Posts Tagged ‘blogs’

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The Art of Apologizing Online

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my article in RSVP MN Magazine for September 2013. Click here to read it thereRSVP MN MAG SEPTMBER ARTICLE

We’ve all had to say, “I am sorry” to someone at some time (at least I hope so). We’re human. We screw things up and we need to make things right. The same thing happens in business. Probably more than we ever want it to. The problem of today, in business, sometimes when we screw up, it’s online. Instead of only a few people seeing it, the potential is that millions of people have now seen it. It’s hard enough sometimes to apologize person to person, and now you have to potentially apologize to hundreds, thousands or millions online. It’s a pretty daunting task.

Apologizing online falls into a completely different aspect of apologies. It tends to be very public. It is hard to convey feelings or emotions via text and 140 characters. It can easily be assumed to be false or not heartfelt or true, and in the worst cases it can be seen as patronizing and condescending. There are some basic best practices that need to be followed to allow your online apology to be accepted and that you are able to recover from the mistake that led to the issue in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you say you’re sorry online:

1. Respond immediately when there is an issue. In today’s age of business there is no excuse for not monitoring your name and brand online. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, and push notifications from Twitter and Facebook to let you know when someone mentions you or your company online. We live in a time of instant communications, and businesses can no longer “wait to formulate a response.” In the time you take to formulate that response, the issues can go viral. Remember the Domino’s Pizza video of employees doing crude things to food? The company found out about it on a Sunday night, but waited until Wednesday to take the first step. By then there were well over a hundred thousand views of the video.

2. Always apologize on the same social or online channel where the offense or issue is mentioned. If it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, etc., you need to respond to the report of the issue where it has been made. Even if you need time to investigate an issue, by responding quickly on the same channel helps convey the perception and thought that you care. Then keep the lines of communication open on those same channels until the issue has been resolved. Bystanders may see your efforts and at least understand you are responding to the situation. Going silent only hurts matters by letting the message and sentiment be formed in your absence. If there is no means to respond, such as the comment being made on a blog, website, or online publication which doesn’t allow for responses, use your own channels (blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to respond. Link to the original online remark (URL) to inform the audience to the details of the incident, when the issue is searched for in the future, your response will be tied to the issue that happened.

3. Explain what went wrong. It might have been as simple as someone sent out the wrong message or hit send without thinking. You need to let people know how you are reacting to the problem and taking steps to correct it. Without conveying any self-examination and action towards resolution, it will appear as if you don’t care and are doing nothing. Remember, online isn’t always as visual so convey these thoughts in words.

4. Explain what you are doing to correct the situation and what steps you are putting in place to ensure it won’t happen again. This goes hand in hand with the previous step. If there is no plan or evidence of changed behavior, it will appear you are insincere and not really doing anything about the problem, and hence you are thought not to care about it. Add links and evidence to show what steps are being taken if that would help. Copies of new company policies or guidelines would be great to post as would photos of corrections, and so on. Evidence goes a long way toward rebuilding trust in your actions.

5. Finally, use the apology as an opportunity to make amends. If you show that you truly realize the scope and magnitude of your actions has hurt your standing in the community, use this opportunity to become a better corporate citizen. Overachieve on your next endeavor, especially if there is a community benefit to doing it. Your brand is only as valuable as the audience that follows, supports and enjoys what you do and your role in their lives. It is all too easy to move on to the next brand. Don’t allow your brand to lose reputation credibility and following all because of a few missteps. The best companies in the digital age will plan for a strategy and policy that heads this off at the beginning rather than a plan that chases the tail end of the problem.

By mastering the art of apologizing online, you may be able to save your company, your brand, or hopefully at the very least, your job.

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The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

July 2, 2013

rsvpmn-logoToday I contributed a guest blog/article to RSVP MN Magazine. Here is the post also a link to the post on their site:

The Paula Deen Effect and your Business – The Perils of Influencer Marketing

By Christopher Lower, Co-Owner and VP of PR, Marketing, & Social Media for Sterling Cross Communications

For many years we have come to learn of the power that celebrity influencers have on businesses. It’s one of the hottest terms in marketing today: Influencer Marketing. Businesses are looking for that lift that can be achieved when a person with a huge audience on multiple communications channels speaks fondly of your service or product and endorses it to their audience. In the most wildly successful cases, it became a phenomenon called the “Oprah Effect” due to the frenzy of business activity a company would receive when mentioned on the popular Oprah Winfrey show by the host herself.

