Am I Too Old For SXSW Interactive Week?

No. I refuse to consider it. I’m not old, I’m in my prime.
(my 13 year old tells me that 42 is not a prime number)
I’m actually not too old for SXSWi. I don’t buy into the numbers game of age anyway. But I looked around and realized that I was older than most of the presenters and that was a little jarring. Onward.

I was called “M’aam” a lot this week. But I checked that off to being in Texas where people call each other m’aam and sir all the time out of habit. That’s not a sign.

The moment that forced me to question my age appropriate-ness of the week was this: I found myself standing in a circle of colleagues and friends (yes, most of them are  younger than I am) and realized that we were all standing in a circle, TEXTING each other. No one was talking but it wasn’t silent. We were laughing in unison at jokes and photos that other members of the group were sharing via text message. Honestly, it was creepy once I woke up and looked around and realized that I was standing within a few feet of everyone, and we were not talking to each other! Some of these people are my favorite people in the world to talk to and I haven’t seen them in months and it was my big chance to catch up.  What the?

When did we lose our human-ness to our phones? When did people talking to each other become passe? I feel like a female Rip Van Winkle who just woke up and is walking around Austin trying to figure out what the hell happened. So many people walking with their cell phones taking their attention that cars cannot drive on the streets. Throngs of texting humans clogging the roads, not even aware that there are cars trying to pass. It’s rude, but it’s also stupid.

At one point, a co-worker of mine who is really plugged in (in a good way) took my phone and added me to something called “mygroup” – it’s a new app that lets you create a group of people who can text each other all at once, and I can see the value of this. None of my griping here has anything to do with the app. But my husband happened to be standing in the same circle with all of us… and he wasn’t in the texting group, so our silence was rude, but not as rude as our collective giggles at inside jokes made via text.

On the way home, we secretly renamed the mygroup app “iClique”. Again, no fault to the great app that would help me greatly if I had a group of teens at an amusement park and needed to reach all of them instantly. It’s agreat app.

There was a great episode on Bewitched when I was a little kid where Ben Franklin came forward in time and looked around at the world we had made and the goofy hijinx of the show was all about washing machines and dish washers and modern gadgets that he couldn’t have imagined. And he was impressed. … I can’t shake the feeling that Ben Franklin would not be impressed with people who stand together in a room and send text messages instead of talking.
Say it aint so, Ben.

I don’t actually think I’m too old for interactive. I don’t think age has anything to do with what I experienced. But I do think it’s important to realize that interactive is a word we throw around when we talk about video games and ATM machines and self-check-in at the airport but what the word really refers to, especially in the context of business and marketing, is HUMAN interaction. You to me, me to you.

Tools that make one-to-many communication easier are wonderful. Please believe me. I LOVE technology. But when people take the tools to a level that remove the human experience, we’ve lost a piece of what made them valuable in the first place. Efficiency is great. Cost savings – I’m on board. Mass email? Clearly people, I’m a fan. But those work better when we put ourSELVES into the communication. Relay our emotions and thoughts as people and pull back the curtain to show people who we really are.

As small business owners and nonprofits, the responsibility for all of this rests on you. You must find a way to jump through the screen. Do this by writing in conversational copy – which just means that you write the way you speak. Use photos of yourself to make up for not sitting face-to-face and be honest. Above all, just be you.
People will respond and your business or your organization will grow.
This is the real secret to good social media marketing and engagement. Be yourself and interact.

SXSW Music week starts tomorrow and none too soon — I’m sure the panelists will stil be younger than me, for the most part. (I am on a panel on the 16th! ) But I also am planning to have a better time driving downtown. Musicians often look up because they are trying to see who that smokin’ guitar player is, sitting on the corner with a case on the ground taking change.

I love Austin. Long live SXSW.
ps – I will be speaking with Martin Atkins at Momo’s tonight, at PartySmart hosted by the Austin Music Foundation.
Free to the public! Free MmMpanadas. Come see us!

Ten Things I Learned in Line at the Super Bowl.

