-grader Donald Moore, an 8-year-old who rushed up for a big hug in between pieces so he could boast a bit about the top-notch score he just made on a math test, too.

“We prayed he would be the best,” Taylor said, “and look at him.”

Taylor left Philadelphia years ago when her children were young to move Donald’s mom and her siblings away from a neighborhood where drug dealers and others involved in illegal activities were the ones who commanded respect.

KidZNotes, Taylor said, has taught her grandson much more than musical notes.

photo: Liz Condo

Similar praise echoed throughout the auditorium – from adults and the young.

Erica Torres Villalba, 8, a viola player, and her sister, Esmeralda Torres Villalba, 6, a violin player, rated the performance as the audience pushed toward the exit doors.

“My favorite was ‘Jingle Bells,’ ” Erica said. “Everybody likes ‘Jingle Bells,'” Esmeralda chimed in.

“I like ‘Good King Wenceslas.’ ”

The girls agreed, though, on what instrument they wanted to play later in life.

“When I grow up I wish I could have a flute,” Erica said. “Then I could be a magician.”

Bianca Morten and Francina Everett, mother and grandmother of 8-year-old violinist Mikayla Hunt, chatted enthusiastically about the opportunities the program provided. In just a few months, Mikayla was making big plans – she hoped to move from the violin to more musical endeavors and possibly join the chorus.

Mikayla, who says “it’s pretty cool” because “you get to finger your notes,” acknowledged one downside of the program that she hopes will lead her to a “big orchestra” some day. She gets stage fright before a big show. “Nervous,” she said, her shoulders shuddering. But she has a secret for pushing beyond the edginess.

How does Mikayla settle her nerves?

“By smiling,” she said.

It must have been a contagious smile that spread well beyond the confines of one east Durham auditorium Saturday morning.

“Isn’t it amazing,” said Evan Howell, a volunteer and promoter of the program.

KidZnotes of Durham in Holiday concert, part of global program supporting in need children

KidZNotes is holding a Holiday concert this Saturday, December 17th,  on the heels of a new partnership forged with the North Carolina Symphony. The concert coincides this month with performances by in-need children from organizations inspired by the world-renown El Sistema program in seven U.S. cities and 25 countries worldwide.

When: Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, 10:30 am
Where: Auditorium, Holton Career and Resource Center, 401 N. Driver St., Durham, N.C.
What: KidZnotes Holiday concert of 110 students, grades K-4, performing holiday favorites, sing-a-longs, and showcasing their talents.

(courtesy, MetroNC)

The Venezuelan-borne El Sistema program uses the transformational power of classical music to help build new futures for children, targeting those who would otherwise be blocked by economic and social barriers. El Sistema graduates include Gustavo Dudamel, 30-year-old virtuoso conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The El Sistema program and those inspired by it have helped nearly 1 million children to date.

Duke University donates instruments to KidZNotes, and additional sponsors include Durham Public Schools, Durham Parks and Recreation, the Durham Arts Council, and the East Durham Children’s Initiative.

Established last year in East Durham, KidZNotes targets students from four low-income schools in Durham. They receive 10 hours of free music instruction each week. On Saturdays, the students come together for large ensembles and group instruction.

Katie Wyatt (courtesy, Durham Magazine)

KidZNotes Executive Director and close friend of Dudamel, Kathryn (Katie) Wyatt, said the Holiday Concert is a great way to celebrate the season and show how people and local businesses can come together to strengthen a community and turn Durham into a world-class city.

“Kidznotes is not just music for social change for children, it’s also about the business community,” Wyatt said. “It’s about encouraging the business community to get behind its neighborhoods to foster an environment of social and economic growth.”

Durham votes Nov. 8 on Transit making an economic and cultural decision

There’s a referendum vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 8 in Durham, N.C. Voters go to the polls to decide whether to build a new light-rail transit system designed to increase the city’s transit service and eventually connect it to Chapel Hill and Raleigh.

The outcome could determine a great deal – how the city grows as a job center and how it and its residents grow as a culture.

Fmr. Gov. Parris Glendening

In the run-up to tomorrow’s vote, former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening spoke at a Durham Chamber event on Nov. 2 at Duke Gardens. He was there as the head of Smart Growth America, an organization pushing for nationwide smart growth. Glendening said the country is at a pivotal time.

