Why does it have to be ‘fine print’? Make it big!

Fine Print is unnecessary

Is fine print really necessary? Make it big and integrate it into your campaign

There may sometimes be gaps in our postings when business is particularly good, as it has been these past several months. But we always try to look for lessons in our work that we can share.

For example: I’ve been doing marketing support for a major technology company. This generally means I do whatever needs to be done to help marketing meet its goals. But one of my unique selling points is that I’m also a perceptive customer advocate. In fact, I find it difficult NOT to see the customer perspective in everything I do. It’s just how I’ve become wired after years of working in this space: interacting with communities, absorbing composite customer personas, watching focus groups and usability tests and, more recently, monitoring reactions to what I do on social media.

Much of what I’m working on right now requires Terms and Conditions: You know, that legalese that people label “the fine print” – usually because it’s so very small. But there’s also a stigma attached to it. Ask most people what the fine print is, and they’ll respond: “That’s where they get you.”

In a recent marketing campaign that I managed, I noticed customers on Twitter complaining that they didn’t know how they would get their bonus items. The answer was right  there in the Terms & Conditions but it was so tiny that many folks couldn’t read it. So I asked our designers to start making the fine print larger.

It’s an idea that I believe really should catch on. The days of hiding “gotchas” in teeny tiny type are mostly over, or so I’d like to think. If there’s something shady going on, the Internet usually sniffs it out and spreads the word quickly and aggressively.

Instead, I think that Terms & Conditions should be easily read and consumed as part of any offer perusal. In fact, knowing all of the limits and fulfillment details may actually help sell customers, and could even earn their trust. For one thing, it shows the seller has nothing to hide. And second, it should answer any key concerns the customer might have.

Ideally, all of these details should be part of any carefully considered marketing pitch. In the glory days of advertising – which I studied intensely to improve my skills as a headline copywriter – ads were text laden and often filled two or more pages. And advertising studies show that more text can actually be more convincing than less. So let’s put it all out there for everyone to see.

Now if we could just do something with all of those impenetrable End User License Agreements – which arguably are TOO LONG and could use a good summary and be easily reviewed, browsed and, dare I say, skipped. But that’s a fight for another day.

Worker solidarity: 6 ways you can win points with coworkers when you’re out of the office

The final days of the year are fast approaching, which spells vacation time for many office workers across the land. December is filled with excused absences tied to shopping trips, travel adventures and the ever-popular HR vacation threat, “use it or lose it.”

Whether you plan to be out for a day, a week or the entire month of December, your absence can have an impact on those left behind. Here are 6 simple steps you can take to make life a bit more pleasant for those who have already used up their vacation. Remember, your vacation days might not roll over, but brownie points scored with coworkers last forever!

1. Set your email out of office message. Most modern email programs offer an out-of-office (OOF) functionality that will automatically send a response to incoming email. If you are not sure where to find the OOF function in your email, search for “out of office” in your email program’s help functionality. (Look for a Question mark if using the latest version of Outlook.) Your OOF message does not need to be a documentary about your vacation; just include the key information:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)

For example:

Thank you for your mail. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please contact Dave Kramer (email @ writersbloc.net). Thank you.

2.  Update your outgoing phone message. Yes, some people still use the phone – and will continue to call until you answer or return their call. You can adapt your email message for an outgoing phone message script. Key information for your phone message includes:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)
  • How to contact them (for example, dial zero for the operator or hang up and call their direct line)
  • The phone extension or phone number for the coworker covering in your absence.

For example:

Hello, this is Jacqui Kramer, owner of The Writer’s Bloc. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please dial zero and ask the operator to connect you with Dave Kramer at extension 425. Thank you.

Also, turn your phone ringer off before you leave – especially if you are in an open environment. Nothing drives coworkers crazy faster than an unanswered phone.

3. Make a note of all key passwords (or reminders). If you’re going away for several weeks, consider making a note of your passwords – or clues to your passwords – somewhere safe. I once took a three-week vacation, secure in the idea I couldn’t possibly forget my passwords in less than a month. I did. My first morning back was spent with a tech support person, who eventually cracked my computer.

4. Set expectations with your clients/customers. Always let your clients know about planned absences ahead of time, even if they are just a day. For more information about setting expectations, see I’m not there: Five ways to check in when you’re checked out (for vacation) .

