Are you engaging your customers/donors through Facebook?

One of the most common questions I hear from small businesses and non-profits these days is “we started a Facebook page, now what?” Launching a Facebook page is easy, using it to grow your business, expand your donor base or further your cause is a bit more challenging.

The key to doing all of the above is engaging your audience. This involves providing them with something worthwhile in posts. In the online world there’s nothing more valuable than a story.

Engaging your audience starts with telling stories. Are you telling your stories? This process and the value of storytelling is best explained by blogger Jay Baer. He talks about harvesting stories and how doing so humanizes your organization. He is right.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you have interesting stories to tell. Finding and sharing them is the first step toward social media success” explained Baer in a recent post on his blog – Convince & Convert

Baer calls it humanizing, I’ve always called it “peoplizing” Stories of the folks involved in your company or organization. Whether they’re customers, employees, donors, members or volunteers, they all have stories. You just have to ask and they will tell. Sharing these stories with your Facebook friends develops a connection. That connection encourages sales and motivates involvement in your organization. After all, don’t we all prefer buying from and being involved with people we know and trust?

So how do you harvest these stories and condense them to share in the limited 420 characters allowed in Facebook posts? Start by asking. Questions can boost engagement, likes, and shares? Ask some of the following questions and you’ll be surprised at the interaction it will generate.

What brought you here?

Asking this question will generate responses about what your organization means to them, why they dedicate time and energy to your cause. Customers will likely share thoughts about what they love about your businesss. All of which generates conversation and gives you good story-like posts to share via Facebook.

What keeps you coming back?

This question can be asked of customers, volunteers of employees. All of them will have unique comments about why they choose to continue to patronize/support your business or organization. This is definitely worth sharing via Facebook!

What’s your favorite … ?

Asking this question conjuers up thoughts and memories of the best of times spent with your business or organization. Favorite experiences are the best stories to share through social media; they tend to generate additional comments and conversations from others about their favorite expereinces, too.

These questions will get you started harvesting  stories you can share through Facebook. I’d be interested in hearing about companies/organizations doing a good job of gathering and sharing stories and successfully engaging customers/donors as a result.

And, if you implement any of these harvesting strategies, let me know how it works for you.


Lessons learned from local blogger

I had coffee recently with a local mid-Michigan blogger who has been at it a lot longer than me. Kati Mora is the “girl behind the plate”. She’s the founder of Around the Plate blog, launched in 2009 as an outlet to talk about her passion — nutrition.

In the two years of running the blog Kati has grown a significant following, generating comparable traffic to other nationally-known dieticians her field who are seen on TV and other broadcast media.

In meeting with Kati my mission was two-fold. First to pick her brain about her success in blogging, as I’m still a newby in the blogsphere. Secondly, to invite her to be a guest blogger on Vision Mid Michigan, my online magazine focused on positive things happening in our region. By the end of our two-plus hour chat, I’m happy to report … both missions accomplished.

You can look forward a some words from Kati in an upcoming issue of Vision Mid Michigan. As for her experience as a blogger, here are a few tidbits I gathered about how she’s grown Around the Plate.

  1. Generate content often, but don’t go it alone. Kati’s goal is to post new content to her blog at least three times per week. To accomplish this Kati taps into student interns from Central Michigan University to create posts. Each of the three interns are assigned to review and summarize specific blogs in the nutrition industry. These summaries , along with the student’s input,are shared as a post on Around the Plate. In addition, interns are given the chance to craft their own blog posts monthly. This is a win-win for both Kati and students; providing content for the blog and an opportunity to be published for the interns.
  2. Experiment. Kati is constantly trying new ways to grow her audience and expand the amount of valuable information in her blog. Recently she launched an initiative to establish thePlate Community. Kati calls this an experiment to bring together a diverse group of both nutrition experts and everyday individuals looking to improve the way they eat … and blog about it. So far, Kati has gathered more than 20 nutrition-minded bloggers to join thePlate Community. Kati anticipates The Community will establish her blog as a hub in the nutrition industry. As an added bonus, members of The Community will have the chance to serve as Guest Bloggers … another win-win.
  3. Be your brand, always. In discussing the question of when and how to best represent your blog (aka – brand), Kati says she’s always “the girl behind the plate.” “If you aren’t your brand, who will be?” Kati asked. A good point, I’d say.

