2011: The Best in Social Media – Vote Today!

When I first started with social media, the most valuable website I found to help educate me was Mashable. That still holds true today.

Mashable is simply the most comprehensive and informative website around—especially for tech and social media—and they have a very engaging crew of writers. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and you’ll see what I mean. (Ben Parr is my favorite.)

With the end of the year approaching, Mashable just announced their nominations for the 2011 Mashable Awards, honoring “the best in digital media, companies and personalities.” And, you get to have your say.

Copy of Mashable's own awards logo

Voting is open now and will be until December 16. You can vote once per category per day. Vote for your favorites in:

  • Social media
  • Technology
  • Business
  • Entertainment

Even if you don’t want to vote, check out the nominees list. You’ll learn about:

  • New people to follow on Twitter
  • Companies who are hot in digital media or great at promoting a good cause
  • The best apps for phone, tablet, web and video
  • The most innovative uses of social media for marketing, and much more

Don’t forget to go back and visit Mashable regularly (if you don’t already). It really is one of the greatest sources of social media and technology information on the web.

And, since one of my favorites is on the nominations list, I recommend that you follow Cory Booker on Twitter. He’s the mayor of Newark, NJ—that’s right, I just told you to follow the mayor of Newark. Trust me, he is a regular guy…wait, scratch that, he’s an extraordinary man who will help restore your faith in politicians. Hmm…that’s a tough order. He’ll at least make you wish he was running your town or state.

Have fun exploring and don’t forget to vote!

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Black Friday Becomes Black Thursday: Is It Time To Bring Blue Laws Back?

Photo of crowd of people pushing to get in store

Remember when stores weren’t open on Sundays or holidays? Was that really such a bad thing?

I know it got tiresome not being able to shop on Sunday, so I’m not saying we should go back to exactly that. But, this year’s retail Black Friday madness makes me think we need to figure out a new way.

Every year on Black Friday, stores try to outdo each other—opening earlier and earlier. Last year, the earliest opening in my area was at midnight. Most stores opened at 3am, one or two might have opened at 1am, and the Philadelphia Premium Outlets opened at midnight.

Is this really necessary?

Last year, I think midnight was pretty well accepted because it was a novelty. The outlets were still relatively new, so people seemed excited about staying up and heading off to the outlets. The problem with it was that we knew it wouldn’t stop there. It didn’t.

Here are just a few examples of Black Friday start times for this year:

Store Time Day
Kohl’s, Target, Best Buy Midnight Black Friday
Rockvale Outlets Lancaster 10pm Thanksgiving
Toys”R”Us, Philadelphia Premium Outlets 9pm Thanksgiving

Call me a traditionalist, but isn’t Thanksgiving night reserved for bars? Most people either go home and sleep off their turkey dinner or escape their family and go out for a drink with friends.

Not only will the retail workers have to cut their holiday short, but they’ll likely be dealing with drunk shoppers too.

People, it’s time to fight back.

Image from Change.org Target petition

Anthony Hardwick, a Target employee, started a petition on Change.org to get Target to change their plans for Black Friday. That took guts because he put his job at risk to do so, and the likelihood that Target will change is pretty slim. He’s getting a ton of media coverage and inspiring others to start their own petitions.

Customers might not understand this. After all, plenty of people think it’s okay to walk into a store one minute before closing and expect the workers to wait for them to shop to start closing. There’s not a lot of respect given to retail workers, but there should be.

Retail workers are some of the most poorly treated in this country—many by their employers and most by their customers. They work hard for low pay and deserve to have Thanksgiving off. It’s called a holiday for a reason, and it’s called Black FRIDAY for a reason. There’s really no reason to open the stores until Friday, preferably 5 or 6am Friday.

There’s just no need, especially with the proliferation of Internet and mobile shopping. If stores want to start their sales early with gimmicky Black Friday promotions, find creative ways to integrate these online forms of shopping and let your employees sleep in.

They’ll need their strength—to clean up after the customers that charge through the store like they’ve just been told there’s a million dollars hidden somewhere inside.

Disagree with me? Then, I urge you to work retail for one Christmas season. You really have to experience it to understand how unfair and unnecessary these Black Friday changes are and how much these workers deserve a break and deserve your respect.

And hey, speaking of respect, please, don’t talk on your cell phone while the cashier is checking you out. Remember, that’s a human being in front of you, please treat him or her like one.

Lessons from Toys“R”Us on How NOT to Do E-mail Marketing

On October 27, I ordered a baby shower gift from Toys“R”Us/Babies“R”Us. As of November 13, I have received 44 promotional e-mails from Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us combined.