I’m a Packer’s fan by marriage (18 yrs) , so when the Pack made it to the Super Bowl this year and it was to be held in Dallas, a mere three hour drive from our house in Austin, I knew it was only a matter of time and money before my husband exclaimed, “we’re going to the Super Bowl baby!”.  And he did, and we did.
And it was ….a learning experience.

I grew up in Dallas and was a Cowboys fan by geography… and I went to the same chuch that Coach Landry went to so it was practically part of my religious upbringing. What’s that word? Indoctrination? I didn’t like it when Jerry Jones fired Landry (I think I was a sophmore at UT by then) And I wasn’t thrilled to learn that Jones had moved into the Dallas home that my aunt and uncle had built back in the day. But – none of that was on my mind as my husband and I packed up for our big adventure to the Super Bowl. Our team was in the game, we found tickets at face value (miracle!) and we had a babysitter for the kids. Life was good. Until we got to the stadium and this line was waiting for us.

This is the line we waited in for 3 hours. My husband took this pic by holding up his cell phone and the line looks the same all the way around us in every direction. We posted them on facebook and, one of his photos ended up in the Milwaukee paper a few days later.  (Can you say Social Media? More on this later…)

In the first 2 1/2 hours, we moved from this spot to over by that grey box in the photo. No joke. It was a zen thing just to get thru it. Needless to say, we had some time to think.  Here are TEN THINGS I LEARNED (or realized) IN LINE AT THE SUPER BOWL.

1. Park at the airport.
Brilliant. This was my husband’s idea and it so worked. He figured, it’s always easy to get transportation to and from an airport so we drove to DFW and parked in the short term parking lot. I ran inside for a quick bathroom break and found a great little souvenier stand with official Super Bowl stuff at red line prices – we grabbed a bunch of stuff for momentos and gifts and threw it in the back of the car. We didn’t have to pay full price and we didn’t have to lug any of it around the stadium. So great. We hopped in a cab and were dropped off a block away. Same going back — easy peezy lemon squeezy. We also took hilarious photos of ourselves having a two-person tailgate party at the airport. We are dorks, but happy.

2. Be nice to each other.
Seriously, when did it become okay to blow smoke in a stranger’s face or spill beer on them? Most of the people surrounding us in the line were very nice, very polite and genuinely seemed to be out for the greater good. But it only takes one or two people to turn otherwise happy, patient people into animals. On the bright side, we ended up standing next to the mother and father-in-law of the Packer’s Kicker (Crosby, #2). It was a brush with greatness for the day.

3. Come on, people, no cuts.
What is this, 7th grade lunch line? We are all in the same place trying to get into the same event. We all paid ridiculous money to do this together.   And, der, we all see you cutting in line. We see you moving the barriers and jumping the walls and we get it, you need to get in there. You are tired of waiting. So are we. Karma is a bitch. I’m convinced you will meet her sooner than later.

4. I cannot stress the importance of good signage.
There were no signs telling you where to go at the big game. No signs said “You are in the right place” or “Go here to enter the stadium”.  We researched online beforehand and knew what gate to report to, but it was suddenly closed (Secret Service were everywhere, hey Dubya) and so we went with everyone else to the next gate. Big mistake.

5. When you invite 100,000 people over, you might want to bring in some extra staff for that day.
In the three hours we stood in this one ten-foot space, we did not see a staff person, a security person or anyone official except for police officers brought in to watch the line cutters (no one showed up to help an elderly woman who fainted in the line, regular citizens helped her…which lead to several of us considering a fainting spell to jump in line but what was that about Karma?)

6. Pee before you leave the house.
Sorry to be crass. My mom will be mortified that I wrote the word “pee”. But this cannot be said enough. There were grown men walking in the mob with cups that had been full of beer, now full of… well, you get the picture. It was disgusting. I know they didn’t see it coming and all that, but really? You couldn’t pour that out in the grass somewhere? Not for nothin’, it would have helped to have port-a-potties NEAR the line…but that would mean they anticipated the line, and well… I think it’s clear that not much was anticipated about the line.

7. Maybe pack a lunch or at least a snack
Three hours in line when you have saved room for a stadium hot dog and a beer to kick off the festivities is a long, long wait. I usually have crackers or fruit chewies or at least gum because I’m a mom but I had cleaned out my purse. No snacks. Low blood sugar. I think I may change my name to Karma.

