Launching The Virtual Handshake Company

I’m pleased today to announce the launch of The Virtual Handshake company.

When we published The Virtual Handshake book in 2005, we were on the leading edge of what’s now known as social media marketing. We envisioned then what has now come to pass: social becoming a ubiquitous channel like the telephone, mail, television, radio, and email before it. And along with that, an entire ecosystem of specialized products and services: technology, education, strategy, implementation, content creation, and outsourced engagement management.

But in 2005, the market wasn’t ready for all that. Now it is.

Our initial offering is consulting services focused on social strategy and social technology. We’ve been doing this since 2002. We’ve worked with Fortune 10 companies, mid-market companies, and major social media platforms, on down to startups and solo professionals. We have a unique framework for social media strategy based on our book. We also have 10+ years of experience working with social listening and social data on a massive scale. We bring that expertise to mid-market and growing businesses that are running into the challenges of scaling their social media operations.

In short, we do social at scale.

Coming in 2020, watch for:

  • Educational programs, focused on leveraging online networks based on your business role: social selling, relationship marketing, finding a job, business development, finding employees, and more.
  • The Virtual Handshake podcast, featuring our insights into social strategy and technology and interviews with industry leaders.
  • The Virtual Handshake 2020, a revisit of our ground-breaking book, updated for 2020, on our blog.

For updates, follow our blog and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

We look forward to exploring the next phase of the social web with you.

SEC Charges Adviser with Defrauding Investors via Social Media Sites

On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Chicago-area investment adviser, Anthony Fields, with fraudulently promoting more than $500 billion in fictitious securities on several social media sites and issued two alerts and an investor bulletins regarding the risks investors and advisory firms face when using social media.


“Fraudsters are quick to adapt to new technologies to exploit them for unlawful purposes,” said Robert B. Kaplan, Co-Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “Social media is no exception, and today’s enforcement action reflects our determination to pursue fraudulent activity on new and evolving platforms.”

The SEC order against Fields alleges he made multiple fraudulent offers through his two sole proprietorships – Anthony Fields & Associates (AFA) and Platinum Securities Brokers. He provided false and misleading information to the public regarding assets under management, clients and operational history. Fields also did not maintain required records, failed to implement adequate compliance policies and procedures, and presented himself as a broker-dealer though not registered with the SEC as one.

The SEC has issued three new publications for both investment advisers and investors:

“Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” reviews concerns that may arise from use of social media by firms and their associates, and offers suggestions for complying with relevant federal securities laws.

“Social Media and Investing: Avoiding Fraud” aims to raise investor awareness of fraudulent investment schemes that use social media, and provides tips for checking the backgrounds of advisers and brokers.

“Social Media and Investing: Understanding Your Accounts” contains best practices including privacy settings, security tips, and password selection aimed to help social media users protect their personal information and avoid fraud.

For additional information on avoiding securities fraud, visit the SEC’s website for individual investors:

The Perfect Content Curation Tool?

Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I’m overly ambitious. Maybe a little bit of both. All I know is. blogging as much as I would like to is a freakin’ lot of work!

I do write original stuff sometimes – and some pretty good stuff at that, I think. I’m also a decent curator of content. For example, Linked Intelligence has grown into the definitive unofficial source for all things LinkedIn.

But being a good curator is tedious and time-consuming. And a lot of the reason for that has to do with a sub-optimal workflow. At the moment I’ve cobbled together several tools, each to handle a little piece of the flow, but I’m really not happy with what I’ve got. And what I really want seems so simple and so obvious, I find it unfathomable that nobody really seems to have built this yet. If someone has, please tell me, because I’ll buy it, I’ll review it, and I’ll tell everyone else how great it is!

What I want is a single tool to:

  1. Find interesting content to share.
  2. Facilitate either sharing it directly or blogging and then sharing.

Wow – does that really seem so difficult?

