Marshmallows and Prototyping

I just watched a new video from the TED 2010 conference by Tom Wujec and since I used to work at a company that sold software prototyping solutions, I just had to share these ideas in a blog post.  Tom is a Fellow at Autodesk and is passionate about sharing his ideas around design thinking, visual collaboration and team creativity.

Tom has developed a simple 18-minute experiment called the Marshmallow Challenge to help teams “experience simple, but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.” The basic premise is that each team is given 20 sticks of spaghetti, one marshmallow and 36 inches each of masking tape and string .  The challenge is to build the tallest structure that can support the marshmallow on top.

After conducting this challenge more than 70 design workshops across the world, some surprising insights have emerged from the study:

  • Kindergarten graduates do better than MBA graduates
  • Specialized skills plus facilitation skills yields higher success
  • Play and prototyping is essential
  • Design is a contact sport

Comparison of MBA Students vs. Kindergarten Students in The Marshmallow Challenge from Tom Wujec's TED Video

Tom explains that the reason business school students are looking for the single right plan and wait until the end to put their marshmallow on top.  On the other hand, kindergarten students perform better because they build prototypes along the way and refine their results from multiple iterations.

Below is Tom’s 5 minute TED presentation and you can also learn more about how to conduct your own marshmallow challenge by visiting the Marshmallow Challenge website.

Why Is Yelp Important To Your Business?

People Love Us on Yelp Sign

If you own a restaurant or other type of business location, another important task to do after claiming your locations on  Google Local Business is to claim them on Yelp.  This is the third post in my series of 7 Social Media Must-Do’s for the Restaurant Industry and while my research is based on work in the restaurant industry, it is applicable to any business with a physical location that is visited by either retail or business customers.

Yelp is important because it is emerging as the leading consumer review site for many types of businesses and it currently receives high priority from the Google Search Engine results – generally in the top 5 based on my tests.  My explanation for this high search engine ranking is that Yelp uses natural language URLs for each of it’s review sites.  For example, the URL for the Ruby’s Diner in Huntington Beach is http://www.yelp.com/biz/rubys-diner-huntington-beach and the Yelp listing appears as the 4th item in a Google search.  Now that we have some trend information on page views for my client’s businesses, I can also see that Yelp traffic grew nearly 75% in the first quarter of 2010.  I know that there are other review sites out there including Urban Spoon, CitySearch, Bing and Zagat – but none of these sites seem to have the volume of reviews and comments.  And these other sites don’t have the easy-to-use and pleasant-to-the-eye website experience that Yelp has either.

Example of Yelp Results in Google Search - In the Top 5 For Most Locations

You want to claim your location for several reasons:

  1. Update business details – As a business owner, you can update the business listing including providing details about your specialties and business history.
  2. Set up special promotions or announcements – Business owners can set up offers or announcements that appear at the top of your individual profile.
  3. Review alerts – Once you have claimed a location, you will receive an email message whenever you receive a new review or message for that location.  This is a great feature so you don’t have to keep reviewing your Yelp business page to look for new reviews.
  4. Message reviewers - One of the most important reasons to claim your business is that business owners can reply directly or publicly to people who have left reviews on their site.  My recommendation is that you privately message reviewers and I know that the personal contact is appreciated.  I have received more than several return comments saying that my message was the first they ever received from a review they left.  Engaging customers is one of the top objectives in social media and Yelp really helps you achieve this objective.
  5. View location dashboard - Finally, the business owner gets a  on the number of page views for their business as well as a dashboard with links to reviews and messages.  If you claim multiple locations, your locations are available from a drop-down list to the right of your tabs.

    The process for claiming a location is pretty straightforward.  You click on the “Is This Your Business?” link that appears just after a summary of the location details.  When you click on the link you go to a follow-on page that says it an automated phonebot will call the number listed as the business phone number on your page and you will have to punch in the provided 4-digit code.  This is a simple process, but can be somewhat excruiating if you have more than 10 (or 30 or 300) locations to claim.  Yelp does offer special business owner tools for companies with larger number of locations, but they are quite pricey (about $75 per month per location) and Yelp doesn’t put these details on their website.  I was told by a Yelp representative that the Yelp service is geared more toward businesses with one location (or just a few locations).  I know the $75 per month per location for the extended business services could not be justified by my client.

