Top 10 Reasons to Stop Blogging…for a bit.

brownies no pudge fat free

I’m done too…for just a bit!

[With tongue-in-cheek and shameless hyperlinks]

10. I’m on the 2nd to last chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey.

9. My social value (Klout score) has stalled at 47.

8. I ran out of gum…Orbit is my go-to brand because the flavor lasts for one post.

7. It’s sunny outside…what is o-u-t-s-i-d-e?

6. My 17 lb cat needs to be fed…again and again and again. Moow.

5. I can’t #Tweet and blog at the same time…left brain, right brain co-domination.

4. My spine care doctor recommends I stand up more.

3. Project Runway or Say Yes to the Dress is on and either are pointless to resist.

2. Firewood gladly needs stacking (with traditional cross-hatched end towers) and not editing, linking or spell checking.

…and the number one reason I stop blogging…for a bit?
1. The No Pudge fat-free brownies just came out of the oven, enough said.                   …and yes, I prefer them over Trader Joe’s.

What are your Top Ten Reasons for temporary blog stoppage (aka “Save Draft”)?

Hey look, a picture of a bird…

…and a clown, a bedroom and a ball of rubber bands.rubberbands No explanations required right?

The social media’s (SM) trend of pictures…lots and lots of “preferred” pictures, may have tough implications on SM activity for advice brands (i.e bloggers, consultants, etc.).  How do you sell consulting/advisory skills with a picture? If SM networks like Pinterest continue to blow past their competitors (e.g. Linked-In, FaceBook, YouTube, etc.), online dialogue won’t be about what’s written anymore but about the catchy media displayed (e.g. rubberband ball) The recent statistics for Pinterest are staggering.  For example, Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, Linked-In and YouTube combined!  In years to come, consultants (advice/data types) including blogging gurus (yipes), may have difficulties communicating on the web’s ever shrinking world of just pictures and bullet only blogs.

Is one picture really worth one-thousand words?  This original to the US phrase (not really Chinese or Japanese), emerged early in the 20th Century.  A bit of foreshadowing here maybe, but it’s seems to be a SM trend running away with itself.  This may be happening because there IS psychological proof that the “one picture” phrase bears merit.PictureWorthwords

In 1987 a couple of cognitive science professionals Larkin and Simon (L&S) did research on Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words and the effects imagery v. words have on the human response.  And for those who need to know, their data is also referenced in a study by Paula Goolkasian titled Pictures, Words and Sounds: From Which Format Are We Best Able to Reason? found in the 2000 Journal of General Psychology. Well it seems their data suggested pictures DO provide a more direct access to information when compared with printed words. Reaction time responses showed a consistent picture advantage (Pinterest folks will love this!). YouTube may be winning online users too, simply because these cognitive studies also suggested that when participants responded to materials stored in human memory, both pictured and spoken (i.e. movies) formats provided quicker responses in comparison to printed words.

Advice/data brand experts DO have several opportunities to suppress the one-hit-wonder picture craze and also take advantage of it.  Did you catch it in the previous paragraph? One picture may be worth one-thousand words but per L&S a diagram is worth TEN-thousand!  By combining well researched data with fantastic visuals, advice brands may be able to capture 10x the response of their picture-only sellers of product.

Clown ThinkerInfographics combined with in-depth social technographics may provide non-widget companies the perfect combination of online imagery needed to sell their professional services.  In recent years I’ve heard the generic complaint humans are getting lazier about reading stuff online (reading F-shaped pattern only)…bring on the clown pictures please because I don’t want to read about them.

But, what if an industry specific image was combined with appropriate statistics and an infographic carefully created? THAT bit of data visualization may be worth its weight in unread content by the follower.

Out comes The Home Depot…and Maybe with Real Skill

Are you a DIYer with real skill?  Or a lowly weekend hacker of attempted drywall?  If you had the opportunity to show off your do-it-yourself skills, would you share them online? I propose The Home Depot (HD) do just that…encourage their online community members (fixers/decorators of home stuff) to show us their measuring, wiring and/or painting expertness…or whatever they like!

fix-repairI’m sure most new home owners, in their desperate Google search to repair, have seen at least one HD “How-To” video.  These videos are just part of HD’s social media campaign (launched in 2010) to “Bring their Culture to Life in Social Media.”  The DIY videos are created by a variety of in-store associates, from different departments, showing how-to-do many household repairs, renovations and decorating. Fairly yawnish.  Instead of the HD associate doing the demonstration, wouldn’t it be much more interesting to watch your neighbor Hal attempt to build a deck?  …Sans the CC of course.

