Archive for the ‘Internet & Technology’ Category

SPAM Part II – Best Practices for Legitimate Contact

September 29, 2011

The best way to avoid being confused for (or reported as) Spam is to make your Internet communication as personalized as possible, and be certain that all recipients have opted-in or verbally expressed permission to contact them.

Opt-In email marketing has the highest return on investment of any other form of marketing available. The ability to target interested parties on a one-to-one personalized basis is the core of email marketing’s power. Sending Spam emails will destroy your reputation and, in turn, your deliverability – thus rendering your marketing efforts ineffective.

In situations where you are sending the same information to several contacts at once, it’s important to remember these guidelines:

1.  Only send to contacts who have explicitly agreed to receive your messages – Contacts who’ve contacted you directly are always the most receptive to your message. Make sure your email sign-up forms are clear; even people who’ve gone through transactions with you will want to be asked before they start receiving emails. Always make joining your contact list an option; no pre-checked subscription boxes!

2. Do not purchase email lists – This practice is not only desperate and shady, it’s highly ineffective. Also, there’s usually no way to know if the email addresses are legitimate.

3. Do not harvest your list from the Internet – Randomly selecting contacts from blogs and websites is ineffective and unwelcome. If a prominent executive receives over 4 million unsolicited emails a year, a majority of them spam, how many of those do you think he reads?

4. Keep your list fresh – While this can vary depending on your marketing practices, it’s a good rule of thumb to carefully review any contact more than a year old. Often a simple email asking if they are still interested in receiving information from you will reap dividends and reinvigorate a contact.

5. Information on your contact list should include the source and date of opt-in – Knowing your contacts will enable you to market to them more effectively.

6. Proper and accurate contact information – Any contact you make over email should include your correct name, mailing address, and telephone number.

7. “Unsubscribe” link – Unsubscribing disinterested parties isn’t just a good business practice, it’s also the law! Make sure that any message you send out has clear and accurate information for recipients to opt-out of receiving messages.

8. No false email headers or subject lines – Every part of your email header, including the “From,” “To,” and “Reply-To” lines, your routing information and email address need to be accurate. Avoid “Trojan Horse” subject lines that have little or nothing to do with the content of your email message.

9. Identify your email as warranted in the subject line, if possible – This is especially important when reaching out to someone for the first time. If they typically receive daily Spam, they may inadvertently delete your message if it doesn’t stand out as valid right away. Consider “It was great meeting you at the XXX conference” or “Thank you for attending my XXX seminar”. Something unique and personal that stands out.

10. Be aware of messages being sent out in your name – It’s not unusual to delegate responsibilities to an assistant, but be certain that co-workers or employees doing business under your name are following these guidelines as well.

11. Keep your content consistent and recognizable – If you are going through changes in your company (for instance a change-of-name) be sure that you let your contacts know about the transition. If changing email addresses, be sure to let your contacts know of the change before it happens (using your current email address), and even ask them to add your new email address to their “safe” list. Also, keeping a consistent look and appearance for your email messages (distinctive headers, logos, portrait, etc.) will help your contacts recognize your email as a message from a trusted sender.

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SPAM Part I – Why you should (and how to) avoid SPAM

September 27, 2011

Reaching your clients over the internet is an integral part of any modern marketing plan. However, it’s important to distinguish between acceptable, legal online marketing and “spam” – the practice of sending unsolicited email for commercial purposes.

 

What is spam? Are you guilty?

If any of the following statements relate to your list or message, your email is most likely spam:

• Your contact list was purchased or obtained from an outside source.

• Contact emails were gleaned from websites.

• Your contact list contains many generic emails such as webmaster@, info@, sales@

• Your list contains a high concentration of AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail  addresses

• Your contact information as presented in the email is partially or wholly incorrect

• Your email does not include a proper and working return email address

 

What’s so bad about spam?

If you suspect you might be guilty of “spamming”, stop. Now. Don’t be tempted to continue. Here’s why …

Spam is illegal. The CAN-SPAM Act is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.

Spam is ineffective. Studies by the Technion Technology Institute determined that messages sent to an individual have a 50% chance of response, whereas bulk emails receive only a 16% response rate. A Radicati Group/Mirapoint survey determined that while 11% of Internet users had made a purchase from an unsolicited email, 9% of the survey group had been taken in by an email scam. While people are wary of spam, they are more willing to communicate with someone they know who is contacting them directly.