Let’s get into the specifics of what that means:

  1. Let’s start with an RSS reader.
  2. Then let me combine feeds and filter them by keyword, author, tag, date, etc.
  3. Then let me 1-click share, yet contextualize it for each channel, all in one interface, e.g.:
    • Shorter comment and a link on Twitter, LinkedIn; longer comment and a link (and selectable image thumb) on Facebook; longer comment and a selectable excerpt and link on
    • Refer to the author with their Twitter handle on Twitter, by name on Facebook and LinkedIn, and by their name, linked to their blog, in a blog post
    • If I blog it, give me the option to share my blog post, rather than the direct link, to the other social media channels

I don’t want to completely auto-blog. I believe in the value of human review and commentary. I just want to make the workflow a LOT more efficient. Let me define a narrow set of rules to give me a manageable short list of content to review, that’s likely to have high quality. Queue that up so it’s as close as possible to being ready to publish. Let me review it and modify it – add the human touch. Then go do all the publishing.

Is that really too much to ask? Is there a tool that can do all this? How close to this are you? And what tool(s) are you using to do this?

Images: Will Lion, catspyjamasnz

Fun with Klout

I’m not going to bash Klout. plenty of others have done that already, and besides, I like getting free stuff, so, more power to them!  I just want to have fun with them.

A few weeks ago, I did a post about Wikipedia’s fundraising ads, entitled Jimmy Wales, Serial Killer?, which got retweeted by a few people. Well, thanks to that, Klout decided that “Wales” and “Serial Killer” were topics I was influential about (sorry, didn’t get a “before” snapshot). Now, they weren’t among my top 3, which were “Social Media”, “Internet Marketing” and “SEO”, but it was in my top 15.

I decided to have a little fun with it, so I posted on Twitter and Facebook, and sent out a shareholder mail on Empire Avenue, asking people to give me +K in “Wales” and “Serial Killer”. Within 5 minutes:



I think, though, I may have overdone it, because within an hour:


LOL! Oh well. makes for a great blog post. I wonder what kind of perks that’ll trigger for them to send me?

Feel free to +K me in Social Media and help me get back to normal. Or not. 🙂

UPDATE: In case you were wondering what happened to Klout, they got acquired by Lithium, which is now Khoros. They sunsetted Klout in 2018.

Happy Birthday to Me, and How Distributed Cognition Enhances Relationships

It’s 9am on my birthday, and already, 65 people have posted birthday wishes on my Facebook wall.


Several more have Skyped me.


Sure, it’s just a simple act – some might argue it’s only slightly more social than a poke, but I disagree. Frankly, I think this is really what the social web is all about: using distributed cognition to truly enhance relationships.

How so?

Ever heard of Dunbar’s number? Basically, it’s the theory that the size of our social network is limited by the size of our neocortex, and for human beings, the maximum number of “close” relationships we can theoretically have – the number of people whose names and faces you remember easily, who you can remember details about them, like what they do for a living, the last conversation you had with them, etc.

But what happens when our capacity for social relationships is no longer limited by our brain capacity?

Some people think that tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even CRM or contact management systems have created an illusion of having more “real” friends than we actually do. I suppose, for some, that’s true.

I look at it differently, though. I look at these tools as distributed cognition. Essentially, we’re making our brains larger by using external tools to enhance our memory. I can “remember” hundreds of people’s faces, because they’re right there when I interact with them. I can call them by name – one of Dale Carnegie’s most important tips for winning friends and influencing people. I can easily recall the last conversation I had with them with a couple of mouse clicks. I can see what they’re up to and ask specific questions about it rather than wasting my time and theirs with small-talk questions like “So what are you up to these days?”  LinkedIn already knows, so I already know.

Social media isn’t just a way to have a bunch of trivial relationships; used properly, it’s a way to treat more than 150 people that you truly care about like you treat those you would if you were smarter, or had better memory.

To put it in Virtual Handshake terms, using Information well demonstrates your Character and helps you increase the Strength of your relationships.

This isn’t a new concept, by any means. It’s the same principle behind The Mackay 66, a collection of 66 questions that uber-networker Harvey Mackay used to build the strong relationships that allowed him to build a phenomenally successful company in the face of much larger competitors. It includes information such as the client’s college fraternity/sorority, children’s interests and birthdates, their immediate and long-term business objectives, health conditions, etc. Before every call, Harvey would pull out the client’s file so he could have that information at his fingertips. As he gleaned little bits of information during the course of the conversation, he would note it in their file.