According to the governor, if our cities don’t employ plans for how we grow, they will experience lower productivity, higher inflation, and mandatory wage increases for workers faced with long commutes due to a lack of nearby jobs.

“Rebuilding the nation’s economies must be one of the defining acts of our generation,” he said, emphasizing a new vision of the future is at hand. “It must be front and center – getting the most out of private and public investments.”

Durham Central Park

The Triangle is fortunate to be in a time of both economic and population growth, Glendening said. But that growth also presents economic challenges and forces the Triangle to determine how to present itself in the future.

A sense of “place” is a city’s greatest asset, he said. It provides a sense of community and fosters an appealing environment that is a livable, walkable place to work and raise a family.

“Today, even in a recession, 45 percent of students think about where they want to live – then they look for a job,” he said. “Cities must compete to attract and keep bright workers.”

There are also financial ramifications to forgoing a plan.

According to research, the average American makes seven trips away from home each day, Glendening said. These commutes drive the average house prices outside of urban areas dramatically higher than they are on face value, he said.

The “Affordable Housing Index,” which calculates in transportation costs, shows real estate markets outside of greater city centers are unsustainable, he said. This unsustainability will create a vacuum when gas prices likely reach $10 per gallon, and entire regions will suffer.

The governor said the market is “ripe for investment in transit.” As of 2011, he said, 87 percent of transit ballots have been approved in the United States, and demographic information only points to that figure increasing. He anticipated that by 2025, 72 percent of households will be without children, taking into account young workers and the increase in the Boomer generation population.

Supporters say as many as 6,400 jobs would be directly created by the transit program.

So, tomorrow could mean many things. But, the choice comes down to how we want to live. Let’s hope people vote tomorrow and have a voice in how all this plays out.

Does your Association have an online strategy to help grow membership?

(Original text published on the AENC blog)

A word on Associations – Nurses, Accountants, Bankers, Florists…Whoever. You may think your Association needs a stronger online presence, but are confused as to what that exactly means. And you see its potential.

The number of ways you can communicate with your audience can be overwhelming. And there are a few fundamentals to understand before moving forward.

“Liking” you is not enough
“If you build it, they will come” only worked in the movie. Just setting up a Twitter account or Facebook group page as standalone presences is a regressive strategy. If your association isn’t communicating its key messages, you won’t generate a following. Worse, owning these profiles with no activity or followers just looks bad and delivers the wrong message as well.

Actively communicate your messages
The first mistake in messaging is trying to tell everything, to everyone, all the time. As an association, you know who your members are, and you know how your work benefits people on a broad scale. But like any marketing strategy, it’s critical to identify specific audiences, but also deliver specific messages on how your work is directly relevant to their needs.

Identify your target goals and encourage participation
Establish a timeline around key dates and planned announcements. This may also include locally planned events. By using your online platforms to deliver your messages, you can encourage participation through “retweets” and other forms of sharing. By inviting members to be part of the process, your are both now the stewards of your organization’s brand and mission.

Any successful online strategy is about building a presence that doesn’t just give you your “15 minutes.” Crafted carefully, it will help you earn a deep, living leadership role in today’s marketplace.

Designing a jobs plan around a city map

There’s a lot of talk surrounding investment in infrastructure as a means to create jobs for Americans, more than 10 million of whom are out of work. President Obama this week unveiled his jobs plan that would inject $447 billion into projects covering bridges, roads, and other public structures that are and have been in decay for years. The rationale behind the proposal is two-fold: to create jobs for unemployed Americans and to promote the transport of U.S. goods for interstate commerce and foreign export.  Awesome.

One of my paranoid projections is that we invest in the highway infrastructure around cities and continue to promote sprawl. I submit sprawl is not only an environmentally bad eyesore, but it also degrades cohesion of the workforce and scatters the unemployed population across miles of terrain. Perhaps sprawl is one reason why telecommuting has become so popular in some areas.

I haven’t seen the details of the plan, but I would hope any jobs plan would include a framework for how cities function, as they are the center of where Americans live and work. Or at least want to.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 16 percent of Americans overall live in rural areas. While there are Americans still moving outside of cities, they are predominantly older retirees.  Just look at a new trend of reporting on the best retirement cities in America, such as Durham, N.C.

