Motherhood

When Vacations Go Bad…

Expired Passport

Expired passport with no renewal notification? Oh no!

Normally, I talk about Marketing on my blog, but today I’m going to talk about Customer Service. You see, my family and I are supposed to be in the Dominican Republic right now enjoying our vacation with friends. So why am I writing this blog post? Well, when you travel internationally you need this thing called a passport. And it needs to not have expired…and that’s the part that tripped us up.

I try to be an organized traveler. I check out the destination and resort reviews and even ask my friends on Facebook for recommendations on where to visit and which hotels/resorts are best for our stay. I read all the travel checklists and make sure I’ve got the right documentation for my itinerary – whether it’s hotel confirmation information, airline tickets/boarding passes, round-trip airport-to-hotel transfer or rental car paperwork. Then I confirm the transportation arrangements and check-in at the airlines in advance.

I was checking in Friday for our Saturday flight and entered the passport info for my husband with no problems, entered my passport data, too, then as I got to the field for the kids’ passports, I looked at the expiration date – WHAT??? How could they possibly be expired??? My passport isn’t expired and we all got them at the same time. Oh, wait, I remember that the kids’ passports are valid for a shorter time than adults. But it hasn’t been that long, has it? Besides I never got a notification that their passports needed to be renewed…

Did you know that no one notifies you when your passport is about to expire? I get renewal notifications for my drivers license, or my car registration, or even to renew magazine subscriptions, so you would think in this technologically-advanced age, someone, somewhere would send out a postcard or an email, or even make an automated phone call when you need to renew your passport. Apparently not.

After several frantic calls to the State Department, Customs and Immigration, even the Dominican Embassy, I resigned myself that we weren’t going to make Saturday’s flight and if we wanted any hope at all of joining our friends on the trip that we would need help to expedite the kids’ passport renewal. I started making calls and found that many passport expediters were closed on the weekend since they can only process the renewals Monday through Friday. I left messages for several companies and finally one called me back and walked me through the process of how to renew an expired passport.

In the words of my husband (at 1AM – three and a half hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport), “It’s like a nightmare and you just can’t wake up.”

Since the kids were under 16 when their passports were issued, they actually needed to apply for new “adult” passports instead of a standard renewal. That meant we needed to find a passport acceptance location that a) was open on Saturday, b) would take an emergency walk-in to verify the passport application information and c) we could get passport pictures there as well. My husband and I both started calling everywhere in a 10-mile radius and we got all the way to “W” in the alphabet before we found one that fit the criteria and would fit us in if we got there before the post office closed. I’d like to give a HUGE “thank you” to Darnell F. who refused to take me up on my offer to write a letter to his boss telling them about how he went above and beyond to get the paperwork done!

The fantastic customer service we received by people like Darnell who worked so hard to help us get the kids’ passports processed almost makes up for the dozens of calls that went unanswered or voicemail messages not returned by other agencies and locations. Now all we need is for the passports to be processed so we can try to take another international vacation before the kids have to go back to school. Wish me luck!

Another Penn State Scandal? Email Marketing Problems Now

In the next year and a half, I’ll have TWO kids in college – yikes! And since my kids both took the SAT test, our family email inbox has been overflowing with emails from colleges that the kids may or may not be interested in attending. While I’m not thrilled, I do understand that since they didn’t opt-out when they took the test, the colleges’ emails are CAN SPAM compliant. However, there might another Penn State scandal – this time in their email marketing opt-out practices.

In April, our home email address received an email from Penn State inviting us to spend a summer day at Penn State.

Penn State Email

Penn State Email

Thanks, but neither of my kids is interested, so I’ll just Unsubscribe. I click on the link and I’m taken to a page with the following info:

Unsubscribe Email Address

Please enter the email address you would like to unsubscribe from our events and communications lists.

Email Address:

You will receive an email at this address which contains a link to confirm your unsubscribe request. Thank you.

SUBMIT

WHAT??? You’re sending me another email? I know DJ Waldow says it’s ok to break the rules and send a post-unsubscribe email, but I’m not sure an email with a link to confirm my unsubscribe request is exactly what he had in mind… I’m feeling agreeable so instead of clicking the “This Is Spam” button on the original email, I insert my email address and click Submit.

I received the email confirming my unsubscribe selection:

We have received a request to have this email address removed from our events and communications mailing lists. If you wish to complete the unsubscribe process, please click the confirmation link below.

http://admissions.psu.edu/resources/unsubscribe/?confirm=XXXXXXX

Your web browser will display a confirmation notice when your email address has been removed.

