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Fortune Cookies by Seth Gordon

Seth Gordon, my very good friend from college recently posted a link on his Facebook Wall to a podcast he did for the local NPR affiliate in Yellow Springs, Ohio, WYSO.  The podcast was part of a series called “This I Believe.”  Seth’s comments, “Fortune Cookies”, were on how there are small moments throughout your day that give you hope, wisdom, and calm.  He started on this thread talking about fortune cookies.  These moments allow you to make sense of the world around you, see the big picture, and, inspire you to keep on keeping on:

“I hold to the idea that unlikely sources of hope and wisdom will come at me every day if I just have the capacity to listen and engage. Sometimes they change my worldview for just a moment and sometimes they help me decide which color paint to buy.

“My ability to listen closely to the pulse of my perceived world keeps me on my toes; from wrapping my faith too tightly around the scientific or the latest one sizes fits all metaphysical formula.

“For me, the fortune taps into some primal reservoir of trust in the universe – it is the prompt for a days events; the straw that breaks some block of indecision. Words on a slip of paper are caught by sensitive brain receptors that say ‘you need to hear this.’”

Ever since I met him over ten years ago, Seth has exhibited his passion for learning.  Even greater is his ability to find inspiration in what many others may gloss over.  He meticulously absorbs details and is constantly asking himself how he can use his newfound knowledge to better his profession and the world.

His pursuit of knowledge is infectious.  Whenever he visits his family in Rhode Island, he tries to make it up to Boston.  We meet for breakfast or coffee, and he always has a new book to recommend.  We end up talking passionately about our professions, working through fresh and raw ideas.  We try them out on each other and, most important, listen.

Seth has recommended Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. While being a great read for a die-hard baseball fan like myself, the book also made me reconsider professional theatre subscription acquisition strategies.  This came at a time when I was working at New Repertory Theatre, and we were in the strategic planning for the move to the company to the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. How Moneyball changed my way of thinking, is a blog post in and of itself.  When Seth read Moneyball, he was reconsidering how small liberal arts colleges develop their admissions strategy.

Seth is a creative ambitious thinker.  His curiosity never fails him It fuels him.  I daresay his curiosity serves as inspiration and motivation.

It definitely inspires and serves as a reminder to his friends to never be satisfied, never rest on your laurels, and always be learning.

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Google Grant Implementation

Over the past few years at meetings with marketing colleagues in the Boston theatre community, I have found there to be more and more buzz about Google Grants.

What is a Google Grant?  It is in-kind Google AdWords advertising for non-profit organizations.

Online advertising still fascinates many non-profit arts organizations.  For some, it is still a great unknown or deemed a risky investment.  The traditional methods of direct mail, telemarketing, print advertising, and e-communications (yes, it is now well established and “old”) are used.  Budgets are tight and a high return on investment is needed.  This reduces the amount of risk marketing staffs are willing to take.

Also, I would speculate that many non-profits prioritize internet marketing strategy lower than more traditional or comfortable strategies.  That being said, when an organization is given an opportunity to use up to $10,000 per month in Google AdWords advertising, it is difficult to pass up.  Especially when the advertising is considered, for all intents and purposes, free.

However, just because something is free, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valid opportunity.  Instead, like every other opportunity, it should be maximized for the fullest benefit in both the short and long term.  A Google Grant is a booster shot–a significant jump start—which, if implemented correctly, can provide a solid foundation for an internet marketing strategy, bolstering a non-profit organization’s web traffic and potential reach.

This is what Google has in mind, too.  An organization that consistently uses $9,000 of the $10,000 per month grant for three consecutive months may be eligible to have the grant increased to $40,000 per month in Google AdWords.

In order to maximize the potential long-term benefits of a Google Grant, a non-profit cannot only rely on the $10,000 per month AdWords spend. In addition it can invest in an overall internet marketing strategy which includes Search Engine Optimization.

Last year, Hubspot had an article on their blog “Stopping The Google AdWords Morphine Drip: How We Saved $183 Last Week”.  This article is reminds us all that other ways exist to drive traffic to an organization’s website.  At his talk, “SEO 101: Search Engine Optimization Basics” from the Inbound Marketing Summit, Dharmesh Shah, followed this comparison by reminding everybody that the Google AdWords system is a bidding system–meaning that as time passes the cost of having a specific ad appear as sponsored result will go up.