    After claiming the location, you are able to edit some of the information, fix the business hours, add an announcement or coupon and add your own business photos.  Now that I know what to look for in a claimed business, it is so sad to see unclaimed businesses with incomplete profiles and no pictures uploaded.

    Detailed Business Page on Yelp

    Below is an example of the Dashboard you get for every location claimed on Yelp.  There is a drop-down in the upper right corner that let’s you select which location you want to view in case you have claimed multiple locations.   The information on the Dashboard is as follows:

    • Summary – the Summary page shows the number of  business page views for the last 13 months.
    • Offer & Announcements – displays the current offer for this location.
    • Reviews – lets you easily view all of the reviews
    • Business Information – permits easy access to editing business information
    • Business Photos – this is where you can upload your own business photos
    • Messaging – summarizes the messages you have sent to reviewers

    Yelp for Business Owners - Example Dashboard

    Do I have any recommendations for Yelp? Of course I do.  They need to make it easier (and cheaper) for businesses with multiple locations to claim and access their locations.  Yelp also needs to provide better analytic information to business users (see Foursquare or Facebook Fan Page Insights for examples).  For example, it would be great to have a summary of stats across all of my locations or an easy way to look at all reviews for all locations sorted by date.  Yelp also needs to “play better” with Google and the two of them need to figure out how Yelp reviews can appear in the Google Local Business Pages instead of the lame reviews currently shown.  Finally, Yelp needs to make it easier for a team of people to manage claimed locations on Yelp.  There are no ways to add additional managers to a claimed account or to have the location claimed by a ‘corporate-owned’ user account.

    Why Is Google Locations So Important For Your Business?

    If you own a restaurant or other type of business location, one of the most important things you can do is to claim the business through the Google Local Business Center.  This is the second post in my series of 7 Social Media Must-Do’s for the Restaurant Industry and while my research is based on work in the restaurant industry, it is applicable to any business with a physical location that is visited by either retail or business customers.

    Why Is Google Locations So Important? – There are at least 4 reasons why it is so important to get your businesses listed through the Google Local Business Center.

    1.  Google Search – First, Google Search is the most widely used search engine on the planet by a large margin and Google’s own results show up at the top of any search.  This reason alone should be enough to persuade you to make sure you are listed.

    2.  It’s Free -  Google lets you claim your profile for free which lets you make sure all of the details about your business are accurate as well as letting you provide additional information and photos.  So, Google lets you list your business for free while receiving top search engine juice too – seems like a no-brainer.

    3. Google Favorite Places – If you want to become a Google Favorite Places, you must have previously claimed your business through the Google Local Business Center.  Learning more about the Google Favorite Places program was my initial impetus for exploring the possibilities with Google Locations.

    4.  Analytical Dashboard – Google provides you with a great analytical dashboard to track the number of views your business page gets on Google along with the number of actions taken on the page.  See the What Information Do I Receive? section below for more on the Dashboard.

    For example, here is a Google Search for “ruby’s diner redondo beach“.  At the top of the listing is a map to the restaurant along with address, phone number, reviews and a link to “Menu and more“.  When you claim a business on Google Local Business, you get a chance to validate the address, phone number, hours and selected items under Menu and more.  The reviews noted are currently coming from a combination of Citysearch, Zagat and Urbanspoon, but not from Yelp which I consider the leading consumer review website.  Unfortunately, most of the reviews are more than 6 months old and from sites that are not as widely used as Yelp.  On an interesting aside, Google tried to buy Yelp in December but was re-buffed and I imagine that somewhere at Google, someone is working on a product to wipe out Yelp.

    Results of Google Search

    Clicking on the Menu and more link takes you to the location details page and most of this information is added by the location owner.  The captions in the photo show you which items were added by the owner and some of the optional items that can be added to the profile.

    Location Details from Google Local Business

    How Do I Claim My Locations? – Google lets you claim locations individually by visiting this page and entering the information manually.

    I have copied an example of a business that is not claimed on Google Locations below.  This restaurant is missing out on giving customers key information on their business such as a website link, hours of operation, photos and other information that may persuade someone to visit their establishment.  If you are the business owner and want to claim this business, it is as simple as clicking the link at the top of the page.

    Weeman Chronic Taco Is Not Claimed on Google Locations

    If you have multiple locations, you can also upload your information via the Bulk Business Feed spreadsheet which is described on this webpage.  I used this spreadsheet template to upload most of the information for the 43 locations I claimed for Ruby’s Diner.  In either case, there is a manual update process to ensure that all of the information came across properly, to upload business photos and to edit information not picked up during the bulk upload.  The manual update process works very efficiently and is much better than the Bing or Yelp procedure to individually claim locations which can get tedious if you have more than 10 stores.