As a result, his customers were constantly amazed at his apparently great memory, and the remarkable personal interest he took in them.

Cynics might say that it’s just a brilliant ploy to manipulate people. Harvey will tell you that it’s just the only way he could keep track of the information that helped him show how much he truly cared about people. And that’s also good business.

So this is why you should wish your Facebook friends happy birthday. Congratulate your LinkedIn contacts on their promotion or new business venture. Comment on their blog about how adorable their new baby or puppy is. It’s not being manipulative. It’s not being trivial. It’s acting like you want to act towards people you truly care about, and like you would on your own, if you were just smarter. Let social media make you socially smarter.

P.S. In the 30 minutes it’s taken to write this post, 7 more people have posted to my Facebook wall and 4 more have Skyped me. What a great way to start the day!

30 Seconds of Your Time Could Mean the World to Me

UPDATE: Chevy was so impressed with what all the participants produced, as well as the turnout for the voting, that they did the smart thing and decided to declare us all winners! Thanks to everyone for your support.

I have a small favor to ask that will only take a few seconds of your time, and could really do something amazing for me.

Super-short version for super-busy people:
Please vote for me. No registration – just 2 mouse clicks (Scott Allen, Vote).

Longer version if you have more than just a few seconds:
A couple of weeks ago, I took my son and his best friend on a "mancation" sponsored by Chevrolet (who ever said blogging doesn’t pay?). We had an absolutely fantastic time, the video is at the bottom of this post.

Well, it’s also a contest, and the winner gets a second mancation (with a little more spending money). I’d greatly appreciate your support in the voting. It’ll only take a few seconds of your time, and winning it would mean the world to me. You can vote here. For extra karma points, tell your friends, share it on Facebook & Twitter, blog about it, etc.!

Thanks for your support.

Your Website Will NEVER Generate Leads (And 9 Things That Will)

135048_no_audience_1 That’s right. Your website has never generated one single lead, and it never will.

It may capture leads, qualify leads and convert leads, but it will never, ever, generate leads.

Think about it. How does someone end up at your website? No one just types it in randomly. Somehow or another, they heard about your site and thought that it might be of interest to them.

This is an important distinction. A great website is an essential piece of your lead generation strategy, but it does absolutely nothing on its own. You have to provide it with a steady flow of interested people for it to do its job. Without actual lead generation tactics, you’ll share your message with absolutely no one.

Fortunately, there are many, many effective ways to generate leads for your website:

