New Hires are a Focus Group

I was first introduced to the concept of Fresh Eyes when I began my work as the first ever Digital Marketing Manager for the Campbell County Public Library.

As my training period came to a close, library leaders asked me a series of pre-formatted questions about what I noticed and what I thought could be improved. These were the same questions asked of all new library staff. In the moment, I knew I was in a democratic place where all voices would be heard and respected. This was new and I was into it.

When I started at Cerkl, there were only a few of us working toward the big dream of increasing audience engagement. The culture of a small organization tends to bloom from where early leaders’ values and proficiencies lie. As one of those first few hires, I felt very connected to our mission and vision for the future. But as Cerkl grows (and grows again) I wanted a gut check on how we are progressing and if the plans and processes we’ve built are fit for the long haul. What are we missing? What did we forget in our sprint?

Recently, I got my chance to trot out Fresh Eyes when Cerkl made a few new sales hires in San Jose, Indianapolis, and Boston. Our new teammates visited Cerkl HQ for a crash course in how we work. The sales people met with each department to hear about what they do, how they contribute, what processes they use, and what their plans are for the future.

After completing my product overview, I put our new sales folks in the hot seat and asked them a few Fresh Eyes questions.

  • How well do you think the departments collaborate?
  • What department or division are you surprised we don’t yet have?
  • What did you expect to get out of this meeting that you didn’t?
  • What improvements do you think our product needs that aren’t on the roadmap?

The questions I asked were not perfect but the new folks responded with honest, and open feedback. Their answers gave me clarity and understanding and helped me reset my compass a bit as we prep for our next big sprint.

Whenever you add a new team member, be sure to take the time to ask for their unrestricted feedback on the people and processes that make up your organization. Doing so can give you fresh perspective on the status quo while making the new team member feel valued.

I am more of a high five kind of gal but I respect your preferences for celebration.

Overcoming the Head Shot Haunting

So, I did a weird thing today. Not weird by the standards of people who sling detox teas on Instagram, but weird by my standards.

I got up, put a face on, and met a photographer and got photos taken of just me.

Not of my family, my dog, my kid. Not of a house I was trying to sell. Me.

I have never loved a head shot. As a marketer and unofficial work mom, I am the wrangler of these things. I spend “Head Shot Day” smoothing hair, calming nerves, and stroking egos.

By the time it’s my turn, I have nothing left to give. My hair is flat, my face is shiny, and my smile never quite reaches my eyes. But I let my shot pass inspection, not wanting to be a diva or a pain to the long-suffering photographer. It’s good enough, right? But that moment of putting myself last haunts me all year.

I dutifully post the new head shot all the places my face should go and I hate it.  When I am asked to share a head shot for a speaking engagement, I flinch. Is it the shiny face or the flat hair? Nope. I am a grown woman and my waters run way deeper than that.

Each time I see it, I am reminded of how I forget to expect as much from others as I do myself. I am reminded that I should always take three minutes to ask for better. I am reminded that sometimes I forget to let my light shine.

I made it a priority to enter the new year and my new position with Cerkl with a set of photos that I’d be proud to share. Something that represents the person I am, in and out of the office. So this morning, I did just that. I spent 30 minutes just on me and that investment will pay dividends all this year.

Each time I open my folder of pictures to select the right one to send, I will be reminded of how good it felt to treat myself well and how proud I am of my work. It’s going to be an awesome year.

Director of Marketing –>Director of Product

From the start, I’ve been obsessed with users. Yes, for real.

When I began my career at WFIE in Evansville, Indiana, we were at the very dawn of mobile consumption. I was rocking a Blackberry Curve (R.I.P.) and I was obsessed. Everyone was. Then the iPhone and Droid hit the market and it was all over. Those beautiful, Flash intro-heavy websites were over. It was about the phone. It was about the user. And I was here for it.

So the media properties I managed switched to mobile-enabled sites, we got better apps, we capitalized on early social traffic. We followed users’ patterns and made things better. We let their behavior determine how we allocated our resources, and they rewarded us with the best traffic and standing.

When I switched gears into non-profit marketing, I brought the same zest of user-first experience to the Campbell County Public Library. I examined the usage patterns of our folks and reworked our website to make it simple to find what they were looking for. I helped build an app that made it easy for them to access important library services wherever they were. I created video campaigns to help celebrate and explain our mission. I expanded our social media reach into Instagram. Why? That’s where the users were. That’s what they wanted.