Spam is a drain of time and energy for you and your customers. It is estimated that spam costs $1,000 to $2,000 per employee, per year.  Findings by Ferris Research, Inc. determined that spam cost U.S. companies $10 Billion dollars in a single year.

Spam poses a threat to genuine marketing. Legitimate emails can be confused for spam, both by clients and prospects as well as spam filtering programs, and this may prevent your message from reaching your contacts.

 

Check back Thursday for Part II – Best Practices for Legitimate Contact

 

SOURCES:
[1] spamlaws.com/state/ca.shtml
[2] business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business
[3] findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BNG/is_2002_July_19/ai_89370909/?tag=content;col1
[4] technewsworld.com/story/44655.html

 

Is your electronic communication an accurate reflection of who you are?

September 19, 2011

It’s important to remember that your “brand” (who you are, in the eyes of the world at large – your reputation) is being formed at all times. Every presentation of yourself should be an accurate reflection of you. If not, fix it.

These days, in a time when many people interact electronically far more than face-to-face, misrepresentation can and does happen all the time. How many times have you spoken with someone on the phone who you viewed as rude, then met them in person and discovered they’re actually quite charming? It’s even worse in a world of emails and instant messages, and possibly far more detrimental (it’s in writing!)

The way I see it, there may be three reasons for this …

1) Some people really are more rude when they’re not interacting with a live person. They do and/or say things they wouldn’t if a “real” person was sitting across from them.

2) Others are misinterpreted as being rude, simply because they’re too direct or matter-of-fact in their communication.

3) Human gestures, facial expressions and (sometimes most importantly) inflections are missing from online communication. Sure, there are “emoticons”, but once you’re past your tween years, they’re probably not appropriate for most interactions.

Rapport is key. Without one, you may run into trouble.

My assistant and I have known each other for nearly eight years. Because of this, and probably millions of emails back and forth, we instinctively KNOW how to read one another – electronically. She knows when a directive is serious or when I’m being sarcastic. We’ve developed an electronic rapport. But imagine if I interacted with someone new in the same way? I can’t expect someone I’m not familiar with to “just know” what I mean, and I could be truly risking my brand in the process.

So, how do you interact effectively, online, without a rapport?

First, you must always be mindful of its absence. You may write something with an intended inflection in your head – one that would make the statement charming or light-hearted, but could that statement be misinterpreted without that inflection? If so, you need to either clarify the statement or skip it.

Next, you must take care of how harsh your tone may appear. If you stick to “just the facts” in correspondence, will you viewed as pushy, biting or rude? Re-read your communication and, if appropriate, add in verbiage that softens what you’re saying. Often, this is as simple as opening with a nice “how are you” greeting BEFORE jumping right to your point. Warm it up.

Finally, if you’re one of “those people” who truly is rude when not dealing face-to-face with a live person, STOP IT. This is inappropriate and unnecessary. Remember the old adage – “you catch more flies with honey”? It’s true. Start recognizing electronic communication for what it is – a chance to stop and think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Use that opportunity your advantage.

Life online … too old for all those acronyms?

June 10, 2011

Ever feel like having your 12 year old act as your interpreter?

I’m certain I’m not alone when I admit that I’ve received more than a few emails with acronyms I just didn’t “get”. And while, yes, many of the most popular internet abbreviations are absolute slang and better reserved for tweens, some seem to be creeping their way into daily online conversation among adults – even business correspondence.

Resistance is futile. The landscape of communication is changing, and these terms are becoming more and more a part of daily life for anyone with a computer, handheld device or mobile phone. In fact, some have already been added to Webster’s Dictionary, and others have transcended online use and are spoken as part of actual, verbal conversation.

Bottom line? These quirky little abbreviations and acronyms are here to stay.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Here are some of the most widely used … and what they mean:

BR = Best Regards
BRB = Be Right Back
BTW = By The Way
EM = Email
FAQ = Frequently Asked Question
FB = Facebook
GMTA = Great Minds Think Alike
GTR = Got To Run
HAGD = Have A Good Day
HAND = Have A Nice Day
IDK = I Don’t Know
IRL = In Real Life (as opposed to internet life?)
IM = Instant Message
IMHO = In My Humble Opinion
IMO = In My Opinion
JK or J/K = Just Kidding
JMO = Just My Opinion
LOL = Laugh Out Loud (or Laughing Out Loud)
NP = No Problem
NT = No Thanks
OT = Off Topic
OTOH = On The Other Hand
OTW = On The Way
PPL = People
ROFL = Rolling On Floor Laughing
SO = Significant Other
TC = Take Care
THX = Thanks
TNT = ‘Til Next Time
TPTB = The Powers That Be
TTFN = Ta Ta For Now
TTYL = Talk To You Later
TY = Thank You
TYVM = Thank You Very Much
WTG = Way To Go
YW = Your Welcome

And what about all those online “terms” that you’ve been afraid to admit you don’t understand?
Here are some of the more common terms and their definitions:

“Blog”
Short for “web log”. Essentially an online journal.

