How to Get AND Keep Sponsorships

Sponsorships can come in many forms.  But most often, it means that a company gives in-kind or in cash to offset an organization or event.  I’ve been on both sides of these partnership – asking for sponsorships and giving sponsorships.  This post a kind of a how to after being on both sides of a fence.  I started seeking sponsorships when I started producing dog sport events way back in the day.  I got a variety of in-kind sponsorships from canine preventative medication, dog foods, and branded toys.  When I started putting on food events, I started to get cash sponsorships as well as in-kind sponsorships.

Over the last few years, I’ve given quite a bit to many organizations and causes.  I’ve been asked to give my services or time to help execute events, which is conceptually the same as a sponsorship from the perspective of a small business.  I’m sponsoring in giving my time and services.  For some large events, I’ve spent as much as 60 hours for individual causes without pay, and I’ve worked with some brands testing many iterations of recipes out of my pocket.  Sometimes I get recognized as a sponsor, but most of the time, I don’t get anything at all.

Needless to say, my giving pool is currently dry, and I’ve been declining requests for pro-bono consulting or products.  I’ve found that increasingly, people and organizations have presented a self-entitled attitude.  Not only is that attitude a major turn off, it discourages me from ever working with that person or group.  I’m a person.  I do not have endless personal funds to give to non-profits.  I have a family and friends that I would like to see.  I am not obligated to give my time away.  Now don’t get me wrong.  There are many instances in which I am happy to help, and I volunteer my time and my services without being approached.  I do still enjoy helping causes and friends, but I’m much more selective in what I do these days.

Regardless of what kind of sponsorship you’re seeking or planning on giving, the following rules come in handy.

1. Keep your ego in check.  Don’t assume that everyone knows the mission of your organization or cares for that matter.  To be blunt, your organization may seem awesome in your eyes. However, others might not have such rosy feelings about it.   If you’re contacting someone you don’t know, be sure to introduce yourself and your organization.  Don’t make the person hunt on the Google machine for what your organization does.  Don’t also make the person expend time trying to decide if your organization fits their goals and philosophy.  The more time someone has to look up who you are, the higher the likelihood they’ll just chunk your email into spam.

2. Be nice.  I always try to start and end an email with a thanks.  You have no idea what other responsibilities the other person has.  Even responding to your email to say “no,” is still a few extra minutes that other person doesn’t have.  Just to give you an idea, to entertain a sponsorship proposal, I spend at least 15-20 minutes looking over the person’s online presence, relationships that person has, potential impact it has on my business, and thinking about the sponsorship arrangements.  Even if I do decline, that’s 15-20 minutes I’ve invested.  Your time is valuable, and so is mine.  Please respect it.

3. Bring something to the table.  This is a Randy Pausch line.  What do you or your organization bring to the table?  Make sure that you are explicit in what the sponsorship offers the other person.  I field sponsorship requests frequently, and a HUGE lacking in many of the proposals is what do I get out of it?  Many proposals have plenty of “this is what we need,” but rarely is there a strong case for “this what your sponsorship can do for you.”  And “your name will appear on the website” is not a great incentive for me.  I’ve had my name all over the place, and I can’t think of a single time where it got me anything.  I’m sorry, but altruism is out the window when you’re asking for a commitment.

4. Quit using the “we’re a non-profit” line.  This may seem offensive, but I’m tired of hearing that line when I’m being hit up for sponsorships.  There are hundreds of non-profits in Austin.  I could be giving my resources to any of the other non-profits.  Why is your non-profit more important than the others?  If you want my time and services, I need a compelling reason.  Additionally, I already have a list of non-profits that I personally support.  Unless you have a compelling case, that line doesn’t move the needle for me.  Also, just because I support some non-profits, it doesn’t mean I have to support them all.  When I hear that “But you helped *insert name of non-profit here,* you can help us” line, it makes me think that the non-profit is very self-entitled.  You can guarantee that’s going to be a “NO!”

5. Again, be nice to your sponsors.  Sponsors are the ones that fund many events, and it may seem obvious, but be NICE to your sponsors.  If someone asked me for product, services, or cash, and then treated me poorly, I would never work with them again.  I’m a person, and I try to be a nice person.  While I’m not surprised by the poor treatment people give to their sponsors, it is appalling every time.

6. Accept declines gracefully.  Please understand that not all organizations or businesses have the funds and effort to give.  Even if they say “no,” thank them and move on.  There’s nothing worse than a nasty email or phone calls.  Even worse are the threats about public guilt trips.  I’ve heard stories of groups pulling the “if you don’t sponsor us, I’ll tweet bad things about you” line.  That is disgusting behavior, and I’d call them out on it publicly.  Entitlement needs to be smashed with a giant hammer.