On the negative side of the spectrum would be what has been happening in current events and could be ascribed as being victim to the “Paula Deen Effect”. In this case, the person of influence has become associated with a negative event and has triggered a wave of impact across several businesses that were connected to her, either as a direct working relationship, or in an endorsement relationship. Because of her negative online reputation, and current public perception of her, any brands that are tied to her are suffering. There has been a massive wave of companies scrambling to distance themselves from her brand, many of whom have been intrinsically tied to her popularity in the past.

To be completely fair, Ms. Deen isn’t the only influencer to have a negative impact on brands when a scandal has been tied to their reputation. How easily we forget those like Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and so on.

This current case is only greater proof of how important the public perception of your brand and reputation is online. It affects the bottom line, and can impact the stock prices in public companies. It could be your greatest weakness and many companies don’t even know how they can protect and defend their online reputation.

Because of the nature of social media users to have an extremely short attention span, people are more willing to perceive what they find on search engines to be the true nature of your business. You are what Google says you are. Sadly, you are also only as good as the latest and highest search engine ranked review.

As “The Deen Effect” demonstrates, you are also affected by the online reputations and perceptions of those people associated with you. These range from your vendors, suppliers, resellers, channel partners, employees, board members, and anyone else that impacts your brand. Their negative reputations can harm you online as well. You may not have “celebrity” endorsements, but you do have influencers inside and attached to your company. You no longer can afford to not monitor your own company and brand, and it would also be beneficial to monitor the reputations of those associated with your brand where you rely upon them to conduct your business.

Many businesses are scrambling to put together teams that can respond to these new crises situations. These issues may occur across multiple communication platforms in an instant, and can go globally viral in seconds. Traditional PR professionals who don’t have both the crises communications skills and a mastery of social and mobile technologies are obsolete. Using interns to solve the problem is fine for their knowledge of social media tools, but inadequate to deal with the crises communications. You need a team experienced in both that can respond immediately 24 hours a day, every day.

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My Apologies for the Lapse in Blogging – Real Life Interrupts Virtual Life

January 5, 2012

When you blog or post regularly on social media sites such as I do, there is an expectation from readers to have new content posted on a regular, frequent, basis. I have failed in my end of the bargain.  I hope I can be forgiven, as my reasons are fairly legitimate.  Part of the reason for my lapse was that I have been busily finishing my first book: Checking Into Foursquare – Strategies for Retail and Restaurant Marketing with Social Media, and working on my second and third books relating to QR Code Marketing and Online Reputation Management.

The remaining reason, and reason I have had a lot of time for writing is that I have gone through some pretty major heart health related issues over the past year, that has taken me out of the game for long stretches of time.  I am back and recharged (literally)and look forward to seeing if I can regain some readership and faith in my ability to provide useful relevant content going forward.

Thanks for Reading!

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Using PR & Social Media to Promote Restaurants – A Case Study

January 18, 2010

At Sterling Cross Communications, we’re very proud to have been a recent case study focus by Meetings: Minnesota’s Hospitality Journal Magazine’s Winter 2010 Issue.  The Case Study covers the work we have been doing for our client moto-i, the first sake microbrewery outside of Kyoto, Japan, located in Uptown Minneapolis.   It goes into detail about the behind-the-scenes efforts that were put into place to promote this restaurant via social media channels as well as integrating media and blogger relations. Here is the article:

Sake & Social Media

Placing his trust in Sterling Cross Communications, restaurateur Blake Richardson turned to social media to market his latest venture, Moto-i sake microbrewery and restaurant.

