Exploring God Through Old Media, Social Media and Content Marketing

Questions about the impact of social media on religion are as old as social media — although certainly not as old as religion.

Many other bloggers and journalists have opined on the topic, books have been written about it, and a Google Scholar search turns up more than a million results.

There are the major players like the Pope who’s “Selfie Blows Up Twitter,” the grassroots themes of sunrises and sunsets inspiring digital adoration of God as artist, and even the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced that missionaries will do less door-to-door proselytizing, and instead, use the Internet to recruit new church members.a billboard in Austin, TX, with #ExploreGod on it

But much closer to my home, I’ve been watching with great interest as billboards began popping up all over Austin with simply “#ExploreGod” on them. I only wondered a short time what it was all about before I heard at my church that we were joining more than 300 other churches in Central Texas, from at least 12 different denominations, in a four-month campaign to invite people to investigate questions about God in a non-threatening way.

It was evident that social media was part of this campaign when billboards sporting hashtags popped up, but ExploreGod pulled off a truly integrated marketing campaign with their website, out of home advertising, online video, DVDs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, livestreaming broadcasts of Q&A forums, daily messages that could be delivered to your inbox or cell phone, and… of course, the powerful word of mouth from the pulpit with a sermon series on seven common questions about God and faith. Talk about your content creation!

My own weekly Bible study group made up of members from two different non-denominational Christian churches, and one mostly agnostic skeptic that likes to play devil’s advocate, has been using the DVDs and study guide.  Last week’s question of “Is Christianity Too Narrow?” was one of my favorites so far.

The well-produced videos have sparked good conversation, although our agnostic hasn’t really changed his stance. But, I don’t think the goal was really conversion, so much as encouraging conversation.

Too many people proclaiming their Christianity today are doing a lot of talking about what they think God wants people to do and believe, but they’re doing little listening and showing little grace, and this creates an environment where other Christians fear conversation about their beliefs will alienate or offend. So ExploreGod says, “If our work here can start a good conversation and give you something valuable to think about in your own life, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”

For that I applaud them. And as a communicator, I admire them for their ability to create such expansive content, leveraging just about every modern marketing tool plus the old reliable ones, and to bring together hundreds of different congregations in support of it.

Surprisingly, the church with the Instagraming Pontiff was not one of them.

Oh the Drama That is Girl Scout Cookie Time

National Girl Scout Cookie Day - February 8, 2012I don’t know why I’m feeling compelled today to defend something that I’m not unhappy to hear my daughter doesn’t want to do next year, but here I am about to do it.

A blog post came across my radar today about a Girl Scout, who after participating in a tweetchat to promote a website she’d created to raise funds to donate cookies to U.S. military troops, was told she couldn’t collect those donations through PayPal.

Using language like “@GirlScouts Crush [my emphasis] a Girl’s Social Good” and describing the Girl Scouts has having “utter ignorance to social media,” the post weaves a tale of overinvolved parents, jealousy, double-standards and backstabbing that could fit easily into a TV drama series.

Now, as I stated in my own comment on that post – one of more than 80 comments so far – I’m not going to say the whole Girl Scout cookie sales process is perfect. I’ve joked to friends that the mafia could probably learn a thing or two from Girl Scouts when it comes to controlling territory as tightly as booth locations and staffing are managed. And, there’s been drama aplenty in our own little troop when parents take it too much upon themselves to help their daughters succeed.

But, I feel compelled to come to the organization’s defense regarding their knowledge of social media. And, to point out that there are two different issues at play in this situation: online payments and competitive parents.  The first might be changing for the better and the second appears to be changing for the worse.

According to a Seattle Times story, while there have always been hard-to-please parents, some experts say parental micromanagement has gone mainstream: “Overinvolved parents and overscheduled children are the recommended ways to raise children these days,” said Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, co-author of ‘The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.’ “And it’s really not to anyone’s good.”

“Some parents have a terrible fear that they won’t turn out to be good parents so they overcompensate by trying too hard. Some might be filling their own need to be as perfect in parenting as they are in other areas of their lives. These parents often find themselves competing with other parents out of a fear that their children will be less advanced than their peers, or even left behind, socially or academically,” said Dr. Alexandra Barzvi, Clinical Director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Institute at the NYU Child Study Center.