8. Thousands of unamused people forced to spend 3 hours together with no food or drink or facilities or communication from inside the event WILL chant your name with a healthy dose of negative feedback. There was a big jumbotron outside over our heads with a short loop of commercials for beer and Snickers bars and every once in a while an image of Jerry Jones would pop onto the screen provoking a unilateral cry of “Jerry Sucks!”. I’m guessing this is not what the man had planned for this day in his own history.

9.When your team wins the Super Bowl, it is difficult to have a bad time 
Once you get in, even if you miss all of the pre-game activities (hello, Maroon 5, I missed you) and getting your photo with the Lombardi Trophy …oh yes, that was on the docket…and you put up with the drunk 40-something ex-cheerleader waving her “Terrible Towel” in your face and the running to your seat while Christina Aguilara flubbs the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner and you’re sure you just mis-heard her because you are loping up 14 flights of stairs to take your seat in time for kick-off, and you get there and the game is awesome and your team wins and your husband is as happy as he was when your kids were born (though he says it’s a close second, you know he’s lying to be nice) It is really, really hard to be irritated by the line and the mismanaged experience and expectations.

10. Apologizing does help.
I mentioned earlier that after that awesome day, my husband posted some photos of the line experience on facebook. One of them did end up appearing in the Milwaukee paper a couple days later.  At 9:30pm the next night we got a call from an NFL Exec (will not tell you who) apologizing for the experience we had in line and also apologizing that they could not offer us tickets to the next game or money for our tickets because they were first focusing on the 400 PEOPLE WHO HAD TICKETS AND WERE TURNED AWAY. Oh yes, that wasn’t a rumor. It happened to people. Google it if you want details. My husband joked with the woman on the line and said thank you for calling and assured her that we didn’t need tickets or money (huh? wait… ) but that her call meant a lot and he really did appreciate her taking the time.

And we did appreciate it. That was amazing. How many people did they call? It was nightime, they called from their personal cell and gave us their personal number.
Was the experience perfect? No.
Was it worth it? Yes.
Did the phone call help? Oh yeah.

The bad news is that complaints have a tendency to go social (i.e. facebook, twitter, etc)
… the GOOD news is, complaints have a tendency to go social. That’s not a typo.
Social = your opportunity to turn it around.

If your customer experience stinks, your marketing is a waste of time. Well, unless you are the Super Bowl. There’s a lot of range there. For small business and nonprofits, it does absolutely matter. You rely on word of mouth and repeat business. It’s not likely I’ll go to the Super Bowl again, that’s not really a repeat purchase kind of thing. I’m not a celebrity or a Kardashian. heh. But it was totally 100% worth it.

Amen. And Thank you to the unnamed NFL exec for the call. So nice. 🙂
Go packers!

Twitter is not normal.

I’ll say it again, Twitter is not normal. No taksies backsies.
It is not normal for anyone to type out their comings and goings in 140 characters or less (including your own username and any links you may provide) and send it out to other abnormal people who are “following” what you have to offer via twitter. That’s just not normal. I get it. But part of my job is to teach normal people how to use Twitter.

Everytime I teach this topic there are a few people in the room who attest to hating twitter, wanting nothing to do with it and say they will never use it…I get that too, no worries. But I still have to teach it so have a cookie and a cup of coffee and listen while I tell the others…and as with anything else, we should probably start with the “WHY”.

Why teach twitter? Why use twitter? I would argue that twitter can be helpful to many different business models – including small business and nonprofits. Do you know that currently, only 3% of nonprofits are using Twitter, and that will change over time unless twitter suddenly goes away. (With 100 million users worldwide, that is highly unlikely right now) I can only give you my personal experience with learning and applying Twitter to business and hope that I am able to shed some light on the whole idea of logging in and tweeting regularly.

The first tweet I ever read said “I’m sitting at a stoplight, eating a sandwich”. It was my oldest daughter, then 17, tweeting from her car. Nice. This is the real reason I logged onto twitter a few years ago – I wanted to know what was going on in my daughter’s life and I didn’t want to ask her all the time because that method wasn’t really yielding anything at all. BUT….

