Jan 22

Online Marketing, and a Little Baseball

Mark Whittaker Little League

That’s the 12-year-old version of me in my Little League uniform.

The tagline on my website / blog says “Online Media and Marketing … and a Little Baseball.” It combines my vocation and one of my favorite avocations.

I’ve been a baseball fan since age 9 or so, when I first started playing in the local Little League. I was awkward and terrible, but the games were fun. With some good coaching and some practice, I got better and had even more fun. As an adult, I’ve played plenty of softball and coached a little. Oh, and I spend way too much time watching baseball on TV and reading about the local team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. My wife is a fan right along with me, and we attended 15 or so home games last year.

I’ve been meaning to explore the similarities between baseball and online marketing. As I’m staring at my computer screen, it’s clear the topic is too broad for one, lowly article written as part of the Your Turn Challenge. But if you’re game, let’s start to explore some similarities.

Learning to play baseball takes time and practice. Just about anybody can play. It just takes a group and a large enough space, from a city street to a corn field. To be successful — to win — you and your teammates must learn and practice. You can learn to throw, but without practice you won’t throw very hard or far. You can learn to swing a bat, but without practice you won’t hit a pitched ball very often. You can learn to catch, but without practice, just as many balls will end up on the ground as in your mitt.

And, of course, you need to learn the rules. Three strikes, you’re out. Four balls, take your base. Hit one past that telephone pole, it’s a triple.

Online marketing is a game, too, with its own rules. Display ads, 300×250. Search ads, 25 characters a line and don’t use ALL CAPS. Give away an iPad on Facebook, get 200 likes (maybe).

To be good — to win and help your employer or client grow the business — you have to practice. Very little about online marketing is hard to learn (we’ll talk about analytics another time). But if you want to be successful at Facebook, practice. If you want to optimize websites for search, practice. If you want to write compelling blog posts that make readers want to run out and buy stuff, practice. No one succeeds on the first try. It takes practice, and that means time and repetition.

There you have it. Baseball’s first lesson for online marketers: Practice.

What do you think? What lessons from the game of baseball can you apply to your work?

Jan 21

Online Marketing: Anybody Can Do It

If you sell a service — anything from auto repair to tax preparation — you’ve heard potential customers or clients say “I can do that myself.”

Try selling online marketing and social media services to small-business owners. Lots of them started their businesses after saying “I can do that myself.” It’s hard to argue against the point. Any business that wants a Facebook page, a Google+ page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn page or an Instagram account can do it for free with a tiny bit of computer savvy. if you can upload a photo, you can set up a social media account for a business.

Online Marketing diagramIn fact, a great deal of the online marketing world was set up to be do-it-yourself. Want to buy ads on Google Search? Start an account for free and go to town. All it costs is the price of a click, and you can decide how much you want to spend. The same goes for Facebook advertising. To promote one your Facebook posts as an “ad,” all it takes is a few mouse clicks and a credit card.

You can even build a good website with free tools that are simple to use. I say that because I can do it, and if I can do it, anybody can. None of this online marketing stuff is rocket science. My website costs me about $100 a year in hosting and domain fees.

So, when a small-business owner balks at paying someone else to do that stuff and says “I can do that myself,” I have to agree.

When your car needs an oil change, you’ve got three choices. If you know what you’re doing and have the time and resources, you can change the oil yourself. Option 2 is take the car to an auto mechanic or one of those one-stop oil-change places. Option 3 is do nothing.

Each option has a cost, even doing nothing. If you never change your car’s oil, you gamble that dirty oil won’t make any difference to the life of the car. If you change your own oil, the cost is time, plus cost of whatever special equipment you need. It also costs the time to learn how to do it. Even if you’ve been helping your dad change the oil since you were 6, you and he invested extra time to make sure you learned to do it right.

I figure I could learn to change the oil in my car, but I’m not mechanically adept. I choose option 2 every time. I know regular oil changes extend the life of my 10-year-old Hyundai Tucson. I’d rather pay an expert to change my oil. It saves me some time, and I know it will be done right.

So if you own a small business and can handle all of your social media and online marketing yourself, have at it. But if your competitor pays me for my online marketing training, experience and insight, we’ll eat your lunch.

Jan 20

Memories: How to be a Grandfather

What’s it like to be a grandfather? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

New grandfather Mark Whittaker with grandsonI don’t mean to sound callous. You see, I am a grandfather. After nine months of waiting, it finally became official on Nov. 21, 2014, when my daughter gave birth to a son, Bradley Charles. Coincidentally, one of my wife’s daughters gave birth eight days later to a daughter, Noelle Marie. (Insert sound effect of a car screeching to a halt) Wait a minute. I’m only 58 (57 at the time). I’m not old enough to be a grandfather … am I?

Do you need a minute to get the chuckles, chortles and snorts out of your system?