7. Even if you are unhappy, approach the problem diplomatically and offer a solution.  I did pro-bono work (upwards of 60 hours) for an organization that had numerous major issues.  One of the biggest ones was how they treated pro-bono providers and volunteers.  Even though this organization was wrought with falling membership over the last five years and loss of brand sponsorships, they had the nerve to yell at me for their own shortcomings.  Their conference attendance had fallen by more than half since 2005.  I won’t name that group, but if you ask me specific questions about the experience, I am completely transparent.  Treating people who give you their services with rudeness is a surefire way to ruin your reputation.  Unfortunately, the members of the organization were an absolute delight.  It was the administration that needed a severe reality check.  This was a particularly emotionally draining experience for me as the lovely members kept asking me why I did not officially join the organization.  I couldn’t bear to say that their administrators were completely jerks running the organization into the ground.

8. Don’t be squirrelly.  I’ve brought cupcakes to events before, and people would literally steal them.  People would walk behind me, grab them, and run off.  A certain person in particular would do it repeatedly at events.  He would make a big effort to NOT make eye contact with me.  Creepy.  If you can’t look me in the eye, you probably shouldn’t be taking my things.  I’d confront him in person, but he keeps running away from me.

9. Think about the demographics.  Does your event or cause fit into the sponsors’ demographics?  If you’re making high end custom decor products for bridal showers, you probably don’t want to sponsor decor for an elementary school graduation.  Those elementary school kids don’t care about your products.  Their parents probably don’t care about the decor, and those elementary school kids aren’t going to be purchasing your products anytime soon.  Make sure your demographics fits the demographics of the sponsors.  No one wants to spend time and effort on non-target audiences.

10. Make sure you truly thank your sponsors.  I’m not talking about just giving them recognition.  I’m talking about thanking them with a hand-written note or a phone call.  When it comes down to it, we’re all people.  We want to feel appreciated and valued.  If you don’t value your sponsors, don’t ask for their resources.  If you can’t thank them, then you don’t deserve them.

11. Give more than you can receive.  This is a personal philosophy of mine.  I try to give to my sponsors more than I can receive.  If that means I give them more media coverage than agree upon, so be it.  I often spend months developing a relationship with a sponsor before I approach them with a sponsorship opportunity.  In many cases, that translates into people looking to sponsor or give to me before I ever approach them.  Relationships are the foundation of all business.  Don’t neglect to give to those before you start receiving.

12. Show gratitude for even the smallest gesture. Today, Sept. 16th, I met a little girl who could teach us all a lesson.  I was shopping, and a little girl (about 7 years old) and her mother were in front of me in the checkout line.  Her mother didn’t have enough money to afford their purchases by eight cents.  I was zoning out until I heard the mother tell the little girl that the had to put their things back.  I don’t even know what they were buying, but I gave the cashier the eight cents.  The little girl and mother were so ecstatic and overwhelmed with joy, that they kept thanking me.  To me, eight cents was just a tiny gesture.  Eight cents to teach a child caring for others is such an inexpensive investment that I didn’t even blink.  But what struck me was the amount of gratitude for such a tiny gesture.  People and organizations should learn a lesson from that little girl.  Showing gratitude for even small acts of kindness goes a long way.  I should start practicing random acts of gratitude.

I could tell you sponsorship and pro-bono horror stories all day long.  I worked over 100 hours raising money for an organizations in the past, and today, they pretend not to know me.  You can probably guess how that makes me feel.  You can probably also guess why I have stopped conversing with them, and I don’t attend their events.  For another group, I invested $400 out of my pocket to keep their club afloat.  When I was a teaching assistant in grad school, $400 was almost half of my monthly stipend.  The response I got was “we didn’t care about you anyways.”  I don’t even pay dues to them anymore, and I’ve been approached numerous times about why I left the group.  It doesn’t take a psychologist to guess how I feel about them now.  I have no sympathy for groups who behave in such rude ways.

I’ve had many sponsorships, and I truly thank them for their support.  If I’ve ever made any of them feel unappreciated, I should be given a swift kick. On the other hand, when organizations and people make me feel unappreciated, they are added to my blacklist of organizations to never support.   I hope that my transparent and unfiltered views helps others when navigating sponsorships.  As someone on both sides of the table, I’m pretty sensitive to the needs of both sides.  I did not sugar coat this blog post.  You might be offended, and that’s okay.  You might realize that your behavior isn’t very nice.

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How to Give a Fantastically Terrible Talk

I’m a hedonist.  I fully admit that I like things that are pleasurable.  I like talks.  Wait, not I LOVE talks.  I love informative talks, talks that make me self reflect, talks that teach me, talks that inspire me, and talks that make me laugh.  But most of all, I like pleasurable talks.  By pleasurable, I mean that the talk is well presented.  Having spent four years in speech, drama, and debate, and seven years judging speech, drama, and debate, I recognize that I probably have high expectations for public speaking.  But I also view this from the perspective that my time is valuable.  If I’m going to spend 20-30 minutes driving to a location and then parking my car to see a talk, it better be worth my time.

*I made these pretty drawings in paint to disguise the identities of the speakers. 

So here’s some tips on how and how NOT to give a good presentation.

1. Appearances are important.  You might argue that looks have nothing to do with the content, but face the truth.  Pretty things are more attractive.  A beautifully presented dish is going to be recieved better than a dish that is not.  Would you eat an Uchi shag roll if it was run through a blender with a cup of sake and a tablespoon of wasabi?  I’m going to guess not, because it is going to look hideous!  Would like to read a blog post that was written in this font at 10 point?   Probably not.  It is difficult to read.  The same thing will happen if you look like a complete slob on stage.  I’m not telling you that you should be dressed in a suit, but I am saying that if you look like a mess, you’re going to have a more difficult time getting the crowd to take you seriously. 