These personalized additions to the social media How-To video archives, would be completely do-able.  HD already has their YouTube account set up, although another category will have to be added (“DIY For Real”). Rules for submission would have to be determined too and the videos pre-screened for content, but the possibilities are endless.  They could prompt more online/lateral dialogue among customers and possibly energize the mundane HD forums.  Polls/ratings could be added to the videos.  Not enough votes? Off line it goes.  Lots of votes? The video star/creator gets a gift certificate to guess where.

hdlogoWith a little more management of their current social media, HD could considerably increase their likeability across all their networks …especially from the guy/gal next door.  And remember, content is produced by the users at no expense to HD, a big savings of time and money.  Video IS the best social media outlet for HD and they should continue to massage this venue to their benefit.  Adding a “real” twist on their traditional demo video, could be just the beginning of better outcomes for their transmedia storytelling.

Can You Compare Apples to Apples?

applepileTwo equine industry retailers (both privately owned) engage customers through their preferred Social Media (SM) platforms. Let’s take a moment to briefly compare and contrast (differentiate) their SM efforts.

Bit of Britain (BoB-Oxford, PA), has been “fulfilling the needs of Eventers for 25 years.” Their stated goal “To offer our customers the same knowledge, courtesy, and quality, whether you shop our store, catBitOfBritainalog or website!” “BoB has been trusted by top riders since 1986.”  They have several tagline variations that appear at random on all their SM platforms.  Maybe they might want to consider revisiting/consolidating their “message.”
Equine Discipline: Eventing (dressage, X-C, show jumping)
Product Line: Over 100 brand names…everything horse related from gifts to equipment to clothes, with a niche push in Eventing supplies.
SM Platforms engaged: Web Site, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest.  Important to note…every BoB SM platform offers a response mechanism.  An indicator of their yearning for community development, comments and feedback.
BoB Facebook (FB-over 5k Likes) offers inside deals, discounts for competitors and instructors, a link to Pinterest and general horse/product related news and personal posts. Interesting button that says “Suggest an Edit”…interesting engagement tool.
BoB Twittter (over 1k followers) is really well integrated with their other SM!  BoB tweets… about info on their FB; to the Radio Eventing Show (Horse Radio Network) who BoB is a huge sponsor; about seasonal products; several times daily; to YouTube demo videos, etc.
BoB engages a second, private URL called Tack of the Day.com(TOTD)!  An energetic site (in CA) with only two discounted items a day. I assume BoB is selling older/extra inventory through TOTD or has some other business agreement.  Many of their tweets send followers to TOTD.
BoB’s You Tube has many videos mostly featuring employees discussing their product picks.  These are fairly well done witth some pretty funny outtake/blooper videos too.  I like the way they’ve included real riders/employees to discuss products. They are genuine and offer honest insight into wear ability, fit and cost.
BoB’s Pinterest is relatively small with only 12 Pin Boards and 185 pins and121 followers. Board topics vary…seasonal, stuff they love (28 pins) , awesome stuff, stuff we carry (66 pins…mostly made up of product videos from their YouTube channel) and Aaawwhh stuff, etc.  They do have several repins from industry online magazines.  Pinterest is not well integrated, except for with FaceBook.

SmartPakcolorSmartPak (SP-Plymouth, MA) was started out of necessity…to find a better way to feed supplements.  By buying in bulk, SP could offer customers a pre-measured/daily dose supplementing system (a smartpak) for the same price as buckets of retail supplements. Since 1999, and with a focus still on horse health/proper feeding, etc., , SP has grown exponentially and just in the last 3 years at a rate of 868%!  They now have 175+ employees…”Our Smarts Are at Your Service.” They claim to be “the largest equestrian retailer in the US.”  SP is VERY active with their SM and each platform is really well integrated.
Equine Discipline: All Disciplines (English and Western) and now dog & cat products
Product Line: Thousands of brand names…everything horse+ related (e.g. supplements, gifts, equipment, apparel, barn supplies, etc.).
SM Platforms engaged: Web Site, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Googleplus, Blogs, Webinars, RSS Feeds, SmartPak Networks (e.g. SmartPak Blog, Ask the Vet Blog by topic, Team SmartPak, etc.)  Barn of the Month and other Contests too! SP has it all going on…it’s very well done and seamless.
SP Facebook (FB-over 280, 200 k Likes) offers links to Pinterest and YouTube and its content is general horse/product related news and personal posts.
SP Twitter (5,889 followers and 2,600+ tweets) A wealth of integrated data from all platforms and tweeting several times a day.
SP YouTube (2,500+ subscribers/joined June 2009) Here SP offers wonderful employee reviews of products they’ve purchased and/or using.
SP Pinterest (23 pin boards and 2300+ pins)  These boards are interesting….some discuss horses and holidays, success stories, Smart solutions, etc.
SP’s Google+ Account (605+ followers) is there…just there, with straight forward content.  Links access to it through the SP blogs home page.
SP Blog opens to many topics listed and all kinds of helpful information.  SP brings in experts to help their customers understand a health concern and hopefully this will prompt a sale or two. RSS Feeds, Webinars, etc. are also included through the blog link.

