The shoes and handbags theory of building an audience

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I like good quality items.

I remember growing up and, when my dad told me that he spent $300 on his dress shoes, I thought that was a fortune! We weren't a rich family - how could we afford so much money for shoes? (Especially when me and my brothers always got ours from the discount stores.)

Dad explained that he spent that much and then wears them for many more years than he could ever wear less expensive shoes. (And since my brothers and me were all still growing, there wasn't the option of wearing shoes for more than a year.) For Dad, the fit and comfort were better and they would more than make up for the cost given how long they'd last.

Sometimes you choose quantity, sometimes you choose quality

I've never personally gotten to the point of paying premium prices for shoes because I like shoes. A lot. I like rotating them often. However, several years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first very expensive premium brand handbag. (Ahem...well, it was on clearance during a massive store sale, so I didn't pay nearly what I would have at full price, which made it easier to do.)

Months after the purchase, my premium brand handbag - unlike most I've previously purchased (and I always thought I was paying a pretty decent amount before) - was still in immaculate condition. There were no frayed edges. The leather wasn’t cracked even a little bit. It barely showed any wear at all. There were no seams pulling apart in the lining. Previously, at least one (sometimes all) of these things happened within a few months and that lovely bag I thought was so cute was not nearly as appealing anymore. That first purse has been joined by some other friends in the four years or so since. And the quality is unquestionable - even that very first bag.

What's the best kind of audience?

If a business focuses solely on quantity in building an audience - Twitter followers, Facebook likes, blog subscribers, and others - you end up always wanting more. The ten new followers you just got may not be quite right for your product/services, but seeing that jump in numbers feels so good!

Growing a large audience shouldn't be the primary goal, though growth is certainly important. Growing an audience that fits your target market and is engaging with you is a worthy goal.

Which would you rather have?

  • 10,000 followers, with 20 people who buy from you.

  • 200 followers, with 50 people who buy from you.

Personally, I'd always go with the second option.

Small and engaged wins in social media

I really enjoy my shoe collection, but it's a lot like having 10,000 followers that aren't great quality. Shoes get added and taken away, but they don't stick around long because they aren't right for long-term use.

On the other hand, that good quality handbag I got is going to be around for years and years, with fewer competitors for my attention. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m considering a shoe evolution.

So, before you ever think I "only have ## followers", first look at whether those followers fit your target market. If they do, then congratulate yourself for generating good leads and get to work engaging with them! 

What are some steps you take to grow a quality, targeted audience?

Your website is home - don't rent space somewhere else

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I visited Canada for the first time in 1995, the summer after I graduated high school. I went on tour with a singing group and for three months, we toured and performed throughout the Northwest United States and Canada. For the first time, I got to experience Canadian retail. I went to Eaton's in a mall in Vancouver, and saw three Gaps, three Guess, three of everything it seemed, at West Edmonton Mall. (I spent most of our day and a half of downtime at the mall hanging out with friends in the amusement park being amused.)

Fast forward 5 years and I moved to Canada. Eaton's, which hadn't impressed me all that much in in Vancouver, was a brand trying to revitalize itself and become known as the premium mainstream department store. When they re-opened at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa, the store was gorgeous. I had portraits done at the photo studio with Matt right after our wedding in 2001. 

But ultimately, Eaton's went away. They couldn't survive for reasons that don't matter to this analogy. They were a tool for consumers to get things they wanted or needed and nothing more. When not enough consumers consumed, the stores closed. It's happening over and over in Canadian retail these days.

Aren't you glad you got your shopping done and took your purchases home?

It seems like a strange question, right? But think about it. What if you bought things and rented space in the store to keep them? What happens to your stuff when the store suddenly shuts down? 

Content is your digital clothing

A few years ago Facebook increased the maximum number of characters in posts to 60,000. Someone figured out that is equivalent to several of the first few books of the Bible - just to put it into context for you. One of the digital marketing service providers I followed at the time decided to shut down their website because they were moving everything onto Facebook.

I stopped following them, because that one decision made me distrust their advice in other areas.

Your website is your home online. You own it. You control it. You decide what goes in the closets. You get to put out the fun and funky accessories. You get to dress it to suit your brand. You get to decide whether to stay or leave. 

