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Conversation Starters

Posted in Tips and Tricks, Tricia's Posts

Last week Eric Morgenstern shared a post on establishing win-win connections. Today, I’m following up with a sister post – the art of starting a conversation. For some, this initial hurdle is the hardest part of networking and getting relationships going. Whether you are at an event, business meeting, or personal gathering the following tips can help you break into a conversation and improve connections.

  1. Nametags and appetizers – Some of the best places to meet people are at the tables everyone frequents. Position yourself near the registration table and you have an opportunity to meet everyone attending the function. Or, hang out by the food. You’ll see everyone going through the line and have foodie fodder as well.
  2. “Fine” is never fine – One of the first questions you’re often asked when talking to someone is “How are you?” Don’t give into the temptation to say “fine.” Instead use this opportunity to share something new you’re doing at work, or chat about something you really enjoy. The topic can be your springboard into conversation. For example, if I were asked this question today, I might answer:  “I’m great!  I volunteered at Lobsterfest this weekend, which raises money for Children’s Mercy Hospital through Project Give Hope Back. It was a great fundraiser and good time.  What organizations are you involved with?”
  3. Ask for more details – Once a conversation is rolling, avoid asking questions with one-word answers, or bringing the conversation directly back to you. Instead ask for more information on the topic in discussion.
  4. Avoid conversation ruts – Often times when we talk to someone often, we can stumble into a rut. I myself can admit to this. You go to a topic you know is mutually interesting, or fall back on a theme you’ve discussed before. For standing meetings, sometimes it helps to meet outside of your regular venue to help stimulate other conversations. Reveal a little more information when asked about a topic you discuss often.
  5. Have fun and take a sincere interest in those you meet – I think this is my favorite tip of all. If you’re having fun and are relaxed and into the conversation, those around you will be too. It’s not rocket science and no one will die. So enjoy your relationships and making connections. People can tell when you are really part of the dialogue and care about what they have to say.

What other conversation starters or tips would you share?

Some tips were adapted from Experience Life “The Art of Conversation.” For more information click here.

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Comments Off Posted on by Tricia McKim

Social Media for Business Use: Enhancing Your CRM and Bottom Line

Posted in Best Practices, Online Marketing, Social Media With the world’s online population now exceeding 2 billion people, growth in websites, social media channels, mobile apps and other Internet features are skyrocketing. And in the U.S., we spend an average of 32 hours online each week – that’s double the global Internet user average. When you break it down, you see that social networks equate for 22 percent of Internet use, making it the number one way people spend time online. Making the connection More than half of businesses currently use social media, and the majority of them say increased exposure is the biggest perk. Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter provide consumers with an immediate way to interact with companies and brands. Getting discounts, staying updated on new offerings and asking for help with a product or service are just some of the ways consumers interact with businesses on social media. Social media users also tend to spend more. One study shows they’re willing to spend 21 percent more on a brand that delivers great service, while non-users are only willing to spend 11 percent more. Reach is also significantly higher for social media users, who share their positive experience with an average of 42 people and share their negative experience with an average of 53 people. While in comparison, only nine people hear about a non-user’s positive experience and only 17 people hear about a non-user’s negative experience.  Although negative experiences have wider reach all together, more than four out of five social media users report that poor customer service has stopped them from going through with a purchase. That’s why it’s important to respond to your customers when they vocalize an issue – and do so promptly! Tapping into success Social media savvy businesses see an increase in revenue when they spend at least 11 hours each week managing their social platforms. A lot of this results from social media driving website traffic. That’s an important benefit of social media, considering 60 percent of consumers make online purchases at least once every season. For this year alone, online shopping will have generated $179 billion, which is expected to climb to $259 billion in 2016. Social media requires time, effort and even money, but businesses that use it clearly see the ROI. The social sector is growing, as well as online shopping and the many tools enabling consumers to make purchases and stay connected – wherever and whenever. Think of it this way: if you aren’t using social media, which provides another means for interacting with customers, you aren’t enhancing your CRM. In turn, you’re not helping your bottom line either. With the viral power of the Internet and social media, your customers are bound to hear about your socially present competitors. That’s why social media (done right, of course) helps businesses tap into and grow their share of the market. To further satisfy your curiosity, see how social media impacts SEO, courtesy of Tagged , , , , , ,
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Establish Win-Win Connections

Posted in Best Practices, Community Leadership, Tips and Tricks

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Shawnee and Kansas City Kansas Area Chambers of Commerce Joint Luncheon on how to establish and strengthen lasting connections through intentional networking. This opportunity helped me better define networking and re-think how to make lasting connections in today’s day and age. Here are a few highlights:

What networking is all about

I often see people go to a networking event for the purpose of receiving career advice. While receiving career advice is beneficial for the person on the receiving end, it’s not the same as networking.

