Monday, March 29, 2010

The Business Card Is Dead

Long live contact information.

Over the past few weeks, at more than one business presentation and network mixer—including #SMCNH (Social Media Club New Hampshire), #SMBNH (Social Media Breakfast New Hampshire), #mtosummit (MTO Summit) and others—more than one professional greeted my request for his or her business card with the response that he or she didn't have one, but "it doesn't really matter. We'll just follow each other on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. What's your name? Mine's..." These professionals' heads then turned downward as they buried themselves in their BlackBerry or iPhone or Android or whatever and looked for me online—right there, on the spot.

What? At some of these gatherings, as I proceeded to look at my nametag and my newfound contact's, I recalled that event staff had encouraged us to include our Twitter user names on them. But even at the events where our Twitter handles were not displaying on our nametags, early adopters everywhere were eschewing the business card, instead going straight for the social media site or installed mobile application of their choice, either to connect or to record my contact information. As I handed these folks my business card, a feeling of slight embarrassment replaced the feeling of pride that has usually accompanied the notion that, "Hey, I have an official business card to share with you."

Of all the holdovers from the days of hard copy marketing collateral, the business card has seemed ironclad, its domain sacred and impenetrable by the otherwise unstoppable march of technology. "People will always trade business cards" we've all heard, and even now, rarely will someone say the business card is no longer a necessity. But the business card as we know it is dying. No longer a multipurpose tool, more and more its role is becoming relegated. More and more, the business card is becoming a statement of brand just as easily expressed elsewhere, and the contact information traditionally found on it is now available just as readily (and more easily stored and remembered) elsewhere, as well.

Sure, only those on the cutting edge of social media attended some of these events, but even so, the trend away from hard copy business cards is undeniable. Mobile technology is driving this change, and while many may rue the business card's demise and the loss of the tangible—count me among the Luddites in this matter—the alternative is in fact preferable; the easy exchange and storage of contact information has always been the primary purpose of the business card, and technology has rendered the traditional business card no longer the easiest way to exchange and store contact information. It's as simple as that.

For instance, savvy readers may already know of the iPhone Business Card for ActiveRain:

Another is Catcher in the Sky's Name Catcher:

Applications such as these facilitate the exchange of information during the initial business encounter. With them, the process is often to take a new contact's photo and then record the associated phone number, e-mail address, Twitter user name, LinkedIn profile URL, blog address, pertinent notes about the first meeting, and more into a dynamic, searchable and Web-enabled interface, usable whenever you find a need to get in touch with that person. With a hard copy business card, you must remember and find the time to record and store all the typically handwritten information later. Unless you're extremely organized, that can be the end of it, and unless the data is tailored for mobile technology, that information can be challenging (or just a plain old nuisance) to retrieve later.

Technology's battalions have exploited the old world's latest weak spot. The next time you go to an event where technology types congregate, see for yourself. As you proceed to obtain new contacts' information, take note of their attitudes toward business cards. Whether they're using a BlackBerrry or iPhone or Android or whatever, their responses may lead you to conclude as I have.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Re-tweets: Bigger Is Better—Three Ways to Get Re-Tweeted by Tweeters Who Matter Most

Yes, it's true, and for anyone who makes due with small re-tweets, I hate to be the bearer of bad news: If you haven't got a big re-tweet, any re-tweet will do, but bigger is better, and Twitter users everywhere ought to be vying for that big re-tweet. Why? A big re-tweet brings with it big visibility, and big visibility brings with it success on Twitter—but only when developed and cultivated in a methodical way. In other words, you need to know how to use that big re-tweet, or it'll do little for you. The consolation is this: That big re-tweet is anything but complicated to get. Just provide the valuable information (whether it be your own or someone else's) and sprinkle it with wisdom. Oh, and make sure you're in the right place at the right time.

Last week, yours truly lived a mini case study in what the big re-tweet is like. About a month ago, I joined the Twitter list of SmartBrief on Social Media, an aggregator of information pertaining to search and social media. SmartBrief distributes its e-mail newsletter daily to thousands. Earlier that day, I had seen an article at MediaPost Blogs that asked whether or not B2B companies ought to embrace social media in 2010. I thought this would be useful for my followers to see, so I tweeted a link to the article and tied the notion to the trade show industry.

Here's the original tweet:

brentskinner "Will B2B Companies Embrace Social Media in 2010?" Well, trade show producers should. #mtosummit

Notice that my tweet happened to include the MTO Summit's Twitter hashtag. It did so because I wanted my fellow attendees at MTO Summit to read the linked article. My hope was that as many of them would agree: Yes, the trade show industry indeed ought to embrace social media in 2010. It's a reasonable statement highly relevant to their industry—the stuff of excellent tweets, actually.