This type of competition can drive parents to get into fist fights at sporting events or to go overboard trying to make sure their daughter is the top cookie seller. This type of behavior is actively discouraged by the Girl Scout organization, though. When I witnessed it first-hand, I didn’t blame the Scouts, I blamed the parent.

Now the other issue involved in the story of the girl who couldn’t use PayPal is leveraging social media and new technologies. The blog author said “I for one will not support an organization that sells a product using methods that are so clearly out of date that it is in no way preparing their children members for the realities of the world today.”

I believe this statement itself is not made with a full picture of what Girl Scouts is doing to leverage technology, and more specifically, social media. You can find the Girl Scouts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr and their own blog. Just today my local Council sent out a link through Facebook to new cover photo images that moms like me could add to their Facebook profiles to let our friends know we can connect them to a “cookie professional.”

Yes, there’s room for improvement because these were targeted primarily at moms while there are cookie dads out there, too; but, maybe some involved dads will point this out to them and they’ll add more. People may wonder if that conflicts with discouraging parents from selling and whether that illustrates that they aren’t encouraging the girls themselves to use social media. Well… if they’re under 13 years of age they’re not supposed to have a Facebook profile per the site’s Terms of Service. The reality is a much smaller percentage of girls stay in Girl Scouts as teenagers. And, there is one image that they could use because it doesn’t mention being a mom.

But, back to the blogger’s contention that Girl Scouts methods of selling are out-of-date because they don’t allow for individual girls to set up PayPal accounts to accept funds. While online payments are not currently allowed (and we’re all told this up front), Girl Scouts are now making credit card transactions possible through the use of smartphone technology. Some Councils are using Sage and seeing great results, while ours has leveraged North American Bancard to provide me with a “swiper” we can use whenever someone doesn’t have cash, or just prefers the convenience.

I don’t have all the inside information into why online payments aren’t currently allowed, but I can think of a couple of things to be considered before the organization goes there.

One is the fact that approximately 70 percent of cookie proceeds stay in the local Girl Scout council and with individual troops to provide a portion of the resources needed to support Girl Scouting in that area. The balance goes to the baker to pay for the cookies. Girl Scout councils do not provide any portion of their cookie revenue to Girl Scouts of the USA. While, yes, my daughter can sell cookies to my family in another state, if she were to open an online shop, it takes the out-of-region selling to a whole new level.

Another consideration is the girls’ own safety. Girl Scouts going online and potentially giving out personally identifying information such as full names, location, school name, troop number, etc., goes against the basics of online safety for kids. Something awareness of was trying to be increased by yesterday’s Safer Internet Day.

I sure hope the 11-year-old participating in that tweetchat had read Girl Scouts Tips for Girls for Social Media before going online, and perhaps had taken their Online Etiquette quiz, and signed the Girl Scout Internet Safety Pledge. And, hopefully her parents read Girl Scouts Tips for Parents for Social Media before letting her open a Twitter account – something that is also against Twitter’s Terms of Service.

And, if you want any more proof that Girl Scouts embrace social media and other modern marketing methods, just see what The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal shared about National Cookie Day activity in The Big Apple.

So, while one blog writer and a few of his commenters will be boycotting Girl Scouts and their cookie selling, I hope others will not follow suit. Not because my daughter wants to win an iPad for selling 1,000 cookies, or whatever; but, rather so she will continue to build her business skills and her troop will be able to enjoy an educational – and, yes, fun – overnight camp-out at Sea World.

Please download the Official Girl Scout Cookie Finder app (iOS or Android) and support your local “cookie professional’ this Friday on National Girl Scout Cookie Day and every other day!

Was the Super Bowl a Twitter Win or a Facebook Loss?

FootballI got a lot of retweets this morning when I tweeted a link to a Marketing Land article titled “Game Over: Twitter Mentioned in 50% Of Super Bowl Commercials, Facebook Only 8%, Google+ Shut Out.” The fact that these statistics are so different from last year’s, when Twitter and Facebook both tied with only eight mentions is, I think, why it grabbed so many people’s attention.