    Google Locations - Bulk File Upload

    When I claimed the Ruby’s Diner locations earlier this year, it took about 3 to 4 weeks before the listings became active.  I don’t know what happens during the review process  on Google’s side, but it seemed to be a reasonable length of time.  Subsequent edits to claimed locations are processed in under 30 minutes.  And the process is much easier than the location claiming process for other services such as Yelp, Bing and Tripadvisor.

    What Information Do I Receive? – Google is always into analytics and providing their users with great analytical tools, and the analytics for Google Local Business Center are no exception.  The top Dashboard page lists all of the businesses or locations you have claimed under the same email address.  The high level stats include store code, location status and statistics for the last 30 days that include the number of impressions and actions.  The Dashboard is also where you can edit your claimed listings.

    Google Local Business Center Dashboard

    Clicking on the View Report link results in a detailed location-specific Dashboard.  On the detailed dashboard, you can easily select the last 7 days, the last 30 days or select your own custom time period to display the number of daily impressions and actions.  The actions are defined as clicks for more information on the Maps, clicks for driving directions and clicks to your website.  At the bottom of the Dashboard, the keywords for the top search queries are presented along with a map showing where driving direction requests are coming from by zipcode.

    Business owners also have the option of posting a special announcement or creating a special web-only coupon for your business.   For some of our Ruby’s Diner locations, we created special announcements for Kids Eat Free Tuesdays.  I have just experimented with the coupon feature which seems really easy to use, but I have not published any coupons yet.  One nice feature is that coupons can be either printable, displayable on a mobile phone or both.

    Google Local Business Center - Individual Dashboard

    Good luck with claiming your businesses on Google Local Business Center.

    7 Social Media Must-Do’s for the Restaurant Industry

    Ruby's Diner Logo

    Wow, I can’t believe that it’s been more than two months since my last blog post.  Over the last 2 1/2 months, I’ve been pretty busy with a social media strategy and implementation project for Ruby’s Diner – a 1940′s diner-based restaurant concept located primarily in Southern California – and I have neglected my blogging activities.

    For my project, I had a chance to develop top-level social media strategies and participate in the day-to-day management of social media presences.  There is no better way to to hone your social media skills than to roll up your sleeves and “just do it” as this process gives you a way to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t work so well.

    Based on my experiences, I have come up with a list of “7 Must-Do’s” for the restaurant industry.  Some of these tips are no-brainers and can be implemented immediately.  Some of the other tips are bigger projects and tasks that will need to be updated and monitored on an ongoing basis.  Each of these tips will contribute to what should be the social media goals of any business:  expand corporate mindshare, augment and expand existing marketing channels and increase the number of customer interactions.

    1.  Monitor Your Brand – The first and most important part of any social media strategy is to learn and listen to what others are saying about your brand.  There are many paid services to help you do this, but there are three free tools that I recommend to use as part of a listening strategy:  Google Alerts, Social Mention and Twitter Searches.  With Google Alerts, you can receive a daily email summarizing mentions of your brand on the internet.  I find that this is not a comprehensive listing, but it is useful for a quick scan to check the noise level.  For more detailed listening, I prefer to use the free Social Mention service.  You can also opt to receive a daily email from Social Mention and you can filter the mentions to blogs, micro-blogs, pictures, and video to name the more popular choices.  Social Mention also filters the information by day, last day, last week and several other choices.  My final source for listening is Twitter search which I accomplish by using a customized Hootsuite‘s Search Column.  Our strategy is to follow anyone who mentions Ruby’s Diner in a tweet, and engage with customers via Twitter where it makes sense.  We also use Twitter to find out who is visiting our locations via foursquare as most foursquare users announce their presence on Twitter.  I will cover what I’ve learned from foursquare in another blog post.  The HootSuite Twitter search does a great job of simplifying this monitoring.

    2. Google Business – claim your business locations on Google Business.  Google has a free service that lets business owners claim their business and claiming a business is the first step to get recognized as a Google Favorite Place.  Once you claim your location, you can edit the listing and add additional information including links and pictures to make your presence more interesting for web surfers.  Plus, you can also add free announcements or coupons that will pop up when someone clicks for more information on your business.  Since Google pretty much owns the Search market, their search result shows up on the top of any Google search page which makes it critical to claim and update your business page on Google.  Once you claim a business (or multiple locations), there is a great dashboard that shows the number of impressions that each page has received and whether someone clicked on your website or on directions to your business.