After picking Kati’s brain, I tossed out an idea to her; asking if she’d participate in a meet-up of mid-Michigan bloggers in the near future. “Great idea,” she replied. If you’re a blogger located in mid-Michigan, stay tuned for details of a meet-up soon. Details to follow.


My favorite things = clearance tags

I caught a segment on Good Morning America today that reminded me of  one of my favorite things, which in turn reminded me that I have not done another “favorite things” post in awhile. The GMA piece was all about getting the best deal. A group of mom’s were given $50 and challenged to make the most of their money at a huge consignment sale — it’s the Just Between Friends Sale in Mesquite, Texas, a monster-size sale/convention where thousands of moms grab bargains on gently used maternity, baby and kids items. The featured moms were very successful on their missions. They scooped up amazing savings on a jogging stroller, toys and and designer label clothes.

This feature struck a cord due to my love for a great deal. As an avid shopper, I’m a big fan of sales, particularly clearance sales. The sight of bright organge, yellow or red stickers causes me to raise an eyebrow everytime. Admittedly, purchases bearing these tags may not always fall under “need” — but instead the “too good to pass up” category.

Unfortunately, my husband has never truly appreciated the savings and value that comes from my relentless pursuit of clearance sales. But, I am happy to report both daughters have been well-schooled in the art of bargain shopping. The lessons learned are confirmed during every shopping trip as both girls regularly puruse the sale racks. They’ve come to realize how far their shopping dollars stretch with mark downs. I couldn’t be more proud!

In my years of experience scouring clearance racks, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way …

Tip #1 – Everything goes on sale, eventually! Patience pays off in sale shopping. If it’s an item you really want, keep a close eye on it at the store and online.

Tip #2 – End of season offers best deals. As seasons change, retailers are quick to rid their shelves and racks of last seasons merchandise. And, the changeover in retail seems to happen much faster than the season itself. Long before the snow melts stores are slapping sale stickers on cold weather merchandise. In mid-February a trip to Meijer landed a steal on scarves and a sweet pair of leather gloves, each item priced $2-$5. Could not pass up that deal, now could  I?

Tip #3 -Stock up when the deal is sweet. This is especially a good tip on items you use regularly. Recently found our favorite fabric softener on sale on local grocery store for $1.99. I bought 10 bottles. Guess we won’t need to put fabric softner on  list for awhile.

Tip #4 – Go to clearance racks first. Be on the lookout for signs, tags and stickers showcasing slashed prices. Keep an eye out for brightly colored tags … flourescent orange, yellow, green or red. Once clued in, you can’t miss them.

I’m anxious to hear your tips on sale shopping. Always eager to learn how get even better deals. Please share.


3 reasons non-profits need to be using social media

For starters, I’m thinking I ought to change my masthead photo back to winter scene. Perhaps I jinxed us here in mid-Michigan. Thought it was safe to think spring this late in March. But alas Mother Nature has decided otherwise as we’re buried in 8″ inches of snow today. UGh. Just had to rant about that a bit.

Social media icons - by Plechi

Now, onto the subject at hand … why non-profits NEED to be using social media. I’ve been doing a bit of social media coaching with a handful of small businesses and recently have been contacted by a local non-profit organization to assist them in their marketing efforts through the use of social media. I’ve been enjoying the work with small businesses, but admittedly I’m even more excited to help non-profits figure out how to leverage social media to further their causes and grow both their volunteer and donor bases. As I launch into coaching of non-profits, I’ve been gathering some thoughts (& research) about why charity organizations are missing huge opportunities if not utilizing social media.

Here are the top 3 reasons why non-profits need to be using social media.