Confirmation Number: XXXXXXX

Phew, I click on the link and I’m done, right?

By having to visit two separate pages, the Penn State email unsubscribe process could be considered in violation of the portion of the CAN SPAM compliance guide requirement #6 Honor opt-out requests promptly which states “You can’t…make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request.” But it’s ok, because I’m done so I won’t create another Penn State scandal by ratting them out on my blog.

Unfortunately, we’re not done yet. I then received ANOTHER email from Penn State Admissions stating:

This email address has been removed from the events and communications mailing lists of the Penn State Undergraduate Admissions Office.

Please allow 24-48 hours for the change to take effect. If at any time you wish to begin receiving email messages from our office again, please send an email to admissions@psu.edu indicating your preferences. Thank you.

Sincerely,

The Undergraduate Admissions Office at Penn State

http://admissions.psu.edu

Two emails after the original marketing message when my kids didn’t overtly subscribe to begin with, and I had to click on two links and go to two separate web pages in order to unsubscribe, but wait there’s more…did I mention I got another email from them and started the process all over again in May??? Let’s hope that’s the end of email marketing messages from Penn State coming to my email address.

Have you ever experienced anything like this? Were you mad? Did you delete the email or choose the “This Is Spam” option or contact the sender directly? Please let me know what you did and if you got any positive results in the comment section below.

2011 – Year in Review

2012 New Years Fireworks photo by Meaghan Mostyn

Happy 2012!

Here’s my recap of 2011 in numbers:

15) Flights of steps I had to walk down TWICE – during both a fire drill and an actual earthquake!

10) Number of #smchat Twitter chats I hosted this year. Please join #smchat every Wednesday at 1P ET, especially on the 3rd week of the month when I moderate the #smchat Marketing topics!

7) Nights in Turks and Caicos (my favorite vacation destination).

5.8) Magnitude of the August 2011 earthquake that shook most of the East coast including my office building (see 15 flights of stairs above).

3) Events I spoke at in 2011 – Affiliate Summit, Marketing Profs and Baltimore AMA in the AM  – and the number of Proms that the kids attended!

2) Number of “day jobs” in 2011 – more on that as the new job is ready to be “launched” in mid-2012!

1) Number of completely available (no planned events) weekends in 2011… AND the number of times I was on TV talking about social media!

Plus more emergency room / urgent care visits than I’d care to admit, so let’s just say we’re still keeping our “frequent flier” status!

Leave a comment below and let me know your “numbers” for 2011!

Social Media is a Responsibility for Educators and Everyone

Last month, I moderated a chat on social media in education so when I saw a post by a local TV station asking if there was a reason for teachers and students to connect on Facebook, I wanted to give a counterpoint to the “teachers shouldn’t use social media ever” stance that many people seem to have.

Schools that have taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults.

~ Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator

I’m not naive. I know that educators can act inappropriately, and unfortunately sometimes they do. However, I also know that there are ways for Facebook and other social media to be used effectively as a teaching tool, for communication between teachers, parents and students, and for the pure “social” aspects that Facebook and other social media platforms have to offer. According to a 2009 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), when polled about why they chose to stay in school, almost all students named a specific student, faculty or staff member who gave them the support and encouragement they needed to keep going. What better way to keep in touch with that teacher than via social media?

As a marketer, I have seen the value of social media by being a part of the community and conversation happening online. Not that long ago, marketers had to justify to the C-suite why companies should be active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels. My response to that has always been that the conversation is happening, don’t you want to be a part of it? And don’t you want the social media profile found in searches to be yours rather than one that was made for you? There have been several cases where students have posted made-up social media profiles for teachers and administrators. If you’re not on social media, or actively monitoring the channel, how will you know?

Connecting with students and their families on Facebook gives teachers the perfect opportunity be a part of the conversation where there students (and parents) are, rather than attempting to force the communication into a less often visited channel like the school’s website, etc. The CCSSE study found that most students are already using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, texting and instant messaging outside of the classroom – and that was in 2009, so you can image the adoption rate for social media now!

Connecting with educators on social media also gives the students a chance to see how social media should be handled (assuming the teacher is socially responsible with their posts). Leading by example is a great way to get students to understand that they need to manage their digital footprint and only post in ways that they will be proud to see themselves and have others see them. It is vital that young people learn that their social media interactions WILL impact their future. College recruiters are checking Facebook pages and so are Human Resources Departments when you’re ready to get a job.

