The day Twitter was down

Today, starting at about 11:03 AM CST (and for a little over an hour), Twitter was unavailable worldwide.  At first, I noticed that my Tweetdeck columns were no longer refreshing.  Then, a series of Facebook status updates with tons of people commenting exploded.  I checked Google+ and there too, people were commenting and chatting about Twitter being down.  It seems that the Twitter regulars have quickly flocked to one platform or the other to joke about “How will we survive?” and “Oh man, I had some news I really was ready to break”.

For me, I took this time to reflect.  I was thinking this morning about writing a post called  ”Social Stream Burnout” after reading an article on how big data is more about viewing relevant data, and no longer “real-time” data, since there is so much of it.  For anyone that follows more than a few hundred people on any platform, the constant updates can be overwhelming.  How many of you wake up each morning and grab a screen before getting out of bed?  Maybe it’s your recharged phone.  Maybe it’s your iPad, or tablet.  Are you hungry for updates before you even sense your hunger for food?

What I find most interesting about this Twitter blackout, is that it seems like someone just turned up the volume on my Facebook and Google+.  As people can’t update their Twitter status with articles, thoughts, questions, and interactions – they are simply turning to another platform and plugging in.  I’m seeing more hashtags than normal, and more comments that are just seconds apart – as if it were a live chat on a status update.

As time passes, the streams are slowing down.  I’m envisioning millions of people trying to refresh their Twitter apps and their web browsers.  It would seem that for some, the other platforms just “don’t do it for them” like Twitter does.  And for brands that monitor public mentions – what are they doing with this time?  Think about it for a second – Twitter is really the only public platform where conversations and a stream of millions of people’s consciousness are captured, stored, and available to be harvested by anyone.  No circles.  No friends.  No connections.  No permission needed to listen.

I’ve already made it a habit to plug in my phone and turn it upside down with the buzz and ringer off when I get home.   I might pop back into the stream later at night, but I have to make more time for my wife, my kids, and the rest of my extended family and chances are – you do too.  This blackout feels peaceful to me.

So, what did you do with your time?  Did it change your day?  What did you do different?

Growing up digital

My kids have been playing Webkinz for years. It’s an offline stuffed animal with a special code that lets you activate your new “pet” online. Once online, there’s plenty of game mechanics to keep you engaged with the site – earning virtual currency (Kinz Cash) to buy stuff for your pet and the house you build for him. If you have a friend that has a Webkinz, you can connect with each other to chat and show off your virtual digs. My children grew up in this environment.

My son was born a few weeks after my wife and I purchased our first TiVo (before cable companies had dvrs). My children have always had on-demand entertainment on the television. As a toddler, my son would confuse my mother when he asked her to pause her TV when he had to go to the bathroom. She didn’t understand what he meant when he said that Mr. Rogers was on whenever he wanted to watch it.  Nowadays, it’s all Netflix and Hulu Plus and Epix – what we want when we want.

My daughter doesn’t have a Facebook account, but she does help my wife tend her virtual farm. She interacts with the ”neighbors” – our friends and family, and helps them out when she can (planting seeds, watering, etc). She’s now started her own castle in a different realm of Facebook – and this is entirely her own. She has a virtual pet store that she runs on our iTouch. This is real life for her – it isn’t called “virtual” or ”online”.

My son communicates with his grandfathers via text messaging. So does my daughter. They have great relationships with them. They love small talking via SMS. They call it “texting”, but I imagine that’s because we call it texting, and they think it’s novel.  For them, it’s just a form of communication.

My daughter is totally bummed that Google won’t let her get an email address because she’s too young.  I wonder if she’ll ever get email. I wonder if she’ll need it – if a Facebook account could be created without an email address - why would she need one?

FaceTime is blowing my mind. My daughter and her friend wake up each morning and say hello. They prepare for their day together (including teeth and hair brushing). They read together at night. My daughter has a best friend that she spends more time online with than offline. I’ve never heard them say “so glad to see you irl”. This is all in real life for them.