5. Set expectations with coworkers. I have received a number of calls over the years that began with “(name of coworker) said you’re covering (name of project) while he/she’s out…” A surprising number of these have come out of the blue – because the vacationing coworker didn’t mention that I was on point while he/she was out. The worst was a phone message I received while I was out on vacation myself… because the coworker hadn’t checked to see if I would be around that week. Needless to say, the caller was not amused by the daisy-chained out-of-office messages.

That’s certainly a candidate for worst-case scenario, but it can get worse. I once got the call about a project that had not been made public. It’s a bit difficult to answer questions or provide assistance about a project you didn’t know existed.

Don’t put your coworkers in that position. They will not be happy, and you will both look bad in the eyes of the client/coworker in need of assistance. Contact your designated contact and ask them for help at least a few days before you leave – and take time to debrief them. Leave written notes outlining where to find information (document folders, forwarded emails, etc.) and set expectations regarding what they should – or should not – do while you’re away.

6. Remember your coworkers while you’re gone. The last thing you want to think about on vacation is work – but it never hurts to spend a few moments considering your coworkers. I once worked on a team of about 12 people, all working to launch a major project in the last few weeks of December. Needless to say, there were not many vacation requests being granted. One coworker had already been cleared to take three weeks off in December for her wedding/honeymoon (scheduled long before the project).

We didn’t begrudge her leaving, but we definitely felt the loss of a key person in those final weeks. The project launched, and everyone on the team received a lovely congratulatory email from halfway around the world where she was vacationing! When she returned, she brought a bag full of small trinkets (keychain and magnets) from her vacation. Everyone received a small gift, and the person who took on her extra work received an extra nice gift on the side.

The small gestures – the email, a bag of trinkets most likely bought at the airport – meant a lot to a group of coworkers who didn’t spend December in a tropical paradise. It was by no means necessary, but it did rack up a lot of good karma points with the team. She also happily covered for many on the team when it was time for others to take their own vacations – an extra bonus that didn’t cost her anything, but certainly earned a lot of good will.

Oh, and nearly a decade later, I still have that keychain.

Labor Pains: How grocery strikes impact communities – and it’s not what you think

There has been a strange charge in the air at several major Seattle area grocery stores these past few weeks. Employees at regional chains Fred Meyer and QFC (both owned by national grocer Kroger), plus Albertson’s and Safeway have been working without a contract since May. Contract negotiations began in February, and came to a head earlier this month when labor overwhelmingly rejected a contract that one local meat cutter described as “laughable.”

Management and the union are back at the negotiation table as I write, but it’s clear that workers in the trenches – the people who put out your produce, scoop your deli, cut your meat and process your transactions – are expecting to hit the picket line any day. As in, just in time for Thanksgiving.

This blog post is not about the issues behind the strike, however. It’s about the far-reaching ramifications that a strike could have – and how strike supporters can help alleviate them.

ISSUE: Food Bank donation bins don’t get filled. Food banks across the country are in dire need year-round, but are often forgotten except for the November/December time frame. Food bank bins appear at almost all of the chains set to be affected by the strike. Fewer customers to those stores that heavily promote charity bins will result in lower donations. Out of sight, out of mind. And yes, there are plenty of alternative grocery stores – including some I will be patronizing myself – that do not sponsor food drives.

SOLUTION: Donate cash to your local food bank. Food banks can stretch your dollar farther than you can at your local grocery store, so donating cash is always appreciated. They can also use it to buy perishable items (e.g., fresh meat, milk and vegetables) that are in great need but cannot be deposited in the bins.

ISSUE: School gift card sales lag. Gift card sales are a big fundraiser for area schools, including our son’s elementary. We have routinely stocked up on Fred Meyer/QFC cards to have on hand for weekly groceries, including a handful purchased before summer break. The gift card team recently promoted the idea of stocking up on gift cards for several grocery store chains – including strike targets – before doing the Thanksgiving shopping. We have stopped buying the cards in anticipation of a strike, meaning dollars spent there (pre-strike or if the strike is averted) won’t go to our school.

SOLUTION: Think outside the grocery store box. Assuming your school uses a fulfillment program, you can get much more than grocery store cards. Our program also offers many major restaurant chains (Red Robin and Outback Steakhouse), retailers (Gap) and even online gift cards (iTunes and Amazon.com). Our school’s program even carries gift cards for online services, such as iTunes and Amazon.com, that can be slipped into a card for an easy gift.