2. For a spectacularly terrible presentation, don’t have a prepared theme or story.  While it is true that some people can wing it and that some panels are completely unpredictable, but please for the love of Thespius, show up with a theme at least.  Know your story, your angle, and have some idea of what you’re going to share with the audience.  There’s nothing worse than going to a talk where the speaker seems to have the attitude of “I’m here to talk. I’m not sure about what.”  That stinks of unpreparedness.

3. Apologize if you need to during your presentation.  Let’s say you trip over a cord  and unplug the projector.  Apologize for that and move on.  But do NOT start the presentation by saying “Sorry, I’m a really terrible speaker.” “Sorry, I didn’t sleep last night because I was wasted.” or “Sorry, I’m ill prepared for this presentation.”  The first excuse makes the audience think “the organizers should have found someone who is a good speaker.”  The other two excuses make people think that you don’t have any respect for their time.  Instead of working on a thoughtful presentation, you decided that you had other priorities in your life.  The least you could have done was to let the organizer know that you are not able to give the speech. 

If you are a terrible speaker, you don’t have to tell the audience.  Public speaking can be stressful, and even the most polished speakers make mistakes.  The audience will understand, and they’ll still like you even if you say “um………” or “er…………….”, or totally blank out.  Trust me.  It’ll all be okay.  Also, you might think you are a terrible speaker, when in reality you are a great speaker.  Don’t fret!

4. Separate the umbilical cord tethering you to the power points slide or online video.  At some venues, there will be technical failures, and you should be prepared for it.  If you cannot give your presentation without the use of a power point, then maybe you aren’t ready to give your presentation.  While photographs and video are worth 10,000,000,000,000 words, the last resort is to describe it verbally.  You can do such a good job describing the photos and videos that the lack thereof is a moot point.  I recently attended a talk that was centered around video and photography media.  The AV was okay, but the lighting in the room made the video and photographs presented look pretty washed out and unrecognizable.  Instead of killing the presentation, it actually make the presentation a million times better because the focus was on the content that the speakers shared, not the video and photographs.  The content was so interesting and compelling that the focus of the presentation (photographs and video) didn’t matter.  Also, the story telling skills of the speakers were so compelling that it did bring tears to the eyes of the audience.  Now THAT’S a good presentation.

6. We don’t want to hang out with you while you surf the web or think out loud.  A presentation should be just that, a presentation.  A presentation should not be a brainstorming session, a web searching session, or a train of thought session.  I recently went to a talk in which the presenter made a number of mistakes, but this was his fatal mistake.  Instead of having a prepared presentation, he plugged in a laptop (after 25 minutes of failed attempts) and talked to us about his feelings about some people he met and their websites.  There was no theme to the train of thought, and I learned zero.  I can browse the internet at home, thanks.  That talk made over half the attendees leave, and I tried repeatedly to use non-verbal communication to get him to stop and go home.  The only reason why I didn’t leave was because I sponsored the refreshments, and I wanted to take home my dishes. 

7. Watch your tone.  I once started a presentation on a happy note, and the person I introduced killed the mood.  She was nervous, anxious, pleading, and all around negative.  It killed the energy in the room.  Oops.  People can pick up how you feel via mirror neurons.  If you don’t want to be giving the presentation, your attendees probably don’t want to be there either.  If you make remarks about hating the local university’s mascot and colors, the crowd will probably hate you too.  Instead, put away all your ill-feelings and wear a smile. 

8. Don’t forget your filter.  This one will make you seem as if you are bit unstable.  A topic that you’re speaking about might get your riled up, and it is great to have that passion.  However, if you become so emotional that you seem like you’ve gone off your rocker or start attacking (physically or verbally) the audience, it is perhaps time to learn how to control the expression of your emotions.  I get very uncomfortable when speakers start going off on a diatribe or I feel as if they might physically hurt someone.  Never going back to one of those.  

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Reading between the lines of Yelp Reviews – I’m a data geek.

Also cross-posted at Misohungrynow.com.

Reviews are not always what they appear, especially on Yelp.  This post won’t get into the nitty gritty about filtering, shill reviews, and other shenanigans, but this post will give a different view of how you can read between the reviews on Yelp.

*Note: This data generally applies to Austin-area restaurants (trailer or brick and mortar).  This does not apply to other types of businesses or mail order food products.  I have not looked at the data concerning those types of businesses. I have not looked at data in other cities. If you have a restaurant, don’t fret if your review behavior doesn’t line up with what generally happens.  Your restaurant might just be an outlier.  This will not apply.

*In less webbie (or techie) locations or places with a smaller population, I find Yelp to be only marginally useful.

When I use Yelp for search, the first two questions I have are:

  • 1. What is the average star rating?
  • 2. How many ratings?