Despite the different product push (Eventing v. Supplements) between BoB & SP, SP is still way ahead of BoB with their SM engagement efforts. SP has many, many communities and “conversations” going on throughout their extremely well integrated SM platforms.

Selling Your Horse…Now and Then.

I don’t have time for him anymore.

I have too many of them.

I’ve outgrown him.

I can’t afford him.

These are just a few of the many reasons fellow private equestrians finally decide to sell their horse.  In the past, traditional/print media was the only option to advertise your “Horse for Sale.”  Local newspapers, regional/national equine publications and newsletters of equine/horse organizations were the best locations to place your listing but with it meant costly insertion fees (even for a classified). Although traditional advertising is still used, Social Media has drastically changed how “horses for sale” are listed, viewed and ultimately sold.

So, you’ve decided to sell “Buddy.”  You gather his stats, take some pictures, shoot a video and start your campaign.

Writing his ad. Be completely honest about Buddy or any other horse you’re selling. Include his required equine stats (age, sex, height, breed, color/markings, etc.) and any other pertinent facts. Describe his personality and recommend to the potential buyer who and what career he would best fit. You can include his price if preferred but today with online sales occurring nationally, his physical location is also a must.  For Sale: “Buddy” 9 yr old gelding,15.2 hand, Quarterhorse (has papers), bay with white star.  Nice mover, safe with kids, proven Hunter-Jumper show ring veteran. Excellent on trail too. Buddy excels with young riders over fences. He is UTD on shots and has No vices. Asking $4,500 and he lives in Concord, NH.

Take Buddy pictures to share. Bathe and groom Buddy until he shines. Properly stand him up, (in a bridle or nice halter) and photograph some details as well as his overall body.  You may not use them all, but while he is polished, it is a perfect time to create a small group of images (saddle/harness on or off) from which to pull (e.g. Head/face, front, rear, near (left) side, off (right) side).

Create Buddy’s online video. More importantly nowadays is the creation of Buddy’s video. Up until just a few years ago, filming your horse was a laborious venture, that may have involved the hiring of a  video-photographer or a friend with a film based video camera.  Video editing/duplicating was limited, costly and time-consuming. So you snail-mailed the precious video back and forth to prospective buyers basically “as is.”

However, with today’s hand-held/digital technology that process has become extremely efficient. Videos can be taken and retaken at will, deleted, edited and with very little expertise. This could be a liability unless you have a plan before taking your video. Decide what imagery would best help sell Buddy and then gather help (e.g. a rider) as needed. Include highlights first and then if time/space allows add other video tidbits buyers may find of general interest. For example, properly stand up Buddy and walk around him with the camera…then record all his gaits in each direction (coming and going too) and most importantly his walk. Then capture him enjoying his discipline of choice and/or something to portray his personality.

When editing the final video, keep each segment as short as possible but without compromising Buddy’s story/sales pitch. Did you know YouTube offers video editing?  Without worrying about file formats, you can combine videos, trim their lengths, add a sound track and customize the whole video with special tools and effects on YouTube (a must-have location for his video). The average video length on YouTube is 4+ minutes (Sysomos.com, 2010).  Keep this in mind because interested buyers want to see your horse but not its life story.  Open up a YouTube account (if you don’t have one) and upload/edit his video.  You can then link to his video’s URL from any other ad placement online or share it from YouTube.

An important note about your image background/lighting. Whether photographing or videotaping any horse, please make a note of the background and available light.  This is very important. The background should be simple and free of “stuff.”  You want to highlight the subject matter (aka Buddy) and not have it get lost.  A good presentation and first impressions go a long way, so avoid multiple fence lines (horizontal rails), indoor arenas (vertical boards/metal) out-buildings, vehicles, etc.  Try to locate your horse in a field or some place outside (best light option) with a simple unified back drop unless showing him over fences where a ring/indoor are required.  Check out Crystal’s sample photographs and further photo tips at Rideandsee.com.

Today advertising a “horse of sale” is easy, costs very little and most online placements are free.  Now that you have your Buddy sales materials readied…1). Research your best placement options, 2). Prioritize your list of options (use this to eventually keep track of your placements/responses), 3). place Buddy’s materials accordingly and; 4). Follow up on all leads.