ISSUE: Older citizens have limited mobility – and their local store is on strike. Several stores likely to be hit by the strike also serve a large senior citizen group. Being the home of Boeing (among others), Seattle has a lot of old school union supporters who will shop at 7-11 before they cross a picket line. This has been evident in the past week, as older citizens have been filling their carts with large volumes of non-perishables – much more so than the average shopping trip. I heard one gentleman apologize in advance for crossing the picket line – he’s on a tight budget, and can’t travel to other areas.

SOLUTION: Have a heart. If you know someone who would prefer not to cross the picket line but can’t get to a store outside of the strike, offer them a ride. Or, at minimum, do not judge them if they do cross the line. While some may not care, others may be feeling the pain deeply enough without being called names.

ISSUE:  Non-striking stores are packed on Thanksgiving. We ordered a pre-cooked turkey from a local Top Foods, which is not involved in the current labor dispute. I requested a morning pick-up to ensure we had plenty of time to cook, and also mentioned that we wanted the deli worker to be able to go home, too. She sighed deeply and said, only half-jokingly, “I’m not sure I WILL get to go home Thursday.”

 The managers at the non-disputed stores no doubt see the strike as an opportunity to pick up new customers, and are pressuring their workers to make this the best, brightest holiday ever for all their new (albeit temporary) clientele. The deli worker seemed to anticipate staying past closing time to ensure every customer is served. It would not surprise me a bit.

SOLUTION: Be on time… and patient. Be thankful you don’t have to work Thanksgiving – and give those that do a break. Don’t show up two minutes before the store closes and insist you “just need one thing.” Check your pantry when you get up and make the last minute trip early in the day. Take something to entertain yourself in line, and be nice to the workers.

Come to think of it, that’s good advice even when there isn’t a strike.

Gift return: Six ways to improve your holiday client gift giving this year

With Halloween behind us and the U.S. Thanksgiving just weeks away, the holidays are upon us. For business owners, this spells a marketing opportunity that many take for granted – particularly small business owners. This year, think outside of the gift box when choosing your client gifts, and potentially keep your brand in front of potential customers all year long.

Here are six tips to help you give gifts that won’t end up as next year’s White Elephant:

1. Avoid the gimmicks. I received some astoundingly bad client gifts when I worked for a major corporation, many of which wound up at White Elephant parties or Goodwill. These were often the “hot” gift for the holidays or an attempt to show a sense of humor. The worst violators: a Chia pet and a mounted, singing fish. Both were heavily advertised on TV and both were given in an ironic, isn’t this funny manner. Both also wound up at Goodwill. (I wasn’t going to inflict either on an unsuspecting coworker, even they were potentially funny White Elephant entries.)

 2. Avoid the gender stereotypes. I have had several clients and management chains that bought two separate types of gifts: one for men, the other for women. Example: one year males received a flashlight that opened up to reveal assorted screwdrivers, while women received a set of scented candles that reeked before they were even opened. Another year, men received a deluxe grilling set while women received… I honestly don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure you can find it at Goodwill. Another popular stereotype is the plant – specifically, the dreaded poinsettia. I have received these plants as my holiday gift (and one time in lieu of a holiday bonus!) countless times, and I’ve never once taken them home. Poinsettias are dangerous for animals, and with two house cats, they will never darken my house. Also, for some reason they always seem on the verge of death by the time they arrive at my desk, leaving lots of detritus that set off my allergies.

 3. Make it functional. Look around your car, your desk, even your purse – odds are you have a pen with the name of a service or store you patronized. While that store or service may not be at the top of your mind every day, the business owner is betting that you will be reminded the next time you do a crossword in pen or, perhaps, scribble a To Do list that contains the service she provides. That level of branding reinforcement is invaluable – but a pen is hardly a great holiday client gift. (Not the plastic ones, anyway.) We’re big fans of the branded bistro mug. They are larger than the average coffee cup, have a distinctive sensual shape and can be used on a daily basis. We’ve also given branded, reusable totes that can be kept in the car for regular trips to the grocery store. For added value, consider adding a personal note and a lovely edible treat that can be enjoyed right away!

You can find numerous vendors online that offer bistro mugs with your branding. Just remember to use BOTH sides of the mugs. As a lefty, I have looked at the blank side of a mug many, many times over the years. My mom, a fellow southpaw, once had the printing done on the opposite side, creating a “lefty” mug as a holiday gift for her client base that both amused and distinguished her company from other, similar gifts.

4. Quality counts. A gift that breaks after one trip through the dishwasher. Print that fades (or worse, smudges). Gifts that just smell “cheap.” These will not win clients or provide positive brand reinforcement. Find the best quality products within your budget.