In Austin, you would expect a successful places to have a relatively large number (more than 75) of reviews after a year.  If the location has very few reviews after being open for a year or so, my next questions are:

  • 1. Who wrote the reviews?
  • 2. Is there anything that makes this place an outlier (difficult to reach location, odd hours, unavailable to the public, special events only, or otherwise)?
  • 3.When I Google this location, is there anything odd on the web?  Is the owner an axe-murderer?

After making sure that there was nothing that made this place a horrendous outlier, I would think read the actual reviews for the qualitative data.  This is typically a laborious process just to figure out where I should eat.

After going through this routine of trying to interpret the data, I found that the review behavior is much more telling than the reviews themselves.  Any place can have a high average star rating as it is fairly easy manipulate.  A restaurant can have only four ratings of five stars each, geee…… that restaurant looks perfect doesn’t it?  I would beg to differ, the low number of ratings could be because people really dislike the restaurant and avoid it, or it could be that some Yelp users just don’t write about negative experiences.  In any case, a low number of reviews after being open for business for a significant amount of time is a red warning flag.

Being the big data geek that I am, I’ve looked at review behavior for many restaurants over a long period of time.  One thing that stuck out was that successful restaurant consistently garnered reviews, positive and negative.  Not so successful restaurants would stagnate after an initial burst of reviews, garnering maybe one review every month or so.  In my interpretation of that behavior, a restaurant with a four-star average with a consistently growing number of reviews is a much better choice than a restaurant with perhaps a 4.5 star average, only a handful of reviews, and the latest review was two months ago.  Personally, I would rather eat at a restaurant with a lower average rating that had consistent growth in their reviews rather than a restaurant with a high average rating but no new reviews.  That’s just my interpretation of the data, and my opinion.

I will also add that public relations effort does have an impact on the review behavior, but only significantly in the early days of a restaurant’s opening.  There will inevitably be a spurt of reviews (positive or negative) when a restaurant first opens, but if the restaurant fails to perform, the reviews stop coming in.  Additionally, if the restaurant participates in branding and publicity efforts, that might cause other spurts of reviews.  However, it doesn’t change the review behavior significantly in the long term.

The chart above is something I created to model the review behavior, and it is based off of many Austin restaurants.  I will not list the ones that are unsuccessful, but I’ll point out one that is successful.  The Noble Pig is a great example of a successful restaurant that did not engage in a large public relations effort.  They have been open for only about six months, and they are located a 40 minute drive away from downtown; yet they already have 69 reviews to-date with a 4.5 star rating.  Even though the location makes them an outlier, they are consistently garnering reviews.  That’s a place I would definitely visit again, and again, and again.  *Disclosure: I met the chef at several events, and I really like his sandwiches.

This post is just a suggestion that reviews and star ratings should just be taken with a grain of salt.  Looking at review behavior can give you more in-depth look at a restaurant’s success. I’m using the word “success” loosely.  You can define it however you like.

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@GoogleHotPot:The Evolution of Search, Social Media, and Community

I’ve been mulling over this topic on and off for the last couple of months. Google HotPot made it’s debut recently, and there are many more issues to discuss in this post. 

Isn’t everything social media these days?  If it is online and you can have “friends,” it must be social media.  Simon Salt and I have debated (friendly, of course because we’re both friendly) about this issue and Yelp.  We both run around in similar circles, and we both use similar tools. But we view them in different ways.  *My opinions are well, my opinions, and they do not reflect on any of the Yelp community managers or users. **I don’t work for Google, Yelp, or any other like website.

Side 1: Yelp is social media.  You can add friends. You can meet people who become your friends.  You can send messages to your friends.  It must be social.

Side 2: Yelp is crowd sourced content. People write reviews, and they sort through reviews.  Though Yelp has a community in select cities, those are free-standing and created after content starts to come in.

I used to be on side 2.  Simon was on side 1. Yelp is full of reviews that come from people who want to voice their opinions.  Those opinions are combined into a star rating.  That is the quick and dirty of it.

However,a deeper look into why Yelp was leaps and bounds ahead of similar sites like Chowhounds or Urbanspoon was because they had a community.  They built communities after there was enough momentum by hiring an official community manager (to keep the peace and to put on parties) and started the Elite badging system.  Having been in two separate Yelp communities (Houston and Austin) and attending a Yelp Elite event in San Francisco, I could easily see that each community has a distinct demographic, personality, and dynamics.  You might have remembered my post about the destruction of the Austin Yelp Community by de-eliting Michelle C. Since then, the communities have worsened in my opinion.  Long-time users began to fade away, the speed of reviews posted seemed to slow, and the talk threads because much less active.  During the 2011 eliting week, threads like this one and this one brought about heated conversations.  Anyone who crossed Yelp, created problems for Yelp, or  voiced their opinions louder than Yelp did not have their elite status renewed.