With 24.1 million tweets about the game and halftime show, and probably at least as many if not more about the advertisements, it’s easy to say Twitter won the game.

Then there’s also the fact that brand usage of Twitter beyond putting hashtags into commercials is getting a lot of attention. Like the way names such as OREO and Tide quickly moved to capitalize on the loss of power in the Superdome by tweeting witty commentary and images that joined the thousands of other jokes being made at the time. Or the fact that it only took four minutes into the blackout for names like Bud Light and Speed Stick to bid on ads for search terms such as “power outage.”

What it got me to wondering, though, is could the brand love for Twitter be a backlash to the EdgeRank changes at Facebook? As much as Facebook has denied holding page owner’s updates ransom for ad dollars, the fact remains that pages are still not reaching as many fans as they used to reach. I see this first-hand on the Social Media for Business page I manage where the reach to our 55,000+ fans certainly fluctuates, but with much lower lows and lower highs than it did back in September 2012. And I hear about it from small business owners like the one who recently reached out to me for advice because she noticed her status updates weren’t getting to her followers and she wondered what she might be doing wrong.

She isn’t doing anything wrong. She’s doing many things right. And while I can give her advice such as encouraging users to request notifications from her page, or giving more calls to action, the even the stock market analysts at Seeking Alpha were calling out what’s happening as recently as January 23:

“…revenues grew on the back of Facebook page owners having to pay twice to show their fans page content. After Facebook altered their algorithm for Fan page posts appearing in users’ news feeds, back in the last quarter of 2012, fan page administrators could not reach all of their acquired users with just a simple post. In order to reach their existing fans, brands had to pay for promoted posts in order to see more ‘viral’ reach. This also gave Facebook a boost in revenues.”

And this, I think, is one of the reasons Twitter won the Super Bowl. I think Facebook page owners from small mom & pop stores to large corporations are getting frustrated with Facebook’s still-mysterious-after-all-those-explanations algorithm for reaching the people who have obviously indicated they want their information by “liking” their page. Twitter feels so much more unfiltered.

Add to that the speed and agility of the platform – five minutes after the lights went out, the @superbowllights parody account was already up and tweeting – and Twitter becomes the place to be for events.

Image via Creative Commons courtesy Rosh Sillars.

The Press Release: Just Walk Away PR

The press release won’t die.

When asked if it will, Wendy Artman of GroundFloor Media says, “I will always respond by saying absolutely not! When pitching reporters, more often than not they ask for a release.”

But, the press release’s audience has really become anyone on the internet. One idea to take it forward is to trade it for a blog post.

Jeremy Porter, co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a blog about public relations and journalism topics thinks, as I do, that there is little return on the investment in creating and distributing a press release. “The results tend to be pretty lackluster, even from those fancy multimedia or social news releases. There has to be a better way, and I think that way is a news blog,” he says.

I agree – with the caveat that the blog can’t just be filled with typical press release jargon.
Most Overused Jargon in Press Releases
Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

One UK brand makes no bones about using press releases on their blog, creatively titled: “Masteel Corporate Blog: Latest News, Press Releases & Announcements” But, they’re not alone. A Google search of “corporate blog press release” will turn up many that openly state their intention to post press releases on their blog.

I tend to side with people like Mindy Withrow, a content strategist at Hanson, who suggested the difference between a press release and a blog post is that the first makes an announcement while the second initiates a conversation (at least that’s the hope of those of us who do blog). A good example from Mindy of how a blog post should be different from a press release is that of a product launch. She says, “Leave the SKUs for the press release but interview the inventor on the blog about what inspired the product.”

Getting beyond the press release as blog post is a conversation Dell’s Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca and I certainly had back in the early days when we were launching Direct2Dell and it remains part of his tips for business blogging: “Provide an inside look. Content should complement, but also offer a different view than corporate website content, press releases, and other brand communications.”

This doesn’t mean it simply becomes the dumping ground for anything not deemed “press release worthy.”