“Vlog”
A video-format blog.

“Deface” or “Unfriend”
To remove someone as a friend (on Facebook, etc.)

“Post”
To publish a comment, blog, article, etc online.

“Flaming”, “Flame” or “Flamer”
Someone who posts inflammatory, rude, disruptive or hostile comments online.

“Troll”
Someone who looks for ways to stir up trouble online. Similar to a “Flamer”.

“Lurker”
Someone who reads, but does not participate in, comments or discussions online.

“Hacker”
Someone who infiltrates a system, a website, someone’s account, etc.

“Avatar”
An icon/graphic/image to represent you online.

“Beta”
A mostly-working version of something that is still undergoing testing.

“Adware”
Actual, legitimate software or program that displays advertising when you use it.

“Freeware”
Software that is free – both free to use and free to distribute

“Malware”
Malicious software that may harm your computer.

“Spyware”
Software that covertly embeds the ability for a third-party to monitor your online activities and/or data.

“App”
A software application, usually one designed to be small and streamlined for use on a mobile device.

“Plug-in”
A small bit of software that can be “plugged into” a larger software program for added functionality.

“Widget”
A stand-alone element/application that can be inserted into a website, blog, etc. Kind of a like a tiny bit of software that performs a special, small function.

“Meme”
The viral spread of a concept, term, video, idea, etc. via the internet.

“Netiquette”
Internet etiquette. Commonly accepted rules of politeness online.

“Snail Mail”
Good old postal/direct/physical mail, as opposed to an email.

“Spam”
Unsolicited or junk email.

“Spoiler” or “Spoiler Alert”
Someone is about to give something away (the ending of a movie, etc).

“Webspeak” or “Netspeak”
All of the above.

Are you unintentionally breaking SEC rules through Social Networking?

June 8, 2011

This interconnected web now woven across the world offers many benefits – and many potential perils. While we can now easily connect with long-lost friends, we must also be wary of who is viewing our information. While we can shop online, we may run the risk of compromising our account information. And while the world of Social Networking offers us many ways to keep in touch and share information, it has some very real potential pitfalls for Financial Advisors.

Still, according to a survey conducted this year by American Century Investments, 55% of Fiancial Advisors are now on LinkedIn, and over 71% have either a personal or business profile on Facebook.

What could get them into trouble?

For starters – testimonials. The SEC has, historically, adopted a very sweeping view on what constitutes a testimonial. If you have a profile on LinkedIn, you MUST be aware that personal recommendations posted to your profile DO count as testimonials and/or advertising – and you may be called out by SEC examiners. Simple comments on your Facebook profile or Twitter account may also be considered a violation.

Another big issue with Social Media use is retention. How to you retain social media documents in a way that is SEC-compliant? How do you capture and archive information? Currently, exchanges on social media are treated by regulators in much the same way as a live seminar would be – and retention of all records IS required.

While there is talk of the SEC and FINRA needing to re-evaluate rules to better accommodate the world of social media, for now – be careful. You basically have three options …

1) Take the time to understand and carefully update all your social media settings to ensure you’re not violating any current regulations. (If you go deep enough into most Social Media settings, you can disable or hide many features.)

2) Turn it all off and wait for the SEC to come up with clear, simple guidelines.

3) Make use of one of the new services popping up to help Financial Advisors be compliant in Social Networks. For example …

SocialWare’s “Compass” product:
www.socialware.com/products/compass

Smarsh’s Social Media Compliance and Archiving:
www.smarsh.com/SocialMedia

In 2010, Aite Group conducted a study of registered investment advisors and found that those who use Social Media experienced an increase in clients and a boost in both revenue and assets (more so than those who were not utilizing Social Media channels).

Clearly, there is great potential for the industry in these tools – if only we can find a way to successfully tame (or at least learn to coexist with) this wild new beast.