I was one of those people who did not have their 2011 elite badge, and I was surprised at first.  At SXSW 2010, I spoke at a core convesation with Addie Broyles about how review sites were changing the restaurant review landscape.  As Yelp was just slapped with lawsuits, it quickly became Yelp-centric.  I stood up for the Yelp community (the users), and I gave my unbiased opinion about Yelp’s role in the restaurant reviews.  I still think that they had a genius model.  Before community became a buzzword, they were building them.  Yelp was one of the first websites that hosted in person meet ups.  I wish I had thought of that and executed as well as they did.  Anyways, after my post about how they were destroying the community and my voice in the social media world, Yelp was displeased and did not renew my elite status as well.  They didn’t give my the axe after the blog post, when I was expecting it.  They waited four months later.  That portion of Yelp’s Corporate email to me read:

“We also understand that you are a social media consultant. Though not technically a business owner, there is an inherent conflict of interest with being Yelp elite and a social media consultant. Per the above, unfortunately we are unable to welcome you back to the Elite Squad at this time.”

I’m putting that on all my future resumes.  :o)  It’s kind of flattering that an individual that has my own consulting service on the side would be a conflict of interest with a giant website.

You might be asking yourself, “Who cares about the community?  I don’t care about those people, I just want to see the ratings.”  And you’re absolutely right in asking.  I don’t think Yelp is going to fold just because the communities are less loyal, less active, but I know that I’m going to shift how I categorize Yelp.  Yelp to me is turning into a search tool, a very useful one at that.  I frequently listen and read Jason Calicanus and Fred Wilson’s blogs and podcast, and both of them use Yelp (mobile too).  But I’ve never heard or read of Jason or Fred commenting about feeling right at home with the Yelp community.  Most of the comments are about the search features.  I too really like the search feature on Yelp mobile.  I can drive into a new location, hit find close to me button, and start weeding it through.  However, one time late at night, Yelp recommended that I get dinner at the Yellow Rose, the gentlemen’s club.  I declined that recommendation.  The numbers geek inside me really likes that you can get more data.  While there is more noise in Yelp data (variability in reviews), if I didn’t know the source, I would rather look at the reviews of 100 people instead of 5 people.  Statistically, more reviews are more favorable.

I’ll update my views of Yelp.  It isn’t crowd-sourced content driven by a strong community anymore.  Honestly, who is going to join a community just to find out where to eat a taco?  Now that a particular threshold of content already exists (at least in Austin and other larger cities), Yelp is a great search tool. I use Yelp to collaborate with my friend’s recommendations, and I often read reviews to see what dishes are extra tasty (or not).

The Evolution of Search : GoogleHotPot

Search is great, and who is the typical suspect in search?  Google.  Google recently launched their HotPot product that could throw a wrench into the current review sites.  I listened to the This Week in Startups podcast with Lior Ron (the product developer of GoogleHotPot) several times.  Lior Ron describes HotPot as the evolution of search, making search personalized and socially relevant – almost like a Netflix or Pandora for places.  I would add that there’s an even more social aspect to this type of search.

A different type of community.

Even though GoogleHotPot is a search, there are still community components to it.  Google users have friends.  You can share information with your friends and you can read information posted by your friends.  The community is already there, and users are sharing the information with each other which is similar to a social media tool.  Yelp on the other hand, tried to nurture a community by bringing together users to contribute content.  Sure, there is a community, but that community didn’t exist without the Yelp platform.  The Yelp community was created after the platform was available.  I view GoogleHotPot as giving a community a tool, and Yelp built a community on a platform.

You can watch/listen to TWIST episode with Lior Ron here.

What can GoogleHotPot do for users?

1. You wouldn’t have to go to multiple review sites (Yelp, Chow, UrbanSpoon) to see reviews.  GoogleHotPot collects the ratings and shows it to you in a pretty box.

2. You can start to personalize the searches, and thusly improve recommendations.  Every time you rate a place, Google starts to learn what you like and don’t like, and thusly adjusting recommendations to you.  I’ve asked Yelp about this several times to no avail.  I wanted a tool where Yelp would discard reviews from people who did not share the same taste preferences or styles of food as well.  From a data perspective, their ratings and reviews would be ignored by me anyways.

3. You are already in your community.  Since GoogleHotPot is on your Google profile, it is easy to add friends that are already in your email box.  No need to join a new community or to start one.  You already have your community of friends that you can add to your GoogleHotPot.  I have just shy of a quajillion contacts on Google.  I already know these people, and I already communicate with them.

What can GoogleHotPot do for businesses?

1. Your business shows up on Google.  They don’t adjust or change your rankings, but you get to highlight when you are on Google.  With Yelp, you have to hope that Yelp’s SEO will get your Yelp page ranked high on the first page.  And well, Yelp business pages aren’t getting as high as they used to.  There were some Yelp business pages that I couldn’t find on Google.  However, Yelp talk threads are still highly ranked. Like really highly ranked.

2. Information that Google gives business owners for free:

  • Update your details, phone number, address, hours, photos, or special announcements.
  • Business intelligence and insights via a dashboard.
  • Where are people coming from (physically)?
  • What queries are people searching to find you?
  • Impressions (and mobile impressions)
  • User behavior on your Google Places

3. The ability to add tags to highlight your business when it shows up in Google.  The fee to for the tags is only $25 per month.  That is very affordable, even to small businesses. You add tags to enhance:

  • Photos of your business
  • Videos of your business
  • Coupons for your listing
  • Menu for your restaurant
  • Reservations page for your business
  • Posts for your business

Other benefits are:

  • Easily and inexpensively highlight your listing on Google from Google Places.
  • Potential customers in your local area will see what you think is most important or unique about your business.
  • Track the effectiveness of your tag with your Google Places dashboard.
  • There is no additional work or ongoing management is needed.

