Developing Your Online Reputation

developing an online reputation for business or personal digital brand

By Jim Ernst, Emerging Leader

If you were to type “social networking sites” into Google, you would get about 65,400,000 results. For business owners seeking to make an impact in the digital world, the strategies are seemingly endless. What online communities are best for your brand? How can your brand engage your customers within those communities? Is a company blog going to establish your credibility?

To navigate the digital landscape, we have synthesized key elements to develop your online reputation:

Perception Development

Before developing your reputation strategy, create a compelling and unique brand identity. To start your thinking about how to develop your brand identity, consider these three questions:

  • What are people going to rely on you for? This is your value proposition. What value are you consistently offering? Are you delivering high-quality marketing insights or are you positioning your client ahead of the curve?  Defining value proposition is important in understanding how to position your brand.
  • What is your unique selling point? Figure out what makes coming to you a better experience than going to one of your many competitors or why your product is something entirely new.
  • Developing your voice. Is your company going to fall in ranks with the status quo, or are you the innovative alternative? Imagine your brand as a person. How would they talk, act, and dress. For a more detailed guide to online branding, read Jack Yan’s Online branding: A definitive guide.

Developing Online Strategies to Meet Your Objectives

After refining your brand personality, identify your objectives and prioritize your efforts. What do you seek to gain from building your reputation online? Market leadership? Building meanginful relationships? To start your thinking about potential online objectives, here are common industry goals and strategies to meet them:

Credibility

Establishing credibility in your field is essential in building meaningful relationships and elevating your online presence. Here are some strategies to establishing credibility in the digital marketplace:

  • Answer questions on LinkedIn or Yahoo Answers—These platforms will allow you to give free advice to people who are searching for it. As you answer more questions, naturally you will build relationships and authority in the field. Potentially, this could lead to new business.
  • Blogging—You can also develop a blog to post market insights and comment on industry news. Additionally, you can use your blog as a vehicle to market your business via business (Entrepreneur.com, LinkedIn, etc) and social networks. Take example from Mario Lavandeira (aka Perez Hilton). The opinion-orientated voice of celebrity gossip blog, www.perezhilton.com, Mario Lavandeira has made his career by successfully building his reputation into celebrity gossip columnist no. 1 through writing about the latest, most juicy celebrity news.
  • Wikipedia—As the first-stop online research platform, Wikipedia is an excellent tool for establishing credibility—as you can create targeted inbound links to your site. Actively and intelligently contributing to the online encyclopedia can drive readers seeking more information about your expertise.

Market Leadership

  • New, Innovative Tools—Creating a new tool for industry professionals can elevate your market leadership. Take example from PR Squared—a blog managed by the social media firm, Shift Communications. Their aim was to provide insightful social media advice and commentary without charging content fees. To establish their market leadership and forward-thinking philosophy in the marketplace, PR Squared released their revolutionary Social Media Press Release. The template sought to guide the PR efforts of industry professionals.

Connecting

  • Professional Networks—Business-to-business networking is critical in building relationships within your industry. The Visa Business network on Facebook can be a useful tool in finding, reaching out and building relationships with other professionals.
  • Social Networks—All the rave, social networks provide data and analytics on specific, granular, segmented audiences. Businesses are increasingly investing more effort into reaching the mass audiences using social media. Think Skittles. They have taken advice from the millions of people invested in social networking and designed their entire web presence around sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. By focusing on where their audience already spends most of their time, Skittles is able to effectively target and engage their consumers.