By Ellie M. Bayrd

Nearly seven years ago, Blake Richardson, owner of the Herkimer Pub & Brewery in Minneapolis and the mind behind Triple Caff draft energy drink, fell in love with sake. Inspired by what he calls an “amazing beverage,” the beer brewer embraced the possibility of creating a sake microbrewery restaurant in Minneapolis. The labor of love took him to Japan several times, where he studied the art of sake. At the same time that Richardson was becoming enamored with the drink, he was also in a love affair with Asian cuisine like many other Americans. “The synergy between the two just came together at the right time,” he says.

The idea percolated and his studies progressed, and about two years before his restaurant idea would become a reality Richardson had a chance meeting with Chris Lower, director of marketing, public relations and social media at Sterling Cross Communications. A company touting its traditional storytelling in a modern world,Maple Grove-based Sterling Cross has embraced online marketing tools. While Richardson wasn’t really thinking about how he would market his new restaurant concept at the time, his conversation with Lower spurred him to action. “I don’t want to allude to that I wouldn’t have had a plan,” Richardson says. “But I came in contact with Sterling Cross long before that segment of my responsibilities to the marketing would have come along.”

 Click HERE to read the rest of the article

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Horizon Realty – A Case Study in how not to handle online reputation management

August 3, 2009

It started out fairly innocuously, it was a single retweet on Twitter of a news source I monitor, but the headline was too intriguing not to read – Will one Chicago woman’s Tweet cost her $50,000? I immediately thought to myself; “boy, someone is in trouble…,” but as I clicked on the link and read the first article here, and then I saw it was a headline here and here, I quickly saw the writing on the wall, it wasn’t the person that was in trouble, it was the company referenced: Horizon Realty.

The company in their response and defense of the single tweet by a woman, Amanda Bonnen, with the Twitter username:  @abonnen, initiated legal proceedings seeking $50,000 in damages for claimed defamation.  This is the company’s right to do so.  It is even a recommended course in traditional public relations crises communications tactics, yet, it is never the first recommended course when trying to manage your brand and reputation online. It should be the last resort.

When someone brings out the giant cannon of litigation, without having investigated and addressed the message in a public forum, it is immediately seen by the public watching, as overkill.  The giant corporation is now seen as bullying, callous, and unfeeling towards its tenants in the actions it has taken in response.

The response the company was initially hoping to avoid (that of their reputation being besmirched by the remark, has instead inflicted 1000’s of remarks to their own reputation, when word of the lawsuit reached the Twitter community.  The Twitter community took the side of the woman, and began to tear the company to shreds online for its “heavy-handedness”, “Lawsuit-happy management”, and generally being “clueless” (all words being mentioned online as descriptors of the company).

The response by Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael in a Chicago Tribune interview  , was that they were a “Sue first, ask questions later, type of company.” Once again this irked the general public online. Michael later (1 day, an eternity online)  released a press release claiming the comments were meant to be “tongue-in-cheek”, and then delved into the details of some ongoing issues that Horizon has had with Ms. Bonnen and some prior complaints she has had with them.  AS you can imagine, this release was not received well online, and for a second day, Horizon was listed as a trending topic on Twitter as the negative conversations continued fueled by Horizon themselves.

In the first 72 hours that this occurred, the damage on the net was done.  It’s been classified as an example of the Streisand Effect - an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized.  Companies can no longer scoff at the idea that their reputation online does not matter, and that they have to participate in and listen to the conversations.  Horizon failed to do so, and the end results so far are these:

  • They became a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that they went from the 22 followers of Ms. Bonnen’s to being seen potentially by over a million people (of their own doing with the news of the lawsuit). The most recent 1500 comments can be seen here (it would be more, but that is all that Twitter has room for in their search tool).
  • If you Google “Horizon Realty”, four of the eleven first page listings are negatively related to the lawsuit. (Think of how that looks to a future potential tenant or someone searching for a management company).
  • Their reviews on Yelp have exploded from three listings prior to this event to 26 listings (ranging from annoyed to enraged) as of today keeping their ratings as a lowly 1 and a half stars.
  • Google Blog search shows over 16,000 blog posts that are already indexed, of which over 1000 include the phrase: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” There are also over 14,000 posts mentioning Jeffrey Michael (predominantly in a negative manner)
  • Not only has Horizon Realty earned the onus of being attributed to the Streisand Effect on Wikipedia, Horizon Realty has its own entry page.
  • The story jumped to traditional media as well – earning mentions in the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal and too many other outlets (over 512 stories as of today’s writing) to mention.