Want to know what the future looks like? Take a look at today’s kids. The ones that grew up with the real innovations. The ones whose normal is today’s “early adopter”.

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When your brand talks back

I don’t care whether you’re a Twitter newbie, or a Twitter veteran: it’s an AWESOME feeling when a brand “tweets” you in 140 characters or less. I’m not just talking about fielding your complaints either, although that’s important too. When you mention a brand and that brand talks back to you, it makes you feel good.

Let me break it down for you…
We’re talking about one-to-one communication. The print industry has understood the value of this for some time. The more personalized you make the piece of direct mail you send, the higher the response rates you’re going to receive. I’m not talking about a fancy mail-merge-Dear-John-letter either. You can swap out images and paragraphs based on your data. This is all the good practice that we do on the web, in email marketing, and in print. If you can master the art of one-to-one communications, your messaging seems as if it was just a personal note meant for one person.

Just don’t look like a machine…
See, the more your business can communicate like a human, instead of a robotic marketing machine, the better off you’re going to be.  When someone says they are flying on your airline – thank them for flying and wish them a safe flight.  When someone checks into your restaurant and Tweets out to their friends – welcome them and suggest a sandwich.  Do what you would do if you saw a note from your best friend come across your screen.

Be a friend.
I’m not going to lie to you: it’s a ton of hard work to communicate one-to-one with your audience.  But if we strip away the technology for just a second, it should be obvious to you how you need to interact with people.  You welcome them.  You compliment them.  You ask them how their day is going.  You become their best friend.  You use technology to do this because that’s where they are.

So think about this: the next time you’re about to do a Facebook update or send out a Tweet – you can keep creating your commercials that people continually tune out, or you can interact with your friends.

Don't Argue – A/B test with Visual Website Optimizer

Affiliate link to Visual Website OptimizerStop wondering about performance tweaks.
Have you ever wondered how a page on your website or blog would perform if only you did X instead of Y?  What about the time that you got into the huge argument with your designers or programmers on what a button should say, or where it should go?  Let’s face it: people who are good at what they do (or not) have very strong opinions when it comes to exactly how things should be.  This has always frustrated me, because although I believe there are some strong guidelines, I don’t believe there’s always a hard and fast rule when it comes to the psychology of everyone out there.   I’ve always wanted a way to easily test those arguments and “hunches” and I finally found something not only affordable, but extremely easy to use.

I’m super excited about digital A/B testing.
In direct marketing, especially direct mail, A/B testing is one of the most powerful practices to employ.  Great direct mail marketers often end up with not-so-attractive mail pieces that outperform anything you could ever imagine.  I’ve even seen cases where adding nice design elements start decreasing the performance of the piece.  I don’t know if this is true about websites, because I’ve just recently started obsessing over A/B digital testing, but I can’t wait to find out.

The example…
Our homepage had a very light green round button that says “Join Now”.  We’ve had many arguments about this button – from the design of the button to what it should say.  We’ve never changed it in fear that it might actually decrease our signups.  We had no real easy way to test it until one day I discovered Visual Website Optimizer (affiliate link).  I signed up for a free account without a credit card, pasted some supplied javascript into our site (exactly the same amount of skills needed for Google Analytics tracking javascript code) and started using their Visual Interface.  I set up an A/B test, created 2 new buttons in photoshop, and created 2 variations of our homepage.   It was super easy!  I just right clicked, chose the change image option, and gave it my new image.  I then tracked how many people got to our sign up page, and also how many people got to our thanks page  (proving they spent money with us).  I let it run for 2 weeks.  I now have proof on what works.

The results:
A/B testing with Visual Website Optimizer 
 As you can see from the image above, the “Get Some” smaller green button had a 116.49% improvement over our control.  Since I also tested the results of both signups and complete orders, I was able find out that we sell 64.95% more packs of cards using that new button.  Interestingly enough – the smaller Join Now green button resulted in more signups, yet less purchases.