3. Boost, which is like Google adwords.  I can tell you from experience that the Boost is effective on mobile devices.  I once searched for a business by name, and all the similar businesses who had Boost showed up on my Google Map.  The actual business I was searching did not.  That can be a very practical way for businesses to edge out the competition in the mobile space.

What’s in the future?

I can’t tell you how GoogleHotPot will pan out.  To be honest, Google has had their fair share of failed products like Wave and Buzz.  However, unlike HotPot, Wave and Buzz relied entirely on people to talk to each other using Google tools.  GoogleHotPot is capitalizing on content that already exists.  That might make or break this new product.  After attending the Launch Conference, I also saw that new tools that were quoted to be like the “Netflix of _________.”  Whether or not GoogleHotPot takes off, it is pretty obvious that search is evolving.

You might wonder why I’ve made such a big deal about GoogleHotPot, I kind of love Chinese hot pot.  That’s my comfort food, one of them anyways.

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I’m the richest person @TedXAustin

Once the TedXAustin videos and photos are up, I will start adding photos and switching out the videos. 

I love TED.com.  I really do, and TedXAustin 2011 was my third TED experience.  Each of my TED experiences have been uniquely different, and left me even more certain that I was deeply in love with TED.  My first TED was TedXAustin 2010.  I thought the energy in the room was tremendous, the speakers and attendees were equally amazing, and I was infatuated with connecting to the awesome people I had met.  My second TED was TedXUT 2010, in which I was the live tweeter.  Live-tweeting for a conference is extremely mentally draining.  Not only must one pay full attention all the time at the conference, one much also quickly synthesize the content and post it into short 140 character messages.  I also respond and join conversations when I’m live-tweeting, which makes it only about a million times for difficult.

My TedXAustin 2011 experience can be described with several words: reflection, sharing, compassion, and understanding.  This experience had energy that was different from the others.  Many of the speakers spoke about pain, confusion, heart ache, and triumph.  I didn’t leave thinking that I was going to change the world, but I certainly did leave feeling a wider range of emotion than on a normal day.  The day started with an engaging performance by Mother FalconMother Falcon was like the liberal Austin version of classical music.  Performance and style like that kind of make me wish I didn’t give up on the piano 10 years ago.  I was in awe.

Another emotion expressed on stage was gratitude.  Gilbert Tuhabonye was that man.  Even though he came from Burundi with the scars of warfare, this man glowed of sunshine.  As an adolescent, he watches as his friends turn into his enemies and his other friends turn into the victims of beheadings.  Though his body was burned, he managed to escape by literally running away.  Running thusly became many things to him.  Gilbert also sang to the audience, a song he sang while running as a child.  And we mostly tried to sing back in tune.  I can’t wait for his video to be online so that you see this someone who runs with joy.

Joaquín Zihuatanejo expressed many other emotions. Emotions that my overactive mirror neurons picked up.   Joaquin isn’t just a poet.  He made poets.  He was an English teacher who took def poetry by the scruff of its neck and shook some crazy passion in it.  This embedded video isn’t of his performance at TedXAustin, and but I do hope that it will be soon.  One of his poems hit close to home.  It was about a deaf student named John.  This deaf student name John reminded me of my own experiences teaching last semester. It was a striking reminder, and a reminder that though we live in the same physical space, our worlds are completely different.

Another interesting theme at TedXAustin was on being rich.  No, I’m not talking about money.  I’m talking about having a rich life.  I think my life is richer than foie gras mousse served on pao de queso and covered with butter.  My life is rich with experience – the experience of driving all over the 48 contiguous states, the experience of working in prisons, the experience of driving on an autocross track, the experience of training and handling the top most titled dog of my breed in the world, and the experience of launching a cupcake at a zombie. My life is rich with friends, family, and community.  My life is also rich with opportunity, and lastly, my life is rich with food.  And after another great TedXAustin experience, I’m the richest person in Austin (self-proclaimed of course).

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How to Spot Fake Reviews

You’re a business owner, and you’re wondering how other businesses get so many reviews.  How did Uchi get 527 reviews with an average of 4.5 stars on Yelp (as of 1/1/11)?  How did Sugar Mama’s get 314 reviews with an average of 4.5 stars on Yelp (as of 1/1/11)?  How come no one is talking about your business?  *I know that Uchi and Sugar Mama’s do NOT engage in the behavior described below.  Thusly, I feel comfortable using their data.

The temptation sets in.  You want more people to know about you.  You think no one will find out.  You’re antsy for people to click on your website link.  You make a fake account on Yelp.  You give yourself five stars.  You wait a few minutes.  That wasn’t too bad.  So you make another fake account.  You give yourself another five stars.  That was easy.  On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog right?  So you do it again. And again. And again.  Now you have seven positive reviews.  Job well done!  You ask your employees to log onto Yelp and to write reviews.  You ask all your friends, suppliers, regulars, and family members to do it.  It isn’t technically wrong, if you don’t get caught.  What an easy way to increase your ratings and pump up those reviews.