Despite about nine months of advance notice, I still wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. They died before I was born, so I never had a direct role model for grandfatherhood. I’ve watched my father as a grandparent, of course, but only as an observer, not really part of the experience. So, I did what any self-respecting, Internet-savvy baby boomer would do: I crowd-sourced it.

A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to share stories about their grandfathers. They responded with some wonderful memories and anecdotes, along with some advice. Here are some of them, without the names of the contributors and separated by sub-heads. The first anecdotes are from a former newspaper colleague, who no doubt got some of her storytelling skills from her grandfather.

We each believed that he liked us the best

“My grandfather outlived my dad by more than 15 years. He died at 89 in 1990, and he was an absolute constant in my life. I was 33 when he died, and he was the one person in my life who had always been exactly the same – he lived in the same house, had the same phone number. In tangible ways, he was the rock of my life.

“But it was much more than that. He was a quiet man, but a man who was deeply interested in what you had to say. He was like that all my life. One of the things we all remember about him was that he would carry the small ones around and talk quietly to them. I can see him right now, standing in front of a framed picture quietly talking to a fussy baby. He would talk in this soothing voice about the picture. It was mesmerizing. He was always the voice of calm. Again, the constant in the noise of life.

“After he died, all the grands were talking and all of us agreed that we each believed we were his favorite. Seriously, we each believed that he liked us the best.”

“When I got out of college and became a reporter, Granddaddy was my biggest fan. My first newspaper job was at my hometown paper. He clipped out every story I wrote. When people came over, he would say, “Read this.” When I moved to other cities, he got subscriptions to the paper. He read every story. Here’s an example: In 1984, I was working in Greenville, SC. I did a little inside story (10-12 inches) on Textile Week, and I quoted a couple of mill executives. About two weeks later, I got a letter from Granddaddy. He enclosed that clip and an old picture from my hometown newspaper of my father when he played high school baseball. (Granddaddy kept amazing scrapbooks.) He was pictured with another boy. (They were the team stars.) His note said, “I read this story today. You quoted a man named Claude Crocker. I believe this may be the same Claude Crocker who played baseball with your dad at Gray. Call him and see if it is him and please give him my regards.” Well, I wanted to be Miss Professional Reporter, but my Granddaddy asked me to do it, so I did. Sure enough, it was the same man, and he was delighted that I called him, he well remembered the picture and he shared some great stories about my dad and grandfather.

“My grandfather had a great gift for knowing you and knowing and appreciating what was unique about you and important to you. One of my cousins still marvels that Granddaddy knew the names of all of her friends and 20 years later, would ask about them by name. He gave me away at my wedding and he knew all my bridesmaids by name.

“These are probably silly stories to you, and I apologize for going on so long. It’s a long way of saying that he was a man who cared enough to learn a lot about you and remember it. He appreciated what made each of us unique and he always, always treated us as individuals, not just as a group of grandchildren.”

Grandfathers let kids break the rules

“When I remember my grandfathers it’s mostly their hobbies or hanging with them when they piddled in their garages or made wine or traveled. Also, grandparents let kids break the rules. The safe rules…like ice cream sundaes at 10pm right before bed and cook frozen pizzas on the grill!”

New grandfather Mark Whittaker with granddaughterBe interested

“Mark, I never knew my grandfathers, either. But my advice would be to be interested. Parents have so much to do, grandparents have more time to listen. I remember my own dad’s bemused smile when his first grandson would start explaining things to him. It was great.”

They let me tag along

“I have great memories of my grandfathers cooking. The smell of bacon and eggs still brings me back and makes me smile. And they taught me things like how to fish. Basically they let me tag along as they did what they loved.”

Working in his garage

“I was very close with my grandfather on my mother’s side. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after my 7th birthday. But the memories are still vivid. He would always be working in his garage or working on the vehicles so I would always help him out. In the winter I can remember we’d lay down in front of the fireplace after dinner and we also took Sunday drives up to the mountains. Every so often I will have a vivid dream of him and he looks the same as before he died. One dream was where I was sitting at the kitchen table and catching him up on all he has missed. I wish I could’ve gone hunting with him just one time, but I have his rifle so in a way he does go with me each season.

“My relationship with my grandfather on my dad’s side is a little different. I wasn’t quite as close but I remember when him and my gram would always pick me up on their trips out to Soergel’s or Shenot’s to get corn in the summer. On summer evenings we would always sit on the back porch and he would have the Pirates game on his transistor radio. And there were always big family gatherings for summer picnics and holidays.”