Then I started following some people that seemed to have relevant things to say about my business/industry. I listened and eventually became confident enough with my big list of 12 followers to retweet something that an influencer said online. I did this a few times and nothing exploded. phew.

Then I finally tweeted about a class I was giving on email marketing for small business. One of my influencers retweeted what I posted to over 25,000 followers and wow – I had to schedule extra classes to meet the demand. That was the day I realized that twitter might be worth another look for business. And it might not be about reaching my followers. It is, but it isn’t. It’s real power is in reaching influencers who then reach out to THEIR followers.
That is the REAL power of Twitter. It’s megaphone marketing in 140 character spurts. I get it now. (applause)

How to start? Listen. Go to and look for industry terms, competitors, your own name or company name…ind influencers (and follow them). Fill out your profile. Sit tight, read, and when the time is right, retweet to your small following. You should also go to (it’s free) and sign up to have them deliver an email to you at the time of your choosing each day that lays out exactly what’s been said on twitter about, to, or near you.

 I’ve got about 750 followerson Twitter  now, not huge but nothing to sneeze at either. I did it by listening, sharing what was relevant to my list and reaching past my list to their sphere of influence. It’s free. Can’t hurt to login and just watch.

If you want to follow me on twitter, my handle is @julieniehoff
Learn more at

Let’s Define Real Marketing.

When I use the word marketing, i am referring to something very specific — I mean that you define an audience, a group of people that you want to target with your offer or message. You reach out to that audience with a message that is specifically designed for those people and then you work to elicit a physical, measurable response. The physical, measurable response is what makes it marketing. Without that, you may be communicating and that is beneficial – always, but real marketing requires a physical, measurable response. So that you can say “this worked, do more of that…. or this didn’t work, stop doing that”.

What kind of physical response can you hope for? A click online, a reply email, a purchase direct from your website – a forward, a print, sharing the coupon with a friend. These are all decisions, represented by a physical action (a click or purchase) and it is especially easy to measure these actions with online tools like email marketing or online surveys, where you can track and report on every action the recipient takes. It’s no longer prohibitively expensive to do “real” marketing with measurable response. Should cost about the same as three latte’s to jump in and try it. This levels the playing field. a lot. Real marketing can help grow your business or organization, with immediate results. Thank goodness there are affordable, easy-to-use tools available for small businesses and nonprofits – ten years ago, i couldn’t have said that. Today, it’s actually do-able and even fun. 

There’s more to it, yes. Marketing is a dance businesses do to find their place in the market…but at the very least, this baseline for any discussion of marketing should be in place. Can we agree on that?

Use of Social Media Pays Off

Businesses and organizations that are wary about stepping into the social media waters often ask why. Why should I create a Facebook Fan Page or do all I can to attract Twitter followers? What’s the point?

Well, according to a new research study from Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate, those who connect with businesses on social media sites are more likely to purchase from them. The study found that more than one-half of Facebook users said they would be more likely to purchase from businesses they were Fans of, and 67% of Twitter users said the same.

Equally interesting is that 60% of respondents said their Facebook connection made them more likely to recommend the business to a friend. Among Twitter followers, that number was nearly 80%.

Clearly, having a presence on social media sites is important. Does your business or organization have a page on Facebook and/or Twitter yet? If not, here are three steps to get up and running:

  1. Reserve your spot. Even if you’re not ready to devote much time to promoting your social media presence, at least go to and (and any other sites you choose) and register your business or organization’s name. That will ensure no one claims it before you do.
  2. Tell the world about your social media presence. Add links to your regular email signature. Include it in your email newsletter. Post it in your place of business. Then people can easily click to become your Friend, Fan, or Follower.
  3. Start communicating. Social media is a great place to build your relationships with customers and members, and make connections with prospects — who can find you by referral or by other means. Give your Friends, Fans, and Followers the kind of content they want (information about sales and specials, yes, but also information about your business/organization, your products, and services) and they will continue to value their connection to you.

For more information about getting started with social media, check out our guide to the 35 Things You Should Know About Social Media Networks.