WRONG. It isn’t long before you get sniffed out.  You’re slammed on the Master Debater’s Threads, and Google Alerts show that you have been caught red-handed.

Moral of the story. Don’t write fake reviews.  Social media and crowd sourced content sites already spark controversy and debate.  Throw in examples of fake reviews written by business owners or their rivals, and everyone goes bananas.  Transparency in social media has been the norm with demand for honesty ever growing.  Users want to be able to put a face with a social media voice, and rest assured that conflicts of interests are revealed.  No one wants to be tricked.

As a consumer, you do want to know which reviews are honest.  Here’s some quick tips on sniffing them out.

  • Photo and name (Lack of online presence). No photos and fake names are often hallmarks (though not always) of fake reviews.  Some fake reviewers have become savvy and will use a stock photo on the profile, and a generic screen name.  Stock photos (often flowers, trees, or puppies) are pretty easy to spot. Names are more difficult to gauge, but there are several ways to investigate. You can Google the screen name along with the city (example: Jennie C. Austin or MisoHungry Austin).  If nothing turns up, then it can get suspicious.
    1. On occasion, the business owners and employees will use their real names and photos when reviewing their own businesses.  That’s a dead give away as it is easy to check websites for business owner names or to find via Linkedin.com.  Sometimes, they will also write the review in first person.  “I worked really hard to open this restaurant” doesn’t seem unbiased to me.
  • Location listed on the profile.  If the location listed is not in same town that the businesses, look for other reviews in the same town.  Frequently, travelers review more than one business when visiting other cities.  If a person from Montana reviews just a single business in Austin, that would raise eyebrows.  It is unlikely (but not impossible) that an out-of-towner would review a business that isn’t already well-known.
  • Depth and breadth of reviews. The number of reviews, types of businesses reviewed, and the details of the reviews are also very telling.  Lack of depth and breadth generally means that the person doesn’t invest much time in the reviews or only selects particular businesses to review for whatever reason.  Those types of reviews are typically vague, lack descriptions, and are generic. Here’s some examples of vague reviews (names removed):
    1. ********* has small plates packed with big flavor. Perfect place to meet for a drink and gently roll into dinner. Appreciated the guidance of the staff with perfect pairings of both beer and wine for our dishes. We ended up ordering the entire menu and nothing disappointed! Welcome to the neighborhood,*******!
    2. Wow, the ****** are amazing!!!!!
    3. I love all the*********, my favorite was the *******. I also had the ******* which was pure, literally….and wonderful on the recent cloudy cool days.  On a warmer day, the ****** is heaven on earth! What a novelty, can’t believe I’ve never seen ******* anywhere else.
    4. This place is off the hizzy. HmmmMmmm I know what good is and this place is good, ya hear?
  • Other contributions and timing of reviews.  If the reviews for the business were written before the business opened, you better believe that raises the red flag.  Also, contributing photos of “behind the scenes” or construction shots of a business is an indicator of conflict of interest with the business.  If you see the same shots uploaded to a review site that are on a photographer’s portfolio, that is a dead give away.  *Anyone that has a relationship with the business or conflict of interest should either disclose it in a review or not review at all.
  • Narrow range of businesses reviewed and aspects revealed.  This is a completely hypothetical example, though it has happened before with other suppliers.  A supplier naturally wants their customers to flourish, so they might be tempted to write reviews for their customers.  You might find a Yelp user that reviews only sushi restaurants, and the reviews praises only the freshness of the fish, how it is handled, and how it is prepared.  The reviewer’s profile might say something about fish or link to a fish wholesaler website.  It is highly likely that the profile might belong to the restaurants’ fish supplier.  That should be disclosed OR reviews of the restaurants in question should be avoided.
    1. I can understand that a supplier really wants to let everyone know about their great ingredients and food, but the behavior should still be avoided. There are other ways to let people know about the ingredients.
    2. Sometimes reviewers will outright say that they “are employees, and that’s why they know the quality of the food is so great.”  Oops.
    3. Sometimes the only other reviews are for other businesses in the same family (same owners).  Positive reviews of every single store in a chain is a little less than subtle.
  • The same review (or clusters of reviews) appear on multiple websites, sometimes posted within minutes of each other. That’s waving the giant red flag of “someone on our marketing team was given the task of copying and pasting fake reviews to different websites this morning.”
  • A cluster of positive reviews pop up right after a single negative review. Sometimes businesses have fake profiles in waiting.  If they receive a negative review, they immediately unleash several positive reviews.  It is pretty obvious when they are lined up chronologically.

Those are just some ways that fake reviewers are sniffed out.  The best defense against them is the time it takes to create believable fake profiles/online presence.