Your website is a home. Your social networks are rentals.

In personal finance, the decision to buy or rent is far from simple, but when it comes to your web presence, always BUY. Do not make the mistake of renting space on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (a perfect example given recent changes), LinkedIn, Tumblr or anywhere else. Why?

Because, just like Eaton's, Target and others have shut down and left people without a tool to get what they need and want, so can any and every social network fall to the whims of change or shut down. Changes can temporarily short-circuit your efforts to reach and grow your audience. A shut-down means starting all over.

Social networks are tools

You share content to social networks to drive traffic back to your website. That's the goal. Here's why:

  1. Your website shows the real you with no interference from Facebook, Twitter, or other social network elements. It reflects your brand (or it should).

  2. Your website is usually where your service offerings live. It's the place that prospective clients can peek in your kitchen drawers to find the right tools or ingredients to cook up what they need. Or - at the very least - it's a starting point.

  3. Your website is owned by you. As long as you're paying the mortgage (hosting) and maintaining your site, it isn't going anywhere. Even when the power goes out, it will come back on because it's yours.

You don't own Facebook, Twitter or any of the other hundreds of networks you use as tools for promotion. Renting is fine when you need physical shelter, but it's only a tool when it comes to your web presence. 

Automation gone horribly wrong (and how to fix it)

Disclaimer: The following post is a hot plate of opinion overflowing with a steaming heap of advice,  and garnished with snark. It was inspired by someone who mentioned TrueTwit. (Enough said, right?) Continue at your own risk. Also, there are many words. Grab a drink and enjoy.


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I'm a huge fan of automation. The whole point of automating tasks is to save you time - and who doesn't need to save time? - make life easier, or generate data for analysis.

Time-saving, valuable automation

I used to work for a research firm that delivered anywhere from one to hundreds of reports to clients at the end of a project. At the end of a second project for one particular client, we delivered hundreds of individual reports with comment data from the research. The feedback we got was that the client wanted the reports to look like they had after their first project. 

That was bad news.

There wasn't an easy way to re-run the reports to make them look like the first batch. Sometime between the client's first project and their second project, something about the process changed. Someone asked me for help with formatting each of the reports in a way that would fulfill the client's request. So, I got started manually making the formatting changes to provide an estimate of the time it would take. We were prepared to get every spare person started making changes.

It took me a little over an hour to do one report - and I had the strongest skills in the software we were using. In other words, the time it took me was the best possible scenario. Factoring in the number of reports, and the hours I worked, along with one or two others, I calculated that we'd have the reports ready to deliver in just six weeks -IF we did nothing else.

We had three days.

So, I decided to see if I could build a macro that would allow us to automate the changes. The number of commands ended up being so extensive, I had to break it out into about 10 separate macros. I may have even built a macro that automated running all of the macros so I only had to run one to complete the changes in each document. It took me about 6 hours to set up the macros, and a few more hours to get through all the reports. Six weeks of work reduced to a day and a half or so.

I'm betting someone smarter than me could have done it even faster, but I was still pretty excited that I managed to make my idea work and also allow us to deliver early.

So, you see, automation is really, really good when implemented properly and for the right reasons for a clear result. (What is the result you want from your automation? That's a good question to start with.)

No good, horrible, very bad automation

Unfortunately, there are forms of "automation" (in quotes because not all of these are actually automation) that the world can do without - and yes, I fully intend to pick on TrueTwit.

1) TrueTwit validation service

TrueTwit is something I don't run into very often anymore. Either Twitter users have mostly figured out that it's annoying and completely useless, or I'm just not following people who use it, or I'm just not following people enough. (I should check on that...or work on it.) TrueTwit claims to do three things:

  • Verify people from robots

    Editorial comment: I'm totally a person and I usually just unfollow when I get that annoying request to validate my existence. My existence is validated enough on a daily basis, so I'll pass on clicking through. Oh, and since this service is actually mostly about making sure you don't follow bots, I really should point out that there are some bots out there with better content than some of the human twitter users I've seen. Just food for thought.

  • Avoid Twitter spam

    Editorial comment (a.k.a. snort): Hahaha...this is just too funny. AS IF anyone can avoid Twitter spam. Did they type this with a straight face?