Here is my preferred definition of networking:

Networking – Building or strengthening personal relationships with no pre-determined end-in-mind, which becomes a win-win for both people.

You might be thinking, “Where do we start?”

Start with the concept of ‘Share/Get’

Come prepared when you attend a networking event. Knowing what you want to share and what you want to get will help you succeed at making connections. (I’ve written about this in a previous post on networking.) Walk in with three things you want to share. That way, when someone asks, “How are you?” you will have a better answer than, “Fine.” I usually reply with, “Excellent,” then say something interesting to spur conversation – “I just went to Seasons 52. Have you been there? It’s great!” The topic doesn’t have to be business-related – you may be looking for a house painter, or want information about where to take your teenage niece when she visits. It’s easy to get to know someone when asking for referrals and suggestions.

Make one stretch networking goal each month

We all like to socialize with friends, but networking requires us to get out of that comfort zone. To truly make the most out of networking, we should give ourselves a stretch goal. Make a list of key people you want to get to know, and then have the courage to reach out to them one at a time. Make sure you think in terms of quality, not quantity. It’s all about making a few really good connections, not just gathering 30 business cards.

A lesson learned on being memorable

Once when I was at a networking event, I met a lady on my target list I really wanted to meet. I was so excited to finally meet her. I followed up with a phone call the next day and said, “Hi, this is Eric. It was so nice meeting you last night…” And she stopped me to say she didn’t remember meeting me. I was hugely disappointed. However, it taught me a lesson that you must be memorable. And be memorable for something good.

It’s not who you know…it’s who knows you

We hire people we know. For everything else, we seem to listen to other people. When deciding whether or not to see a certain movie, we used to listen to two people – Siskel and Ebert. Now we use Rotten Tomatoes, Trip Adviser, Urban Spoon etc., and we’re listening to recommendations from hundreds of people we don’t know. Yet, when it comes to hiring, we still hire people we know.

Lasting connections generate referrals

At Morningstar Communications, all it took was an Excel spreadsheet for us to track all of our new clients to see 94 percent of our new business comes to us through referrals.  Build relationships, and when someone needs something, they’ll call you. When networking, realize the relationships that matter go beyond the initial interaction. They offer lifetime value. That’s why we work with each other to accomplish goals.

Bonus tips

  • Send hand-written notes. Your mom was right! Even with the power of the Internet and social media, sending a hand-written note is still the single best relationship building and strengthening tool you can use. For example, when I take someone out to lunch, I often send them a hand-written note thanking them for their time and attention. All it takes is 45 cents and two minutes of your time.
  • Use LinkedIn. It’s your personal billboard – it’s there all the time. Think of it as your personal Rolodex. It keeps your contacts current and allows you to strengthen your connections.
  • Get involved in your community. Show up. Volunteer. Lead. The more you put in to it, the more you’ll get in return. It will make you feel good, and you’ll form connections along the way. It’s a sure way to expand your skills and open the door to new opportunities.

Intentional networking is essential to establishing and strengthening lasting connections. It builds your personal and company brand by helping you expand your reach and connection to potential partners and clients.

Onward and upward.

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2 Comments Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

How to Create Visually Pleasing Content (Without Hiring a Graphic Designer)