Since starting at Cerkl two years ago, our roster of clients has grown exponentially. The whole time we’ve stayed true to our core values of saving time and growing engagement. I’ve been lucky to help create a better user experience through my feedback. I was always energized by these sessions, happy to be helping our users. I always wanted more time to analyze and act. Now, with my new position, as Director of Product, I will get to do just that.

I will get the rare chance to shape a product that is both useful and desirable. I will be able to tap into my well of empathy to help solve communicators’ biggest problems through technology. It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait to get started.

Say ‘Bye’​ to Do Not Reply

I am calling for the end of the Do Not Reply email address. Maybe you know the offending messenger or perhaps you’ve never noticed it before. If that’s you, let me take you on a word journey.

Picture it, the Internet. You agonize over a purchase. I mean, it’s 2018 and there are a lot of places you can shop. You get the item in the cart, fight the coupon code/shipping math/create an account/payment information beast and get that bad boy (or girl) ordered.

“Ding” goes the inbox. You are looking for that amazing tracking info. Who is the email from? Oh you know, Do Not Reply.

*Sad trombone*

Do Not Reply, also known as donotreply@shoppingplace.com, is the customer service version of a ‘New phone. Who dis?’ text. It’s shady and unkind. What message does that send? “Hey, thanks for spending your hard-earned coin with us but we don’t want to hear from you.” Rude!

For instance, let’s say that you are a tired mother ordering jeans before the sun rises. You order the pants, get the confirmation email and realize, in a shook panic, that you are shipping your pants to your old address. If Do Not Reply was off the job, I, I mean, she, could have responded to the confirmation email with the issue to get the resolution ball rolling. Instead, she sat on hold for 20 minutes to essentially read the information to the customer service person.

Many of the promotional messages currently propagating in my inbox are sent from my nemesis Do Not Reply as well. Think about that – you are asking me to connect with your message but you are blocking me from communicating with you. It’s a one way street and that doesn’t work for me. I want to feel connected and engaged by brands, not fenced in. Commerce doesn’t do well with gatekeeping.

The customer service admins of the world might be asking, “But Rachel, how do I keep up with the emails that could be created if I let people reply?” Robots, dude. Robots. A well-designed chatbot can help funnel your potential and current customers to the right place. It can even guide them to the right help content. Or, re-allocate your call center resources to be online, where the people are. Look at ways to route messages across your organization so that your customers can get help how and when they need it.

Even a small organization can help respect customers preferences and communications styles by firing Do Not Reply.

Sharing Latest Best Practices at eKickStart

There have been so many changes to Facebook over the course of my career but the January 11 algorithm change was a harsh one. The Organic Reach that marketers were enjoying for so long has nearly vanished, leaving in it’s wake a lot of confused communicators.

When HCDC reached out to Cerkl looking for a speaker for their eKickStart, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show some research our bright Cerkl interns had just finished, along with some hard-won best practices. On Friday, March 9, I presented “Facebook has Changed. So Should Your Strategy” to a crowd of about 30 people at the HCDC Business Center.

Although it was very early in the morning, the audience was enthusiastic and eager to learn.  I really enjoyed interacting with different business leaders and helping them solve some of the social media marketing challenges on the fly.

YouTube cuts ties with burgeoning creators

One of the most interesting aspects of the digital economy the way it encourages innovation by allowing creators to easily make a little money from their works while refining their craft. With one email, YouTube dashed the hopes of smaller creators and gashed their talent pipeline.Continue reading “YouTube cuts ties with burgeoning creators”

Sharing the WordPress love at WordCamp

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to share some lessons learned over years of WordPress website building at WordCamp Cincinnati.

I’ve loved WordPress for many years but this was my first ever WordCamp experience. When I submitted my idea, “How to turn your WP love into a certified side hustle,” I was nervous that I wouldn’t be chosen and even more nervous that I would.

I was scheduled for the final session of the day so I knew I had to bring my energy. We’ve all been there…by the end of a long day of learning you are toast.

How to turn your WP love into a certified side hustle

The 40 or so people who arrived were excited and eager to learn. Once I saw their interested, energetic faces, my nerves disappeared. It was on.

We did a self-discovery exercise, talked about the logistics of client-side web development and I shared a few stories from my journey.

How to turn your WP love into a certified side hustle.