While PRNewswire might posit that press releases are “authoritative statements” to which blogs are more supplement, if blogs are really going to replace the press release they must become the primary means of news distribution rather than the supplement.

So where does this leave us today and where can we take it tomorrow? Here’s my two cents.

Just Because It Won’t Die, You Don’t Have to Feed It

Public relations professionals should just walk away from the press release. It’s a zombie that will only eat our brains. It doesn’t reach our intended audience and therefore provides little return on the investment in time and wire distribution services. For those that can’t go cold turkey, at least consider a “press release diet.”
Do Not Feed the Zombie
Instead of spending time killing yourself a little every day trying to get non-jargon-y content and interesting quotes through of a committee of sales, marketing and legal teams, spend that time getting to know the journalists and bloggers that are interested in what your business does. And those who aren’t, but you truly believe their readers are – which is even harder. Follow them on social media, engage in conversation without a motive, be helpful even when it isn’t going to gain column inches.

Zombies are very trendy these days, though, and there is return on a press release in regards to the creation of online content that improves SEO and provides collateral for sales teams. Therefore, the press release as a tool should move to the domain of marketing. No more arguing about whether a topic is worthy of a press release or not – if marketing wants to pay for the distribution, let them do it. PR teams can reinvest that budget into things like training on how to write for blogs, or online newsrooms, if you will, so that they become the go-to source for information.

Oh Brothers and Sisters Where Art Thou?

And now I’ve spoken my piece and I’ve counted to three. (for those who don’t get that reference)

If only it were that cut and dry. Just because this is what I believe, that doesn’t mean you won’t see my name as the contact on a release coming across the wire in the future. I’m but one person with an idea. If you agree or disagree with the idea, let me know. Perhaps we can’t change today, but we can set the stage for change tomorrow.

Zombie image via Creative Commons by patricneckman

Chart from Ragan’s PR Daily, February 2012

The Press Release: Public Relations Marketing Tool

So, to quickly recap yesterday’s post, the press release did not die, but was also not resuscitated by a new social media version. It remains an undead communication tool that its original target – journalists – has no interest in receiving via a typical wire distribution.

But, there is someone who loves the zombie press release – marketing.

Before I get into why they still desire it, I want to take a look at what has historically differentiated marketing from public relations.

Blurred Lines Between Marketing and Public Relations

Whether it has to do with writing styles or social media responsibilities, marketing and public relations have often butted heads. In some organizations, they are separate departments, while in others one falls under the other. Historically, they do have differences.

Public relations as we know it today traces its origin back Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays, although its roots go back even deeper into military propaganda. But, it is all about communicating to publics – the members of the public may or may not be potential customers of the company for which public relations professionals work. In my current public relations role, I like to describe what I do as a liaison. My company has a story they want to tell, so I build relationships with people who can hopefully help me tell it. And, those people often have their own stories to tell, so I help get them the information they need from my company to help tell it.

Marketing is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1 – a: the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market, b: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” So, the main difference is that marketing communications is intended to sell a product, while PR-led communications may or may not. The other big difference I’ve encountered working both sides is that marketing most often means spending money for placement. That could be placement in a snail mail box, an email inbox, on a web site, in a print publication, on a broadcast channel or in social media.

While the two have often clashed over lines of responsibility that occasionally blur, social media has only served to make it worse. Should PR and Marketing be lumped together? Or should they be treated as separate endeavors? That question was put to Kent State University PR professors Bill Sledzik and Dr. Bob Batchelor and their answers are well worth the six minutes to watch:

Back to the more specific topic of the press release, though, and how Marketing and PR often clash over it. While not limited in supply like Elaine’s contraception, the most common disagreement I’ve experienced centers around whether something is “press release worthy” or not. PR professionals worry that too many releases simply become noise to be ignored and that scarcity will create more interest when they do distribute one (although the journalist survey noted in yesterday’s post would seem to make that argument moot).

Marketing looks at every release as an opportunity to get the word out about their company’s products and services, and in this online-always age where news aggregator sites suck up any and all release that cross the wire, they’re right. The release is no longer restricted to a media audience that then chooses what they feel will be of interest to their readers. It’s now in almost every potential customers view when they visit their Google or Yahoo! homepage or their favorite news web site.