 5. Unless you’re Oprah, don’t give “favorite” things. I once had a client present me with a lovely CD wallet and a collection of his 10 favorite CDs (all removed from their cases and inserted into the wallet). Each was personalized with a private story about why it was a favorite. One CD was included simply because it included the “first dance” song from his wedding reception! I kept the wallet (functional) and took the CDs to a Half-Price store. The music was not to my taste (I’m not a soft jazz fan) and I didn’t have the emotional connection to the music that he clearly felt. Worse, he asked me what I thought of the music a few months later during a meeting. I felt terrible, but also wanted to be honest with him. I admitted the music was not my taste, but thanked him again for the CD case. I got the “women’s gift,” a bright pink scarf, a few months later. I would have rather have gotten the men’s travel mug.

Finding the right client gift can be difficult, but by following these simple guidelines, your odds of success will go up. If all else fails, consider the client gift that anyone can appreciate:

6. Offer to make a donation in your client’s name to a charity. Choose 5 charities and allow your client to pick where to send the money, or if you happen to know someone is passionate about a cause (they do walk-a-thons, are on a board of directors, etc.) consider showing that you’ve been paying attention by proactively making a donation on their behalf.

Not only will you make an impression, you will truly be giving a gift that keeps on giving.

TMI, dude! Why asking for too much information is the wrong marketing move

I recently clicked through an offer to get a free Back to the Future game episode from Telltale Games. It’s a promotion designed to hook you in to purchasing the full series of games when they’re released. The site prompted me for my login, which I had created the last time they did one of these free episode deals, but this time something was different.

They wanted to know where I lived:

Telltale Games checkout page

Why do you need my address? What's my motivation to give it to you?

When I first signed up, they didn’t require this infomation. My account existed, yet the only details it had when I logged in this time were my name and e-mail address. That’s all they had required previously, and rightfully so. I had signed up for a free download, and they needed to notify me about my “purchase.”

But this time, I suspect, someone in marketing had urged them to collect mailing addresses in return for this freebie – which you could estimate is worth about $5 since the 5-episode pack is priced at $25. “We’re giving them a $5 game,” the argument goes, “the least they could do is share a little information.” I’m guessing, but I used to be involved in these sorts of conversations all of the time when I worked for a major software company.

On the surface, it makes sense. A fair trade of software value for valuable personal details, right?

Certainly, some customers will buy into this. They’ll pony up their mailing address and other contact details for a freebie with perceived value of $5 or more. But others will question why they need this information. They’re not sending a physical CD in the mail with the game on it. They’ll send me an e-mail notification when it’s time to download it. What are they going to do with the address? Direct marketing? Sell my information to a third-party? Either way, I don’t want it.

So some people – maybe the majority – will submit a fake address. 1234 Noneofyourdamnbusiness Lane, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., or perhaps a choice expletive or two.

And now you have a problem: data integrity. A significant part of your database has bad data in it. Supposing you did have a use for the mailing address that most customers would love – say, you decide to reward them with a free disc-based game or promotional (yet adorable) sticker set that everyone would love to find delivered to them free of charge via postal mail – you’d have to do a lot of scrubbing to only send to the addresses that appear to be valid. And, even then, expect a lot of returned mail!

There’s really no good reason to ask for a mailing address unless you need it right here and right now to fulfill a customer’s order.

To be fair, Telltale does sell t-shirts, posters and shotglasses – but I wasn’t ordering those. If I had, then the transaction flow should be modified to require my shipping address. And if I was buying something – even a downloadable game – with my credit card, I’d expect to be hit up for my billing address to validate my identity and complete the transaction. In those cases, the customer will supply these details readily and, most of the time, accurately because they understand the need for it and want to receive the product they ordered.

Any time you ask for information that’s NOT needed to fulfil a transaction, you’re asking for trouble. It may be a little extra work to build that logic into your shopping cart, but it’s worth it – both for the customer’s peace of mind about your company and the quality of the data you collect.

Do these people look like they want to help you? A customer support big phish story

You probably get loads of spam. And you probably have noticed that some of those mails try to trick you (phish) personal details, such as credit card numbers and personally identifiable details that could be used to scam you. And these phishers are getting smarter.

Once happy to prey only on newbies and the truly stupid, phishing mailers used to send poorly written, typo ridden messages that were easily sniffed out by Internet veterans. But not so much these days.

I got an e-mail recently that looked like it might have been legit. It claimed I had a Battle.net account which had its password recently changed. And if I didn’t initiate this change, I should contact Blizzard support to reclaim it.