  • Save time managing your followers

    Editorial comment: I wasn't aware that managing my followers was so hard. They follow me or they don't. They manage that, not me. Why do my followers need to be managed? I feel like this is adding pressure to my twitter usage that I really don't need.

You know what eliminates the need for TrueTwit? Me going to the profile of people who follow me. It takes me all of about 2 seconds to figure out whether I want to follow them back and it's amazing how easy it is to decipher whether each of those accounts is human or bot - literally, a fraction of a second. Sometimes I follow and later realize I don't really want to be following them. Thank goodness for the unfollow button.

How you fix this: There are two different tactics you can apply to fix this particular automation nightmare. The first, and ideal, method is to not sign up for TrueTwit. The second is to delete your TrueTwit account and revoke TrueTwit's access to your Twitter account. 

2) Thoughtless cross posting

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks are what I like to call "different". Different is good, but it takes a little more work. One of the frequently asked questions I've had when working with small businesses (and even individuals) has been whether I recommend linking Twitter and Facebook, or vice versa. (Before Twitter shut it down, I got this question a lot about LinkedIn too.) You see, it's one thing to be on Instagram sharing a picture and to consciously choose to post it to both Facebook and Twitter while you're posting to Instagram. It's quite different to set Twitter or Facebook up to automatically post every status update to the other. 

If you push all your Twitter posts to Facebook you end up with this strange conglomeration of posts from Twitter on Facebook that have @ mentions that make no sense in the context of the network. Or, if you push all of your Facebook posts to Twitter, you're guaranteed to end up with "fb.me" shortened links every time you break 140 characters, which is extremely easy to do on Facebook since there's a 60,000 character limit. And then your Twitter followers will try to click through and find that since over half of them are on a mobile device, they now have to log in to Facebook to see your full post.

True story: A client recently asked me if this could be done and I said, "Yes, but I will not tell you how, because it's a bad idea." Then I explained why and he was totally cool with it. I love easy clients.

How to fix this: Someone way back in the olden days of Twitter and Facebook decided these things were a good idea - or they let third-party apps develop such functionality within their APIs. The beauty of these settings is that they default to the right choice - i.e., firehose between two different networks = off. If you mistakenly turned yours on, the easy way to fix it is to revoke access. Cross posting the same/similar content on two or more different networks isn't always a good idea, nor is it always a bad idea. Making sure you think about it first is most definitely always the right idea.

(Pro tip: Revoking access fixes many horribly wrong things.)

3) Apps that post content on your behalf

I'm kind of a stickler for wanting to be actively involved with what I'm sharing on my profiles. There are many, many (pretend I added a bunch more manys to that) applications that will tell your followers what your horoscope is, how your workout went, a weekly accounting of your follows, send auto DMs to everyone who follows you (after all, we all love form letters), even share "curated" content. This list, believe it or not, is just the tip of the iceberg - there are that many.

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but I feel like they should come with a huge banner that says "use with caution". They operate on a set it and forget it mentality and many post to your account without first getting approval. Years ago, right after I joined Triberr, I joined a couple of tribes I was invited to. Unfortunately, I didn't go through all my settings thoroughly. I was horrified when I started getting messages asking me why I was spamming my followers. My account was set up to automatically share everything my fellow tribemates published and the space between shares was very short. 

That was kind of mortifying, particularly since there wasn't a single post that had gone out that I would have actually chosen to share. Not one. Was Triberr to blame? Nope. It was all Karen's fault (as in me, myself, and I).

How to fix this: Don't sign up for services that automatically share on your behalf unless you are absolutely certain the content shared isn't going to be something you'll later regret. The other lesson in this one is that you need to always meticulously check application settings for any tool you sign up with. And, if you do happen to forget you signed up for a service, hopefully you've booked a task in your calendar to review the apps you've permitted to access your account so you can take advantage of the power that is revoking access when required.

Good automation does exist in social media and it can produce valuable results. However, many shortcuts have been given the label "automation" in error. The truth is there's no shortcut to successful marketing. 

Your turn: What bad automation tactics did I miss? Throw in your two cents below!