Enter SEO

And then there are the search engines! Now every press release must be search-engine optimized so that it will surface if someone is researching your company, product or service. That someone might be a journalist or blogger, so this becomes not only a marketing need, but also a public relations need. The smaller the company, the more important this becomes, too.

While having one of those “news release worthy” discussions not too long ago, someone made the case for a release for SEO purposes, and I countered with a question about Google’s Penguin update and its penalties for duplicate content. Wouldn’t a press release on the wire that shows up on hundreds of web sites word-for-word actually work against us under the update?

It turns out, as best I could find, the answer is no. (My attempt at playing an SEO card thus reminding me the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) Even though BusinessWire came out with a “Penguin-proof Your Press Release” webinar, Google itself explains that:

“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

Since Google knows that news aggregator sites have a legitimate purpose to pulling in press releases, they’re not going to be seen as using the duplicate content to deceive the search engine. So, press releases can remain a way to create that content that is ever more important for marketing today.

Thus, a release becomes yet another piece of marketing collateral. It’s something that sales representatives can point customers to, although whether or not it still carries third-party validation in their eyes when it shows up on MarketWatch or not is another debate for another post.

Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release

But, if the goal of marketing professionals is to create content through press releases, increase SEO and give sales teams collateral, why not simply turn to blogging and keep that wire distribution noise to a lower level?

This past summer, I compared two announcements my group made near the same time – one as a press release and one as a blog post. In my opinion, they were about equal on the “press release worthy” scale. What I found was that the press release garnered four unique articles, while the blog post received nine unique placements. Granted three of the nine were in the UK, where there was additional outreach via a “media alert” email to key media, but still, a blog post was obviously just as – if not more – effective than a press release.

But, is it good for a blog to be the equivalent of a press release? I’ll save that for the next post, along with my final thoughts on the subject of the press release.

The Press Release: Zombie Apocalypse Proof

Has it already been six years since Tom Foremski’s “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” rant made such noise? And yet, the press release is still not dead. Perhaps it has moved to the realm of the undead.

And while zombies are quite popular these days, the press release is still not without its haters. I, myself, don’t exactly hate it, but I have come to ponder if public relations professionals should just walk away from it.

Why continue to argue with marketing professionals who look at a press release as collateral for the sales teams or simply additional online content to raise search engine rankings? Why beat our head against that wall trying to explain that it should only be used to announce actual news?

The Age of the Social Media Press Release

After Tom’s blog post suggesting the old-style formula release be replaced with a new media age version that had special sections and would “tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful,” there was a valiant effort to resuscitate the press release for new media outlets.

Social Media Press Release Template - Shift Media

A lot of effort went into discussing how to make the content of a press release more interactive and compelling. Todd Defren and the good folks at Shift created a template for it. And Chris Heuer, founder of the Social Media Club tried to bring a larger community together to build on that template. New businesses like Pitch Engine were founded and all the old wire distribution services were eventually forced to incorporate new elements to keep up with the competition.

Did this usher in a new era?

Ian Capstick checked in on the progress of this movement four years later in a post for the MediaShift blog and said “It seems there’s still work to be done in making the social media release a new standard in public relations.”.

Yes, a lot of work, I’d say. And the larger the organization, the harder it is to produce. As an example, someone on the product team might be responsible for photography and video creation. Someone in a marketing team could be producing videos, too, along with other campaign assets. This could include social media elements like a blog post, or there could be a separate social media team that is creating those, as well as Facebook elements. Or, the PR lead could even be writing a blog post and tweeting about it. And who’s in charge of getting the product photos on Google+ and Pinterest?

All that to say that creating a social media press release in a large organization is the proverbial cat herding exercise. It’s a lot of effort to create a press release with the type of multi-media and multi-social network elements Foremski wanted and I’m not convinced it’s worth it. Capstick spoke with one PR agency president for his 2010 post who said, “I don’t think the news release is dead. It’s still a useful communications tool. But that’s what it is: A device that helps tell a story”

What Journalists Really Want

So it tells a story, but to whom? The main audience that public relations people generally try to reach is the media – be that the traditional mainstream variety or the influential blogger variety. And press releases sent on the wire are not reaching that public. At least not with any effect.