Is there still doubt in your mind or in the minds of your company that social media doesn’t matter?

Crisis Communication on Social Media has to have different rules, since it is different from traditional media.  We recommend the following steps be in place as the basics for any online reputation management strategies and policies that need to be put in place:

  1. Always investigate complaints made & verify the facts and source.
  2. Responding to a complaint – where:  when possible, respond on the same site the comment was made.  If it was on a blog submit a comment – if the blogger refuses to post your response, notate this and publish your post on your own blog or website.
  3. When to respond: respond in as timely a manner as possible, when the complaint has been investigated. 24 hours is a lifetime on the Internet – waiting makes things worse.
  4. Legal action may be taken to protect your IP, Brand, & Reputation: but remember, Internet issues are tricky as there are 1stAmendment issues involved that may require special expertise. Slander, Defamation of Character, Harassment, and online Bullying laws can apply. Legal intervention is required in most cases to force removal of material from the Internet. Copyright Infringement could be involved in the case of brand or identity theft.

As you can see, escalating to legal action is an option, just not the first recommended option, and never until the first three steps have been taken.

The final thoughts I will leave you with are these – the best defense is a good offense:

  1. The conversation is happening online whether you like it or not – will you participate?
  2. It’s not good enough to be present online – You need to engage your audience and participate in the conversation
  3. Transparency and Authenticity rule the net – Lies and misrepresentation will always be found out and called
  4. True Customer Service comes from listening, observing, and engaging – then, providing a thoughtful, timely response.
  5. Perception online is always a consideration – if you are perceived as the bully in responding to a complaint, using threats, or worse – legal action that could be avoided, then you lose, even if you are in the right.
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The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part One)

October 27, 2008

Let’s talk about the obvious cost to your business – Loss of Market Share & Market Penetration, or more simply stated audience, awareness, and customers.  Whether you realize it or not, your audience is moving online in greater numbers every day. There has been a longstanding myth that has been perpetrated, that states the as the Baby-Boomer Generation retires, we are losing the largest segment of a purchasing audience ever, and that there will never be so many goods and services sold again.  That is blatantly false. 

First of all, that claim only considers a “generation” contained in the U.S.  Our markets and audiences are and have to be considered as global generations.  The mere fact that your business has a website means you are able to reach a worldwide audience.  Second, the generation being defined as Gen Tech, those that are 18 and under right now, will have grown up, never knowing a time without the internet or cellphones.  In summation, they are on the horizon, and are the largest (world) populous generation recorded, and will have ten times the purchasing power of the Baby Boomer Generation.

The existing generations are also streaming online in greater numbers than ever.  Here are a few stats[1]:

·         78% Of Americans 45-60 years of age are computer users

·         86% Of Gen X (30-45) & Gen Y (18-30) are computer users

Here is what they are doing online[2]:

·         90% of all purchasing decisions, from where to eat, to what product to buy, to healthcare & business decisions begin with research performed by an online Search Engine.

·         48% of internet users purchased a good or service in 2000 that increased to 71% in 2006.

·         54% of business professionals reported in April of 2007 that they utilize the internet for research and purchases related to their business.

·         In April, 2007, Technorati reported they are tracking more than 75 million blogs and that 175,000 new blogs are being created each day.

·         YouTube serves more than 100 million videos every day.

·         During 2006, the number adults who had downloaded a podcast grew more than 70% in the first six months alone.

·         A podcasting audience totaling 10 million people in 2006 is expected to grow to 55 million by the year 2011.

How about Social Media?

According to a recent survey[3], it was found that 60% of Americans use social media, and of those, 59% interact with companies on social media Web sites. One in four interacts more than once per week. These same subjects surveyed also found that 93% of Americans believe a company “should have a presence in social media,” 85% say having a presence is not enough, and that companies “should also interact with consumers via social media.”

The Survey revealed interesting facts about what users of social media actually expected companies to do on social media platforms: “The news here is that Americans are eager to deepen their brand relationships through social media,” explains Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone, “it isn’t an intrusion into their lives, but rather a welcome channel for discussion.”