Pennies on the railroad track

“I was close to both grandfathers. Both lived in Mt. Wolf. As I was younger than my siblings by 8 years, had a chance for one on one time with both. Grandpa Schauer, Dad and I would often go down to the old wire cloth factory at the bottom of town, feed the carp in this fenced in pool there, and put pennies on the railroad track and wait for a train to flatten them. Good chance to talk. Each Fall, Grandpa Wilt and I would go down to the River near Brunner’s Island to his special walnut trees and spend most of a day gathering them, after which he would dry, crack, and give them out at Christmas. You are blessed, and do not need this. Thanks for the chance to remember.”

A visit to the “principal’s office”

“We used to play school down in my grandmother’s basement with her as the teacher and my cousins and I as the students. It always started as fun and then it turned into real teaching and that’s no fun for kids. So we’d always try to get into “trouble” to be sent up to the “principal’s office,” i.e., just watching TV with my grandfather. I think that sums it up. My grandfather was quiet but always had quality time with him.”

Just the two of us

“My Mom’s Dad passed away many years before I was born. By the time I was coming of age, my Grandmother was living with a man named Stu, and he became a surrogate Grandfather to me. He was a real outdoorsman, and I have fond memories of him taking me fishing. I think it was the fact that it was just the two of us (my Grandmother and my sister were not included) that made me feel special. I last saw Stu when I was in the USAF. He was very old and was living with his daughter in Albuquerque – separated by health from my Grandmother. He reminded me that he sometimes drove me to my horn lessons – and he told me how proud he was to play a small part in my musical career. The only time I EVER saw him cry was when I left from that visit. He died a few months later. My Dad’s Dad used to take me along when he walked his dog. Unfortunately, a combination of a stroke and a heart attack slowed him way down, so most of my memories of him are sitting in his living room with him and watching television. A few years later, he was in a nursing home and, oddly, I learned to use an electric razor by shaving him as he lay in his bed.”

It’s about your relationship with your children

“I remember my grandfather as a proud, honest, hard working man and we had fun things we’d do together. One of my fondest memories was seeing how he treated my Nanny, and after all those years still called her his bride. I thought it was amazing, and it taught me a lot. But here’s what I think is most important. Being a grandfather isn’t just about your relationship with the two precious grandchildren, it’s about your relationship with your children, their parents. I LOVE watching my dad Sumner Kinney’s face light up when he talks about Rachel or sees Rachel. It is one of the most powerful joys I have other than experiencing her myself. But what he has shown me about being a grandfather is his unwavering support of me as a parent. I never despair when things happen or when I start struggling as a mom, or if Rachel needs something I can’t give her because I know that he and Margie are there. I could never be as good of a parent as I am if it weren’t for them. Rachel experiences so much more joy and safety and love because of them and the support they give us BOTH.”

He always made me feel special

“My PopPop always made time for just me with him. He would ask what book I was reading and really be interested in how I felt about it. Sometimes we just sat together watching TV or reading. He always made me feel special.”

Molasses cookies and popcorn

“When we visited my only grandpa and invalid grandfather, he always had molasses cookies for me and sometimes made popcorn from his own garden for me. You can handle that!”

Peanuts for the squirrels

“My Grandfather in Philadelphia would take us across the street to the park and he had a bag of peanuts so we could feed the squirrels. He also took us down the street for ice cream. Grandpa Whittaker died when I was 6, but I remember one time he picked me up when he was done work and drove me out to camp where I stayed overnight. On the way to camp it was raining so hard we had to pull over because he couldn’t see to drive.”

A big smile

“All I remember of our Grandpa Miller is sitting on his lap, and his having a big smile. My other grandpa…was kind of in the background. Only saw him every few years, until he lived with us for a few months…and I still don’t recall much besides stinky cigars.”

Lunch bucket surprises

“My grandfather … was a coal miner in southern West Virginia. When he would come home from the mines he would be covered head to toe in coal dust, except for his eyes, which had been shielded by goggles. My sisters and cousins were afraid of him at first, because of the way he looked, but that all changed when we discovered he always left a Hostess cupcake or some other dessert in his lunch bucket. After that we would race to meet him, to be first at the bucket. He had a great laugh and the happiness of those times stays with me all these years after he passed.”

Special names

“My grandfather was a coal miner – my mom was one of 10 kids so I had a lot of cousins. We all had our special name and he always had time to answer our questions.”

A pipe and long stories

“I have few memories of my grandmother’s husband, not my biologic grandfathers, neither of whom I knew. They lived in Miami so we saw them maybe once a year and they weren’t very involved grandparents. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, he told long exaggerated stories when he had tossed back a few, he was deeply in love with my grandmother. I only have one one-on-one memory of Grandpap Clark–him telling me a story about wearing “Hai Karate” cologne and women attacking him as he walked down the street, LOL. (Yes, he was drinking scotch.)”

I apologize for the length of this post, but at the same time I hope these recollections help you recall some special memories of your own grandfathers. God willing, I hope I make some good memories for my grandchildren.