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Top 5: Traits of Gen Y Leaders

segmenting gen y digital and entrepreneurial leaders into traits

By Tara Lane, Emerging Leader

Generation Y has been estimated to include around 70 million tweens, teens, and twentysomethings—far greater in number than Generation X. There are a select handful of influencers—leveraging new technologies coupled with profound compassion—sparking new product / service trends and political movements. They are highly aware and receptive to the messages constantly bombarding them. They know their place in the world, what they want and what they need to live up to. We have analyzed many Gen Y leaders and identified five distinctive traits:

1. Politically Aware

The 2008 election truly revolutionized Gen Y, whose members were part of one the largest youth vote turnouts in history. YouTube was a front-runner in making this happen, allowing users to ask the candidates questions via the site and have them interact in a unique way. The inauguration brought together leaders from differing industries and showed the millennials that politics was “cool.” Actor Kal Penn (24, House) was recently tapped to become the newest Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Gen Y leaders recognize that many of the issues facing politicians today have an effect on them now and in the future and are doing their part to make a difference and encourage their peers to do the same.

2. Involved

As well as being politically involved, these leaders are also recognize the need for involvement in their communities and in other causes they are passionate about. They know how to network and get others involved as well. Look around at any rally or protest and you’ll probably see that the majority of participants are card-carrying members of Generation Y. They may have even been the ones to organize it in the first place. With the help of Facebook and other social networking sites, making others aware and involved is only a click away. Google has jumped on the bandwagon, launching AllForGood.org, a search engine that shows users volunteer opportunities located in their area.

3. Tech Savvy

Emerging leaders are both connectors and forerunners as far as technology goes. They recognized early on that social media was the perfect medium to reach their audience. They know how to make the technology work for them. More and more music artists are being discovered in unconventional ways via Web sites like YouTube and Myspace. When Gen Y sees this happening for their peers, they get ideas and start following the lead. These leaders are always up on the latest trends and enjoy sharing their knowledge with others in any way they can, including Twitter, Blogs/Vlogs, Facebook and other forms of social media.

4. Highly Educated

Gen Y will no longer settle for just a bachelor’s degree. More and more students are continuing their education because they realize that their degrees may soon be obsolete as their industries become more and more competitive and specialized. Many Gen Y leaders come from top schools, setting an example for those that strive to follow in their footsteps. Mark Zukerberg invented Facebook while attending Harvard and went on to make millions. Many celebrities have reportedly taken time off from their careers to attend college. Top universities may recruit high-profile stars to study at their schools purely for newsworthiness, but in they eyes of millenials this means that if education is important to such high-profile stars, it should be important for them, too.

5. Innovators

Like all innovators, Gen Y innovators recognize a need for something and come up with a way to make it possible. When Lisa went looking for an online community of twentysomething bloggers like herself and couldn’t find one, she decided to start one of her own. What started as a small network of her and a few other bloggers has since grown to a network of more than 5,000 bloggers from all over the world who connect and communicate on a daily basis. The rapid development of technology has fueled creativity within Gen Y innovators and created an outlet that wasn’t there previously. Apple’s iPhone and iPod lets tech gurus of all ages create “Apps” for other users, also sparking a wave of startup companies by young entrepreneurs looking to get in on the success.

Generation Y is leading the course for change today, and will continue to do so for a long time. As Gen Y gets older, their influence will only grow stronger. For companies looking to target Gen Y members, the emerging leaders of this generation are the ones to watch.

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Affordability: Key to the “Next Billion”

affordability is a strategy that will open gaming into new markets

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

For most nations, the barrier to gaming is price. With each major gaming console well over the $200 mark, and games ranging from $20 to $80, game-play has been popularized of developed countries. But just as mobile technology has spread to emerging market countries, gaming will follow the same path.

“The next billion” is the target audience for the console developer, Zeebo. India, China and Brazil are a few emerging markets Zeebo aims to capture. With the digital download only, $199 console, Zeebo seeks to create accessibility through the digital marketplace and competitive pricing. An Xbox 360 will cost you $299.99 and approximately $50.00 a game on Amazon and a Nintendo Wii is $249.99 with game prices ranging from $20-90.

Additionally, Zeebo capitalizes on the boom in cell phones within emerging markets by using the mobile web to download Zeebo games. Piracy and price are both barriers that have scarred many developers away from emerging markets, but Zeebo overcomes those challenges through digital downloads via mobile phone and a competitive pricing. Though there has been much criticism of the console, Zeebo offers accessibility for those who otherwise would have none.