Rachel-Folz-at-WordCamp-Cincinnati.png

I appreciate the folks who spent their afternoon with me. It was awesome. And I’d like to give a shout out to the WordCamp Cincinnati people – you organized and executed a fantastic event. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of it.

Dear Hulu, you should know me better

Dear Hulu,

We’ve been together a long time. Three homes, two cities and one baby later, you are still my #1 fav for streaming programming. I found you early, while working in local news and fell in love with your platform. There were some rough spots, of course; bad user experience, questionable programming choices, but I stood with you. Sure, I date around a bit with HBO Now and Netflix, but not once have they held the top spot on my Roku. I love you.

So why is it, dear Hulu, that you can seem to get your ad engine right? It’s like you don’t know me at all and it’s breaking my heart.

You rarely serve me ads that are specific to my needs. I crave movie and book trailers, new beauty products, new shows to watch, box subscription services, nonprofit outreach but instead, I get ads for the Honda Fit, terrible action shows, and baby gear. Well Hulu, you should know that I have a Honda Fit and my baby is 7-years-old. At the very least you should know that I like comedies and high-minded dramas.

You see, I work at a software company that specializes in email and web personalization, so I am biased and very in tune with this discrepancy. This isn’t a sales pitch…rather a call to arms. Using machine learning, you shouldn’t have any trouble isolating who I am and what I am into. You should be able to deliver great experiences and quality conversions to your advertisers.

Love, Rachel, TV Lover and Personalization Enthusiast

How to make a brand loyalist mad in one click

-Originally appeared on my LinkedIn-

After months of research and debate, my family welcomed a second Honda into our garage late last year. Naturally, Honda wants to know more about my shopping experience so they sent me a survey. Knowing the marketing struggle, I was only too happy to oblige their request. I clicked the link to the survey and then I saw something that made my digital immigrant heart stop.

The survey wasn’t mobile friendly.

What in the heck? I couldn’t believe that in 2017 a major car company would email me anything that didn’t work perfectly on my screen. Turns out, they are not alone. Many companies are behind the times when it comes to mobile-first design.

A HISTORY LESSON

Sit down kiddies, I am going to tell you about the internet before smartphones.

In 2006, the internet was hopping with fancy Flash intros and landing pages about landing pages. It was a load time nightmare.

Then in 2007, Steve Jobs dropped the iPhone and future-minded developers and webmasters alike sat up and took notice. Mobile was going to be huge, they knew, and the design of web pages and experiences would need to be changed to accommodate this brave new world.

“Mobile internet is now growing at the expense of all other media,” said Jonathan Barnard, Zenith’s head of forecasting told “Digiday.” “Seventy percent of internet use is now on a mobile, and the use of a desktop for internet will fall by almost 16 percent, this year.”

THE METEORIC RISE OF THE SMARTPHONE

Pew Internet has been tracking cell phone ownership since 2002. At that time, 62% of Americans reported owning a cell phone. Then in 2011, Pew began tracking the number of smartphone owners. Keep in mind, the iPhone wasn’t even 4-years-old yet but already 35% of Americans had made the switch to a smartphone.

Six years after Pew started tracking, smartphone penetration has grown 117%. Now 77% of Americans own a smartphone.

In the early days of the smartphone revolution, a mobile-optimized design was nice to have but today all digital touchpoints should not only be optimized for mobile but rather perfected for all screens.

EMAIL, IT’S NOT JUST FOR DESKTOP ANYMORE

The patterns of email users are changing. According to Litmus’ 2017 State of Email report, 54% of email is opened on smartphones. But does it look good?

The old ways of communicating to your email list aren’t working anymore. Users expect content that is personalized and beautiful wherever they choose to read it.

Research shows that marketers are struggling to engage with their on-the-go audience. The Relevancy Group reports that 32% of consumers say the emails they get are too small to read.

WHAT TO DO

Here’s some tips for maximizing your mobile strategy:

  1. Anytime is a good time to do a deep dive into your user experience. Make sure all of your content and touchpoints look wonderful on many screens.
  2. Ask both the most and least tech-savvy person you know to get your marketing emails, record their experiences and use that data to make your touchpoints better.
  3. If you’re an Apple, find an Android and vice-versa, to test all pages, emails, and surveys on. You can’t assume it works for everyone if you don’t see it in action.
  4. If you are considering new software, don’t sign a damn thing unless you know it’s mobile-perfect.

As for Honda, I wrote them back and let them know that I won’t be filling out any surveys for them until they get their mobile user-experience house in order. I really hope they do.