August 28, 2012


new coat of paintAre you in a group that wants to retain and add members? Here are steps to become more effective online. The focus is on nonprofit, volunteer-run groups.

The actions are free or low cost, easy to maintain, and with measurable results.

Do they work? See for yourself. A similar process was used at Goodyear Toastmasters during my 2011-2012 presidency.

Step 0: Web domain

imageGet a web address. If you don't have one, buy one through Google Apps, which will also give you free email and other niceties without mastering terminology like DNS and CNAME.

Consistency helps. Use a service like NameChk, CheckUsernames or NameChecklist to find a name that’s available for multiple sites. This may not be easy or possible. Do what you can.


Step 1: Gmail

Your free Gmail account is your passport to the online world. Even if you're using Google Apps, the following steps will rely on having a basic Gmail account. Where possible, use Google services. They're free and probably help with the ever-important search engine rankings.

Step 2: Twitter

Twitter is essential for broadcasting what your group does. Follow all your members and encourage them to follow your group account. Twitter gives a way to promote members and the group.
You’ll need your Gmail address to activate your account.

Example: @gytm81 (since @goodyeartoastmasters is too long when tweets are limited to 140 characters)

Step 3: Google Analytics

imageOnline, you can measure results and trends. Google Analytics is free, easy to use and widely supported. You’ll need your Gmail address.

Step 4: Blog

A blog shares the expertise of members with the world in a way that search engines love. Use Google Blogger to setup an account with your Gmail address. Connect to Google Analytics, even though Blogger already has analytics.

Draft and publish a post to make your blog live before completing the next steps.

Use Disqus for comments (and an indirect way to get traffic).
AddThisFor sharing content, use AddThis (or ShareThis). There are plugins that go into your blog template. If you don't understand how to use them, you may need help. It's good to get these features incorporated at the outset before your content and traffic grows: mistakes and changes will have minimal effect.

Use Google Feedburner to make your content available by email and newsreader. Connect your Twitter account so that tweets go out automatically when a new post goes live.

Example: (a weird web address but short and consistent with Twitter)

Step 5: YouTube

YouTube channelCreate a YouTube channel using your Gmail account. This is the place to post your videos. You can then embed them into your blog posts and other places.

Example: (long but relatively easy to find on YouTube)


Your group probably has a website already. If not, at least have a placeholder. Add life by using a design that incorporates your tweets.
If your needs are minimal, your blog can also be your website.

websiteExample: (“obvious”, which helps with web searches)


To show your content is believable, create accounts on
  • Klout: measures online influence (login with Twitter)
  • TrustCloud: gives a ranking of trust from 1-1,000 (like a FICO score)
Your scores will be low in the beginning but should grow over time. Add them now so that you don't need to worry about them later and to start your history early.


MeetupThere's more you can do.
  • Facebook: page if relevant (example)
  • LinkedIn: business page (embedding Twitter), discussion group (post links to blog posts and encourage members to Like them; may wish to make this private)
  • Pinterest: if your group uses visuals (for photos, Google+ or Flickr may be better)
  • Eventbrite: if you have events with admission
  • Meetup: to attract guests, issue tickets, and allow member discussions (example:


You're not done and never will be. There are challenges with
  • maintenance: easier with volunteers, ideally more than one
  • participation: if members don't participate, the online efforts will fail or place a burden on the few participants
Depending on your technical skills, you may need help from other members. Consistent branding is also worthwhile but not essential prior to launch.


There’s an important side benefit from renovating your group’s online presence: members may follow your lead and improve theirs. That’s a nice way to retain members and attract more.


PS What would you add or change?

August 21, 2012


making fudge
Have you ever visited Mackinac Island in northern Michigan (Wikipedia)? We went when I was a kid. I don't remember the ferry from Mackinaw City but I can't forget the fudge. It was the best I'd ever tasted.

Since then, I've come to realize that fudge is fudge, as bottled water is bottled water, and gasoline is gasoline. The differences among vendors are too small to matter.

The prepackaged, mass-produced stuff you get in a grocery store doesn't count as fudge. Let's skip the gooey topping for your ice cream sundae too. Here are the nutritious ingredients in Hershey's Hot Fudge Topping:
I'm talking about fudge made from sugar, butter and milk in front of your eyes in the store. Delicious. Almost too sweet. Calorie-laden. Irresistible.


A connoisseur or vendor will disagree but for practical purposes, fudge is fudge. For some reason, Mackinac Island is known for fudge. You'll find store after store steps from the ferry. How do you decide what to buy?

Here are five considerations that apply elsewhere too:
  1. free samples
  2. varieties
  3. decor
  4. price
  5. flexibility

The Winner

Joann's FudgeOne place stood out in every category: Joann’s Fudge.