This is an automated notification regarding your Battle.net account. Some or all of your contact information was recently modified through the Account Management website.

*** If you made recent account changes, please disregard this automatic notification.

*** If you did NOT make any changes to your account, we recommend you log in to Account Management review your account settings.

If you cannot sign into Account Management using the link above, or if unauthorized changes continue to happen, please contact Blizzard Billing & Account Services for further assistance.

Billing & Account Services can be reached at 1-800-59-BLIZZARD (1-800-592-5499 Mon-Fri, 8AM-8PM Pacific Time) or at billing@blizzard.com.

Account security is solely the responsibility of the accountholder. Please be advised that in the event of a compromised account, Blizzard representatives will typically lock the account. In these cases the Account Administration team will require faxed receipt of ID materials before releasing the account for play.


The Battle.net Support Team
Blizzard Entertainment
Online Privacy Policy

These sorts of mails are commonly triggered for security reasons, so it gave me pause. Did I have a Battle.net account? It was entirely possible. Could someone have hacked it? Certainly. Did the mail come to the e-mail address I would have used when creating such an account? Yes, in fact, it did – an account that until now had been mostly free of spam. And those do appear to be legitimate phone and e-mail support options (they’re banking that you’ll choose the easy method and just click the link).

So I did the smart thing and visited Blizzard support. But I did NOT use any of the links in the e-mail I received. E-mail links are easily diverted to addresses that look remarkably legit but are really fronts for data thieves. No, I typed in a search and found the verified Blizzard support page, which looked like this:

Blizzard Support page

Do these folks make you feel warm inside? Maybe from the blood spilling from your entrails.

What do you think of this page? Does it look warm and inviting? Do the characters portrayed on it suggest that helpful support personnel are standing by, ready to help you through whatever problem you might be facing down?

No. The woman looks like she’s piercing your soul with her silvery eyes and considering whether you’d make a tasty snack for her pet serpent. The dude on the right looks like he’d be sneering at your Level 1 Dwarf except that he’s decided that you’re beneath his contempt and will roundly ignore you should you attempt to engage him in conversation.

Probably not what Blizzard was going for, unless their goal is to sacrifice customer service for reduced support volume.

Despite the icy virtual reception, I submitted my support request. I only asked whether I ever had an account with them attached to the e-mail address that received the notification mail. It took a follow-up to clear up the issue to my satisfaction. This is a common problem with support – they don’t actually read the message, they scan it for keywords and then cut and paste canned responses. Here’s what I got back:

Thank you for contacting Blizzard! My name is Charli and I am from Blizzard’s Account and Technical Services department. I have read through your e-mail and would be happy to assist you. We have recently seen an increase in phishing attempts which pose a real threat for account security. As a friendly reminder, many scams will ask you for your password, which is something Blizzard Entertainment will *NEVER* do.

You may wish to review the following links for more information on phishing emails:

     – Types of Account Thefts: http://us.battle.net/security/types.html

     – How to tell if the email you received is legitimate: http://us.blizzard.com/support/article/30828

     – Information concerning email scams, examples of phishing emails, and what to do in the event you have received a phishing email can be found on the Customer Service Forum here: http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=965511383

Add a Battle.net authenticator to the account and receive an exclusive Corehound pet! Information about this security device can be found here: http://us.blizzard.com/support/article/BLIZZARDAUTH.

If you feel you may have responded to a phishing email, and are unable to access the account, please contact Account & Technical Services. With proper verification our representatives may be able to assist you in recovering the account. Our contact information can be found at http://blizzard.com/support/article/cs.

Charli could be a guy or a girl, so I don’t know if it was the ice princess or that sneering dude who replied. To his or her credit, s/he did allude to the fact that it could be a phishing scam – but did not state what I actually wanted to know. A simple “The email address used to contact us is not and has never been registered to a Battle.net or World of Warcraft account” would have satisfied me. Which is what I eventually got, when I pressed for a more specific answer.

Since then, I have received several more “notifications” from the Society of Not Really Blizzard Phishers, including a notice of “Suspicious Activity – Account Locked” for my non-existent World of Warcraft account.

If there’s a silver lining here, apart from the fact that I avoided clicking what I can now see is a very suspicious link, is Blizzard’s concise white list messaging. I’ve written white list messages myself for various organizations in my roles as communications director and community manager, and this is a good one. Short, sweet and detailed:

Please be aware that if your email service or software utilizes restrictive junk or “spam” filters, you may not be able to receive important emails from our support department. This can often include critical account notices, password recovery, and billing confirmation. If such filters are in place, these messages may wind up in a junk folder, or even be deleted automatically.

