Archive for March, 2009


The ROI of Managing your Online Reputation & Brand presented by Sterling Cross Communications

March 31, 2009

Who: Sterling Cross Communications, a Twin Cities based Social Media, PR and Web Design firm.

What: 90-minute workshop presentation that educates and arms participants with awareness and tools to understand, monitor and shape their online reputation and brand.

When: Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 – 8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
*Breakfast/registration opens at 8:30 a.m. – session start time 9:00 a.m.

Where: The Learning Center at the offices of Lurie Besikof Lapidus and Company LLP; 2501 Wayzata Boulevard; Minneapolis, MN 55405

Cost: $100 for general admission – $85 for Early bird purchases by April 17th.

Registration: for more details contact Sterling Cross Communications – 763.496.1499 or

People are talking about you online. Do you know what they are saying? Is it good or bad?
Bad reviews, comments, or complaints can be costing you business every day.
• Do you know how to respond?
• Do you have a contingency plan to handle an online communications crisis?
• Why does it affect you?
89% of US online buyers read customer reviews before they purchase: 43% most of the time, 22% all of the time. A bad reputation hits your bottom line.

Christopher Lower, Co-owner of Sterling Cross Communications will open your eyes to the status of your brand and reputation online, how to monitor and manage it, and give you tangible steps to improve its condition.
We’ll discuss:
• How and where to monitor what’s being said online about your brand, your company, and you.
• Strategies and steps to take to respond to information already posted.
• Strategies and steps to take to have negative information removed, mitigated, or retracted.
• You’ll learn the key components of Crisis Communication plans for online issues.
• Discover how to execute effective online Customer Service.
• Best of breed tools and solutions that provide immediate results will be discussed and demonstrated.

About your Presenter:
Christopher Lower has over 17 years of marketing, PR, and strategic consulting. He has 10 years of focus on emerging web technologies and their use in marketing – Blogs, Podcasts, Viral Campaigns, Social Media (Linkedin, Twitter, etc.), Wikis, Webinars, RSS, and Mobile Technology Solutions.

About Sterling Cross Communications:
Sterling Cross is a Social Media, Public Relations, & Web Design Firm. They are the firm behind Social Media campaigns for over a dozen companies including; moto-i, The Bailey Consulting Group, Augeo Benefits, Baja-Sol, and several other clients that do business in both the B2B & B2C space. For more info please visit


Strategically Promoting Your Restaurant with Social Media Tools

March 24, 2009

This is an article I wrote for Restaurateur Magazine and appears in their April 2009 Issue. Due to popular demand, it was reprinted here for those who do not have access to the Magazine. Enjoy!


You work hard to get everything right, the food, the atmosphere, the service, the kitchen and back of the house staff, and once a guest comes through the door, you have the power to make sure they have the best possible experience. Then they go home.  A place you can’t control the experience – and you don’t know what they’ll tell their family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who will listen, about their experience. What if you could control it? What if you could extend the dining experience beyond the walls of your restaurant? With social media tools, you can.


You’ve heard the buzzwords: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, and YouTube.  These tools allow you to enhance and carry the dining experience beyond your front door. They allow your customers to take the physical connections and loyalty virtual to experience it online as well. With customers increasing their online activity, the online experience that guests have with you can make or break you.


You put thought, consideration and passion into every physical aspect of your guests’ interaction with you, but how is their experience with your website?  Does it convey your brand, atmosphere, and message? Is it easy to navigate? Are your menus and specials quickly found? Is your contact information, location, hours of operation and amenities crystal clear? These are just the bare minimum standards now needed to entice someone to interact with your online brand.


When they interact, they feel connected. When they feel connected, they’ll often be your evangelists and make a point to refer your establishment or brag about their incredible experience. They are inclined to take someone with them the next time they visit, and will want to connect your restaurant to others.


In the best of times, it’s hard to promote a restaurant.  With labor and food costs constantly battling to take the lead as your primary concern, you need systems and tools that can give you the greatest return on your investment of dollars and time. Social Media are emerging tools that fit that bill.


Social Media tools are increasingly moving from consumer to consumer tools to business to consumer vehicles.  6,000 people a day are signing up for Facebook and only a percentage of them are the college students that the platform initially attracted.  Many businesses are motivated by the opportunity to opt in at a fairly cost effective manner, and also the ability to bring them to an intimate space next to their customer. What you are seeing is a vast array of Social Media approaches that converse and connect. Once you realize who your customer is, what makes them tick, what they like and dislike, using social media can be that missing link that transforms a casual customer into a brand evangelist.


Using tools for the “cool” factor of saying you use them will not bring you a tangible return.  You’ll need to start with a strategy. Once you’ve determined who your customers are, you need to know which social media tools they use, and engage with them on their turf. The effectiveness of social media isn’t simply using the tool; it’s listening, answering questions and connecting with others. These tools are just opportunities to connect your customers to your brand and by connecting with them, they’ll help you build relationship and gain invaluable insight to their propensity to buy from you.


Here is a list of tools that any restaurant owner can use to connect with their customer to convert them to brand evangelists:


Social Media Tools for Restaurants

  • Make sure your restaurant can be searched and reviewed through local business guides such as,, and Encourage your guests, that if they had a great experience to please post it to one of these sites.
  • Twitter – sign up for a Twitter account. Use it also as a tool to listen and converse with your customers.
  • E-Newsletter – Email a monthly newsletter with the latest happenings, new menu items, entertainment news, recipe of the month etc.
  • Blog – Customers want to be part of something more than just a meal; they want to feel like they belong. A blog can be that tool.
  • Facebook – Set up a Facebook fan page to connect with your customers on Facebook.
  • MySpace – If your clientele is the MySpace generation, create a profile page and consistently update it with fresh content.
  • YouTube – Incorporate video into your social media strategy.
  • The Business Card – Provide a business card or note-card to each customer that visits your establishment with their receipt that maps out where they can continue their dining experience online by connecting to you via social media.