Posted in Creativity and Design, Tips and Tricks Remember when the Internet looked like this? I can almost hear the dulcet tones of dial-up Internet in the background. We’ve come a long way in the past couple of decades. The Internet is astoundingly visual, even boasting whole social networks devoted to sharing pictures. You won’t find a successful newspaper, magazine, website or blog that doesn’t have graphics peppered throughout their written content. Creating content that matches our society’s hunger for bigger and better visuals is often challenging, especially without the benefit of an on-call graphic designer. These are just a few of my favorite ways to make content more graphic without breaking the bank.
  1. Dynamic fonts: Choosing a font that fits the mood of your content provides a visual element for text. Copy becomes more than “just words” when the font embodies its theme. Check out 1001 Free Fonts or DaFont for easy-to-download free fonts.
  2. Scanability: Instead of writing long paragraphs, consider using lists or bolding key words when appropriate. An article or website broken down in to pieces is easier to digest and will garner more attention than a sea of straight text.
  3. Screen shots: I often find myself searching through pages of Google images for the prefect picture when creating a PowerPoint or blog post. Instead of hoping to stumble across the perfect pre-made image, consider using a screen shot to illustrate a point. It’s is a great way to explain a process or document without having to use pages of text.See what I did there?
  4. Charts, graphs and Smart Art: Word makes it beyond easy to create meaningful visuals for data with its charts and graphs. Inserting Smart Art allows you to create thought webs or flow charts without the hassle of moving thousands of tiny pictures and text boxes around because it links shapes together for you.  
  5. Infographics:.These have to be the most fun way to organize statistics that I’ve ever seen.,, and Piktochart are all free websites that allow you to create infographics without any graphic design skill. Utilizing a drag and drop approach, you can create a beautiful graphic in an hour or two.

    Courtesy of

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What’s Age Got to Do With It?

Posted in Executive Insights, Sheri's Posts

I find all the recent stories about the age of professionals running social media programs an interesting debate. A student from the University of Iowa was slammed recently for her assertion that all social media managers should be under 25. Another more recent story from Inc. negates the idea such a young individual has the professional life experience to manage a brand online. It was countered by a story authored by a 23-year-old social media manager in Ragan’s PR Daily.

I think skills and experience should be the primary consideration when determining the right person to handle a social media program. And, I believe pulling together the right team makes all the difference.

At Morningstar Communications, the social media programs we manage for clients are developed and implemented as one part of a broad communications strategy – a strategy crafted and driven by a team with a range of expertise and experience. It makes for the best balance between effective brand management and cutting-edge implementation when it comes to social media. By defining roles and parameters, responding quickly to conversations and understanding the brand and its audience, we’re able to create robust and successful programs, where the age of the person curating and posting content is the least relevant issue.

What do you think? Is social media management only for the younger generations?

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Comments Off Posted on by Sheri Johnson

Snoop Lion: Pivoting genius?

Posted in Best Practices Unless you slept through the 90s, you’ve probably heard of legendary rapper Snoop Dogg. He’s infamous for “gangsta rap” and adding “izzle” to the end of just about everything. After traveling to Jamaica earlier this year, Snoop Dogg underwent a transformation. He’s converted to Rastafari, swapping violence-filled lyrics for a more peaceful reggae tune. While some are wondering if the Doggfather, who now goes by Snoop Lion, has lost his way, others deem his “pivoting” a necessary marketing move. Now 40-years-old, Snoop is changing course and tapping into a larger audience. I recently read an article discussing the importance of pivoting in entrepreneurial success. To strategically pivot, you must be in-tune with your audiences – all of them. You must listen and adjust your business model based on the needs of your customers. This doesn’t mean abandoning your overall vision, but rather embracing new possibilities. Pivoting is tough to do, even for Snoop. People will inevitably resist or question a pivot. To employees, customers and investors it may be perceived as instability and uncertainty regarding the direction of the company. But all entrepreneurs know businesses must adapt to grow, and that includes taking risks. Strategic pivoting is essential to long-term sustainability in an ever-changing marketplace. Whether or not Snoop Dogg, or, Snoop Lion is a pivoting genius remains to be seen. But he does deserve recognition for identifying a need to reevaluate his marketing strategy and going in a new direction.

Photo courtesy of

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Google Fiber’s Marketing blends Emotion and Innovation