  1. Generic domain names – This could be considered an exception to what I said above, so I’ll address it first. Many people will try just typing in generic words as domain names to see what comes up. Some businesses have simply made that generic name their brand (,, while others have purchased those generic names as a way to generate relevant traffic ( – Barnes & Noble, – Bayer). Those one-word domains may be hard to come by, but a 2 or 3 word descriptive domain appropriate to your business might not be, e.g., or Even if people don’t type it in directly, descriptive domain names will generally rank well on searches for those keywords.
  2. Organic search (SEO) – For many small business sites on a budget, this is the #1 source of online lead generation. It’s free, and it’s very effective.if you can get ranked well for keywords relevant to your business. There have been volumes written on search engine optimization, and the nuances of it are constantly changing, but for most small businesses, a simple two-pronged strategy is extremely effective: 1) publish keyword-rich content on your site on a regular basis that’s compelling enough to make people want to link to it, and 2) interact with people to share the link and encourage them to as well. Which brings us to.
  3. Social media – The new social web offers several tactics for lead generation. First, your fans can easily tell others about you and share your content. That’s great if you have a bunch of raving fans who also happen to be active social media users. Most companies have to work for it a little more. As with your website, publishing alone won’t bring followers – you have to proactively seek out people and participate in the venues and public conversations that are relevant to your business. Interaction creates attraction. And when those people link to your content, that helps your search engine rankings.
  4. Advertising comes in many forms online. While the old horizontal banner ads have all but disappeared from most mainstream websites, display advertising is still alive and well on the web. While some sites sell ads directly, most work with advertising networks, which they’ll be able to refer you to. The other approach is text ads, which are usually on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. These are offered by most of the major search engines, as well as some independent ad networks. Again, the site you want to advertise on should be able to refer you to the appropriate ad network.
  5. Joint ventures and affiliates are a great way to reach new people. One form of joint venture is the “quid pro quo” approach – they promote your product to their list and you promote their product to your list. This is usually only done, though, if the lists are of the same order of magnitude. Otherwise, there will have to be some sort of revenue sharing, or affiliate program. This can be a highly effective strategy and usually involves little or no up-front cost to implement. Choose your associates carefully, though, as their behavior will reflect on you to some extent.
  6. Content marketing is kind of a hybrid of some of the tactics listed above, but it still merits its own entry. The key here is to publish your content on sites (other than your own website) that already have traffic, that already have an audience of people looking for information about the topics you’re creating content about. Videos on YouTube, slide presentations on SlideShare, white papers on Scribd, articles on EzineArticles – the opportunities are endless. If you can get a regular column in a major outlet, that’s even better. Don’t be overtly promotional, but do be sure to always have a link back to your site, if possible, or at least have your domain name prominently displayed. You want to drive direct traffic, not just create brand awareness.
  7. Publicity should be an essential part of any small business’ marketing strategy. At a bare minimum, you should be monitoring Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for media opportunities and pitching relevant local and industry media about your company. Seek out relevant internet radio shows and podcasters that might interview you. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and contains relevant keywords – it’s how many reporters, bloggers and other media producers find expert sources to interview.
  8. Email lists – Depending on your business, you can buy or rent a list of people matching certain demographic criteria. How effective is it? It depends on the quality of the list, the relevance of it to your business, and then having a compelling offer that will drive people to take action. Stick with an established provider and focus the list as narrowly as possible to get to your ideal clients, not just a broad demographic segment.
  9. Offline promotion – Put your web address (URL) on your business cards, invoices, brochures, menus – pretty much every piece of printed material that a customer will receive from you. Use it on billboards, TV and radio ads. Show it on the last slide of any presentations you do. Of course, if you’re not putting a piece of paper in their hands, it needs to be short and memorable – yet another reason to get a descriptive domain name!

Notice that webinars and teleseminars aren’t on the list. Why not? Because you have to promote them, too, to get people to attend and you can only promote them to people you’ve already reached via some other means. They’re a great conversion tactic, but not usually a good lead generation tactic, unless they’re being done as part of a joint venture and you’re accessing someone else’s list.

Note also how many of the items on the list above refer to another item on the list. Each tactic may be moderately effective on its own, but they work best when combined with the others. That’s why an integrated marketing plan is so important. Remember, people have to hear your message an average of seven or more times before taking action. The more channels you’re distributing your message through, the sooner you’ll reach that critical mass in the mind of your potential customers.

Lessons from Sociology: 5 Factors to Help You Sell More

I’ve read dozens of books on sales and marketing over the years, and while I learned a lot, some of the best, simplest advice I ever got came not from one of them, but from a sociology textbook. While you may never have heard of Diffusion of Innovations, it’s the foundational work on which more familiar titles like Crossing the Chasm and The Tipping Point are based.

The book is primarily focused on how innovations are spread within social groups. In that context, the author defines five characteristics of an innovation that influence the decision to adopt or reject it. If we think broadly about the term “innovation” as not just a new invention, but simply an idea that’s new to the individual, then it becomes clear that this is the same decision process someone goes through when evaluating buying your product or service. While every buyer has their own unique set of circumstances and decision criteria, these five characteristics offer an excellent checklist for both your overall marketing strategy and the individual sale:

Relative Advantage is the relative benefit of your offering compared to all other alternatives, including the status quo, i.e., doing nothing. Most marketers focus their efforts here – feature-benefits lists, ROI analysis, and competitive comparisons. Pricing also falls under this category. We’d like to think that if we’re the logical best choice, we’ll make the sale, but unfortunately, that’s all too often not the case. That’s because there are many other factors in the decision process that have nothing to do with pure logic.