*I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should write this.  I thought that in writing this, shady businesses owners might find tricks to appear less fake.  Honestly though, to create an online presence to does not escape the vigilant detection of savvy internet users and the likes of the Google machine would take hours upon hours.  I would guess that it would take no less than 50-100 hours per fraudulent online presence.  The likelihood of a business investing that many hours into a single fake review is extremely low.  Those types of businesses wouldn’t even invest the time in reading this post. I don’t think this blog post will affect these behaviors at all.

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Patience, Young Jedi. Force Leads to Resistance.

Also crossposted at MisoHungryNow.com.

As we jump into the the fury of the Holidays, I’ve been asked about New Year’s Resolutions.  I don’t have any.  If I want to make changes, I’ll make them now.  There’s no reason for me to wait symbolism of something new.  Over the course of 2010, I’ve become much more independent in my career leaving a very unhappy situation and starting my own firm.  Since I started taking on clients, I’ve learned to say “No.”  And for anyone who knows me, saying “No” is probably more painful than smashing a batch of perfect macarons (the horror!).  I’ll be trying to say, “No” more often in 2011.

This blog post isn’t really a resolution for me, but rather a two part lesson that I’d like to share.  Patience, Young Jedi: force may lead to resistance.

I can be very impatient, especially when I am hungry.  That, I openly disclose.  However, outside of hunger, I try to practice patience.  My 2011 challenge to businesses is to practice more patience with social media.  My approach to social media is that it is simply relationships that communicate online.  Many businesses that I’ve encountered are impatient with social media.  They want results, and they want them now.  On the first day of launching a Twitter campaign, someone asked me “Why isn’t anyone retweeting me?” “How come I didn’t make more sales?”  Patience.

Businesses aren’t the only ones who are perpetrators of this attitude.  On occasion, I’ll have new bloggers or tweeters contact me with questions. “How do I get to 1000 followers?”  “How do I get people to read my blog posts?”  “How do you get people to talk to you on Twitter?”

The problem I have with that attitude is that it is impatient with the relationships.  Relationships take time and effort.  People aren’t machines where if put in X number of tweets, you’ll make a friend.  People experience emotions, people can be cautious with others, people don’t always (or shouldn’t always) disclose everything online, and people need time to develop trust.  When you meet someone in a romantic context, you will rarely fully mutually disclose your deepest and darkest secrets on the first date.  You also wouldn’t likely get married to that person in the first few weeks of dating.  My quick poll of my Twitter followers showed that most married couples dated for 3.36 years before tying the knot (n=14, max = 8 years).

So why is it that our culture finds it commonplace to date and to be engaged for long periods of time before marriage, but our businesses get so pushy and antsy in other types of relationships?  Why do businesses get worried if I don’t I retweet their promotions after only a few tweet exchanges?  Why do businesses think I should be loyal to them just because I mentioned them in a Facebook post?

I don’t have be pushed into a relationship.  As a consumer, I should be able to decide which brands I want to have a relationships with and which ones I don’t.  So if you’re using Twitter for a business, have a little patience.  Nurture the relationship.  Quit worrying about your numbers on the first day you roll out with your social media campaign.  Instead, evaluate them every 60 to 90 days.

For the second part of this lesson, we’ll discuss force and resistance.  It seems like some of the best lessons in life come from dog training.  If you didn’t catch it before, I train, handle, and judge dogs in various activities.  I call my type of training “motivational training.”  My trainers are Debby Quigley and Judy Ramsey at Dogwood Training in Houston, TX.  With this type of training, we teach motivation first.  Everything that I ask my dog to do, I first train my dog to be motivated to do it.  If my dog is NOT motivated to do it, then as a handler, I’m doing something wrong.  While there are methods to force a dog to engage in a certain behaviors, motivational training gets more enthusiastic and reliable performances.  And the dogs also enjoy it.

You can watch dogs in the obedience ring and see which ones were trained with force and which ones were trained with enthusiasm.  Force leads to resistance.  Sometimes trainers use it to their advantage.  The next time you see a televised dog show, watch the handler closely as the cameras zoom in.  You might notice that the handler will pull back on the dog’s leash ever so slightly when the judge approaches.  The goal of this is not to get the dog to step back by pulling back, rather this slight pull (force) leads to the dog leaning forward (resistance).  When the dog leans forward in a stacked stance, the dog’s muscles flex and look better toned.  Try it next time you take your dog for a walk.  For a large majority of dogs, the more you pull back, the more your dog will pull forward.  I won’t get much into it, but I don’t recommend that as a way of controlling your dog.  I’d recommend that you motivate your dog to stay with you, as opposed to investigating something else much more interesting than you.

The next time you think about your social media campaign, ask yourself why anyone would be motivated to follow you, tweet you, or show up to your events.  If you can’t think of a good reason why, it is probably time to revamp your game plan.  If people follow you only because you give away free prizes, you might want to also revamp your game plan.  Giving stuff away free isn’t building a relationship.  That’s just bribing them into following you.  With tactics like that, you’ll gather more variable and less loyal followers.  Getting followers through bribes isn’t much of a community.  Please note: That tactic is very different from playing online or social games within your community that involves a free prize.  These are two very different concepts.  Motivate them to want to build a relationship with you.

Happy New Year, and Patience, Young Jedi.  Force leads to resistance.

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