The bottom line, is that as more and more of your target audience is increasing their activity on the web, they expect your company to be doing the same (increasing your activity, services, and solutions as well). How much market share, market penetration, and revenue can your company afford to lose by not entering into Social Media?


[1] 2000-2007 Pew Internet & American Life Project

[2] 2000-2007 Pew Internet & American Life Project, Technorati, & YouTube

[3] 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study

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What is the cost to your company to not utilize Social Media to connect and grow your business?

September 17, 2008

I’ve been asked several questions lately about Social Media Tools such as; what can I really do with them, do they apply in my Industry, should I really be talking about my everyday life, what if someone doesn’t like what I say, or any other of a similar nature.  All good questions indeed, but the most important one is not being asked – What is the cost to my business if I don’t utilize Social Media Tools?

Social Media platforms are the fastest growing segments of the internet user population.  New users of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and so on, number in the millions daily. Besides the basic benefits of networking, there are a myriad of ways you can utilize and incorporate social media tools into your business to support and enhance such functions as communication, customer service, PR, Marketing, Sales, New business Development, research, education, Human Resources, recruiting, training, and more. 

Businesses both traditional (Defined for our purpose today as the Fortune 500) and more non-traditional (Defined for our purposes today as the Inc. 500, although these companies really aren’t all that non-traditional – they are the fastest growing 500 private companies) are rapidly adopting social media tools and incorporating them into their business. According to research today, 62 (12.4%) of the Fortune 500 are blogging as of 9/9/08[1] and 39% of the Inc. 500 is blogging, which is a 20% increase over the previous year.[2] In the Summary of the report they predict the Inc. 500 will grow by a 40% adoption rate in this year alone.

What does that mean?  First of all, they are beating you and leaving you in the dust if you’re not already in the social media game, and more importantly, they are reaching an audience that prefers to receive its information and do its communication, via such tools. Combine that with the increasing number of consumer activities online, from product research to e-commerce, and the web is a critical battleground your business will need to play on in order to stay relevant today and in the future.

So, what can you do from keeping yourself from joining the ranks of the dinosaurs?  Follow along in my next few posts as we’ll talk about strategy, ground rules, and offer a few case studies from the clients we’ve helped, to other noteworthy business case studies.

To kick it all off, why don’t you take a moment to leave a comment on what is your biggest fear or roadblock to adopting Social Media Tools at your business??


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Blogs. Borrrrrrinnggggg.

June 30, 2008

Yep. That’s how a 20+ year veteran of the advertising and creative industry ended a 500+ word rant on his corporate blog, about how he “hates blogs” and decries them as a “self-aggrandizing fad”.  Wasn’t the internet, and television once called a “fad”? He equates those that read, follow, and comment on other blogs as “new-media groupies.”  He just doesn’t get it.  It’s a shame really.  It is another case of a creative talent, responsible for the promotion, innovation, and differentiation of the brands that his clients entrust him with, who can’t adapt to the future.

 

I know Advertising is all about the interruption approach, and has been forever.  TV commercials, radio spots, full-page glossies in magazines, and billboards – all mediums going through a whirlwind paradigm shift which will reshape and recreate the media field at the speed of light.  These methods don’t work and customers “get it”.  Sadly, some agency owners do not. 

 

The customer realizes that they have the power.  They can Tivo out your commercials, block your pop-ups, and block out all of your attempts to push your catchy jingle or edgy catch phrase.  They realize that your four-color glossy ad is in that magazine specifically because you paid to place it there.  Oh, and please do me a favor, and stop trying to disguise your paid ad as an advertorial!  That’s just insulting our intelligence.

 

They want to be engaged in a discussion rather than pitched to.  So what would be a first step down that path?  How about engaging your potential customers in a conversation?  How about you open up your pitch, your claims of “new” and “improved”, to the feedback and comments of your audience?  Could your product and brand survive that?  If it truly is what is says it is – then it will survive.  Otherwise it could be trashed and trampled.