That’s 44 e-mails in 17 days!

And here’s the kicker, I could swear that I unchecked the box on the order page that said to add me to their e-mail list. I could be wrong. I don’t always look that closely at those things. The box I’m thinking of could’ve said something else.

But c’mon! Any store or entity planning on sending two or more e-mails a day should really have a double opt-in feature.

Double opt-in e-mail, in case you don’t know, requires the e-mail marketer to send a request for confirmation to the potential subscriber. If that person then confirms he or she wants to subscribe, the e-mail address is added to the list.

Since I was shopping for a shower gift—which was obvious to them because I bought off a gift registry—and therefore was clearly not shopping for a kid of my own, maybe they should’ve asked me a few questions about what types of e-mails I might like to receive.

For example, since I don’t have kids and don’t plan to and I don’t have a desire to be a surrogate breast feeder for anyone else’s kids, I’m really not in the market for a breast pump. Look at what they sent me:

Subject line: Save Now on Two Great Breast Pumps by Medela!

E-mail from BabiesRUs about breast pumps on sale

“Keep the connection. Provide what’s best for your baby, even when you’re not there.” Um, again, I don’t have a baby.

You know what would’ve been really great? If Babies“R”Us instead used modern technology and marketing sense and sent me promotional messages based on items listed on my cousin’s gift registry.

Include messaging such as, “Now that the baby shower is over, be ready with a gift for the baby’s arrival! Save 20% on gift registry items today.”…or something like that.

The point is that, in this case, Babies“R”Us could’ve used data they already had to improve their marketing and enhance my shopping experience.

Opportunity lost. Now they’re just annoying me, and they’re lucky I will just unsubscribe rather than report them as spam.

Know your audience. For all advertising knowing your audience is a must, but for e-mail marketing (and mobile marketing too), knowing your audience’s wants, needs and interests are crucial.

Advertisers, remember this: In e-mail marketing and mobile marketing, you are intruding into a consumer’s personal space. Be polite and considerate. Act like you’re a guest in that person’s home.

Marketing like Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us is like bringing your uninvited German Shepherd to a host’s party and letting him shit all over the rugs.

That smell isn’t forgotten too easily…and you’ll never be invited back again.

Walmart with a Nice, Timely Tribute to the Troops

Older sister putting younger sister to bed with military mom watching

This Friday is Veterans Day and Walmart—yes, Walmart—has the perfect tribute. Have you seen their “Big Sister” commercial yet?

You can watch the video on Walmart’s Facebook page (without logging in).

Here’s how it goes:

<Older sister shows the younger how to brush her teeth.>

Sis #1: Mommy says brush up and down like this.

Sis #2: Like this?

<Older sister ties the shoes of the younger sister.>

Sis #1: Mommy taught me bunny ears.

<Older sister helps the younger sister hang an ornament on the Christmas tree.>

Sis #1: Try this one…Good job.

<The mother, dressed in military fatigues, appears in the doorway unnoticed by the kids.>

Sis #1: Goodnight Hailey. This one’s for me, and this one’s…

Sis #1 and the mother together: …for Mommy.

What makes this good is that it tells a story—like great advertising should.

At first, you really don’t know why the older sister is being so good to the younger one. You keep watching because the two girls are so cute together. And if you’re really paying attention, you know something’s up because each scene is a different season—summer, fall and winter. You have no idea it’s related to the military until near the end when the mother appears in the doorway.

The worst part of the whole video is the very end. I’ve seen two different versions of Walmart’s own message there.

  1. Thank you. Because of you, we’re all living better.
  2. To the troops returning home and those still serving, thank you. May you have a Merry Christmas.

The first one is nice and simple. Walmart did throw in a hint at their own tagline (Save money. Live better.), but I’m okay with that because it’s not overdone.

Now, here’s where the English major in me gets fussy—I’d like it better if they said “we all live better.” My first reaction to “we’re all living better” was “I know what you mean, but in this economy we are all not living better.” However, I can agree that because of our military always being ready to protect us, yes, we do live better. See the difference?

Of course, my problem with their tagline options really has nothing to do with what they say. I just think they missed an opportunity.

Walmart has us by the heartstrings at the end of this ad. So, what would have made this commercial even better is if they had partnered with a military charity and listed a donation website, text code or phone number. They post the video on their Facebook page, so they could easily list donation info there too.

Think about it. This video is a terrific reminder this holiday season of what our military families go through. They have endured a huge amount of stress and sacrifice for the past 10 years we’ve been at war. What do the rest of us do to help?