How should you close an email or letter?

May 16, 2011

There are many, many choices for closing correspondences (Sincerely, Best Regards, Thank You, etc), and I’ve seen MANY over the years. From the standards I just listed to “Toodles”, “TTYL” (talk to you later), and even “Hasta La Bye-Bye”. Obviously, some of these should be reserved only for close friends or family … if that.

So, what’s the best way to close your emails or letters?

While there is no single “best” sign-off, some are (I feel) more appropriate than others. What’s important is that you consider three things …

1) Type of communication (business or personal?)

2) Audience (who will read this?)

3) Message (what’s the topic?)

Any one of these variables could have an effect on the type of closing you should use. For example, a business email to another professional might warrant a “Sincerely”, but if it’s a business professional you’ve known for years and have a friendly rapport with, “Take it easy” might fly. On the other hand, it won’t ALWAYS fly. What if you’re sending them a message of condolence or a get well letter? You must always consider each of the variables above.

My best advice on this would be  …
DO NOT make your sign-off a permanent part of your email signature.

Your sign off should be written along with your correspondence – not only to make sure that it is appropriate for the message you’re writing, but to keep you from looking insincere. (After all, people WILL notice if you say “Yours, as always,” on the first email you’ve ever sent to them!)

Keep your options open. If you find yourself stumped for a closing too often, you might consider keeping a list handy. Need inspiration? Here are some of the sign-offs I’ve seen recently. Everything from stuffy to casual, boring to unique. (Note, I don’t necessarily recommend some of these.)

The old stand-bys:
* Sincerely,
* Best,
* Thank you,
* Regards,
* Cordially,

The gushy:
* Yours most sincerely,
* With kindest personal regards,
* All the very best wishes,
* Grace and Peace,
* Very truly yours,

The “I’m fun and hip”:
* Cheerio,
* Ciao,
* Over and out,
* Peace,
* Gotta’ run,

 The kitschy or geeky:
* Gotta’ boogie,
* Later ‘gator,
* Toodles,
* Live long and prosper,
* May the force be with you,

 The new age or religious:
* Peace, love and happiness,
* Keep the faith,
* Blessings,
* Prayerfully,
* God bless,

The motivational:
* Enthusiastically,
* Onward and upward,
* Sending positive energy,
* Wishing you the best of everything,
* SMILE!

The friendly standards:
* All the best,
* Hope all is well,
* Your friend
* Best wishes,
* Warm regards,

… what others have YOU seen out there?

Six Technology Tips

March 9, 2011

Financial Advisor Magazine (FA) presents “Six Technology Tips” – including one from yours truly.

Read the article here: http://www.fa-mag.com/component/content/6958.html?task=view

FINRA looks at Social Media … again

February 14, 2011

http://www.fa-mag.com/fa-news/6817-finra-to-look-at-social-media-again.html

Are your marketing techniques out of date, ineffective (or illegal?)

December 8, 2010

Marketing techniques for Financial Services practices have changed dramatically in the last 25 years, but some of the most significant changes have occurred in just the past three years.

Most of the marketing strategies you previously used to grow your business are now either illegal or just plain ineffective. Say goodbye to cold calling, forced networking and yellow page advertising. Instead, focus on developing relationships with current clients, prospects and peers, and you’ll see an increase in referrals from both clients and other professionals (CPAs, estate planners, attorneys).

Relationship building is all-important. Never allow your clients or prospects to feel like a number!

Social Networking 101 – Part 2

November 3, 2010

SOCIAL NETWORKING 101
(Part two of two)
Enhance communication with clients and prospects.

Action Plan

1. Know your firm’s compliance guidelines with regard to social networking. There are ways to work within the established guidelines (such as keeping your online profiles personal), and limit discussions of business to face-to-face meetings, where interaction is more effective.

2. If you are able to use Facebook in a business capacity, keep the content professional. Adjust the privacy settings to ensure that no content is entered onto your page without your permission. (For example, you do not need to allow everyone access to write on your wall in Facebook.)

3. Never use social networking sites to sell your services. People are immediately turned off by this, even within business-based environments, such as LinkedIn.

4. Pay attention to your contacts’ status updates and posts to think of ways you might connect with them. A friend who posted that he or she just started a new job might appreciate your advice on an IRA rollover. An acquaintance involved in a job hunt might benefit from a resume, critique or introduction, and any help that you can provide helps you further your relationship.