Reason #1 – Tell your story

Facebook, Twitter and blogging all provide the chance to spread the word about your organization and the positive impact your services are having on the community. Share success stories of clients, volunteers, staff members, advocates and donors. Start the story with a blog and spread it through Facebook and Twitter or go one step further using video and spread via YouTube.

In digging for a good example of a non-profit doing a good job of telling its story through social media, Goodwill Industries Facebook page is a shining example. They’re sharing stories of client success, outstanding employees and generous donors.

Reason #2 – Connect with volunteers, supporters & advocates

Social media makes it easier than ever to find and connect with people who are believers in your cause. A quick search on any of the social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube — will bring up a slew of people involved or engaged in your cause, locally and beyond. Follow or Like them, they’ll like you back and you have begun building your social media network.

Reason #3 – Have a conversation

Social media is all about conversation. It provides an ideal opportunity to converse with those who are believers in your organization/cause and tap into their network of friends, as well. By asking questions and engaging input, organizations can generate valuable comments, feedback and discussion. Talk regularly with this interested audience and they will talk back. And talking frequently will get you into more news feeds, which will spread your story even further.

These three reasons to use social media are starting points, next steps involve further growing your donor base and providing additional opportunities for giving. How to do that is the subject of another post. Stay tuned!


March is reading month – are you reading?

March is National Reading Month. Kicked off every year on March 2, the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.  I’m reminded of the month-long celebration every year when receiving an invitation to be a Guest Reader in my youngest son’s classroom.

Read Across America - National Reading Month

The past two years, this opportunity has actually fallen on my birthday. Can’t think of a better birthday gift than the chance share some of our favorite family story books with  a class-full of elementary kids. The exercise of selecting which books to read to the class is always fun. We dig under my son’s bed, where he stuffs all of his books and lots of other stuff, and cull through  a pile of books to find our favorites. This year my son Ryan selected two of his most beloved titles. One a repeat and one brand new to even me. Probably should’ve previewed the new one, “It All Began with a Bean.”  If I’d thought about it for a minute, I might have made the connection to what exactly results from ingesting beans with the storyline. Thankfully, Ryan’s 4th grade teacher was a trooper as the story unfolded about how an entire town “farted”.

The second favorite book was one I’d shared last year with Ryan’s third grade class. But, in taking a vote, the kids wanted to hear it again. “Willow” is the story of a creative young girl who inspired an art teacher to bust out of her boxed-in self and embrace her creative spirit.

Reading to an attentive class of fourth graders reminded me of how much we all love a good story. And, reading National Reading Month is the perfect chance to enjoy a good story.

Reading month has also caused me to consider the importance of reading as it relates to being a writer. I read a guest blog on the Blogging Bookshelf site by Paul Wolfe of One Spoon at a Time blog talking about how important it is for writers to read; pointing out that “you should read between ten and fifty times the amount you write.”

I tend to agree, the more you read the more you know and the more you know the better you can write. So, if you’re a writer … what are you reading? It’s National Reading Month … get reading!!!


Is our welcome mat welcoming?


The un-welcome mat - photo by - http://www.flickr.com/photos/lexnger/

I had a phone conversation this week that left me a bit disturbed. The phone call was with a guy who’s relatively new to our community. He’s recently been hired into a top position in an organization that plays a pivatol role in bringing new people and businesses to town. He’s 29 years old, right in the middle of the 27-35 age demographic that most communities are working to recruit and retain. Our chat left me questioning just how welcoming the welcome mat is in our community.

In accepting the new job in Mt. Pleasant, the newcomer on other end of the phone talked about being somewhat frustrated in the greeting he has received by some. Hearing such comments as “when you’ve stuck around for five or more years, then you’ll be taken seriously.” I was stopped in my tracks hearing this … really! Is that the way to welcome newcomers end encourage them to stay?