With all of the “pros” for increased social media interaction between students and teachers, I do have some caveats:

  • Students need to be 13 or older, but that’s in Facebook terms of use, so if a younger student is using that channel then it needs to be brought to the parents’ attention.
  • Teachers need to post responsibly, but then EVERYONE should post responsibly!
  • Teachers should be trained on the proper use of social media. Sort of a “train the trainer” session on why it’s important to only post things that are appropriate for public viewing, and that once something is posted online, it will never go away. This training should be updated as privacy changes are made as well as when new social media platforms are introduced (like Google+).
  • Teachers don’t need to “friend” students on their personal social media page. There are ways to set up pages for “public figures” where teachers can post what they want their students to see, and still keep their personal profile separate.

So what do you think – SHOULD teachers connect with their students via social media? What tips would you have for them? Do you have any positive examples of teacher-student or teacher-parent interaction on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Please comment below to share your opinions and experiences.

9-11 Memories – 10 Years Later

In Memory of the 9/11 Attacks - Never Forget
In Memory of the 9/11 Attacks – Never Forget

I have been posting topic updates at the #SMchat site, but I haven’t updated my own blog in a while because it was a crazy summer. However, I can’t let the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/01 go by without remembering what I was doing when 9/11 changed everything.

On September 11, 2001, I was in my office when one of my coworkers came to get me. She said, “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.” Little did we know that the first plane crash was only the start of hours and days of uncertainty that has changed so many people’s world forever.

My coworkers and I gathered in the conference room of the advertising agency where I worked to watch on the big screen TV as one horrible image after another filled the screen. Originally people speculated that it was a horrible accident, but when the second plane struck the Towers it became evident that it was an act of terrorism. My boss and several others were scheduled to be on a TV shoot that day and we called them to let them know what was happening. As they headed back to the office, they told us to go home if we felt that’s what we needed to do.

There was so much confusion – cell phones and land lines weren’t working because of the huge volume of calls, no one knew what to expect next and it was increasingly difficult to contact anyone without speaking to them in person – and all I wanted to do was be with my kids. I drove to their school to pick them up and was amazed at how well the teachers and staff were handling this unusual situation.

It was especially remarkable in light of the fact that the husband of my son’s teacher was in the Pentagon that day. Ten years later, I’m still not sure how she dealt with the unexpected dismissal of a classroom of children while waiting to hear from her husband to be able to get in touch with her. (He was fortunately in the other end of the building and able to evacuate without injury and help others get out of the building as well.)

I took the kids home and we sat and watched TV with my Grandmother (who lived with us at the time) as the details continued to be disclosed. The images from those hours are still burned in my mind today.

I finally was able to get in touch with my husband and learn that he was fine. In hindsight, there was no real reason to worry about him but there was so much uncertainty that you didn’t know what to expect.

The weirdest thing about the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks was the lack of air traffic – no planes, no helicopters, etc. – for several days after it happened. You don’t realize how much air traffic noise you hear until it is absent. When there were finally some military planes flying by after a few days, all heads popped up to see if it was another attack.

So many people were impacted by those terrorist attacks, whether they had a friend or loved one in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, or in the Pentagon, or on Flight 93 which made a crash-landing on the fields near Shanksville, PA. Ten years later, or a hundred years later, we will never forget the 2,997 people who lost their lives that day, and we will never forget the changes that have impacted the United States and the world since that fateful day.

Where were you on 9/11? Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below or read stories and share your memories at the 9/11 Memories site created by Deb Carney (aka Loxly): http://911memories.com/share-your-story-about-911-with-us/

Special thanks to Brian Niemann for creating the image on this post and donating the proceeds from its printed image to the Salvation Army. You can find more info on the poster at: http://niemanndesign.com/home/

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Mostyns!
Merry Christmas from the Mostyns!

Right now, I should be getting my presentations together for Affiliate Summit West 2011 (hey, look, it’s an affiliate link!) and MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Forum 2011 (sadly, no affiliate link for this one), but I wanted to take a few moments (or sentences) to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011 to us all!

Now that the kids are teens, we got to “sleep in” until about 9A this morning. As is our tradition, we got up and found out what was in our Christmas stockings and then proceeded to open presents and spend the day together and finished up by joining the whole Mostyn family for dinner.

The holidays are a time for reflections and I have so much to be thankful for this year. I hope that you have had a wonderful year and that 2011 is even better!

Top 5 Reasons I’m Thankful

#1 Reason I'm Thankful = Family
#1 Reason I’m Thankful = Family

When I started writing this post, I was 11 minutes late for work. Which normally would completely make me nuts. I HATE to be late! But today I’m not bothered all – because I don’t have a job. At least until Monday. And I’m thankful for that. It gives me time to catch up on blog posts that I’ve been wanting to write, prepare for events in the next few weeks, and spend some time with my family. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and I’m thankful for these things and so much more.