But this isn’t the population Obama is addressing when he says, “You know, we’ve got a lot of folks in Congress who love to say how they’re behind America’s jobs creators…Well, if that’s the case, then you should be passing this bill. Because that’s what this bill is all about, is helping small businesses all across America.”

Durham, NC Tobacco District (photo, Derek Anderson / Indyweek)

Small businesses downtown will create jobs only if we have a plan. With outer suburban areas growing quickly, urban job centers are at risk. In many ways, we’re feeding the brain without maintaining a beating heart. America’s cities are its primary job centers – we need to figure out how to integrate them with the growing suburbs. Some call it sustainable urban development.  Some call it smart growth.

Whatever its label, a successful jobs program employs a long-term vision that promotes technological innovation, creates jobs, improves quality-of-life in our nation’s cities, and pulls us together as a culture of people, not just as a culture of the trained and employed.

Inventions dying on the vine of a decaying infrastructure and energy policy

This week, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) committee issued 11 recommendations to the U.S. government on how to successfully market its renewable energy technologies to the world. The panel has set a goal to DOUBLE renewable energy exports in the next five years. Recommendation No. 10? Encourage foreign investment.  Hmm.

Edison in his lab

Call it being in favor of the Smart Grid, if you want. How can the United States foster green energy innovation when its own communities can’t effectively use what gets invented. Thomas Edison would have been frustrated.

The scandal surrounding the Solyndra default is still being investigated, but the general opinion is it had more to do with a faulty business model than anything. I wonder who reviews those things in the government.  Perhaps that’s the problem.

Sir Richard Branson

Private industry keeps looking for opportunities within the gaps, but without a comprehensive energy policy that rests on infrastructure modernization, progress moves at a snail’s pace. Long-term and flexible infrastructure + governmental support = jobs. As Richard Branson is taking up the reins in the post-NASA human space race, so, too, did T. Boone Pickens, the Warren Buffet of energy. Both envisioned filling a gap and profiting.  But one was in space. The other was on terra firma, filled with decaying infrastructure, global market variables, and a culture addicted to oil.

Breaking wind
How excited we all were when Mr. Pickens announced his plan a few years ago to wean our country off foreign oil. But with global markets and a lack of modernized utility infrastructure (to actually CARRY said energy somewhere else), Mr. Pickens may have been sunk before even breaking ground for his wind project.

July 8, 2008
Pickens Building World’s Largest Wind Farm
“T. Boone Pickens is warning Americans to use more natural gas and to start using wind power because “the price of oil is never coming back down.”(ABC News)
But then, two years later:
Jan 13, 2010
T. Boone Pickens cuts order for wind turbines, puts Panhandle wind farm on hold
“The energy investor, who made wind power a key part of his plan to wean Americans off foreign oil, said Tuesday he will now take delivery of 300 turbines, which he will use for wind farms in Canada and Minnesota.”(Dallas Morning News)

At least some fine folks in Minnesota may get jobs. Pickens was later quoted as saying the prices for natural gas didn’t come down far or fast enough to make wind profitable. Since natural gas is his forte, one could say he broke even. And, he did it alone. He’s one of a very few who is able.

Sure, we can bail you out
The federal government, via the DOE Loan Programs Office backed a loan of more than $530 million to now-defunct Solyndra, the solar company that went bust about a year after President Obama publicly touted the company as the poster child of America’s commitment to innovation and job creation. Now, the FBI is investigating Solyndra.

The loan program, created in 2005, was designed to eliminate United States’ reliance on foreign sources of energy.  The government is backing and has worked with more than 42 private companies to the liability tune of $30 billion. But much of these are just loan guarantees, not seed or supporting funding for companies to carry out their work. Come Sept. 30, federal monies for the DOE loan program are scheduled to double.

“Under the program, the government doesn’t hand out any money unless the companies fail. The Energy Department essentially acts as a sponsor, putting the government on the hook for the loan should the company default.” (CNN Money)
 
The fact the federal government is backing loans to private renewable energy companies is laudable. But there still don’t seem to be enough places to implement inventions once they become commercialized.  Perhaps the government should create a division surrounding relevant offices of the Department of Transportation, DOE, mayors associations, governors, planners, etc.   Place it in the Department of Homeland Security, why don’t we. Their mission? To plan a foundation upon which we can utilize, grow, and live with the inventions for which our country and economy is pleading.

