Boston: The Cradle of Innovation

By @AJGerritson

Boston is a city steeped in history. Outsiders associate us with conservative values, understatement and bare-knuckle street politics.

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What many fail to realize is that Boston is consistently on the forefront of innovation.

This is something I am incredibly proud of as a Bostonian. I believe the city’s current administration has done a tremendous job of pushing initiatives through behind the scenes and I know people will continue to be surprised at what is yet to come.

Here are some examples of how Boston’s leaders are pushing us to the forefront of innovation:

1. Economic Development – Our city boasts an organization called the Boston World Partnerships. This new, non-profit organization created by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and run by Executive Director David McLaughlin, is a first of its kind. Its mission is to raise global awareness of Boston as one of the world’s foremost centers of intellectual capital and innovation, and to offer tremendous competitive advantages to growth-minded businesses. BWP is a public-private partnership with seed funding from P&G/The Gillette Company and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The BWP generates high-quality leads for economic growth. Each high-quality lead represents a specific, actionable opportunity to create jobs, attract a business, strengthen an existing Boston business, support entrepreneurship, or enhance workforce development.

To achieve these goals, BWP has created a global community of people who have ties to Boston’s economy, similar to an alumni organization. This network exists around an information-rich website and an array of social media tools, as well as events here and abroad where Boston professionals come together to share ideas, insights, and other resources.

2. Tourism – Do you want to explore Boston’s legendary waterfront, Fort Point area, or Public Garden? How about doing it on a self-guided iPod tour? That’s right, Boston is one of the first cities offering such an experience.

3. Green Initiatives – Have you ever seen a solar powered street sweeper? We got them. We also have solar powered trash compactors on many of our street corners.  Here’s a photo:

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Our city is also the first in the nation to boast green building zoning codes that require all building to be built to LEED certified standards.

4. Education – Boston’s Mayor has led the charge for transforming how we educate our young people. He has done this by pushing for legislation that includes greater flexibility in the classroom including longer school days for arts, music, more sports, and greater partnerships with area institutions to facilitate more learning opportunities. One example is the number of hospitals in the city that are partnered with Boston’s Health Career Academy. This partnership helps young people interested in the growing healthcare field learn on-the-job skills. Our city has also created partnerships between 5 of our universities and our most challenged schools to help aid in educational development.

5. Community – Boston created an iPhone application called “Citizen’s Connect”. This was a first in the nation for service requests. The city didn’t stop there either. They put together a team that the mayor calls the “New Urban Mechanics” that works with different departments to help them redesign how service delivery can be more user friendly and efficient.

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These are only some of the great things that make our city innovative. I would like to hear from my fellow Bostonians as to what they are proud of around town. I would also like to hear from people in other cities about the great innovations that makes their lives better.

Please share!

Social Media Business Tactics: Do you Shadow?

By @ajgerritson

When I was 11 years old, I remember moving into a new neighborhood with my family during the summer. I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know where the other kids would meet and play and it was kind of a daunting experience (although, an 11 year old would never say the word “daunting” – maybe, replace with “scary”).

Back then it was the age of “just make sure you come home before the street lights come on” and sex offenders didn’t seem to be hanging on every corner of Main St, USA. So, as almost anyone else would do, I grabbed my gun-metal Huffy with the cool stickers and just rode around until I found where some kids were playing.

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I remember walking over to the kids and how I hoped they would let me play wiffle ball. At first, they told me that they had enough players and that “they didn’t need anyone else.”  Instinctively (even then) I knew they thought of me as an outsider, someone they didn’t trust. So, I sat there, watched them play and shagged foul balls for them when they shanked them down the make-shift third base line.

Eventually, one of the kids had to leave and so they asked me if I wanted to play. Hazaah!

There is a lesson here to be learned for social media and selling. Yes, I said selling. A term that makes people cringe when they see it put in the context of social media.

Before I go any further, I should be clear that traditional selling has no place in social media. The companies that succeed through using the medium are those that provide meaningful interactions, valuable content, and genuine contributions to the social community. With that being said, I believe you are effectively selling yourself and your company every time you engage with others in a genuine conversation online (again, not spamming – we all have no time or patience for that) and/or providing real value to someone else or the community. For example, when you refer someone to a competitor, or a vendor that is completely unrelated to your business, you have effectively sold yourself as credible to the information recipient (Chris Brogan would refer to this as a “Trust Agent” move).

So one might ask, “How does this apply to me growing my business?”

Fair enough question. Let’s first think about what we know.

