Still With Us After All These Years

We hate it, we curse it, we try to ignore it, but email is still a thing. In fact, it shows no sign of weakening it’s killer hold at the top of the list of communication and marketing tools! As one Gartner researcher notes in Email: The Once and Future Marketing Channel, email is the tool that will help you successfully navigate “an uncertain future marked by disruptive technology and rapidly shifting consumer behavior.”

Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to this powerful tool.

As is true with many of the remarkable tools that have been made available to us through the magic of digital (PowerPoint comes to mind as another obvious example), the problem is not that we don’t use email, but that we so often don’t use it right, well, or to the best effect. Let’s try to work on that. First, there is the issue of manners. There’s nothing wrong with practicing some common etiquette, and if  you want your emails to be read (and – in the case of marketing – responded to) try some politeness. Craft a good subject line so people don’t have to guess at what they will read if they open your mail. Proofread your email, both for clarity, and to make a good impression. Include a comprehensive signature, unless you are mailing to someone who already knows who you are and how to reach you. Oh, and that last line you like to include as a personal statement? Remember that polite people don’t discuss religion, politics or money in public. This infographic provides a few dozen more tips. Marketers, are you doing a good job of maintaining up-to-date email lists? Do you measure the right things when you evaluate your email campaigns? Do you try market segmentation to test different messages? If not, you may be committing some of the biggest mistakes email marketers make. Continue at your own peril.

Speaking of email lists, whether you are collecting potential donors, customers, or supporters of a cause, never underestimate the value of an email address, and the permission to use it. There is a lot of good advice available on how to create a killer email list. You might be surprised to find that most of the strategies don’t involve email, but use other online tools and methods like videos and webinars. And on the subject of value, a return of nearly $45.00 for every dollar invested in a good email campaign is nothing to sniff at, wouldn’t you agree?
About those metrics and measurements, how much do you know about open rates, click-throughs, CTOR or conversions? Do  you know how to measure these metrics? Even more important, do you know what to do with the information you measure, to make your efforts more fruitful and productive? Because I believe in fairness, and giving credit where credit is due, I’m going to suggest that you visit Social Media expert Kivi Leroux Millers offer page for her download that will tell you most everything you need to know about the subject. I’ll warn you in advance though, she might ask you for your email address!

I have produced an email newsletter three times a week for over 4 years, and if you have been thinking that it is high time you started one of your own, let me tell you that it isn’t a simple task but it certainly is a rewarding one. In addition to some of the ideas already mentioned here, you might want to take a look at these 7 Ways to Perfect Your Email Newsletter for even more good tips. And if you would like to sign up for my TNT Newsletter, I’d be happy to send it to you.

Oh, for those of you who work with people who hold to the idea that direct mail (you know, that postal service stuff) is better than email, you might want to help them understand that there is no war needed and no winner sought. The two strategies actually work quite well, and even better together.
Have a great day!

Let’s Have a Meeting

…or maybe let’s NOT have a meeting

Meetings – we love to hate them. While few of us would argue that we should abandon all meetings in the workplace – they are often essential to the effective achievement of organizational goals and objectives – probably even fewer would state that they have never wasted time in a meeting.

The cost of ineffective meetings can be massive. Figure it out for yourself. Let’s say you hold a weekly meeting of Department Heads, or sales staff, or your direct reports (and by the way, recurring meetings are often the ripest for killing off) so you gather maybe a dozen people together. That’s 12 worker hours a week times 50 weeks, or 600 hours at risk. If your meetings are even 25% ineffective or unnecessary, your weekly meeting wastes 150 hours each year. If the average employee in the room costs (in salary and benefits) $35.00 per hour, your one weekly meeting has an inefficiency cost of  $5,250 per year! If this is happening all across your company, the costs mount up quickly.

The additional costs, in employee dissatisfaction, disrupted daily schedules, wasted preparation time, and in many other ways are immeasurable.

So, what to do? A good first step is to ask “Is this meeting really necessary?” This is a question that is not asked often enough, but if it were, I’m betting a lot of meetings would never be scheduled at all, and the regular weekly meeting would become a rare occurrence. This does not mean that your team can’t communicate and collaborate effectively, but instead of gathering together in the staff room, or dialing in to the conference call for a traditional meeting, use tools and services that allow for asynchronous dispensing of information, project management, document sharing and group or individual communications. I’m partial to Basecamp but there are many similar tools available, including Trello, and Asana, and there are experts who have done comparison studies for you to help you decide which is right for you.

If you really must have meetings, make them as efficient as possible. Here are a few ideas that don’t cost much more that making smart choices and changing some behavior, but they will go a long way to insuring that the meetings you can’t avoid are meetings that are worth the time.