Posted in Best Practices, Integrated Marketing (IMC) I have always been impressed by the advertisements I see from Google. Google finds a way to make ads personal, relatable and emotional, while simultaneously showcasing their innovative products. Take one of my favorite Google ads as an example: In the Kansas City market, the exciting launch of Google Fiber's high speed internet and TV service includes ads that  continue to intertwine innovative products with personal, emotional appeals. We are humble Midwesterners who oftentimes have an “Aw gee shucks” mentality when it comes to talking about our city, but there is an underlying pride that shines through when something great happens in our community. These ads appeal to that often hidden bit of pride, and are an effective rally cry to get the community excited about the opportunities Google Fiber brings. Google Fiber's personal, emotional marketing extends beyond ads to in-person interactions in the community which is key for building brand loyalty. The Google Fiber space has been hosting an array of events including "Fiberhood" neighborhood association meetings, Pilates classes, movie nights, cooking classes-- even riding around distributing over 2,000 ice cream sandwiches in their Fiber trucks (ahem, hey Google Fiber truck, you can stop by our office anytime). Google Fiber recently engaged in community outreach with one of our clients, Youth Entrepreneurs, a non-profit organization that teaches business skills to high school students. Several business-savvy KC metro Youth Entrepreneurs students were given the opportunity to participate in a two-week summer partnership where they learned about Google's products and developed a plan for bridging the digital divide in KC. The students received a priceless learning experience that culminated in attending the launch event for Google Fiber. Community outreach like this is essential for building positive relationships and brand loyalty . Blending innovation with emotional, personal appeals is a winning marketing combination for Google. What other brands do you think do this well? Tagged , , , , ,
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App Addiction: Smartphone Must-Haves

Posted in Tips and Tricks Our smartphones provide unmistakable value. It’s difficult to imagine a time where we didn’t have the answers to pretty much anything right at our fingertips. Information, education and entertainment can certainly be accessed through a browser, but apps are really where it’s at. There are more than a half a million aps for the iPhone and iPad and another 300,000 plus on Android. The average user has 65 apps installed on their smartphone. Of those 65 apps, most people use about 15 on a weekly basis, according to Flurry. Here are my most-used and useful apps.
  • IMDb – It stands for Internet Movie Database. When you want to know where else you’ve seen that actor that was in last week’s Breaking Bad, this is where you go. It has settled many a discussion at my house.
  • Southwest Airlines – I may not be a frequent traveler these days but this app is so handy for checking in to get an A boarding or to chart the departures and arrivals of people I know who are traveling. Easy to use and quite handy.
  • Zite – This app aggregates content from a variety of sources and segments by topic so I get all kinds of information on everything from health and wellness to business or interior design.
  • PopSugar – When I’m waiting in line or for an appointment, this dose of celebrity, beauty, fitness and food news is great for helping pass the time.
  • Whole Foods Recipes – This app allows me to plug in the type of recipe I’m looking for (from as broad as needing a simple side dish or as complex as dairy-free dessert that requires no refrigeration) and voila, all kinds of ideas and a shopping list.
Those are a few of my favorite apps. What apps do you find useful and entertaining? Maybe you can turn me on to a new addiction.
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The team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion

Posted in Tips and Tricks

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” –Mia Hamm, Olympic and World Cup Soccer Player 

The 2012 Summer Olympic Gamesbegan on Friday, July 27 in London and will last through August 12. Every four years I get excited to watch the games. Everything from swimming to gymnastics to beach volleyball sucks me in for hours on end. Maybe my ultra competitive nature is why I love the Olympics so much or maybe it’s because I played every sport possible when I was a kid and it brings back fond memories. Either way, lately I have realized my great admiration for individuals coming together at the games to create remarkable achievements as one.

Photo Courtesy of 

On any given day, a different athlete can shine. In fact, the Men's 4×100 meter freestyle relay event at the 2008 Olympic Games showed just that when Jason Lezak, the oldest man on the U.S. swimming team at that time, pulled off one of the great comebacks in Olympic history, hitting the wall just ahead of Frenchman Alain Bernard to win the race. Lezak’s remarkable effort not only gave himself the fastest relay split in history, it moved The United States out of second place to win the gold, and was part of Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals in Beijing, a record no other Olympian has ever achieved in one Olympic games. And just last night, Michael Phelps made history again with the help of his 4x200 meter freestyle relay team, by winning his 19th Olympic medal to become the most decorated Olympian in history. Phelps and his teammates showed us once again that we all bring something different to the plate. In business, just as in sports, on any given day a different member of the team can shine. This Olympics has made me take a look at my own team and realize how we all contribute to our company’s success in different ways. From innovative thinking at brainstorms to creative writing skills to positive “can do it” attitudes, all of our individual talents have made our team have a very successful start to the first half of the year. And, I am confident our team accomplishments will continue to cultivate as we compliment each other’s strengths because teamwork – whether on the soccer field or in the conference room – is the most important aspect of any group environment. Just as Mia Hamm said, "the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion." Tagged , , ,
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