The next step for gaming might not be a console at all. Let’s face it, hardware is expensive. OnLive, a cloud gaming platform, uses bandwidth to deliver great content and eliminates the constraints on discs and cartridges. After you’ve purchased the MicroConsole, you can access an ever-evolving online store for the latest games—eliminating the long lines in stores or the paper/plastic element of gaming. Cloud computing cuts corners on game production and delivery—reducing gaming costs.

From Stock.Xchng

Startup Strategy: Grow and Harvest Your Business

harvesting market opportunities for business development and growth

by David Capece, Managing Partner; with exerpts from Seth Godin’s blog

As business builders and brand developers, we enjoy learning from Seth Godin.  I found  his recent blog post on the importance of sowing a startup seed and harvesting the crop to be particularly on point (see below for an exerpt).  Many entrepreneurs struggle to develop a great product, and even after building a great product the road to significant market share may be difficult and take longer than expected.  When businesses finally start to clear hurdles and gain momentum, you must be prepared to maximize returns through harvesting.

Your overall strategic plan should reflect opportunities for harvesting.  In product development, are you building features and benefits that match the needs of the market?  Can you get a few steps ahead of the competition?  Do you have the funds necessary to impress market insiders?

When you are working on your beta launch, choose your clients wisely.  Will a great experience turn into positive word of mouth?  Is this a client case study and testimonial that can be leveraged to gain more clients because their opinion is respected and market needs are similar?  As you deliver great work, will clients reward you with more valuable contracts?  As you succeed, are you prepared for a big sales and marketing initiative to sell into new clients and implement with high success?  With each step, you must build on the next.  As you gain momentum, you can grow by leaps.  When you finally get your opportunity, you must be prepared to harvest.

Exerpt from Seth Godin’s blog

The goal is to reach the point where there’s some harvesting going on. The first sales might cost you a hundred or thousand dollars each to make. At some point, though, you want sales to happen for free, people to show up with money. At some point, you want word of mouth to replace promotion and to earn back the money you invested up front…Here are some of the elements of a market where you are likely to reach the point where you can harvest the benefits of your investment:

  • Word spreads. You want a market where stories of your success and reputation will reach other prospects.
  • Needs are similar. You want a market where the skills you developed to help one person can also be used to help another person.
  • Budgets exist. You want a market where there is more than one player with money to spend (on you) to solve a problem.
  • Barriers exist. The market should reward insiders (like you) but make it really difficult for copycats to come in and steal share and lower prices.
  • Price should rise with value delivered. As your work spreads and your reputation increases, you should be able to charge more, not less.

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The Next Portable Gaming Console: Small Size, Big Play

the future of digital mobile gaming

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

Over 1 billion. That’s the number of downloads from the Apple App Store. Within a mere nine-months after it opened its doors, it has reached its one billionth download. Amongst those billion, hundreds of millions of downloads are games. Apple’s iPhone gives users the ability to have ultimate gaming mobility, coupled with accessibility. Users can download a free Top 25 game and play within 30 seconds (depending on the size and connection). The iPhone is a prime example of why delivering great content without the constraints of location or wires is the inevitable future of gaming.

Fitting more into less is the guiding principle of the technology evolution. With accelerometer and multi-touch technology, users can have a multi-sensorial gaming experience. For example, bowling is not limited to physical A/B buttons. With iBowl, users hold a virtual button and release their figure as they would with a bowling ball. Depending on your hand movement, your ball with spin or curve down the ally.

We should expect to see mobile devices as our single gaming device. Though it might take several years to get there, imagine using your phone to game on your TV. Communication between electronic devices is inevitable for the same reasons we have TV remotes, so who is to say your mobile couldn’t use your TV like your Playstation 3 uses it?

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Top 5 Guerilla Marketing Strategies

 

Consumers see at least 1,600 messages a typical day (Nielson). Think about it: between our morning TV show or newspaper, to the ad wraps on bus’ or billboards on the way to work, to the webertisements on the office computer, it’s almost impossible to unplug from the grid and escape the constant bombardment of the daily brand shouting match.