For the past six years PWR has surveyed journalists to learn about their news release preferences and in both 2011 and 2012 results, most respondents told them they “never” get releases via wire service. Their preferred method to receive information is that old workhorse email.

PWR Journalist Survey Results

As best I can tell, this is primarily a survey of American journalists, but even as some of the percentages might change around the globe, I’d be surprised – based on conversations with my global colleagues – if wire service overtook the lead in any of them.

But, there is still one group that seems to find getting a press release out via wire distribution very important – the marketing professional. My next post will take a look at another undead topic – that of public relations vs. marketing.

Note: While I currently sit in a public relations role, I have worked on the marketing side of this aisle, too; so while I’m writing this post with my PR hat on, I do understand what it’s like to wear the marketing hat, as well.

Shazam Moves from Song ID Service to the QR Code for Television

Shazam the mobile app, if you’re not already familiar with it, is not the comic book character you may remember. Or the t-shirt Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon likes to wear (here with a matching red Dell XPS laptop <wink>).Sheldon - Shazam - XPS

No, this is a company started in 2002, “even before the advent of smartphones,” according to their web site. They began as a service designed to connect people in the UK with music they heard but didn’t know. It now boasts 200 million users in 200 countries, and of course, several competitors like BMAT, Splash.fm, StumbleAudio (no longer in service) and SoundHound.

I’ve not used any of those competitors, but I have used Shazam a few times and it’s always done a good job of identifying songs for me – even when I tested it with some obscure Blues. But, the story today is no longer whether Shazam or SoundHound is the better way to identify that song you just heard. So what if SoundHound is growing fast and now passed 80 million users?

Shazam has already moved on beyond the user-as-product format that makes growth in users its main hope for profitability. Now they’ve got media powerhouses like Billboard magazine writing headlines for it like this “Billboard Music Awards: Biggest Televised Event in Shazam’s History After Super Bowl, Grammys.”

FastCompany was talking this time last year about “Shazam’s Second Act,” noting that the company had set its sites on becoming a “large-scale consumer platform for the discovery of all kinds of entertainment and content.”

I first really noticed it back in October 2011 when I tweeted props to Progressive insurance for being, well, progressive, and using Shazam rather than Facebook or Twitter in a television commercial. Someone else saw one of those commercials even earlier and felt the experience could use some improvement.

I’ve been seeing more and more commercials with Shazam recently and got to thinking that it could be television’s answer to the QR code. Apparently, I’m not the first to make that analogy.

  • Eliot Van Buskirk asked on evolver.fm back in February if audio was the new QR code and noted “It’s not just about ads — it’s also about providing the much-vaunted ‘second screen’ experience, which allows fans to augment their experience of television entertainment with stuff that goes along with what they’re seeing on the screen.”
  • Diary of Traveling Souls did a nice comparison of two companies’ ads that use Shazam and how one scored where another (the Progressive one mentioned previously) failed.
  • Cory O’Brien wrote about it on The Future of Ads and imagined “out of home campaigns that use small speakers to play audio that’s beyond the reach of human hearing, but can be picked up by the phone to connect the ad with a mobile experience.”

But back to the news that SoundHound passed Shazam in user base. If you haven’t already heard, the phrase this sort of mile-marker announcement brings about is something to the effect of if you’re not paying for it; you’re the product.

SoundHound is still currently banking on those 80 million users to be their product, while Shazam is working with Madison Avenue to create a product they sell to brands. And, potentially even bigger, if their recent attempt to sell MIB3 tickets through the app works, they will have successfully shortened the sales funnel from broadcast to back pocket.

SoundHound looks like they’re trying to do a quick follow of Shazam into more media integration with the recent hire of a former Pandora executive as their new vice president of advertising strategy and sales, and the promise of “incredible opportunities for brands to participate.”