Sample ad: http://www.equinenow.com/horse-ad-644059

Photo Source: Horsebreedsinfo.org

Saddle Up for Social Media

Me and Mya in her witch hat for Halloween

Equus Wishes – Although artistic since three (I rocked Crayola and string), I have known horses physically only from the 5th grade.  It started with my older sister wishing on cake every birthday since her fourth for a backyard equine.  As the second sibling, I soon joined in the wishing until my mother and father finally folded when pony “Mya” then horse “Jolly” (one year later) arrived.  The small barn and pasture were built in our upstate New York backyard, and a local club of the United States Pony Club (USPC) was discovered and energetically attended.  While my sister’s interest in the equine waned, I was in…completely.

Weanling Years – Fast forward many years and stall cleanings later, I am a graduate “A” USPC pony clubber (highest level attainable) and proudly own a BFA in communication design (with a minor in Illustration) from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  Post BFA achievement, my horse at the time “Dundee” was sold to buy a car, but teaching young riders and the resulting begs for mounts prevailed. Hand and hand with ongoing extra-curricular equine activities, my design career moved forward (and away), averaging 4-years of experience per placement in and around greater Boston.

Jumping from the Corporate Corral – VanDesign (short for Van Valkinburgh) had been a burr under my saddle since graduation.  Even then I had developed a rough logo, created cards and continually did free-lance graphic design on the side.  My soul had remained in the horse barn all those years, and now, I was also professionally ready to run my own business.   With the formal launch of VanDesign, I was able to combine my parallel life interests…marketing, advertising, illustration and design for the equine industry.

Keeping up with the Herd – As the years in business have passed, the horse industry has grown significantly but remained somewhat the same in content/function. On the other hand my profession’s technology (way of doing business) has changed dramatically.  It has gone from Phone/Fax/FedEx/Desktop/Print to Text/Send/Share/Like/Mobile/Tweet. Luckily, but without much fanfare or self-promotion, VanDesign has kept up and evolved from producing mostly print related projects (ads, brochures, letterhead, etc.) to materials destined for only digital/online use (low resolution/rgb graphics, web sites, digital/PDF manuals, etc.).

Stampede! – The herd is running now full speed “liking” and “sharing” toward Social Media (SM) for every “carrot” it has to offer.  Labeled by Forrester Research as the groundswell, it is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations (Li & Bernoff, 2011).  But, how is the Equine Industry (EI) using the groundswell to their benefit.

Slow Out of the Gate – Seemingly slow for adopting new technologies, the EI is still discovering SM.  While the annual economic impact of the equine industry is significant – involving some $300 billion dollars, 4.0 million horses, and 1.6 million full-time jobs – SM user statistics for the horse lover are lacking (Wyrick, 2011).  According to the American Horse Publications (AHP) EI study (10/09-01/10), the following statistics do exist.

  • 30.8% of those surveyed, were between the ages of 45-54;
  • 88.8% were female;
  • 23.4% had an average household income of $50-$75K and;
  • 48% lived in a 2-member household.

How these basic facts relate to SM technographics still need to be analyzed and revealed.

Stable Tools for Social Media– Regardless of the lack of equestrian based SM technographics here are how some common SM tools are generally used by the horsy set.

  • YouTube: Selling horses, especially from a distance used to be a huge ordeal…make and snail-mail video and reverse those steps.  Now video clips can be uploaded instantly, linked, synced, etc. for all who are interested in that particular horse or simply for those horse shopping online. This platform alone has probably created the biggest change in how the EI communicates.
  • FaceBook Communities have been created specifically for all horse topics imaginable…breed clubs, buy/sell horses and/or equipment, real estate (horse farms), equestrian vacations, etc….anything related to the equine.  A couple in New England to “like” are “Horse Friends” and “Horse Collaborative.”
  • Blogging.  When Equestrians get together their favorite hobby is talking horse.  Whether it’s about horse health, feeding, training (rider or horse) or competition scoop of the day…blogging is very popular and offers in-depth details.
  • Equine Publications (online too) offer forums (and blogs) that provide discussions about, Dressage, Racing, Carriage Driving, Sport Horse Breeding, Horse Care, Tack, etc.
  • Smartphones/mobile equi apps are often used to get directions to shows/farms, search for equipment, assist trainers, find restaurants and hotels while on the road.

Sources
Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011) Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies, expanded and revised edition, Forrester Research, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA

Wyrick, J. (2011) Today’s Equine Industry, Retrieved October 14, 2012 from http://www.alltech.com/blog/posts/todays-equine-industry