  1. Make them Convenient: A lot of the inefficiency of scheduled meetings is connected to getting everyone together in one place. We mentioned conference calling, and effective meetings can be held with video conferencing tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx and others, and again, these tools have been compared and evaluated nearly ad nauseum to help you make decisions about which would work best for your group. Another consideration is where people are coming from – often the meeting is held for the convenience of the boss, but what if the ideal meeting place is somewhere else, equally convenient to all? In case you wondered, yes you can find this online with tools like “Let’s Meet in the Middle“.
  2. Have Shorter Meetings: – gathering for a short, but efficient Status Update meeting is often better than sitting down for a long slog. For various reasons, including our inherent lack of long attention spans, short structured meetings are usually best. Like 15 minutes maybe. …
  3. “Right Size” your Group: In most cases, this means “invite fewer people” (but invite the right people) Most meetings require fewer, rather than more people to accomplish their purpose(s). Often the guest list gets longer than needed because people don’t want to feel left out. This strategy has the added value of making it easier to find a time when all participants can meet – the fewer number of invitees, the more likely it is you can schedule your meeting in a prompt and timely manner.
  4. Have an Agenda: Short or long, in person or dialing in, it’s a bad idea to ever have a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda. Writing out an agenda for your meeting in advance alerts all participants to the topics, goals, objectives and actions planned for the meeting. This in turn allows meeting attendees to come prepared. When you know what is going to be discussed, you can be better prepared to be an active member of the discussion. If additional assets (documents, reports, etc.) are necessary, they will be brought to the meeting and interruptions to “go fetch” will become unnecessary. By estimating reasonable, but effectively short time frames for each agenda item you will also be able to…

Trust me, I could go on and on about this topic, but then the point of it all is using your time effectively, so let’s just stop here for now and wish you luck for you next meeting, and all those that come beyond it.

Going Viral

Good morning! It’s flu season, so what better time to bring up the idea of “going viral”? See what I did there?

Anyway, the statement is apt, since the concept of going viral, meaning that something you post online (usually a video, but could include a photo, a manifesto, an app, or even a conspiracy theory) is passed around and shared by enough people that in a relatively short period of time, which could range from a day or two or a couple of months depending on who you talk to, a relatively large number of people (usually 1,000,000 is considered a threshold, perhaps hearkening to the days of the Gold and Platinum Record certifications) have seen it, heard it, watched it, or read it.

On the internet, the idea of going viral is most often connected with videos. There may be some debate about this (hey, debate is healthy) but the first viral video was considered to be “Lazy Sunday” which was a sketch performed on Saturday Night Live in December 2005. After being posted on YouTube, it was seen by over 5 million people, before NBC claimed copyright and made them take it down. Luckily, you can watch it here on the NBC website.

Although a lot of us tend to think that viral videos are usually associated with dancing babies, or children still dopey from a dentist visit, there have been many viral videos that are far more meaningful. In fact, the “most viral video” award probably goes to “Invisible Children” a 2012 video detailing the plight of imprisoned and exploited children in Uganda. It has been viewed over 100 million times.

Going viral may bring fame, and it can bring fortune as well. Monetizing content can happen in many ways, including through ad placements associated with the content, licensing its use to others, and merchandising. Even without a cash flow, a viral product will draw attention to the person, product or organization with which it is associated, and this can be worth its weight in gold.

Because of the utility of going viral, a lot of advice has appeared online purporting to give you a leg up on making your own content viral. For example, according to the ProBlogger Podcast, you can use a handy tool to take a blog post and turn it into a Facebook video that’s sure to be seen by the masses. Or, by following this step-by-step guide, you can make your visual storytelling go viral in no time.

Of course, some may argue that if the experts who advise us on how to get our content to go viral are so sure of their methods, why haven’t they figured out how to use their own tips to their own advantage. Kind of like the people who travel the country giving webinars on how to make killer apps or penetrate the mysteries of personal investing (or for that matter setting up universities to teach real estate tricks, like one celebrity did awhile back). If they know so much about how I can make money following their instructions, why are they wasting time putting on seminars? I can’t answer this question, but while you ponder it, I’d love for you to look at this compilation of great cat videos. Enjoy!

Practical Gaming

I was a fan of the idea of using games for practical purposes, long before I heard Jane McGonigle’s classic TED talk on the subject, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend strongly that you watch it. I have long believed that “all other things being equal, people respond as well or better when they’re having fun than when they aren’t” and fun and games (and humor) tend to go together.

Think back, way back and you might share one of my earliest memories of this toy scale, that was widely used to teach addition and subtraction. What is one of your first memories of using games and toys to learn something practical? Even the E-Z Bake Oven fits the description, I would argue.

But as I said, a few years pre-Jane, I had already begun experimenting with the use of online games to deliver counseling services in a fun and practical (particularly in rural areas) ways. Other multiplayer gaming-based purposes include pain management systems, training simulations, and many more.

Gamification, or the introduction of elements that are common to game play – things like competition, point tallies, trophies, badges or other recognition isn’t a new concept either. Anyone who has ever been in a sales position – be it automobiles, appliances, or insurance – is familiar with sales scoreboards and “win a weekend trip” promotions. But things are much more sophisticated and interesting now.

Introducing game elements, especially fun ones, can help businesses in a variety of areas, like recruiting great talent, corporate wellness programs, and nonprofit fundraising. Even the Harvard Business Review agrees that strategy games can be used to help solve real world business dilemmas. And you don’t have to be a large concern to utilize gamification strategies, they work for small business too!

I’m not sure where along the way we decided that “Work” is the opposite of “Play” but I am sure that the distinction is not nearly so obvious as it once might have been. Have fun!

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