Truth is, CO2 storage is still emerging. Are we missing the big picture? And opportunities?

We know that “four out of five dentists” agree that CO2 tops the list of global warming causes and that the leading culprit is, well, us. Proponents of “clean coal” trumpet carbon capture and sequestration as a panacea; but it may be this line of thinking that has detractors and environmentalists up in arms.  CO2 storage and sequestration is still an emerging technology and is still hyped by governments and industry stakeholders as the big solution. But, there are several notable and immediate obstacles to overcome before we can help the environment and save the proverbial whales.

With CO2 storage, you need what some say are a perfect set of geological criteria: You need a limestone bed or some other natural material that will serve as a wall; you need the space to be large enough to make the holding area practical; and you need enough of these spaces around the world to hold all the CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere. Yes, there are studies looking at so-called deep saline aquifers, which supporters say hold vast potential and could serve as a good tool for mitigation.

But as we look, CO2 continues to rise up into the atmosphere. If this option is to be taken seriously, we must quickly identify and use these aquifers, compatible carbon sinks, depleted oilfields or other places capable of permanently and safely housing large volumes of CO2. At an off shore undersea aquifer off Norway, for example, Statoil buries carbon dioxide extracted from natural gas to reduce its tax liability with the Norwegian government.   But offshore storage, while effective, comes at a heavy cost both in terms of capital and energy efficiency. Last year, I spoke with an executive in Rotterdam from Royal Dutch Shell who told me their northern European operations generate 100 million tons of CO2 yearly.

courtesy CO2now.org

But all this is likely just academic for now. Does the planet actually have enough space to store all this CO2? According to CO2now.org, a non-profit organization advocating the reduction of greenhouse gases, 9.28 billion metric tons of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere by fossil fuel sources, cement plants and land use-change activities worldwide in 2009.  But we’re not innocent either. The average American household spews 35 tons of CO2 into the air every year.  Economic data suggests that those figures aren’t going down.

“Coal is now the largest fossil-fuel source of CO2 emissions. About 92% of the growth in coal emissions for the period 2007-2009 resulted from increased coal use in China and India. If economic growth proceeds as expected, global fossil fuel emissions are projected to increase by more than 3% in 2010,” according to the report.

How can science help? Perhaps with increased government support and public/private relationship brokering.  Any working energy policy must be executed across platforms to be effective. Companies, R&D firms and academia should be encouraged to share new, tested and available technologies in areas such as flue gas cleanup, hydrogen generation and renewable energy tools, as well as waste-to-energy solutions in landfill gas to methane generation.

CO2 capture will certainly have its place in the new energy economy.  But cooperation across industries (and borders) is the only answer and is likely the only way to save those whales.

The question of integration

Shifting your entire promotional budget into on-site event marketing or press release distribution is a bit like having your financial portfolio manager tell you to pour all your money into a single fund.  It’s rarely a good choice in the long run. In investing parlance, the best approach is called “diversification.” In my line of work, we call it “integration.”

What if Edward R. Murrow had "Tweeted"?

Sending a press release to an editor, securing an exhibit slot at an industry conference, or hosting an event are all important traditional elements or “tactics” in most campaigns.  But they cannot stand alone.  As you’ve likely noticed over the past decade, the power of the Internet has ballooned and “others” are using it. However, you may still see it as a “tool” or some minor obligatory clause in your business plan.

PR is a living animal, constantly adapting to new environments and getting stronger as it forms and maintains relationships with people in real time. This is thanks to the ever-growing opportunities in open communication sources: Web, social pages, apps, Internet TV, and sharing services.  The list goes on.  But online marketing shouldn’t be treated as the first and only course of action when you want to build your brand. The fact is that traditional channels still need to be utilized simultaneously in any campaign.  They must converge.