To ensure you are able to receive support messages, please review the following options:

Do not use the “Spam”, “Junk”, or “Junk Mail” buttons to delete emails from Blizzard Entertainment. If this happens it may not only prevent you from getting important emails, but your mail service may start blocking ALL Blizzard Entertainment emails of any kind, for ALL its subscribers.

Check your “Junk Folder” or “Spam Folder” and make sure you do not see any official emails there. If you see any, be sure to mark them as “Not Junk” or “Not Spam” so that messages are not improperly filtered in the future.

Add our email addresses to your Address book or “Safe Sender” list:

  • support@blizzard.com
  • billing@blizzard.com
  • wowtech@blizzard.com
  • wowgm@blizzard.com
  • *@blizzard.com

Following these steps should ensure that you receive all the messages from Blizzard Entertainment. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Now, if they could just convince us they really do want to have a dialog with their customers!

Do hoaxes and fear tactics have a place in social media?

We follow game communities and social media closely – it’s our area of greatest passion and expertise. So when GOG.com (aka Good Old Games) hinted that they were closing their virtual doors, we – along with many others we follow who have bought classic PC games from them – lamented the apparent loss.

GOG reaction

But it all started with this tweet, which at first glance seemed to be a random venting of frustration by a faceless social media plebe:

GOG tweet 1

But this tweet seemed much more calculated after the events of the next few days.

Two days later, the online storefront was gone – apparently shut down and replaced with a short message:

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep GOG.com the way it is. We’ve debated on it for quite some time and, unfortunately, we’ve decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form. We’re very grateful for all support we’ve received from all of you in the past two years. Working on GOG.com was a great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderful history of PC gaming. This doesn’t mean the idea behind GOG.com is gone forever. We’re closing down the service and putting this era behind us as new challenges await.

GOG.com kept tweeting:

GOG tweet 2

The news about the site remaining available for people to redownload their games was a tip off. Why would a company keep the site live for people to redownload past purchases if they had no new revenue coming in to pay the server bills?

That same day, rumors spread that the site shutdown was a hoax. And people were angry!

On September 20, the site message was updated:

First of all, we apologize everyone for the whole situation and closing GOG.com. We do understand the timing for taking down the site caused confusion and many users didn’t manage to download all their games. Unfortunately we had to close the service due to business and technical reasons. At the same time we guarantee that every user who bought any game on GOG.com will be able to download all their games with bonus materials, DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday. The official statement from GOG.com’s management concerning the ongoing events is planned on Wednesday.

The news was finally broken on Sept. 22 that the shutdown was a build up to the site launching out of beta. Anger still washed over the social media streams:

GOG reaction 2

GOGcom apologized, but some feared too little, too late:

GOG reaction 3

But the next day, it was business as usual – actually, more business than usual:

GOG traffic

GOG.com seems to have generated the buzz it wanted and even earned back some customers’ trust with the addition of two popular classic games and a large sale on “favorites.” Time will tell if the stunt hurts them or served its intended purpose.

But as a social media manager who aims to understand customer needs and perspectives and strives for transparency in communications, I have to wonder if hoaxes and stunts that anger customers are ever a good risk.

Here’s how I might have handled it:

    GOG.com is going down for maintenance. We’ll be shut for 5 days as we prepare to launch the new site with exciting new features!If you make a GOG purchase today, download it right away. If you don’t complete the DL you’ll have to wait til the site comes back on 9/23.

    Don’t worry, your GOG.com purchases are safe! You’ll still be able to redownload everything you’ve ever bought! Big announcements coming!

    Here are some new features you’ll enjoy when GOG.com comes back on 9/23: More news, community features, quick browse catalog and reminders! 

    Feel free to speculate on the game news. We can’t confirm yet, but watch our Twitter on 9/22! We think you RPG fans will be pleased.

    While the site is down, how about we give away a few copies of the mystery RPG. RT the following message for a chance to win!

    GOG.com is back up. You may see hiccups as we continue to add servers and manage 5 days of pent-up demand. Tell us what you think!

Building a better podcast: Pro tips to make your audio sparkle (not crackle)

Selecting audio in Audacity

Selecting audio in Audacity

If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, it’s a great idea to grow an audience around whatever topic you are passionate about and boost your public speaking skills at the same time. We posted an article last year on how to get started.