Compatibility is a measure of how well the new idea fits into a person’s life. It may be a matter of logistics, e.g., actually having room for a large item, personal preferences such as color or finish, religious factors or cultural factors, or even more complex psychological factors, such as whether your product fits the customer’s self-image. Clearly defining your ideal customer will help you address this. Consider psychographic characteristics as well as demographics. What’s important to them? How do they see themselves?

Simplicity is, simply, how easy the product is to use and understand. Too many choices causes anxiety, and a confused mind says “no”. More complex products will have longer sales cycles and required the more skilled salespeople.

Trialability is a measure of the ability of the prospective customer to try out your product or service before purchasing it, i.e., test drives, free or super-cheap samples or trials, free initial consultations. Money-back guarantees are a slight variation on this. How can you apply this to your business?

Observability is the degree to which the benefits can be observed during the trial period or initial use. For example, it’s relatively easy to observe the benefits of taking aspirin to relieve a headache, but impossible to directly observe the results of taking aspirin to reduce the risk of heart disease.

You can apply this five-point checklist at every stage of your marketing and sales process: product strategy, sales process, campaign, and individual sale. You don’t have to be strong in all five areas, but if you have a gap, you need to be aware of it so you can either address their concerns or make a point of being sufficiently stronger in the other factors.

Want to know more? Read the full article at OPEN Forum.


Using LinkedIn to Reach the Right People at the Right Time – Free Webinar 11/30

3229285946_e2e1391972 Wouldn’t it be great if you could connect with your ideal clients before they needed your product or service?  And wouldn’t it be even more amazing if you knew immediately when something occurred that triggered their need for your service?  Imagine running an appliance repair service and receiving an email any time someone in your service area has a broken appliance – before they start the process of finding someone to fix it. Or running a Chinese restaurant and knowing any time one of your regular customers gets a craving for Chinese food.

Science fiction?  Well, yes.  But the reality of what’s currently possible may be closer to that than you think.

Most marketing is focused on creating a message that matches the prospect’s need and attracts them…after they’ve started the buying decision process.  But there’s a window of opportunity before that, between the time that something occurs that causes the need – the "trigger event" – and the time they start the buying process.  If you can connect with people during that window, you can establish yourself as a trusted advisor and perhaps even block out the competition entirely.

image This is known as "trigger-event selling", and Craig Elias, coauthor of SHiFT!  – Harness the Trigger Events That Turn Prospects into Customers, is the world’s leading expert on the topic. He’s also, like me, a very early adopter of LinkedIn and uses it as one of his core business tools.  With in-depth profiles of more than 80 million professionals, LinkedIn is one of the best tools for directly identifying and connecting with people who match your ideal client profile.  It’s also a great place for identifying trigger events – new hires, promotions, new projects, and other company news that may not make it to the usual public channels.

Craig and I will be conducting a free webinar next Tuesday, November 30, at 2pm EST on using LinkedIn to connect with your ideal clients, monitor for trigger events and establish yourself as a trusted advisor to them before they even start the buying process. This webinar will be jam-packed with practical how-to information that you can put into action immediately. Register now to reserve your spot.

P.S. – This is seriously advanced stuff.  I’ve used it with a handful of my high-end clients, but this is the first time I’ve taught it to a group. If you’re serious about using LinkedIn to improve your sales process, you don’t want to miss this.

Top image: Anders Ljungberg

Twitter Automation #FAIL

Some people have this crazy idea that automating content to their Twitter profile will be effective. Besides the fact that, for any real business trying to reach real people, it doesn’t work, you also run the risk of ending up with something like this:


There are a couple of key lessons here for business owners exploring social media:

First, use automation with care. I generally recommend reserving it for mundane, low-risk tasks like following people back on Twitter, scheduling a Tweet for later, perhaps even automatically following people who meet certain criteria. All of these are low-risk, i.e., if they fail, they won’t affect your image or reputation.

Secondly, if you use any automated content publishing, e.g., syndicating your blog to Facebook or your LinkedIn updates to Twitter, check them fairly regularly (at least a couple of times weekly). If your social presence is worth investing time and effort into at all, it’s worth checking regularly to make sure you’re not embarrassing yourself.