I’m going to make it easy for you, in case Walmart’s ad inspires you to help this holiday season. If you’re interested in giving your time or some money to help support military families, take your pick from the organizations below. After all, it is the holiday season. What better time to give?

USO

The USO has many programs to help the troops, from entertainment, to care packages, welcome home greetings and more.

Operation First Response

Operation First Response helps wounded soldiers and their families meet personal and financial needs. It’s a fantastic organization that I volunteer with and support.

The Fisher House Foundation

Fisher House provides a “home away from home” for military families to visit and stay close to their injured loved ones. There’s at least one Fisher House at every military medical center.

Homes for Our Troops

Homes for Our Troops helps build and adapt homes for severely injured veterans—at no cost to that person or his or her family.

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Thank you to all who serve in the military and to all the military families who sacrifice and endure as well. You continue to amaze and inspire me, and I pray for your happiness, health and safety every day.

What’s So Wrong with Privacy in the Social Media Age?

Creepy stalker guy at computer

My friend Zetah* who is not into social media at all asked me a question the other night.

Why would you post something online telling people you are on vacation?

Good question, I told her. Any of you guys want to explain to her why you post your vacation details online for all to see? Or why you post your kids photos on very public sites for pedophiles everywhere to copy and paste and drool over?

I know you are probably responsible people, loving parents, etc. It’s a good question though—do you think about privacy? Do you even care?

There are whole networks now based on just telling people where you are—single women are using them, celebrities are using them and even kids are using them. I can’t help but think that’s not a smart thing to do.

LinkedIn offers a TripIt app, which I’ve seen many prominent social media professionals use. I often wonder how their wives feel, with them advertising the man of the house will be away for the next few days. (Not that women can’t take care of themselves, I’m just saying, it’s a security thing.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media, but I also love my privacy and security, so there are some things I just don’t get.

We seem to be in this new era—or maybe just a technological limbo—in which privacy has been flung to the wayside. Social networks, advertisers and other businesses are pushing our limits to see how far we will let them go.

I’ve done a few posts on online advertising and the different ways users get tracked online. And my overall sense is that more and more people are okay with advertisers tracking them online. Why?

Isn’t that the equivalent of someone following us store by store through the mall?

We wouldn’t dare allow this behavior in public, yet why are we so accepting of a lack of privacy and even safety in our online lives?

Two possible answers

1.  Being online for some people is like a sort of fame. People love the attention so they tend to overshare. And many times, everything turns out perfectly okay so most people feel pretty comfortable. But is this a false sense of security?

2.  The consequences can be difficult to see. You see, you don’t know if someone is actually downloading pictures and videos that you post of your kids and using them for their own personal pleasure in some dark room somewhere. You probably don’t know someone who had embarrassing photos or information spread about him online and was ridiculed so badly that he killed himself, even though you’ve heard similar stories on the news. And, hopefully, no one has robbed your house while you’ve been on vacation or attacked your wife while you said you’d be away for three days.

Maybe you’re thinking that can’t happen to you, right?

As adults, I think we’re pretty confident, maybe too confident in our ability to protect ourselves online. But what about your kids?

I know many parents who do what they can to protect their kids online, but is it enough? Shouldn’t online entities—advertisers, social networks, etc.—bear some of the responsibility too?

For example, Facebook should have automatic privacy settings for anyone who creates an account who is under a certain age (like 16, 17 or 18). A social tool like Klout should not be able to create profiles of people, especially minors (see Is Klout Using Our Family to Violate Our Privacy?), without some sort of permission.

All I’m saying is there needs to be limits…for our own good. And there can be limits without ruining the social nature of social networks.

If people are comfortable sharing their whereabouts and their life’s details with everyone, that’s okay as long as it’s their choice. But the rest of us should still be able to protect our privacy online (and offline) as much as we desire.

Still not convinced?

If you’re my age, your parents probably told you when you were young not to take candy from strangers. Well check out Take This Lollipop and see how easy it is for strangers to get too close for comfort.

Something to think about.

If you want more info before you try it (and want some tips on staying safe online), read Steve Olenski’s Take This Lollipop – An Interactive Movie On The Dangers Of Facebook Stalkers.

And hey, let’s be careful out there.

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*Zetah is a fictional name used to protect my friend’s privacy and to protect her from any ridicule and embarrassment she might receive for not being on any online social network even though we are in the 21st century. Of course, given the way things are headed, we might all be envying her pretty soon.