  • Traditional selling doesn’t work online. To be effective you need to be an expert, a resource and genuine.
  • Not everyone online is a potential customer of yours, so you don’t want to spend all of your time talking to everyone.
  • Technology has afforded us the ability to track the activities of those that may be prospects or existing customers.

With only so much time in the day, you need to spend your time  effectively. One way to do this is by focusing some of your social media efforts on shadowing your prospective customers. By “shadowing” I mean being involved in all of the conversations your prospects are having online, when they are having them, while being an expert who is genuinely part of the conversation (think back to me shagging balls for the neighborhood kids).

So how would you start shadowing? First, you need people to shadow. There are many ways to develop a list of these people. This list could include existing prospects that you are pitching, people with the right positions at the companies you would like to work with, anything really. Next, you are going to set up a monitoring system for these people across the different social networks. This could be as simple as setting up real-time Google alerts to track their comments on Blogs, monitoring their Twitter handles on whatever Twitter client you are using, and subscribing to any content they might publish.

Since many business people are using LinkedIn today, I would strongly advise using this platform to shadow as well. To do so, I would start by connecting with the person directly and monitoring their status updates daily (I prefer using Google Reader for this). If you do not have a direct connection with this person, you still can follow this person’s discussions across groups. (FYI, LinkedIn rolled out this new feature in November, and has made shadowing non-direct connections a lot easier. More information about this process, visit this link: http://blog.linkedin.com/2009/11/06/ian-mccarthy-look-whos-following-you-across-groups-on-linkedin/

Finally, you just have to monitor and join the conversation consistently in a meaningful way. Again, be an expert, be genuine and be a resource.

If you practice shadowing, good things will happen.

Smart Phones in 2010 and Beyond

By AJ Gerritson (@ajgerritson)

I am excited to see where this year brings the mobile marketing industry and marketing in general. Most especially, I am excited to see the continued emergence of smart phones and the impact they will have on consumer behavior. Currently, smart phones are being used by 1/5 of the mobile market, there are more than 100,000 iPhone applications available, and Motorola’s Droid is growing in popularity fast. There are four times as many mobile phones in the world as PCs, and there are over 130 billion texts sent each month. Many predict that the number of smart phones in use will equal the number of basic phones in use within five years.

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This will mean many things to marketers including: (1) More and more campaign plans will (or should) involve some mobile component. (2) More applications and mobile sites will be built (probably at a lesser cost with the emergence of more sophisticated building tools like Mofuse). (3) Expect more mobile couponing to take place as the number of people who use texting as a form of communication increases. (4) Companies and brands will have stronger relationships with their customers through the emergence of localized applications like FourSquare.

If you are excited about smart phones, mobile marketing and 2010, I would invite you to share your predictions here. We welcome your thoughts!

Useful links:

MMA Forecasts 2010 Trends

Mobile Trends 2010 for Asia

How to Write an Effective RFP for Selecting a Social Media Marketing Agency

Our agency receives a decent number of requests for proposals (RFPs) each month for social media marketing campaigns and services. The RFPs we receive can vary greatly in length, scope, requirements, and style. Many of these requests are fairly comprehensive, while others are lacking.

What we have done below is take components from some of the best and most comprehensive RFPs that we have received in 2009 to help you build a comprehensive social media marketing RFP for selecting an agency for your organization. If there are components that you think would also be helpful, please feel free to add them to this list. Once we’ve gathered feedback, our team will put together a whitepaper, citing anyone who contributes to this post!

Here are what we believe to be the necessary components of an effective social media marketing RFP:

Background Information/Summary – These sections are primarily used to give agencies the “411” as to who you are, what other marketing activities you have going on (include your media mix), your objectives for using social media, and any necessary background information about your organization that potential partners may not find on your website.

Targets – Along with your background information, it is recommended that you define who your customers or prospects are. Many organizations have segmented target groups and those groups use a company’s product and/or services for many different reasons. The more information you can give about who you customers are, the reasons for using you (pain points), and what’s important to them – the better!

Competitors – Adding a section about your competitors is a great way for you to paint a picture about your competitive landscape. Even if a social media marketing agency does their necessary homework when preparing their proposal, this information may not be that apparent. An effective response to your RFP should consider the activities of others in your space. This is a way to help solicit more thoughtful responses from your prospective firms.

Goals for the Campaign – This section is a MUST. Often times, when we find that this section is not included in an RFP it’s because the organization supplying the document is not fully aware of why they should participate in a social media campaign (or possibly just the person writing the RFP). If at all possible, you should try to tie your goals to some sort of quantifiable metric. For example…

Our firm is looking to engage people on Twitter to find potential prospects in our space. We have set a goal of acquiring 450 new customers over the next 6 months.