But, to keep the original QR code analogy going here, I’d wager they’ll be the equivalent of Microsoft’s Tag.

Group Couponing: Maybe Good for Some, But Probably Not for All

“Like the world needs another one of those.”

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 10:  The Groupon logo is en...

That was the snarky comment I heard myself saying in a meeting this week where someone said of a mobile application that was being discussed that it could eventually be a way of delivering a group coupon buying service.

I guess the guild is just off the lily for me with such services as Groupon and LivingSocial. That’s not to say I haven’t had good experiences with them.

My first Groupon purchase worked perfectly for both me and the restaurant that was participating. It was a fondue place that we’d been to before, but didn’t frequent often because it’s a little more expensive than we want to spend most nights out. The Groupon worked for us because we were able to save $20, which made it a bit more bearable on the pocket book. It worked for the restaurant because it brought us back in sooner than we might have come, and of course, we spent a little more than just the coupon amount.

With that experience under my belt, I dove into the group coupon buying crowd with much confidence. It soon waned, however.

First there was the housecleaning service that assured me when I called them prior to making the coupon purchase that they could get someone out to my house prior to a Christmas party, but then said they were booked when calling after the purchase. Then, it was the spa package bought in January that said they were booked and to call back in March to try again, only to tell me in March that they couldn’t fit me in until October.  And the last one I tried for a photo package at a mall chain store ended when I walked by the store to see it dark and a sign taped on the door explaining they’d not been able to pay their rent.

The coupon services themselves did everything right. LivingSocial refunding my purchase of the spa package without fuss and on the same day I requested it. They also sent out notice of refunds on the photography package before I even got around to asking about that one.

Based just on my experience, I’d say that these sort of promotions aprobably work best with companies that are more product based than service based. Meaning, it’s a lot easier to simply give a discount on a meal – they’ve been doing those sort of coupons in newspapers and direct mail for ages – than it is to meet a surge in demand for cheap housecleaning and massages.

No, it’s not the couponing service, but the businesses that use it that have had trouble delivering what is promised.

But that doesn’t mean the coupon providers aren’t in trouble. As VC Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital put it, “Everybody and their brother has entered this space. There’s really not that much they do.

Yes, when Travel Zoo suddenly started adding “local deals” at restaurants here in Austin similar to the one I’d first purchased from Groupon to the weekly emails I get from them on hotel specials and flight deals, that’s when I agreed with Simon Dumenco that they’d jumped the shark.

I mean, group coupons for real estate? Really?

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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The Twelfth Night Brings Shakespeare and Marketing

On the twelfth night of my blogging challenge, my muse gave to me … Shakespeare.

What is love? This not hereafter.

Present mirth hath present laughter.

What’s to come is still unsure.

In delay there lies no plenty.

Come and kiss me sweet and twenty.

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

It’s the one piece of poetry I still remember from high school English and I always thought it was one of Shakespeare’s sonnets; but, when I looked it up to see if I’d really remembered it correctly (I did – gold star for me) I found out it was actually from his play Twelfth Night.

This is actually the second time that Shakespeare has come to me recently. Last time, it was in the form of a keynote address at the March 2011 iMedia Brand Summit.

Shakespearean scholar, and iMedia’s chief content officer, Brad Berens gave a lively presentation on
what today’s brand marketers can learn from William Shakespeare.

It was different as marketing conference keynotes go, but enjoyable, and now you can enjoy it too:

Rumored Twitter Brand Pages: Boost or Bane?

One of the links most often shared in my twitterstream today was to this ReadWriteWeb article “Twitter to Offer Brand Pages Like Facebook’s, Report Says.”

And it led to this brief conversation (who says Twitter is just broadcast?)

Twitter discussion thread
My thought was that I could see a benefit if it was more of a landing page than something like a Facebook fan page – less a place to interact and more a place to find out how/where to connect with a brand on Twitter.

There’s a need for that sort of page that led to the creation at my company of www.dell.com/twitter. But that page could be so much better and something integrated into Twitter might make it that much easier to manage and keep updated.

That would be my hope anyway.

What think you? Would company profile pages on Twitter be a boost or a bane?