Brands are finding their loud, flashy messages are falling upon deaf ears—particularly with younger generations.  Bigger, louder, flashier is simplistic, narrow-minded and an ineffective way of delivering your message. Smart, intelligent, different, catchy and honest are adjectives to describe campaigns that grab consumers’ attention. How many used car advertisements do you remember versus GE, Apple or Volkswagen campaigns?

One way to deliver a message in a smart, impactful way is through guerilla marketing. Guerilla marketing catches the consumer off-guard. Effective campaigns are intelligent, unexpected, different, and makes the consumer smile in its brilliance. Guerilla marketing makes use of the everyday environment to convey an unexpected, intelligent message that resonates more profoundly than traditional media impressions.

To get you thinking about how your brand can incorporate guerilla marketing into the everyday environment, here are key elements to guerilla marketing:

1. Creativity
In guerilla marketing, the world is your billboard / 30-second TV spot / lower-third. Guerilla marketing begins with out-of-the-box ideation. To develop on-target, unexpected, effective guerilla campaigns, throw convention to the wind and get your creative juices boiling. The heart of every successful guerilla campaign is creativity. Without it, you’re conventional… or worse yet, annoying.

2. Unexpected
A billboard is expected. On your way to work, there are always the same billboards—with bright colors, maybe a catchy line that makes you smile. It’s expected. The German housewares manufacturer, Miele created a campaign that transformed a typically static flat billboard surface into so much more. To satirically demonstrate the power of their vacuum’s suction, they draped an actual hot air balloon over a billboard with their vacuum cleaner sucking the balloon into the the billboard.

3. More with Less
When brainstorming guerilla initiatives, it’s easy to become fantastical and impractical. If you’re a smaller company with budgetary constraints, pasting a 20-foot soccer ball to the side of a building might not be the best consideration. Being reasonable, intelligent and unexpected stretches your creativity to develop a very effective guerilla campaign without an exorbitant budget. You don’t need to be Superman to have a Superman idea. To advertise the Superman brand, small posters were pasted to lampposts to give the impression they were tied in a knot. Or, something as simple as a straw can be valuable ad real estate for a yoga company.

4. Maximize Your Surroundings
Lining the street with coffee cups does no one good. It’s not intelligent, too abstract, not relatable and a pedestrian inconvenience. But if you utilize your environment in an unexpected, intelligent way–like Folgers, when they used the steam from manhole covers to show the steam from their coffee–you’re making more meaningful impressions.

5. Interactive
Though interactivity is not a staple in all guerilla campaigns, it brings the consumer / company relationship to a more meaningful space. Take example from Swedish innovator and furniture phenomenon, Ikea . To demonstrate the appeal of an “Ikea living room,” they transformed a bus stop into a place you wouldn’t mind relaxing to enjoy a couple Swedish meatballs. They beautified a bus stop with their furniture—making it not only a interactive display, but a cozy interactive display.

 

Digital Marketing: The New Push / Pull Dynamic

a digital marketing strategy that leverages pull media can elevate brand equity in the marketplace

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

Consumers are bombarded with more messages than ever before. Refining and clarifying your target segment is becoming evermore important as mass-messages are falling upon deaf ears. Specific, tailored and relevant messages, combined with consumer engagement and empowerment are elemental in the new marketing era. Less and less are market leaders dictating consumer needs through “push” advertising. By way of digital networking and publishing tools, consumers are creating consumer needs. To identify the key forces driving this marketing shift, we synthesized insights from over 40 industry professionals.