 

Blogs can open up your brand to discussions, especially if you accept comments.  Even if the comments call out a shortcoming (if there is a shortcoming that needs correction), it is better to have them do so while you are paying attention to them and have the opportunity to make the change, rather than find out these shortcomings as the blog author puts it: “I figure I’ll hear about our shortcomings by our clients walking out the door.”  By then, it’s too late.  They are on to your competition.

 

The advertising exec blog author (the irony of him blogging about how he hates blogs is just too sublime!) goes on to say that corporate blogs are the worst offenders – “And the corporate blog is the worst because it’s just a big PR tactic that is so very transparent.”  Amen to that.  He has just stated the key principal has to be integral to every communications campaign: transparency. 

 

You can’t hide behind the spin and shine.  You’ll be called out as the Emperor with no clothes.  People want transparency.  Target got called out because they were enticing people to rave about them in the social online communities. They want to feel they can get to know you and your brand.

 

A blog lets your audience get to “know” you a bit better, by reading about what you care about on your blog.  They can encounter your “parroting” of your company’s reports, or your pitches, just like anyone you speak with, whether online or in a face to face meeting.  They can also encounter your expertise, knowledge, experience, opinion, tastes, likes, competence, and so on.  A website is a great place for your audience to find and interact with you, if there are the right tools to do so.  A blog is one of those tools.

 

I spoke to a group of business professionals last week that were skeptical yet eager to learn about how blogs are being used today and whether or not they should have a blog or even recommend blogs to their clients (they are consultants).  I was impressed by shared inquisitiveness and curiosity, and most of all with their ability to embrace this new form of communication. They wanted to join in the discussion.

 

I think advertising will ultimately survive – there will always be a need for creative content, but it will have to move to the new communication mediums, and become on demand rather than an interruption.  Agencies, the slow ones, refusing to be nimble and embrace the changes and keep with the times, will be culled from the herd.  Those that embrace and innovate will be the ones setting their brands truly above the buzz.  What do you think? Leave a comment. Start a conversation. Engage!

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Making your blog stand out in a crowd…

June 6, 2008

 

I was asked a great question in the comment of my last post (Thanks Kathryn!) about how can you make your blog stand out in a crowd of, according to Technorati, millions of other blogs out there each day.  It was not such an easy question to answer.  There is a lot of background information I would need to advise someone on a specific blog.  I had responded to the comment with ten of the questions I ask clients during a blog assessment, and I decided to list them in this post.  To help develop any strategy to promote and differentiate a blog, you need be crystal clear on what your blog’s purpose is and what you are intending to be the outcome of your blog.

In my next post I will go into some of the strategies to best differentiate your blog and will include some great examples of blogs that are achieving these, including some special guest appearance posts from these bloggers.  Here is the list and let me know your thoughts:

1.       What is the purpose of your blog? (Business? Personal? To give you a voice?)

2.       Who is blogging? (Several businesses use a team approach to blogging and share the writing, while other companies such as ours are set up where we each have our own individual blogs. See them at www.sterlingcrossgroup.com/company/the-team/)

3.       How often will you update the blog?

4.       Who is the audience? (Is this communication to an internal audience of team members or employees? Or is this to an external audience (customers, prospects, target demographic, etc)?

5.       How will you promote this blog?

6.       What other items will be on this blog (links, resources, widgets, etc)?

7.       Will you try to or do you desire to monetize this blog?

8.       Will this blog include multimedia (videos, audio, pictures, etc.)?

9.       Where will this blog reside (on your own website, on a tool such as wordpress or blogger)?

10.   What other initiatives is this blog tied to?

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Giving a Presentation on blogging to Business Executives…

June 4, 2008

I am giving a presentation on blogging to Business Executives that have no experience with blogging. I love to use this video as a conversation starter.  For those of you interested in attending (this will be very basic entry to blogging level stuff) and are in the Twin Cities, I will be presenting to: The Council of Independant Consultants on June 27th, 2008 from 7-9AM (CST).  You can click here for more info: http://www.cipcmn.org/.  What tools do you recommend for new bloggers without any experience? Share and I will give you a plug at my presentation!

more about “Giving a Presentation on blogging to …“, posted with vodpod

 

 

 

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