Christopher Lower is the Co-owner of Sterling Cross Communications, a Social Media, Public Relations, & Web Design Firm, that focuses on the Restaurant, Hospitality, Hotel, and Lodging industries. In addition to over 20 years of PR & Marketing experience, Chris worked over 8 years in the Hospitality Industry. He can be reached at or can be found on Twitter:


Sterling Cross is a proud to have been selected as a preferred vendor for Hospitality Minnesota. Hospitality Minnesota is the management entity for



The Minnesota Restaurant Association, Minnesota Lodging Association and Minnesota Resort and the Campground Association. These Associations provide legislative and regulatory advocacy, marketing, education and information and money-saving programs to members. In addition, Hospitality Minnesota operates a non-profit education foundation, the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation, which provides a high school curriculum in foodservice and lodging management and provides scholarships to students pursuing higher education in the hospitality field. For more info:









Skittles new website is NOT social media…or is it?

March 3, 2009


The new site

The new site



The M&M Mars colorful fruit candy chews have gotten a social media makeover to their website. It is drawing many oohs and aahs from the crowds that click over to this site to find a very slick transparent overlay with a navigation widget that is laid on top of their social media sites, including a  page keyword searching “skittles” (Seen in the photo).


You can also click over to the other platforms where they have accounts as well – Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook.  There is also a quick insert your age here survey (where they are apparently gathering demographic info).  It has gotten many of the so-called social media gurus all up in a tizzy though, as it is a very slick implementation of technology, without an apparent “social media strategy” attached to it.

So, what’s the deal?  Who’s right? Well, to be honest, it’s a lot of both.

Let’s talk about what they did right:

1.       The advertising & PR garnered from the word of mouth from incorporating their social media platform accounts is off the charts as far as ROI is concerned.  The cost of such a website as this, by rough estimates, could be pulled together for 5 to 30K (incredibly cheaper than the cost for the media buys they would have had to have done, and not gotten the benefit of so much traffic).

2.       The SEO benefit is again off the charts successful for the ROI and benefit.  The amount of mentions online they are receiving as well as the back-linking happening from those of us that are posting on blogs, writing stories, tweeting, etc. about their new site.

3.       Ability to track – not having access to their analytics, so not knowing for sure, but there is the potential for incredible results from tracking clicks. Even more potent than the collecting of age information (which I’ll get into later).

4.       Word of mouth and instigation of online conversations – the level of buzz generated, and word of mouth have quickly spread this virally to an internet sensation.  The opportunities to allow for their audience to discuss, socialize, and talk about their brand (glowingly or otherwise) is also incredibly done.

5.       Trusted in their brand enough to release control of it to the world.  It took guts, and I’m guessing some people are still sweating it to allow people to wreak havoc by saying whatever they want and attaching the word “skittles” to it (my personal favorite was one that said Skittles are actually unicorn poop!).  Watch for a potential removal of the overlay to the page with the live stream soon (my prediction).

Now here’s where they failed, or missed the mark:

1.       Failure to participate in the conversation.  Yes Skittles fostered conversation about their product and brand, but as many others have already pointed out, neither Skittles, nor M & M Mars is participating in the conversations on Twitter.  They do not own or manage the @skittles or @skittlescandy accounts.  When you are not participating in the conversation, you have zero chance to impact it.  What if the conversation is skewing negatively or there are legitimate complaints being made (and not just the graffiti-like profanity tweeted out just so they could see it on Summize)? You as the business have no control, say, or opportunity to provide customer service on these platforms.  Comcast with their @comcastcares account on Twitter, is an example of how to do this right.

2.       Capturing the wrong data.  It might be interesting to see what the age group of the people coming to the Skittles site is.  The problem is, that the visitor to the site does not necessarily equate to a consumer of the candy.  The data they have collected seems to be fairly diluted, especially with the amount of marketers and online gurus that have been checking it out, without ever intending to purchase the candy. 

3.       As a professional at a PR/Marketing agency that has worked with several candy clients, it has become crystal clear (to me), that candy is typically an impulse buy and not something that is purchased online, as there is a lag time for shipping, etc. Skittles would have been better served to offer a downloadable coupon for a free package of the candy redeemable from their local store, where the opportunity to purchase an additional bag or two, could occur. Personally, (and this is my big idea) I would have partnered with the braintrust that runs Twitter and came out with a collector’s edition package of Twittles! (I want credit for this, and a free case or two) there would be a run on the stores by the Twitterati.

4.       Trusting an Ad Agency/Web Design firm without actual experience in conducting social media campaigns with a social media campaign.  It is clear by the misses, that their firm ( came at this with the old-school traditional advertising mentality where this was a cool broadcast out to the world. The fact they failed to get the company to engage with their audience.  While it is always good to want to engage in social media, make sure you are dealing with someone that has already built and executed campaigns.  There are too many “social media experts” shilling themselves today, that are foisting about the buzzwords without any experience to back it up.

5.       Failure to monitor the conversations about their brand online. I don’t know this for sure, but I will deduce that if they aren’t interested in participating in the conversations, that they really aren’t interested in monitoring what is being said as well.  This also goes to managing your online reputation, where if you aren’t watching what people are saying, you have no true measure of your brand’s performance.  The conversations are happening, will you be a part of it?

So now I open it up to you.  What are your thoughts on Skittles new website?  Is it social media – or NOT? Comment away…