What’s Next?
I’m going to make more tests, and continue to try and boost the performance of the traffic we’re getting to our site.  I highly recommend you give it a go.  It’s easier than you’d think.  You don’t need to be a developer.  The plans are affordable.  The service is amazing (I get prompt responses to my inquiries when I have problems).

Got any testing experiences you can share?  I’d love to hear about them, and I’d love to share anything else I’m learning while experimenting.

Note: I did sign up for the affiliate program with Visual Website Optimizer, but I was not asked by them to write this post.  If you know me, you know I like to learn, and share what I learn.  I’m also learning about affiliate marketing and running a program for Meet-Meme, so participating in different affiliate programs is helping me get a better feel for how that all works too :)

Palm Springs Tram – Fruition is worth the climb

Palm Springs TramI had the priveledge of taking the Palm Springs Tram, which is the largest rotating tram in the world, up 10,834 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto. The view was breathtaking on the way up, and the experience is one I will never forget. My wife and I climbed through 5 climate zones on our way up, and we were able to watch the moon rise over the lit up city of Palm Springs.

The Palm Springs Tram trip
was amazing for sure, but the story on how this “eighth wonder of the world” was built is motivating. In 1935, an electrical engineer named Francis F. Crocker had a vision. He enjoyed hiking up Mount San Jacinto in the hot summers because of how much cooler it was as you climbed up the mountain. He wanted to share this experience with everyone he met. As he climbed with his friend Carl Barkow, a local newspaper publisher in Palm Springs, he shared his vision: to build a tram system that would let everyone “go where it’s nice and cool” at any time.

Back in 1935, everyone thought Crocker was off his rocker, and his idea was dubbed “Crocker’s Folley”. But Crocker kept pushing his vision forward. It took him 15 years of difficult work and hardships, but by 1950 he had raised $8.5 million in private bonds which paid 5 1/2% in interest (these were finally paid off in full by 1996). In July 1961 construction on his dream began, and in Septmember of 1963 it was completed.

Since the first Palm Springs Tram ride in 1963,
over 12 million people have rode to the top of the mountain and back down again. Because Crocker never gave up, and kept pushing his vision forward, millions of people have been able to benefit by “going where it’s nice and cool” while visiting Palm Springs. I’m glad that there are people like Crocker. I was able to experience something amazing while traveling, all because Crocker didn’t give up on his vision of the Palm Springs Tram.

I hope this story about Crocker inspires you to keep pushing your vision forward. Got any other awesome fruition examples to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below :)

Photo Credit

How to spy on the success of links

Have you ever
seen a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn that starts with or ?  If your QR Code scanner shows you the URL of the code you just scanned, you might have noticed a shortened URL there too. I’ve seen shortened URLs used in books, on posters, and even a business card. Did you know that the stats about those URLs are publicly available?  These stats are quite useful when you’re creating links of your own, but you can access ANYONE’s stats by just putting a + after the URL.  For instance, to see this post’s stats, simply go to: and you can see exactly how good or poor this post is being clicked on via the initial tweet from me. offers a custom service,
which many bloggers and companies use.  What this means is that there are plenty more URLs you can spy on besides or  Even companies like Mashable ( and Facebook ( utilize the service.  Take a look at some of your favorite bloggers – chances are they too use their own shortening URL through the service.  Remember: Just add a + to the end of any link you see from a short domain, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see the click stats.

So how is this useful?
Ever wonder how many clicks your competition is getting?  If you have a direct mail piece with a QR Code from them that happens to use the shortening service – you can find out.

Admire a blogger with a ton of followers and want to know how many clicks they are getting on blog posts?  Chances are good if they use a short service, you can see just how many clicks they are getting.

In the middle of a web or SMS demo and you’re provided a shortlink?  Just add that plus sign and know how many clicks that demo part of the demo has received.  You can also do a pretty good job guessing how many times that company does the demo and when (based on the clicks).

Want to research good titles for job postings?  Start gathering data on the click through rates for postings that use short URLs.  Keep a spreadsheet and see if you can see any trends in titles vs. clicks.