The future of any community is dependent on the next generation — those that will grab the torch, keep the flame burning and run with it. The notion that these potential emerging leaders in our community, particularly those in the key demographic to lead our future, are being greeted in a way that discourages them to step up and take the reins is downright discouraging.

Time to check our local welcome mat.

What if the group of 27-35 year olds in town don’t stay? Imagine what a gap that would leave in our leadership. What a void that would leave in our future?

Perhaps there was a day when it was necessary for new people to stay for five years before being taken seriouisly. Nowadays that’s not the case, with the typical length of stay in a job being three to five years. A lot can be accomplished in that timeframe. Think back five years, a lot has changed since 2006, right? Think ahead five years, just imagine the changes possible by 2016.

Thankfully, the guy on the phone was NOT detered by the less than embracing response he received by some when first coming to town. Instead he has chosen to rally others in his age range to band together and do something about finding their place in town and making their mark.

Collectively, this group has been meeting regularly, getting to know each other better and talking about ways they can make a difference. Personally, I applaud the tenacity of the guy on the other end of phone and the gusto of the others his age for banding together.

Welcome - with open arms

For those of us not so new to town and outside this age demgraphic, may I suggest we open our arms wide to embrace, empower and encourage these young folks to stay.

To this particular group of 27-35 year olds in Mt. Pleasant I ask … what can we do to make you feel more welcomed here in our town?


Divide & Conquering approach to managing/raising 4 kids

Divide & Conquering - To Do List

I just finished writing an article for a client project and it got me thinking about how we as modern parents manage to keep our heads above water in the constant juggling we do to keep all balls in the air.

The article is about the Veterinarian at Potters Park Zoo, in Lansing, who recently gave birth to baby #3. It’s a compare/contrast on what it’s like to raise three children and 569 at the zoo. Dr. Tara Harrison lives by the ancient African proverb … “it takes a village to raise a child.” With every additional child (human or animal) dependence on that village grows even greater.

In raising our four kids, I couldn’t agree more. Considering our oldest will turn 20 years old this summer, I guess you could say we have a few years of experience with parenting.

Our approach has always been based on what my husband and I refer to as a “divide and conquer” strategy. Since dividing and conquering has worked fairly well for us, I figured it might be worth sharing.

It’s certainly not rocket science, more so based on common sense. Here’s how it works …

At the beginning of every week we share the schedule. This is done via email, which is now how my husband and I communicate regularly and often throughout the day.

Nowadays, the schedule is prepared and sent by my husband to me. He gets to his office earlier and is able to access online sports schedules – http://www.highschoolsports.net – faster than me.

Schedule messages consist of evening and weekend activities — practices, games, locations, times, etc.) School activities are added by me in a reply email — field trips, parent/teacher conferences, after school science fairs, etc.

From there the dividing and conquering begins. The nights when three activities happen at once are the biggest challenges. Afterall, there are only two of us and they’ve yet to figure out how to clone humans.

Those are the nights we turn to the “village” for ridesharing and filling in on the sidelines with cheering. We do our best to have at least one of us attend each child’s games or events.

The divide and conquering approach actually began before kids. Early on in our 22 years of marriage we somehow determined duties around the house. Our to do lists of chores is pretty predictable for man vs. woman. I do more inside. He does more outside. We’ve accepted this long ago and it works.

Funny thing is, much of the kids’ chores seem to fall along the same divide and conquer lines. Never was this more apparent than a few years ago, in a family discussion about who was going to tackle an additional chore, our oldest son stated – “don’t look at me, I’m poop and garbage.”

Not that it’s a perfect system. Admittedly, things fall through the cracks. Flexibility is key. Especially when those last minute notices crop up (which my husband will say are far too frequent for me), like an email alert of parent/teacher conferences “today @ 11:30 am — can you make it”?

For the most part the system has worked fairly well for our family for 22 years. Perhaps it’ll work for yours. I’d be interested in how you keep your head above water as a parent.

ps … note to husband — “parent/teacher conferences this Thursday, March 3 @ 11:30 a.m.” See you there !!!