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By Kim Vandenbroucke,

Inventor, Innovator and Blogger,

Brainy chick, Inc. and The Game Aisle

On the shelf behind my desk I have all sorts of books on the toy and game world; some are books are about the history of the business, others highlight blockbuster products and some give advice on how to navigate the industry. While digging through one of these books I saw a discussion on how to negotiate an “advertising commitment” within a license agreement. Written in the mid-nineties, it’s amazing how the focus on “media purchases” felt so dated.

We all know that how we consume media, as well as what kind of media we consume, has been changing at a rapid pace over the last two decades. First the Internet became a household source of information and communication, then smart phones allowed us to access our email and the internet from almost anywhere. iPhone and Android phones made Apps that can “push” information to us without any effort on our part. The media, the method and the overall experience has changed greatly. We no longer are targeted by print advertisements, TV commercials and radio ads alone but by newer, alternative forms of media and advertising.

Does this shift impact us as professional inventors? Absolutely, and in probably more ways than we realize. Not only do we need to consider this change when we decide what kind of products we’re making, how they’ll be marketed, how we write the advertising commitment portion of our contracts, but also how we do business. We’ve all been inundated with the importance of brands for years and not only are your products each a brand or part of a brand, but you and/or your company are a brand.

Years ago I got my start at an invention firm that wanted to remain under the radar and for many, that kind of thinking has been the norm in this industry. But consumers today are looking to know more about the products they purchase. Behind everything we invent and license there’s a story – a story consumers are looking to learn and share. Imagine you are standing in a store deciding between two White Paper 2012 products, box A and box B, and you know that box A was invented by someone who went to the same college as you or you follow them on Twitter but you know nothing about the product in box B. Which one are you more likely to buy?

As much as price, packaging and product play into the equation so does “the story.” Studies have shown over and over that people buy things that they can tell others about. The story gives the product life and makes it something we want to share with others. The question is, with this bevy of new media channels are you still solely relying on the company you’ve penned a license agreement with to stand up and tell your item’s story and promote it? How well are they doing it and what happens if they mention that it came from you? What kind of information do you have out there that people may see? And I’m not talking just about pictures from drunken holiday parties, but are you sharing that product’s story too? Are you sharing your story?

Today, having an “internet presence” means more than just a website.

Social media is the new norm. We can connect with others in ways we’ve never been able to in the past. In 2011 Neilson did a study that found that 25% of the time Americans spend online was visiting blogs and social networks and 4 out of 5 active Internet users visit social networks regularly and those numbers were only going up. We’re a social society and networks created through social media can open doors and provide opportunities. By casting a wide net and connecting to people you just met and ones you’ve only interacted with via the internet broadens your voice as well as provides a path for opportunities to find you. Social media is a low-cost, potentially high reward, way for professional inventors to promote their products, themselves and their business.

When I talk about “Social Media” I get a lot of groans. Some people have no idea where to start whereas others don’t want to get involved because it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s amazing how the Internet can be such a great productivity tool as well as one of the biggest time sucks, but it can also generate opportunities and furnish spaces to publicize yourself, your company and your products. The key is to know what you’re doing and have a game plan.

Social media isn’t hard; it’s really all about being social.

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. are about sharing and starting a dialogue. It’s engaging in a conversation about a topic you’d like to talk about with people you may or may not know. That’s not that hard. The key is to find out how to start the conversation in a way that encourages others to respond. There are far too many who use social media spaces to stand on a soapbox and broadcast their message and that doesn’t work. Unlike traditional media forms such as television commercials and magazine advertisements, social media gives the audience a chance to respond and engage the brand, company or person and this has the opportunity to create meaningful relationships. Obviously, I don’t mean you’re going to go out and grab a coffee or beer with these people, but they may pay more attention to what you say in the future, be willing to engage with you or pass your message along.

Social Media isn’t just Facebook and Twitter, but they’re a great place to start.

Where to start is up to you but the largest social media site is Facebook and most would say it’s a must-have in any social media program. As of October 4th, 2012 there were over 1 billion people actively using their Facebook accounts each month. Most of us already have our own Facebook account, but our reach is limited to the people we’re friends with and maybe some of their friends (unless your profile is public and that can be risky). Alternatively, you can create a Facebook Page that users can “Like.” This can be for you, your business, a particular product or brand – it’s up to you, although there’s a tad bit of arrogance creating a page for yourself unless you’re really famous.