But perhaps you’ve been posting podcasts and can’t quite seem to get the level of professionalism you desire? A good podcast typically sounds like either an energetic conversation or a polished radio program, though this can be hard to pull off without some hard effort and audio-editing expertise.

We’ve recorded and edited 47 weekly episodes of the Busy Gamer Podcast (with more on the way!) and have continually worked to improve the production quality. If you listen to our first and then our more recent podcasts, there’s a world of difference. Benefit from the lessons we learned – often the hard way!

To script or not to script? Our podcasts are tightly scripted, in part to keep them short and tight (they are designed for busy gamers!) and because we want them to sound like professional radio segments such as you might hear on NPR. Some people work better unscripted, though you should at least have an outline to ensure you cover all of the topics you intended. Jacqui actually does really well unscripted (she excelled at Table Topics back in our Toastmasters days!), so she usually ad libs the What We’re Playing section while I write out what I want to say so I can get really detailed and reserve spots to add audio cues. Hers sounds more natural, but mine are often more polished – plus, I would ramble a bit more and forget important details if I tried to improvise. Both approaches have their pluses and minuses, so determine which works best for you – or develop a hybrid as we’ve done.

Outside audio. A podcast about videogames is pretty Spartan without sounds from the games themselves, yet it took us a few months to get comfortable enough with the format to add them. Plus, this added a level of complexity we weren’t ready for back when we first started. Depending on your sound source, there are different ways to cleanly capture outside audio. If the sound is on your computer, say from a YouTube video, you can use Audacity to record it directly. Be sure to shut down any other programs that might make noises first. You can also run a stereo plug from your computer, portable device such as an iPhone or stereo receiver to your podcast recorder (we recommend the Zoom H2, which is inexpensive and versatile). Use headphones or an external mini-jack speaker so you can hear what’s going into your recorder. Be sure to set the levels so the input is neither too quiet or hitting the top of the meters. And remember your settings, so you can be consistent! If you need cables for audio input, check Radio Shack – they have virtually any audio part you could want. Prep your audio cues ahead of time in a separate file so they’re easy to grab when you’re ready to incorporate them into the main podcast.

Capture room noise to cover your coughs. Every time you record, even if it’s in the same place every time, the room noise will be a little different. Lock up any pets so they don’t vie for your attention while you’re recording, turn off air conditioners, heaters and other noisy appliances and aim for a time when garbage collectors and airplanes won’t interrupt your flow. Move anything that makes noise if you brush against it away from the recording area. Use a windscreen (that piece of foam that probably came with your recorder) to minimize crackles and pops. Then record at least a few seconds of absolute silence (no breathing or sniffling) so you have something to cover up any loud breath sounds, coughs and other noises that may interrupt an otherwise seamless podcast. Use headphones when editing to ensure you can hear every detail, and then cut and paste a short silent section over any unwanted noises. I actually create a new room noise file each week from which I draw different sizes of silent spaces, and then I make a leveled room noise file for the final edit pass (more on leveling in a bit). Although sometimes I just grab a silent segment near where the problem is, especially if the audio quality has changed (like on those occasions when a plane gets recorded passing over us during a segment and we didn’t stop to wait it out).

Master Audacity (or whatever tool you use to edit your podcast). My tips here are for Audacity, which is both free and very powerful, but most audio editing tools will have the same or similar features. You may notice that your main podcast segment looks like a slightly bumpy line, making it hard to see what to select when editing. If so, zoom in to blow up the main audio stream so that you can spot the waves for each word and the silences between them. Create separate tracks for different audio sources so you can adjust the volume for each separately. Even though you’ll be leveling everything later, you do want to be able to hear things at roughly the same volume as you work so you can tell how it’s cutting together.

I’ve found I can quickly delete small mistakes (or long segments that are easy to identify) by selecting them in Audacity and just pressing Delete. (If it doesn’t work, make sure you’ve hit Stop. It won’t allow changes when you’re on Pause.) You can adjust your selection by moving your cursor to the start or end line until it turns into a finger, and then clicking on the line and dragging to move it. Give it a listen to ensure you have the right audio selected before taking an action. For bigger mistakes or more complex edits that require a lot of tinkering, you may want to use the Split New feature. For instance, you can select everything from a particular point in your podcast to the end, split it into a new track, find the point where you want to stop deleting and then select everything from that point to the start of the track and delete it. Confirm your edit works with a listen, and then cut and paste the tracks back together.