One should remember that metrics can be tied to just about anything (e.g. referral traffic, downloads, demo signups, special offers, subscribers, fans, followers, events, etc.).

Process Timeline – It is important to let your prospective firms know when their responses are due. It is a common (and helpful) practice to also let them know when you will be conducting vendor interviews and an expected date for selecting a firm.

Scope – This is where you can separate an average firm from a great one. This section is more about you asking your prospective firms to detail how they are going to approach your campaign. This will ensure that you reach or surpass your stated campaign goals.

Questions that will help you make the best decision include the following:

  • Ask them to detail how they would go about identifying where your audience and “influencers” are online.
  • Ask them to explain in full detail what tactics they are proposing to help you reach your goals. This should include a strategy/action plan along with their tactics.
  • Ask them what types of information they would need and/or consider if they were hired prior to beginning the campaign.
  • Ask them to describe how they would measure each component of the social media campaign they are proposing, as well as the overall success of the social media campaign.
  • Ask them to them explain how this campaign may potentially integrate with your master marketing plan and larger media mix.
  • If your goals are tied to monetary or lead metrics, ask them to detail how they propose to convert a Twitter “follower” or a Facebook “fan” into a lead or a customer.

Bios – Ask the firms to include the project manager’s bio and those of any team members who will be working on your campaign. Specifically request their social media experience, tenure at the agency, and to list similar campaigns and clients that they have worked on.

Agency Background – Request general agency information from any submitting agency. This information should include core competencies, history, clients, and recognition.

Budget – We have never seen an RFP that doesn’t ask for agencies to detail fees and/or associated campaign cost, but we thought it never hurts to state the obvious!

Again, if we have missed anything above, please comment below and we will include you in the published paper!

AJ Gerritson, @ajgerritson

Top five things every entrepreneur should do to start or keep business profitable

451 Marketing Founding Partner AJ Gerritson was recently featured in Sharmen Lane’s NY Entrepreneurism Examiner column discussing the “The top five things every entrepreneur should do to start or keep their business profitable”. I thought I’d share the list here:

1. Determine how your potential customers receive news and information relevant to their industry. In today’s digital age, prospects and customers are getting answers to their questions from a variety of sources, and when and how they want. To succeed, you need to know not only what your target market is reading and viewing, but how they are viewing it. Is it through text messages, or websites, blogs or social networks sites? Then you need to determine how cost-effective it is to advertise and publicize through these different mediums.

2. Focus not on how great your product or service may be, but on how effectively it solves a problem or business need for your customers. Awards and accolades are terrific third-party validations, but prospects want to know the specific benefits that will help them. Real-life case studies, even if they are not exclusively related to your products or services but signify a growing trend (i.e. emergence of social media as a communications tool), are much better indicators of a company’s value. If a prospect reads about how one of your clients grew their business by hiring you, and you can back it up with the references, they will have a real clear picture about what to expect from an engagement with your company.

3. Become an industry expert. Ideally, you should know all there is to know about your products or services, your customers, your competitors, and the trends that will shape the marketplace for years to come. Basically, be an expert. Sit on panels, engage reporters covering the relevant beats to interview you, or initiate and lead your own roundtable panels and discussions. In essence, don’t be afraid to grow your own personal brand and align with your company’s brand. Prospects find exciting and engaging industry leaders and experts to be more credible, and in turn, will be more likely to hire them or buy from them.

4. Make sure to continue to network everyday. You may be able to position yourself as an expert, and may even already have a steady stream of new business opportunities, but you should never limit the time you spend networking. New business and leads can come from anywhere; conferences, tradeshows, parties, trips to the hardware store, or even from one of those great online social networking sites like LinkedIn. If you are in New York, you have more opportunities than most. I have found that there are several networking events going on every day in Manhattan. You don’t have to let your entrepreneurial drive immerse every second of every day of your life, but you should never forget that anyone, and everyone, is a potential customer.

5. Align yourself with causes, stakeholders and individuals that make sense for your business. Starting and growing your business from scratch can seem like a daunting task, especially if you try going it completely alone. Whenever possible, seek opportunities to align your company with causes (environmental, humanitarian, community etc) that relate to your business and showcase your commitment to being a socially responsible company. Similarly, take advantage of opportunities to join industry organizations that increase your credibility, expand your networking options, and afford you the chance to learn from others in your field. Finally, engage experts and important stakeholders (government agencies for example), and discuss your products and services, explaining how you can build a mutually beneficial relationship with them. The opportunities to identify and interact with these stakeholders online are plentiful, demonstrating once again how a successful entrepreneur in this day-in-age knows how to entrepreneurially navigate the complex online waters.