    3.  Yelp – claim your business locations on Yelp.  There are many consumer review sites on the Web today, but Yelp is emerging as the overall leader in this segment.  If you Google  your restaurant name and location, the Yelp entry for that location is probably in the top 5 of the search results.  (try it – for example, type in “ruby’s diner costa mesa”).  One reason for the high ranking in search results is that the URLs for Yelp include the restaurant name and location (i.e. http://www.yelp.com/biz/rubys-diner-costa-mesa-2).  So if you only have time to claim and monitor one review site, Yelp is definitely the site for you.   Plus, it is free to claim and customize the pages for your locations and once you claim the location, you get a special dashboard where you can monitor the number of visits your Yelp pages receive.  Yelp sends an email to your business email whenever anyone reviews your location and you then have the option of replying privately or publicly to the reviewer.

    4.  Facebook – set up a Facebook Fan Page for your restaurant and post something on the wall every other day (at least).  Unless you’ve been off the grid for the last several years, you have undoubtedly heard of Facebook.  Facebook offers a great way for brands to interact with their fans and customers and maintain the buzz when customers are not in your restaurant.  There are many ways to customize your Fan Page using the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) and many 3rd party applications to add to make your page more interactive.  For Ruby’s, we post a lot of pictures and use the Events tab to announce local store fundraisers.  We also have a customized FBML page that mimics the Email Club signup page from the Ruby’s website.  The other great thing about having a Facebook Fan Page is the free insights that Facebook provides.  For example, you can look at trends for interactions, active members, discussions, and mentions.  Facebook also sends out a weekly email summary that includes the number of page views for the fan page.  At Ruby’s, the Facebook Fan Page has been attracting about 1/3 the number of page views that the main website receives on a weekly basis.

    5.  Twitterset up a Twitter account and post regularly. A good rule of thumb is to post about 5 to 10 tweets per day on Twitter account.  At Ruby’s, we have used Twitter to push users to the Facebook Fan Page by linking to uploaded pictures or local store events that we posted on our Events tab.  Twitter is also useful for engaging in short conversations with your customers.  A best practice for corporate Twitter accounts is to include a trackable link in most of your tweets.  My favorite Twitter tool is the free HootSuite Twitter Management tool which is helpful in so many ways.  With HootSuite, you can automatically create trackable short URLs, schedule tweets in the future, manage multiple Twitter accounts and easily manage who you follow.  The scheduling aspect is huge as it lets you maintain a high volume of activity without spending your entire day on Twitter, and it lets you spread out your tweets during the day (or on weekends when you’re not at work).

    6.  Wikipedia – make sure your restaurant is listed in Wikipedia.  Wikipedia editors are very strict about what you can add as an article on their site – but if your brand, location or restaurant is notable, historic or has been around for many years, then you should probably be able to get your post to ‘stick’.  Wikipedia will remove any obvious marketing messages or hyperbole, and really likes it when you cite external sources.  As an example, check out the Ruby’s Diner page I created on Wikipedia for one way to approach a Wikipedia page.

    7.  Blog - my most important recommendation is to start writing a blog about your business. A blog lets you talk about yourself, tell stories and provide an in-depth behind-the-scenes look into what makes your business remarkable.  Not to mention that an active blog contributes significantly to a website’s search engine presence because each new post is an additional page for the search engines to index.  At one company where I did some work, the blog actually accounted for around 10% of all web traffic and that was for a blog with about 3 or 4 posts per month.  On the other hand, starting a blog is a major endeavor and takes a pretty heavy commitment to do it right.  For example, you should blog at least once per week and more if you have lots of information to share.  A rough estimate is that it takes about 2 to 3 hours to research, write, edit and post each blog post.  So, if you are doing it 2 or 3 times per week the time starts to add up.  On the plus side, most restaurants have plenty of stories to tell – whether it is remarkable stories about your customers or team members, your food, your locations, new items and specials, and upcoming events – so there is plenty of content for the blog.

    I will write a series of posts in the upcoming week or two that will go into more detail about how and why these seven must-do’s are necessary for your business along with tips and tricks for using them effectively.