These are just a few ideas I had before coffee this morning, so I’m sure you have plenty more idea you can share with our friends below :)

I ate the best sandwich I ever had

Best Sandwich I ever AteThe picture shown here is a t-shirt that you can buy at The Farm Market Deli in Wautoma, Wisconsin.  It’s hanging on the wall for you to see while you eat at one of the many tables in their deli.  The menus are overwhelming with sandwich choices.  Everything was delicious.  Service was good.  We cleaned our plates.  During and after our meal, I’m fairly certain each of us said it was the best sandwich we ever ate.  Not one of the best sandwiches but the best sandwich.

Guru – Expert – Master – Jedi – Ninja – Maestro – Stud – Crackerjack
We might laugh at people who use these “titles” to describe they are good at something, but for the common man, possibly the power of suggestion is at work here?  I’ll be honest – if the sandwich I had completely sucked, I would never consider saying it was good, or one of the best I’ve ever had. But, since they delivered a very tasty product, and put not only the sandwich but the words in my mouth – I found myself deep into the belief of what was in front of me.

Humbleness is often our worst enemy
Being humble is a good trait – people appreciate when you’re not too cocky about your skills. However, being too humble can damage future marketability.  What if the signs and shirts in the Farm Market Deli said “Thanks, Yeah, our sandwiches are alright, I guess.”?  You would still enjoy the food, but you probably wouldn’t be walking away describing it as the best sandwich you ever had.

Be proud.  Be loud.
Try it this week.  I’m not suggesting updating your profiles to contain the word guru – but figure out how to work in your personal marketing and conversations that you’re the best.  People may just start to believe it.


Delete Your Inbox in 5 steps

Delete your inbox
It’s time to delete your inbox.  Sound scary?  For me it is a very scary concept.  How can I delete my inbox, when it contains so much important information?  There’s unread email I need to check out.  And what about the files, the passwords, the notes, and everything else about my life dating back to 1996 when I opened up my first “grownup” email account? I have 3 email boxes: 2 different corporate accounts and a personal account.  2 in gmail, and 1 in Exchange server. So here’s my plan:



Steps to delete your inbox:

Step 1 – combine accounts:
Combine accounts if you can.  I’m going to have all of my Exchange email automatically forwarded to my corporate Gmail account.  I’m considering forwarding my personal account there too.  That way, I have one system to work from.

Step 2 –  Install Evernote on all of my devices:
I’m making sure that whatever computer, phone, or tablet I’m currently on is running my synced Evernote account.  I’m going to store everything important in that system so I’m not relying on my email as an archive of every piece of important information.

Step 3 – Install Dropbox on all of my devices:
Files will no longer  be kept in email.  I’m going to take attachments that I need and store them in Dropbox, which is also installed on everything I use.  I’m also going  to use SendtoDropBox so I can forward emails with attachments and easily get them store in that cloud. From there, I can manage where those files might need to reside long term.  No more depending on my inbox for file archiving.

Step 4 – Play the Email game:
I’m going to play the email game four times a day until I’ve gone through my entire inbox.  Try it out: it’s awesome!  After that, I’ll play twice a day, and turn off email notifications on my portable devices.  If there’s an emergency, I can’t rely that email is the quickest way to get in touch with me.  That’s what we have Twitter, texting, and *gasp* phone calls for.  I’ll be replying, archiving, storing files and notes, and using the delete option with FURY for everything unimportant.

Step 5 – Unsubscribe:
I have way too much crap that goes into my inbox.  I’m going on a diet and unsubscribing from everything I find myself deleting more than 80% of the time.  I’m going to limit myself to 3 email subscriptions, which will be Marketing Profs, Chris Brogan, and Social Media Club.  I will remove myself from as many lists as possible, and mark “as spam” for those I can’t.

So that’s my plan.  It’s not a complete delete, but I believe this will put me on the right track.  Do you have any other suggestions or tools that help you battle your inbox?