Well, imagine my surprise (and elation) when SmartBrief on Social Media noticed my tweet and not only re-tweeted me, but also featured me as the day's "Big Re-Tweet" in its afternoon e-mail distribution. Here's the publication's re-tweet of me, as it appeared on Twitter itself:

sbosm @brentskinner is the man of the hour -- and the #ireadsbosm big retweet of the day!

And here's the blurb that appeared in the e-mail newsletter:

RT @brentskinner "Will B2B Companies Embrace Social Media in 2010?" Well, trade show producers should.

…which is the language of the publication's actual re-tweet, interestingly.

Thousands probably saw the re-tweet and the word of it in the e-mail newsletter, and in a methodical way I went about making the big re-tweet work for me—following the advice I shared with you a few paragraphs ago.

First, by encouraging a handful of my closest, most trusted and best-connected followers to re-tweet the re-tweet, I effectively chased what I like to call the long tail of social media chatter. Would I have liked to do more? Sure, but I worked with the bandwidth I had that day. Additionally, I forwarded the e-mail to as many of my hottest prospects as I could think of, and in many cases, doing so reignited exciting conversations regarding deals. By at once playing the role of information curator and wisdom-sharer with one tweet that day, I capitalized on the big re-tweet in order to take a critical step in establishing myself as a thought leader in my field and as a curator of especially useful information in the Twitterverse itself.

Much of this might seem boastful, but in no way am I special. I simply worked the online ecosystem, and so can you. In fact, following are three simple tactics anyone with good ideas and tenacity can employ to get that big re-tweet that'll go a long way in getting them big results on Twitter:

1) Use hashtags liberally: Capitalize on hashtags to get your ideas in front of the Twitter users following the subject matter related to your expertise. Share your wisdom with these ad hoc communities, which display great fluidity. Some, such as #publicrelations, have great staying power; others, such as those forming around a trade show or networking event (e.g,, #mtosummit), can form quickly and organically, swell, and then, eventually, dwindle. Either kind is of great value—you never know when a key influencer will give you the big re-tweet.

2) Join lists: Created by influential thought leaders or by publications, lists automatically place your tweets on the radar of the list's creator and everyone on it. Once you tweet something perceived by that community as being of note, you may draw the big re-tweet. Several weeks ago, for instance, I joined SmartBrief on Social Media's list by following the publication's instructions to do so—i.e., by including the hashtag of #ireadsbosm in a tweet. This alerted the publication to my desire to be added to its list's roster, and being on that radar placed all my tweets on this influential publication's radar—hence, that big re-tweet.

3) Re-tweet notable tweeters: It may seem unseemly, but it isn't if you do it tactfully and mean it. Just refrain from re-tweeting others will-nilly and be sure to include your own nugget of wisdom, thus adding to the quality of the conversation. The powerful re-tweeted person's followers may very well notice your tweet, re-tweet it, and even follow you. And if that person's followers comprise your target market, you've gotten that much closer to new business.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Search Did Not Kill the Radio Star

It helped the radio star, actually -- a lot.

Think about radio advertisements. We've all heard them. Plenty of them try to be funny, probably a conscious decision on the advertiser's to make the message in some way memorable. I'm sure just about all of us laugh at some of them, anyway. Many radio advertisements are musical, as well, and I'm sure just about all of us can sing a popular local advertiser's radio jingle. Car dealerships have some of the best (and worst -- just sayin').

But what good is all the music and humor when most of us are driving as we hear these ads? We have no safe and convenient way, really, of jotting down the number; we're trying to drive, for crying out loud! For instance, I don't even attempt to write a note to myself. That would be dangerous. Put another way, radio advertisers ought to forget about me (and other potential customers) remembering to enter the brand name into a search engine later.

What I occasionally do try, however, is to punch in and dial the 800 number as I keep one hand on the steering wheel. I always hang up before someone answers, always intending to give the number, now in my call log, another try once I'm in a place to think about possibly making the purchase or learning more -- e.g., when I'm no longer driving. And almost always, by the time I get to that point, I've forgotten what the 800 number was for -- or that I'd even planned to call it later.

The circumstances beg the question: What good is a fantastic radio advertisement if the potential customer won't even think to look for the brand name online later?

Well, the question is partially legitimate, but partially based on a false premise, as well. Potential customers probably won't remember the name of the company in the advertisement they heard as they drove to work, but if they later need what that company sells and search for the keyword phrase associated with that need, they'll see the search-optimized company's brand name toward the top of the first SERP of a non-branded natural search, and the memory of the funny ad or the catchy jingle will then go far in sealing the deal.

The artificial intelligence driving mobile technology development is addressing many of these issues, of course, but the technology itself is largely not there, and presently, consumers' adoption of it is nowhere near where it needs to be to make a measurable difference, anyway. In a few short years that may change, but in the meantime, search remains the king that did not kill the radio star.