Here are the “Top 5” reasons I’m thankful:

1. Family – they are the most important people in my life and I’m thankful for every day I can share with them.

2. Friends (online and in real life) – running a close second are my friends who are there for me no matter what and challenge me to be even better than I thought I could be.

3. Health (well, as healthy as Mostyn Medical Mayhem can be) – although it’s a holiday and we know how special occasions have a tendency to turn out around our house…

4.”Me Time” (see above) – plus some time for spending with family and friends and hopefully getting in a few hours reading a great book or two.

5. Work – in this economy I’m grateful to have a job and looking forward to helping propel my new employer from a quality regional bank to total world domination through amazing ecommerce marketing! 😉

I know this hasn’t been my usual type of post, but I wanted to let my friends/fans/followers/readers know how much I appreciate you and how thankful I am for all the good things going on in my life right now, so I hope you’ll forgive me this indulgence. I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for this holiday season, please leave me a comment below and if you’ve got any great “Me Time” light reading book suggestions, feel free to leave those, too!

Talking SEO for our 1st Blog Birthday-Anniversary-Blogiversaryday

No Matter What Holiday, Flowers Always Work
No Matter What The Holiday Is, Flowers Always Work

One year ago today, I wrote my first post on Motherhood, Marketing, and Medical Mayhem. I was inspired by the marketing insights gained at MarketingProfs Digital Mixer. I was especially excited because I won the conference pass and I couldn’t wait to share what I learned with the world. Now, a year later, I don’t know whether to consider this my blog’s birthday, anniversary, or what? Blogiversaryday?

No matter what you call it, I’ve learned a lot — and shared a lot — over the past year, not only on my blog, but via Twitter, guest posts, and comments on the blogs of others. All of the above are great ways to increase your search engine ranking. Generally, the more links you have coming in to your website from other reputable sites, the higher your natural search ranking. This is also known as off-page SEO (search engine optimization) or link building techniques. According to SEOMOZ, the quantity and quality of external links is the #2 top search engine ranking factor barely beaten out by keyword focused anchor text from external links.

As you might be able to guess, the flip side of off-page SEO is on-page SEO. On-page SEO includes things like keyword-rich URLs, installing 301 permanent redirects, ensuring unique URLs for specific webpages, and keyword optimization. With the exception of keyword content optimization, the other on-page SEO topics are fairly technical in nature but are explained nicely by Rand Fishkin in his post on Perfecting Keyword Targeting & On-Page Optimization.

As noted above, the final, and perhaps most important part of search engine optimization is keywords. Keywords are what a website wants the search engines to associate with their site. The idea is to find the most popular keywords for your audience with the least competition. To help you find keywords and traffic estimates you can use the Google keyword tool. Keywords are used both on-page in content, URLs, alt text, and meta descriptions, and off-page in anchor text.

In reading the details behind the SEOMOZ rankings, I found it interesting that Conferences, Events, and In-Person Networking was the 7th most effective link building tactic for SEO since that’s why I started my blog a year ago. So what do you think – is it a blog birthday, anniversary, blogiversary, or something else? Please leave a comment below or send some “Congratulations” flowers from my affiliate link to let me know!

Every Child Wants A Pony, Does Every Marketer Want A Pony Movie?

Sharon Riding Secretariat? Nope, That's Pepperoni Pizza!
Is Sharon riding Secretariat? No, that horse is Pepperoni Pizza!

The film Secretariat opens up around the country this weekend. I have always loved horses and I remember when Secretariat won the Triple Crown of horse racing. Although I didn’t own my own pony when I was younger, I was fortunate enough at the time to be able to ride Peperoni Pizza, aka Pete, several times a week. I was even lucky enough to be the barn manager for a highly-ranked team at the Ochlockonee River Pony Club event where the photo on the left was taken  (several years ago).

Online and Offline Movie Marketing

Secretariat, like all movies, is an opportunity waiting to happen for all kinds of media. Traditionally, film publicity included newspaper and magazine ads; billboards; bus and subway ads; in-theater trailers and previews; TV and radio ads; and other offline campaigns. The addition of online media into the movie marketing mix adds another dimension of audience engagement. It allows people to “like” the movie on Facebook and share info and trailers with their friends via social media. On the movie’s website audiences can watch film clips and download pictures from the movie to view on their computer or even post as their avatar on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media forums. Some movies even have games based on the movie that people can play and share. Film marketers do an amazing job of encouraging online influencers to share their love of a movie’s brand among their connections.