USPS QR Code Discount 2012 – Doing it right this year

On March 26th, 2012 the USPS announced a QR Code Discount for 2012, and this year, I think they have the right idea.  According to their press release, they felt that although the 2011 promotion was a success to make people aware of QR Codes, this year is all about creating effective campaigns and they are encouraging mailers to adopt “best practices”.  Last year, I wrote a post called “Don’t let the USPS ruin the QR Code Experience“, where I tried to make people aware there was much more to consider than just a “QR Code” on a mail piece.  I even had a marketer who produces hundreds of thousands of mail pieces admit to me that they didn’t have enough time to develop any sort of strategy, and just slapped on the codes to get the discount (money is money, right?).  Wrong.

The 2012 promotion is only valid
if it leads the recipient to either a webpage that allows them to purchase a product or service on a mobile device or it leads them to a personalized URL, which is unique to the individual person.  The rules go on to state that best practices such as directional copy and mobile optimization are also required.  In my opinion, unless you have the manpower and budget to mobile-enable an existing shopping experience by May 1st (when registration for applicants begins), your only option is to work with a print partner that has experience in personalized URLs and personalized mobile sites.

So what’s a personalized URL?
Personalized URLs (often mistakenly pronounced “PURLS” by the inexperienced), rely on a DNS wildcard trick that allows any subdomain entered by a human to be directed to the same web server instance.  In English, this means that both “” and “” both resolve to the same website.  Then, by using some programming magic, the website looks at the full URL you are trying to access and ties that information back to a database – giving the programmer a list of variables for him to use when displaying the webpage.  For instance, by looking up the full URL, the programmer might find out that my favorite food is bacon, my cocktail of choice is a whiskey Manhattan (2 olives and 2 cherries), and my nickname is “Brew”.  He then might decide to display a message such as “Hey Brew, thanks for visiting.   We know you better than you think.  First Manhattan is on us, and enjoy a complimentary basket of bacon on your next visit”.

It might sound like science fiction
but this is exactly how great print partners are leveraging the mounds of data you already have on your customers – both in print and via personalized landing pages that convert to leads, sales, and in-store traffic.  Through a series of many tests and tweaks, you could be reaching your customers in their mailboxes and having just the right conversation with them online.

Don’t think your current provider has what it takes?  Drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to introduce you to someone who’s got the chops to help you navigate through a solution. 

Oh yeah, we’re going to finally see some well thought-out campaigns this summer.  Thanks USPS for fixing last year’s “glitch”.

Is every day Groundhog Day for you?

February 2 is Groundhog Day, a day when we watch to see if some groundhog somewhere sees a shadow.  If it’s a sunny day, and his shadow is prominent, he retreats back into his hole and we say that there will be another six more weeks of winter weather.

Groundhog Day – The Movie
I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie with Bill Murray that takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania which happens to be the largest Groundhog Day celebration each year.  What’s interesting about the movie, is that the term “Groundhog Day” means something different to me now.  I don’t think of it as the day I find out whether we’ll have more winter or not.  I think of it as a series of events that seem to repeat over and over again.

How to stop Groundhog Day
Think about it for a minute.  What events or actions seem like a beaten dead horse to you?  Do you find yourself saying “This sure feels like Groundhog Day.”?  Well, you, and only you have the power to stop it.  Break out of the bad routine by forcing change.  No one person is going to do it for you.  Change is good.  Whether it’s something around the office, something in your personal life, or maybe it’s just another one of those days when you feel stuck.  Be part of the solution – don’t add or ignore the repeating problems.

It’s time to wake up.
In the final day of his never-ending Groundhog Day, Phil has already befriended everyone in town, and then gives Rita a lifelike bust made of snow.  After a kiss, it starts snowing.  The time loop is broken, and Phil awakes the next morning to February 3rd.  He finally made the change in his life that he had been searching for.  He never gave up (although he didn’t really have a choice).

If  your first attempt at change fails: readjust and persevere.  Don’t ever give up, and don’t accept your Groundhog Day events.  It’s up to you. What are you going to change?

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