They were the most generous with nice-sized free samples wrapped in wax paper. Gifts invite reciprocity, the #1 principle of influence. Some places didn’t give samples or didn’t look clean enough to trust.
Do you provide valuable free samples with no obligation to buy?
Joann’s had lots of varieties of fudge. We each tried several. The servers were patient and friendly. Some other places had scant selection or fudge that looked stale.
Do you offer choice? Even if you have one main offering (e.g., actuarial insurance reviews) do you offer variations or customization?
The decor of the store looked upscale in deep red. There was space to move. Some other places looked cheap, poorly-maintained or used colors like pink. Where’s the boy’s section?
Your store may be a physical location or a website. How is the decor?
Joann’s prices weren't the lowest (3 slices for $18) but we felt compelled to buy from Joann’s. We opted for the $25.50 package which included three slices of fudge ($18), 14 ounce bag of taffy ($8) and box peanut brittle ($5). The retail price was $31. Look at how much we were saving!
How does the value you provide compare with the price you charge?
Do help clients save by buying more?
The Complication
The problem at Joann’s Fudge was the taffy. We don’t care for it no matter who makes it. Could we get another slice of fudge instead? Yes. We couldn't decide on this fourth slice. We were offered two half slices. Done. The flexibility gave us everything we wanted.
How flexible are you to requests for exceptions?

Your Fudge

What you sell may look like a commodity too. What do you do to stand out?


PS My favorite fudge was cherry chocolate. What do you prefer?

August 14, 2012


thumbs downLast time, we looked at ways to monitor what’s said about you online. What do you do if what’s said isn’t very nice?


You can ignore bad news but that doesn’t mean Google will forget.

If you’re looking for a hotel near the Mackinac Bridge (Wikipedia), you’ll find reviews on TripAdvisor. For example, the Mackinaw Beach and Bay is ranked #3 in Mackinaw City, Michigan. Of the 263 reviews, 85.2% are Excellent or Very Good. That’s impressive but the three most recent reviews are not. They say
  • Tripadvisor reviews“Terrible service and breakfast”
  • “Just okay”
  • “Nice suites but needs improvement”
The hotel staff haven’t bothered to respond. Maybe the place was great but deteriorated recently. Maybe the reviewers are whiners. Either way, a casual review reader may book elsewhere.


Taking action shows you’re attentive. That’s a good sign.

You can comment where the criticism appears but you’ll look biased … which you are. If you’re not comfortable expressing yourself on the permanent public record, you might cause more damage. Attacking the attackers is tempting but rarely effective.

You benefit most when others speak on your behalf … unless they’re perceived as biased. Comments from co-workers, friends and family don’t count for much.

Who has a megaphone and would vouch for you?

Nurture Your Network

You can't harvest a crop you haven't planted and nourished. You can't get your message out effectively unless you've nurtured your network. What have you done in the past? What do you do on a regular basis?

Stephen Covey referred to the Emotional Bank Account. We have a  balance with everyone. We make deposits and withdrawals.

Meeting in person is great but how do invest in the relationship in between? Don't expect much if you call and say, "We met last year. I was wondering if you'd help me out by ..."

Social media augments what you’re already doing — if you show consistent persistent generosity. As a bonus, you'll know who wants to maintain contact with you because they must opt in and can easily opt out.
Bad Example
I’ve got a connection who posts continual updates about a new marketing program. Self-promotion does not grow an Emotional Bank Account. As a test, I sent an email with a tip and got no reply. The launch seems to have fizzled.

Do Good Things

If you are visible online, your digital tapestry gives you advantage. If you help your connections, you’ve got allies. Be good and do good.


PS Would you stay at the hotel in the example?

August 7, 2012


Conversations about you can take place any time. You can’t stop them even if you’re the NSA and building the biggest spy center in the US (Wired, Mar 2012).

At least the NSA knows what’s being said online. Do you?

Google Alerts

The easiest way to monitor the attention you’re getting is with  Google Alerts (see track what matters to you).

Last week, I got interviewed by Larry MacDonald for the Me and My Money feature in The Globe and Mail (see beyond the interview).

Here’s the Google Alert I got when the article went live online.
Google Alert
If you have a common name, you’ll have trouble getting found. You’ll get better results monitoring your Twitter name because that’s unique. I have several Alerts with different criteria. The reporting frequency varies from real-time to daily to weekly.


Did you show up in a newspaper? Use PressDisplay to monitor for you. Here’s the alert I got.
PressDisplay Alert
You pay to access the article. However, you might get free access from the newspaper’s website or iPad app.

Other Ways

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn send alerts when you’re mentioned. This typically happens when a connection shares your content.

You might also get emails and phone calls from connections.


The Me and My Money article already has 29 comments. They range from “All actuaries are frauds...just like all mutual funds” to “Wise man, and sound advice.”

I’m tempted to respond to the negative comments but this is a time to resist temptation. Opinions will vary. Some won’t be relevant or directly about you. Readers will draw their own conclusions regardless.

Fear of criticism is a basic fear. Hiding isn’t the solution because you can still get discussed online. Get desensitized instead. How we react to criticism is a measure of our character.

The Benefit

spike in web traffic over the last 30 daysWhen you’re discussed in a major publication like The Globe and Mail, count on your web traffic spiking upwards. That’s what the graphic shows for the last 30 days. Notice how the upward trend is continuing.

You invite traffic by informing your connections about an article and inviting them to tell their connections. This is easy with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

To benefit from traffic, you must have a web presence.


PS To avoid inbox clutter, I use a special email account to receive the Alerts.