An effective PR executive will know how your brand should dwell in the online community, and he or she won’t fall back on the occasional announcement or blog post.  Living in this neighborhood puts you face-to-face with both believers and detractors.  Both are critical in giving you the opportunity to deliver your message and enhance your credibility with customers and potential partners.  The same can be said for standing in front of your booth at the annual conference or chatting with a reporter over a coffee.

Never forget the fundamentals.  Time-tested methods of traditional “peoples’ relations” and online strategies must be woven together in order to create not just name recognition of your product or brand, but an integrated and living presence in the marketplace.

Platform diving into social marketing

There has been growing attention on whether platforms like Twitter or Facebook can actually create a relationship between “likers” or “followers” and a company. The answer, technically, is yes. But the interest of someone seeing your post could be as fleeting as the Tweet or status update that caught his or her eye. Your real-time message vanishes in the abyss of other posts — it simply doesn’t have the staying power you need to create a real relationship or genuine following.

But these one-to-two sentence messages do serve a purpose. Twitter and Facebook are part of the rainbow of channels through which you drive the message of who you are and why you’re there. Too often, companies anchor themselves in a single platform to market a product, and they ride the rising and falling roller coaster of popularity.

Second Life (SL) is a good example (remember this?). SL is the 3D world where users download a client to their desktop, spend time creating an “avatar,” then invest more time learning how to float around a virtual world where they visit neighborhoods, chat with other passers-by, and perhaps stop by a “brick and mortar” to “purchase” a product they see in a display case. At first glance, SL runs antithetical to the public relations/marketing rule of making your message accessible. Some would argue you need to jump through a few too many technical hoops to arrive at the position where you hear it. But there are those in the under 40 crowd who give it a market-value presence that needs acknowledgement. SL takes a real-time message, such as a sign or storefront and encourages engagement. But only if you play the “game.” And so, marketers must play a curious game as well, to attract that demographic.

Still, SL’s esoteric nature and ephemeral appeal serves as a warning to never wed yourself to just one platform — especially when you don’t own it. The whole basis of social marketing and networking platforms is that you share them. Distinguishing yourself among others who speak loudly, promote themselves, and who may have little interest in you takes strategy and consistent maintenance.

Platforms you do own, however, are your Web site, your app(s), and your blog. These are your “call to action.” Use all other platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc., to repeat your company mantra and generate interest, always remember to drive your cloud traffic back to the place you call homepage.

So, the question remains: How do you attract, engage, and retain a customer or supporter? Use parts of all of the above. The social mediasphere has many baskets, and it is up to you to distribute the eggs according to your needs. Most importantly, remember that a successful social media presence links platforms together. That’s why they call it “cross-platform” marketing.

Your business as seen from the moon

Facebook. Twitter, Linkedin. Stumble it, Digg it, Delicious it? About 1 billion people use the Internet, and 500 million are Facebook members. Like other social networking sites, it’s free and encourages its members to post, comment and, most importantly, react to what others have posted. While there are a myriad of networks, each with unique qualities, let’s just talk about some tips on the hows and whys of successfully positioning your company online. Many small companies and a host of start-ups may want to use online marketing tools like Facebook, but they aren’t sure what to watch out for or even how to begin.

Below are just a few questions you may ask yourself before you walk down this road. There are plenty more, but these are a good set with which to start:

1. Will I open myself up to a slew of negative “comments” on a group page, even though I hear that critical comments legitimize the positive ones?
2. How “accessible” is my product to consumers? Will I spend too much time explaining what it is and why folks should care?
3. If I build it, will they come? How can I guarantee a following once I’ve created this company fan page? If no one “likes” the page, won’t that just hurt my brand?

Align your company goals with a human mission
It’s called Cause Marketing. Show your customers you are a business made up of neighbors who care about what’s happening down the street or even across the ocean. One good example of how a large company can generate experiential marketing value is the Pennies for the Planet campaign made possible by the Audubon Society and Toyota. No, this has nothing to do with cars. Toyota took an opportunity to cement a relationship with Audubon and show it’s more than just a car company. Toyota demonstrated that it is a moral leader and good steward of the Earth, as well as families and children by extension. In part, using Facebook as a marketing tool, the Pennies campaign attracts visitors to its page to “like” it and follow along as they’re provided with more information on how kids are helping to protect wildlife and habitat.