From Company Push to Consumer Pull

What is push and pull marketing? Push is the 30-second TV / radio spot. Push is the billboard and web banner. Push is the full-page magazine / newspaper spread. Push is becoming evermore difficult to push. The converse of push, is pull. Pull marketing is engaging; interactive; a two-way line of communication. To illustrate the push / pull marketing dynamic 15 years ago, if you were in the market to buy a TV, what resources would you have at your disposal? TV, radio, billboard, direct mail advertisements might have influenced your decision. Those messages are finely crafted to be persuasive. In essence: they’re bias. For a more objective view, you might turn to your friend that knows something about TVs. Or, you can go to Best Buy and they might be able to educate and inform your decision. In short, advertisements and a handful of “experts” were your resources. That was the push / pull dynamic then.

In the digital era, we can better manage and prioritize the influence of each resource. With the ubiquity of the internet, resources are seemingly endless; therefore you can choose which are more important as you refine our decision. Where in the past your decision was constrained to a limited number of resources, in the digital age, there are countless information hubs to help you choose one product over another. With the extensive consumer conversation on social media sites and product pages, what weight does the mass message—pushed from TV, billboard, radio, etc—carry when you’re making your decision? Though consumers will still soak up push marketing—and factor those impressions into their spending decisions—the internet and its vast networking reach typically bypasses traditional push media. In the past, the number of resources was limited—therefore each opinion meant more and consumers were just consumers. In today’s age, consumers are researchers, advocates, creators, promoters and marketers.

Reallocation of Marketing Efforts

In response to this consumer empowerment, companies are developing new strategies to adapt and grow in this different marketing world. Consider the marketing landscape only 15 years ago. If a company wanted to launch a product, they would allocate X amount of dollars to cast a wide net of impressions to influence a buying decision.

In a world influenced by the digital consumer network, even the word “consumer” is limiting in its simplicity. In the most innovative marketing efforts, consumers are the creators, advocates, promoters, marketers and buyers. To have a presence in the new consumer world, marketers are facilitating the conversation and activities through valuable tools and concepts online. The most engaging marketing tools can be implemented in the digital world. With a multi-sensorial experience and a multitude of engagement opportunities, brands can enhance their consumer experience beyond the conventional marketing tactics.

Pull marketing combines viral, blogging, social media, SEO, internet marketing, RSS etc. into a methodology where consumers engage and build something with the brand. No longer is advertising an interruption between news, or a distraction in nature’s landscape. Marketing is more about choice and engagement, less than it is a distraction. If you are relying too much on heavily push media today, now is the time to embrace the paradigm shift towards consumer-powered marketing.

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What the Iranian Government Can Learn from Social Media

how iran can leverage social media to its advantage

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

The Iranian government is cracking down on the dissemination of “tension creating” information within its borders (aka news about the political strife following presidential elections). Blocking TV channels and social media sites has only inflamed the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opposition.

Social media is a great platform for spreading information and sharing ideas across a far-reaching network of users. For those who suffer negative buzz from social media, the first instinct may be to exert control to eliminate the conversation. However, on passion point topics, such as the disputed Iranian election, empowered people stand up to share their voice.  Social media cannot be silenced.  Indeed, images, video and text messages are circumventing Iranian censors and allowing the world a glimpse into the political tension within the democratic country. Attempts to silence the conversation only gives fodder to the opposition.

The Internet has made it tremendously difficult to curb the spread of information. Repressive political regimes struggle to control the flow of news and ideas as savvy digital activists find loop-holes in governments efforts. Social media allows for healthy debates and meaningful discussions amongst opposing user philosophies, and may even have the ability to keep despotic regimes in check. Social media creates transparency, which we’ve covered in Sparxoo’s Real Deal trend. As information becomes more accessible through the Internet and smart phone technology, transparency is becoming more difficult to curtail. With hundreds of thousands of image-capturing, text messaging Iranians, the government is challenged by a legion of amateur “street reporters.” Citizen journalists, equipped with an all-in-one media recording devices, are disseminating unfettered information to the international community via the world wide web.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime is trying to gain a stranglehold on the media coverage within the country, particularly in Tehran—the hotbed of opposition protests. Traditional methods of lowering the volume—typically through denying journalists access—has had the opposite intended effect. Denying journalists access to information and blocking social media sites such as Twitter, has amplified international concern. Furthermore, NPR reports, BBC’s Persian TV channel has been jammed within Iranian borders.