Google Grants has imposed some discipline in the bidding process for executing a grant with a maximum bid of $1.00 per click.  You can read a full explanation of all the restrictions here. Here are the key elements:

  1. Maximum bid of $1.00 per click.
  2. Relevant, mission-based keywords and advertisements.
  3. Ongoing, active management of the organization’s advertising campaign.

Google acknowledges that advertising on some words may not be possible.  Instead, the organization will have to find other relevant words on which to advertise.  While this may be a disappointment to the organization, it may wish to contemplate when the cost of other essential and important keywords may also become out of reach or above the $1.00 bid.  This is one of the key reasons why the Google-imposed $1.00 maximum bid provides an impetous for the organization to find other ways to be found online.  What the Google Grant provides is a window of opportunity for the organization to be found in a major search engine while it, at the same time, works on optimizing its website to be found through organic search.

In order to strategically implement a Google Grant, I would make the following five suggestions:

  1. Develop a keyword list through brainstorming how people would find your product through organic search.  When developing this list prioritize relevance to the organization’s mission over the traffic from the specific word.
  2. Strategically implement the Google Grant on a large number of relevant keywords maximizing the daily spend. Test your advertising text, consistently tweaking it for the highest click-through rate.
  3. Install a free analytics program like Google Analytics which will help you to start gathering data on how people find you on their website and what they do when they land there.
  4. From the beginning of your grant’s implementation, plan for the time when you will no longer, within the confines of the grant, be able to bid on specific keywords.  Do this through allocating part of your budget on internet marketing and search engine optimization.
  5. If you don’t have one on staff already, hire an internet marketing strategist to review and optimize your online presence, and your reach in Google.
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Abusing Social Media in Fast Company, November 2008

The November 2008 edition of Fast Company has a great article (“Abusing Social Media”) about how companies are experimenting with the latest technology tools and, instead of reaping the rewards, are embarrassing themselves online.

“Thanks for nothing, Web 2.0. With each sexy bit of social media that catches fire with users, lame companies get another fresh opportunity to pretend they know how to connect with customers without understanding what they’re doing. No business is abandoning traditional advertising in favor of these gimmicky, halfhearted efforts. They’re just abandoning any self-respect they once possessed. Whee!” “Abusing Social Media”, Fast Company, November 2008.

What’s unfortunate about these major failures and their use of social media is that other organizations are hearing their stories and are staying away or making the same mistakes.  Companies aren’t investing the time to learn how to do it right.

Take Twitter for example.  I am quite fond of this extremely popular microsharing service.  My recent tweets are posted on the sidebar of my blog.  Through using TwitterFeed, I’m able to link new posts on my blog to Twitter.  Facebook has an application where my tweets are posted as status updates.

All of this makes me more efficient in my distribution.  However, it doesn’t automatically make me a better communicator.  Improving those skills takes time.  I need to listen to what is being said to me and thoughtfully respond.  And, I do mean, thoughtfully.  With the constraint of 140 characters the requirement to be concise, brief, and effective is definitely a good thing.  I’m often teased for being long-winded.  I respond to those jabs with: “I just like being thorough in my communications and conversations!”

The Fast Company article brings up companies that are tweeting their press releases rather than using it to build relationships and community.  Note to companies: This isn’t building a relationship, it’s broadcasting.

The embarrassing usages of social media aren’t about how the technology isn’t good or an effective use of time (remember time equals money). Instead it is about forgetting how to communicate.

These companies as well as many non-profit organizations still believe that the internet is just a broadcast medium–if they put their information out there, of course, everybody is going to read or listen to it.  You can’t just “blast” it out there and hope for the best.  This isn’t a Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” medium.

What these companies have forgotten is that they have to do some listening to their current customers and some research to discover where they hang out online.  They have to spend time to cultivating the relationships.  It isn’t enough to just have your information or event posted online, you have to make sure your constituencies can find you.  To solve that, maybe you should do some inbound marketing.

Over the weekend I started reading Groundswell.  There was an interesting thought about ratings sites that I’ll paraphrase here:  If company starts to receive negative reviews about the product, it isn’t because people are out to get the company.  It may actually be that there are problems in the product.

The same holds true for internet marketing.  If you have an event on a social media site that only a few people have RSVPed for or you don’t have that many followers on Twitter, or your patrons are ignoring you online, it may not be because they aren’t interested or that they don’t like you.

Instead, it may be that there are problems with your strategy: You’re broadcasting instead of communicating and building relationships.

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