Kid’s Fundraising Efforts Will Help Protect Migrating Wildlife
NEW YORK, Nov. 18, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Kids around the country are gearing up for the third season of Pennies for the Planet, an environmental education and action campaign to protect wildlife and habitat. Pennies for the Planet is made possible by support from TogetherGreen, an Audubon initiative – in alliance with Toyota. This year’s program focuses on how to protect migrating wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

Your business, as seen from the moon
So yes, the reason for going into or maintaining a business is to make a profit. But as we all know, if you are one of 12 companies around the world that manufactures a widget, virtually indistinguishable from the other 11, then you may have a marketing problem should you want to expand your customer base.

As “all politics is local,” so, too, is business. Assess the relationship between your company and its customers. Being a good corporate citizen has never been more important for companies that can see their products hyped or devalued at the drop of a Tweet or a simple Facebook status update.

Internet Summit/Raleigh: Content is still king

The Internet Summit is here in Raleigh, N.C., this week. Some of the biggest players in the business are talking for two days about, well, how there’s a ton of data out there. One of the big themes is if we don’t use what’s freely available, we’ll lose. In short, if we don’t use the growing list of tools to make online business easier JUST because we think that we’ve got the better cyber mouse trap, we’ll all lose.

Lulu CEO Bob Young (Courtesy: Tech Journal South)

“We don’t need breakthroughs to make [online business] a huge part of our economy,” said Bob Young, founder and CEO Lulu.com. “It already is a huge part of our economy.”

Young was part of a panel discussion, “The Future of the Web,” and one of a bevy of A-list folks from around the country who descended on the Triangle for the summit. He joined others, including Joe Gregorio, a software engineer in developer relations for Google, Rod Smith, vice president, Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM, and a host of others.

Young said that businesses shouldn’t make it hard on themselves. They should do the homework that leads them to the, oftentimes, free business solutions that will make their business grow. In fact, one question from the audience touched on net neutrality.

Young said that the first order of business is to educate Congress on the “whys” and “hows” of ensuring open source information. But, despite asserting that more breakthroughs aren’t the answer, he said that without a clear and open path that will help programmers keep up with the exploding amount of data in cyberspace, people, not just businesses, will suffer.

Young added that he runs his business by letting his designers lead him and not the other way around. He intimated that any new law of control is the wrong choice and that without the freedom to “rethink” the way the Web operates, people like his young designers won’t be able to help him – or anyone else, for that matter.

It’s king, but it has be good, too

Young also said we all suffer if the quality of content isn’t maintained. He said we’re raising a more literate population, thanks to the Web, with more people writing and reading. But, now more than ever, as content is still king, business needs to find the folks who can write well. With that “ton of data out there,” only well written content can ensure significance and relevance to the audience.

“You’re interacting with text,” he said.  “And we need to harness that [potential] by paying people to write good content.”

Now on to day 2 at the Summit!

Taking on a corporate blog: Be careful.

As most in business and marketing are aware, the Web site is the first place someone visits to learn more about you and your company.  Then, they want to know how you think and your approach to business.  What’s on your mind? How do you see yourself fitting into today’s business landscape? How are you adapting?

How do you successfully earn credibility and take that extra step toward engaging a customer? Today, being a portal for information and education is critical in terms of positioning yourself as a “thought leader.”   You might think, however, “What if we’re selling a unique product but need the broad support of industry? Won’t taking a stand on one side or the other hurt our image or push one market segment away?”

(courtesy: Businessweek)

Early on, businesses were uncertain about the value of the blog. Today, an increasing number are carefully employing them in their business strategies.

Take a stand in support of education. You don’t need to sell your product on your blog.  That’s your Web site’s job.  For example, a blog can be used to identify and explain the latest developments in an emerging technology and what it is designed to do, not to rate the innovation. The same can be said for reporting the latest governmental rules and regulations, new developments in the industry space, new technology being used abroad, and so on.

Report the news.  Don’t make editorial statements. Illustrate that your company knows the industry and all its parts. Overtime, visitors will see that your company knows what it’s doing and is knowledgeable – knowledgeable enough to know that its solution fills a gap.  But your visitors will decide that for themselves as you encourage them to visit your web site.  You have empowered them with information to make personal and business decisions that, overtime, just may lead them to your door.