Instead of engaging in a meaningful conversation, the Iranian government is trying to silence it. They are learning the hard way that they no longer have a monopoly in disseminating messages.  Even though Iran has blocked Twitter.com, there are so many APIs that integrate the Twitter structure into different products, it’s nearly impossible to silence them all. In the era of social media, the best response might be a persuasive message that addresses questions and resonates with  national and international communities. That message must also stand the test of transparency. We wonder what would happen if the current regime were to engage with the opposition and attempt to show they have have an open and strong platform. In the era of social media, users and voters are empowered to evaluate their options, make informed decisions, and tell others.  Social media has changed the rules for those who seek to suffocate opposing voices.

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How to Define Your Market Position

 

When someone says “Disney,” what immediately comes to mind? Whimsical fantasy, endless possibilities, magical neverland and infinite imagination might be adjectives to describe your initial thought. The Disney brand embodies “a magical world where dreams come true.” Disney is an example of a brand that can effectively convey a philosophy consumers want and meets their expectations. Through consistent value, Disney maintains a strong market position.

The goal of market positioning is to find the ideal opportunity in the market based on customer needs, market forces and financial and strategic considerations. Once you find that market opportunity, further develop your product and elevate your brand to deliver outstanding value. To clarify your market position, find an overarching theme, then define the details. To get you thinking about your market position, here are three essential elements of market positioning:

Brand Idea—The idea is an aspirational concept that ties the essence of your brand together. It defines you. The brand idea is your lighthouse–it guides you in the right direction. Consider BMW. BMW’s brand idea is “the ultimate driving machine.” When their team release a new model, all engineering and thought behind the product must work towards unveiling the next “the ultimate driving machine.”

Value Proposition—When a customer visits your store, uses your service or product, what should they expect? Your value proposition is your promise to your customer (see our advice on creating a value proposition).  Once you’ve defined your value proposition, it’s essential that you follow through. The idea being, when customers return, they receive consistent value. Think Apple. When their team launches a new product, it’s expected to be high-quality, simple and creative.

Differentiating Attributes—This is where you claim your individuality amongst your peers. What specific attributes set you apart from others and how does that support your overarching brand idea? Finding how you are different from the competition is key if you’re going to compete. To add value to the marketplace, it’s essential you have a unique proposition. Whole Foods Market is committed to wholesome living. That means in-store and marketing efforts must contribute to that central brand idea. Compared to other grocers who provide low price for low quality, Whole Foods adopts a philosophy of doing good while offering high quality products, supporting fair trade and doing business with local farmers.

 

Cloud 9: A Digital Gaming Heaven

onlive and cloud computing in video games is an area of business growth

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

Why does Google sit on Cloud 9? Cloud computing might have something to do with it. The cloud is the next generation of how we compute. The use of hard disk space is being pushed out by an increase in bandwidth and general web utility. Google Docs, Calendar, Notebook, Gmail and many more applications are examples of how Google is leading the shift from disc space to the cloud.

OnLive is taking the cloud to gaming in a major way. OnLive seeks to produce a gaming system that accesses a remote server to play a game. CDs and cartridges are no longer relevant, as all gaming can take place on OnLive’s server. The MicroConsole is significantly smaller than other gaming consoles—as it doesn’t require a disc or cartridge port. The gaming experience is fast, with little to no lag-time and the graphical quality is similar to other high-end gaming consoles.

Looking forward, we have to ask the question, what is the point of a disc? Just as in-store music distributors are finding out, the physical product is becoming less relevant as we seek accessibility and immediacy in our entertainment purchases. Taking online gaming even further, what if your phone was the MicroConsole? The gaming platform could leverage the connectivity of cellular phones to create a highly interactive gaming experience. Wherever you go, whether you’re at your TV or driving in your car, you can have the same experience as if you were home playing an Xbox 360.