Posting on your Facebook Page is pretty much the same as posting on your personal Facebook account only you must remember that anyone can see it. So share your personality, just don’t share your personal life. Photos, questions, fun tidbits are all great ways to engage your followers and you can use the built-in analytics to see which of your posts get the most positive feedback and learn from it. Facebook also allows you to pay to promote your page or an individual post so it’s easy to get an important message across without spending much money.

Looking beyond Facebook, there are many other social media sites that use different ways of connecting. Twitter users are limited 140 character “tweets” and despite the seemingly-limited micro-blogging concept there are over 140 million active users. Twitter allows anyone to follow you and connect with you (unless you lock your account) and you can follow a huge variety of people, sites, companies, brands, etc. It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you jump right in and start responding to tweets and sending out some of your own, you’ll see how easy it is to connect.

LinkedIn’s “professional network” surpassed 175 million users in August 2012 and the conversation is more career-focused as your profile is actually your resume. It has a 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon feel as you can see who you’re connected to (1st degree), and who they’re connected to (2nd degree), all the way to your 3rd degree connections. Features like InMail ($) and “introductions” allow you to easily expand your network to people who you don’t know yet. The site also has a myriad of topic-focused groups to join that allow you to network with people with the same interests you may not know. The key to using LinkedIn is to realize that your audience is very different than the people you connect with via Twitter and Facebook and to adjust your message accordingly.

Pinterest is the hottest new social media spot and while it’s had some legal issues, it continues to grow with people’s desire for compiling albums of great eye-candy. The site allows users to share, in an organized way, photos they find on the Internet. Another “up and comer” (believe it or not) is MySpace. Thanks to Justin Timberlake, one of its investors, MySpace is making a resurgence and while it remains to be seen if it’s going to be as hot as it once was, it has made it into some top 10 social media lists. Other sites to look into: Tumblr, Flickr, Google+, YouTube, Tagged, and many, many more. The choice is yours but using more than one social media site is a great way to diversify the types of people you reach.

If you have 15 minutes a day, you have time for Social Media.

Before you stop reading because it sounds like I’ve just suggested you join a bunch of sites and start conversations on all of them, essentially using up the free time you didn’t really have, hear me out. Like I said White Paper 2012 earlier you need to have a game plan and that’s to schedule time for social media. The great thing about most social media sites is that people understand when you don’t respond immediately, so you can easily schedule time during your day to post new things or respond to comments. There are also great – and often free – apps and programs like HootSuite that allow you to set up posts ahead of time. So spend some time on Monday setting up a post or two for each day of the week on each of your social media accounts (duplicate posts only if it makes sense) and then give yourself 10-15 minutes at the beginning or end of the day to repost things you find cool and respond to questions or comment on other people’s posts. And if you’re one of those people who likes feeling productive all the time, install the apps for the social media sites on your phone and post and reply while you’re standing in line at the grocery store or waiting to pick up your kid from soccer practice.

Having a social media program only requires a little bit of time each day but having a successful social media program requires time and a little bit of finesse. If you have experience with any social media platform I’m sure you’ve seen posts that are engaging and interesting and you are compelled to read or respond. I’ll bet you’ve also seen ones where you feel like someone is shouting or preaching their message and it comes off more like an advertisement versus a conversation. The key is making sure you’re adding in a little bit of personality. Give your opinion, say why you’re sharing an article, ask a question. Think of it this way, if you were having a conversation with a friend you wouldn’t just shout an article title at them would you? No, you’d say why you think they might find it interesting. It’s also pays off to engage with others directly, but again keep it conversational and not phony. I get tweets all the time that say something like “Hey @thegameaisle have you seen our new game______? You’ll love it.” And then I’ll see that they sent the exact same message to dozens of other people, which makes me feel like I just got spammed. If there’s an honestly and sincerity to your conversations you’ll avoid so many pitfalls.

Again, social media isn’t hard; it’s really all about being genuinely social.

When I was writing this white paper I tweeted a couple times along the way. Once it was when I was considering what my topic might be and later I tweeted when I was close to finishing. Each time I tweeted I got responses from people who wanted to add their 2 cents, to know more or to read the final product. While I was tweeting about a somewhat mundane thing (I write all the time), I knew there might be some people who would like to see the final result so I tweeted here and there throughout the process. Yes I engaged in one of those “what I’m doing right now” tweets, but there is a great difference between this and the proverbial “what I’m eating for lunch” tweets. I love sharing things people might find interesting and may spark conversation and not many people are going to find what I had for lunch interesting – unless I was eating it with Big Bird. Being genuinely social doesn’t mean you need to have rock star awesome content every time you post, but it should be stuff that’s interesting enough for someone to respond. There’s a common theory regarding social media called the “rule of thirds” that can help provide a great content framework for all of those who engage in social media. It says you should spend a third of your posts promoting your product/brand/company/self, one third on content you find on the web that’s interesting (articles, images, tweets) and the last third really being yourself.