Brand Advocacy Via Social Media

This “brand advocacy” or implied endorsement of a movie’s brand by sharing among a person’s friends and followers is even easier to do when the movie’s subject is connected to something they are passionate about. Like the small child who desperately wanted a pony being more likely to write a blog post about the movie Secretariat than any other movie when it comes time to write about a different form of marketing. (Hmmm…sound familiar? LOL) I eventually got the horse – at one point we had two ponies and a horse between my daughter and I – and although I was never tiny enough to be a Triple-Crown-winning jockey, there IS a perpetual trophy awarded by the Harford Horse Show Association with my name on it.

Affiliate Movie Tie-Ins

Smart affiliate marketers are taking new cinematic releases like Secretariat and creating banner ads and product offers that emphasize the movie tie-in. An example of a merchant who is capotalizing on the movie by emphasizing the horse-themed items in their banner creative is Leanin’ Tree:

Some marketers are even modifying their product lines to add horse-related items. An great example is how Andrea Levine Designs added horse charms to their dog and cat jewelry can be found here:
Pet Jewelry by Andrea Levine Designs

Wild Horses Couldn’t Keep Me From Seeing Secretariat!

Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, once wrote, “You can map your life through your favorite movies, and no two people’s maps will be the same.” Between the combination of horses and a strong-willed working mom, I believe Secretariat will be a movie that will be included in the map of my life. What are you favorite movies and how do they map your life? Please leave me a comment below to let me know.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

The ER is for Special Occasions

St. Joseph Medical Center, ER of choice for Mostyn family chest pain
St. Joe’s, ER of choice for Mostyn family chest pain

I apologize to my friends, both online and in real life, if I’ve been distracted this week. Normally, I’d blame it on excitement about my birthday, but those that have known me a long time realize that special occasions frequently require a trip to the Emergency Room (ER) so it may not be the type of excitement that you expect. Our family has been to the ER/hospital for my high school graduation, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, the day of our Christmas party, several family members’ birthdays and anniversaries, and even vacations are considered special occasions as far as ER visits are concerned! My first date with my husband, T2, was delayed due to an ER visit, so you would think that I wouldn’t be surprised by this.

Usually, Mostyn Medical Mayhem can be handled by a trip to Patient First, a local urgent care center. They’ve handled stitches, broken bones, allergic reactions, foreign objects in the eye, walking pneumonia, fevers of unknown origins, last-minute pre-operative testing, and even severe cases of the flu for the Mostyn clan. Friends jokingly ask if we’ve got a special room there, to which I respond politely that we do have special front row parking. (At the location we visit, almost all of the parking could be considered front row…) We’ve been there so often that one day when there was no one else waiting to be seen when we arrived, a nurse felt comfortable enough to tease me that if we had brought her coffee ice cream she would make sure we were first to be helped. They’re good people. They can treat routine medical problems, including taking x-rays, performing lab tests and blood work, writing and filling prescriptions, etc. and they get you in and out pretty quickly, but sometimes you just have to go to the Emergency Room.

One of the times when the ER is required is when chest pain is involved. My father-in-law (aka T1) had the family visiting him at St. Joseph Medical Center one Mother’s Day when he had his heart attack. They did a great job with him and so that is where T2 went earlier this week when he was having chest pains, even though he thought he knew it wasn’t his heart. You see, about 3 years ago, T2 had a hiatal hernia about the size of a lemon that was pushing up into his chest and making it difficult for him to breathe. He was having chest pains so bad that he was physically sweating from the pain. T2 gives that kind of pain an “8” on a scale of 1 to 10.

So when he called me earlier this week with a “6” pain level, I called his Gastroenterologist who told him to go to the ER and have them rule out heart problems. T2 got checked out at the ER, and his heart is healthy, so they’ll be doing an endoscopy and unless they find something unexpected he’ll be having surgery to repair it soon. (If you’re keeping count, this will be the 3rd time he’s had a hiatal hernia repaired…and this time they won’t be able to do it laproscopically so he’ll have a much bigger incision.)

So what does this have to do with Marketing? Well, other than the Medical Mayhem portion of my blog, the cool Marketing tool that I’ve gotten from this experience is a mobile ER Wait Time app that St. Joseph Medical Center has for determining how long you can expect to be in the waiting room before they are able to see you. Check it out here: http://shortererwait.com/what-is-er-wait-time/ St. Joe’s has shortened total time in the ER by 25% – and the average wait time to be seen is only 14 minutes! Good to know, but even better is knowing that if you’re having chest pains they’ll see you even faster than that!