Now before I send you off into to the world of social media, in addition to the “rule of thirds” there are a couple more tips I’d like to share to make your experience a successful one.

1. Post the right thing in the right place. The LinkedIn audience is different than the Facebook audience and they’re looking for different content.

2. Duplicate posts only when appropriate and don’t do it all the time. If you’re going to post the same thing on different sites that’s fine as you’re probably reaching different people, but keep in mind who your audience is (#1). Also don’t post the exact same thing on every single site – it makes you look like a robot. If you’re posting an article, use different wording to say why you’re sharing it.

3. Personality goes a long way. Even if you’re promoting your brand, product or company, people like to engage with a real person. Why do you think Progressive Auto has Flo? Or Old Spice created a twitter account just for the “New Old Spice Guy Fabio” (@FabioOldSpices) instead of using their regular @OldSpice account? It’s because people don’t bond and interact with brands the same way they do with people. So if you’re going to promote your product/brand/company, let them know that it’s a person – and hopefully the same person – who is responding all the time.

4. Stick to your message, or at least be in the same ballpark. If you’re going to talk about your company, the industry and your products making a left turn and preaching about nutrition or alternative medicines can really confuse your audience unless you’ve billed yourself as the “granola game inventor.” Just remember people on sites like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook chose to follow you for a reason and varying your message too much may cost you some audience members.

5. Value every connection – well, almost every connection. Connections bring you other connections so it’s important to treat those you don’t know in person with the same amount of respect (maybe even a bit more) than those you do. Remember to say please and thank you and don’t be afraid to block/boot any inappropriate comments or spammers.

6. Just because you’re a night owl or early bird doesn’t mean the people you’re trying to reach are. It’s nice to post right when you’re doing something but it isn’t always the best time to get your message across. Post about a project you’re excited to be working on when you’re working on it, but post an article you find interesting during the day when it’s going to be visible to your audience. Additionally, posting on weekends isn’t necessary since traffic tends to fade on most sites with Pinterest being the exception as its peak time is Saturday morning.

7. Auto-cross posting is like screaming, “I’m lazy and I don’t care!” In the November 2012 issue of Fast Company they asked social media experts to tweet rules of Social Media and one was “Keep your tweets off Facebook!” I’m going to add keep your “I posted a new photo on Facebook” auto-tweets off Twitter. I mean why even bothering posting on the other site if you don’t really care about those followers enough to make it look like you’re trying to engage them? And telling them there’s some “new photo” but there’s no context as to what it’s about? It’s not very engaging and sadly, I see a bunch of them every day and I don’t believe I’ve ever clicked on one.

8. Pictures are worth more than a thousand words because no one’s got time to read a thousand words these days (frankly most people can barely find time to read 100.) I was going through The Game Aisle’s Facebook feed the other day and most of the companies and groups I follow had posted just text. Yawn. People like pictures; it’s why Pinterest is growing at a rapid pace and why Twitter has allowed you to view an attached picture without leaving the page. So going back to #7 – it’s great that you posted that picture on Facebook, why not share it on Twitter too? Just be sure to take the 15 seconds to do it right.

9. Give me a reason. No really, I want a reason. I want a reason to click on the link you posted; I want a reason to accept your invitation on LinkedIn; I want a reason why I should like your Facebook page – do you post cool stuff or something? Don’t just tell others to do something; give them a reason why they should. There are times it’s okay to send a request with the pre-set “I'd like to add you to my professional network” message but if we’ve never met I don’t know why you want us to be connected on LinkedIn. Am I just name to get you to that coveted-by-some “500+ connections” status or do you think we might be able to do business together in the future? Barking commands isn’t a good social strategy; thoughtful sharing and asking nicely is.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s an underlying message in almost every one of these tips above and that’s to treat the people you connect with via social media with respect. You need to respect their time, their help and their willingness and desire to follow you. It may seem like a daunting task if you’re not involved very deeply in social media, but the results can be extremely rewarding. Through my social media accounts I’ve gotten feedback on my games, people I don’t know are excited about my career, I’m willing to help other people just as there are plenty willing to help me and I’ve had some tremendous opportunities come my way – including the chance to speak at the Smithsonian and be featured in Fast Company magazine.

Hope you found this helpful and if you did please you share it with your new and existing online connections! I’ll be posting this online after the show is over and you can find me (and it) at:

@TheGameAisle on Twitter

Kim Vandenbroucke and The Game Aisle on Google+

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