Work on longer, more complex segments in separate files, then combine them later. Save often! When introducing music or audio that doesn’t mesh with the rest of your podcast, use Fade In and/or Fade Out to smooth the transitions. Fade In/Fade Out can even sometimes fix minor editing mistakes! Don’t be afraid to experiment, you can always Undo!

Dual screens makes editing go faster. If you can afford two monitors (or a single monitor attached to a laptop), extend your desktop to make editing easier. You can open your sound cues and editing notes on one screen and edit the main podcast on the other.

Level and test drive. When you’re done, export your podcast as a WAV, run Levelator and then reopen it in Audacity. Listen through for any mistakes and places that need tightening or mild edits. Then export your final podcast as an MP3. If time permits, copy it to an MP3 player and give it a test drive with an audience – we listen in the car, since this is how we expect most of our listeners will enjoy it. You may find areas that can be improved.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it does get easier the more you do it. Set a manageable schedule for regular releases – at least every other week, so people don’t forget about your podcast between episodes. Don’t take on too much right away. Start small with just your voice and maybe some public domain musical bumpers from Mevio’s Music Alley – and build from there, adding improvements every episode or so.

Community manager and social media lessons from PAX Prime 2010

As a content creator/consultant who works in social media and is trying to get back into gaming community work, I attended two panels at Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) Prime 2010 with great interest. The lessons shared from these panels transcend the gaming industry, which is leading the charge in both of these spaces – but other industries are taking notice and starting to follow suit.

I found both of these discussions fascinating – true highlights of the show despite the general lack of gaming content (my passion!). Fortunately, I recorded both from the front row with generally good results (there was a fidgety person next to me at the second panel who makes a few stray sounds early on, but she finally settled down).

Please note there is explicit language in the second panel (NOT safe for work, at least not without headphones!). I don’t recall any cursing in the first panel.


Jay Frechette, EA/Visceral Games
Jennifer Kye, Gameloft
Sam Houston, formerly with Perfect World and GamerDNA
Arne Meyer, Naughty Dog Studios
Collin Moore, formerly with Irrational Games
James Stevenson, Insomniac Games
Allison Thresher, Harmonix


Dan Amrich, Activision
Jeff Green, formerly EA
Larry Hryb, Microsoft
Jeff Rubenstein, Sony
A.J. Glasser, GamePro magazine (moderator)

Did these panels offer you any lessons you can apply to your job, either inside or outside of the games industry? We’d love to hear what you think.

I’m not there: Five ways to check in when you’re checked out (for vacation)

Much has been written about the value of completely de-tethering yourself from the office during vacation: Look at something besides your computer screen. Recharge your (metaphorical) batteries. Reconnect with family. These are all valiant and important pursuits – but not always realistic in today’s world. As consultants, we fight a constant battle to balance our family business with our Family Business. That often means staying at least marginally plugged in, even on long weekends, during family visits and vacations. Here are five ways we stay in touch without losing touch with the most important people in our lives:

  1. Identify a time to check-in – and stick to it. Choose a time when you can devote 15 – 30 minutes to checking in with your business without disrupting your family time or down time. For example, if you’re the first one out of bed, get a cup of coffee and read/respond to the mail. If you plan to sleep in, consider setting aside 15 – 30 minutes after you have wrapped up your evening and the kids are in bed.
  2. Set expectations early… and often. Let coworkers, clients and other business contacts know your vacation dates well in advance. If you have a weekly check-in mail with a client or manager, add “On vacation the week of – to –” as a miscellaneous line-item. 1-2 weeks before your vacation, tell your client/coworkers verbally that you will be gone and not available by phone. Let them know that you will be checking working mail once daily, either in the morning or evening – and that you will not be available by phone.
  3. Don’t be too accessible. Let technology do the heavy lifting for you. If a business call does come in, resist the temptation to step away and answer it. Let it go to voice mail, and plan to check it as part of your daily work review. Stay out of work mail during the day as well. This is your vacation, and you do need to recharge. Also, there is nothing relaxing about an impromptu argument with an annoyed family member.
  4. Leave the files at home. If possible, leave your laptop – and definitely any actual folders or files – at home. This will help you resist the urge to do just a little work. Also, you can’t forget important documents at the hotel if you don’t have them. Whatever it is can wait.
  5. Make a commitment to yourself. It is easy to say you are going to relax and enjoy your vacation – but only you can truly do it. Make a commitment to yourself that you will not check email or jump when a client calls, and follow through with it. It may be tough the first day or so, but you and your family will appreciate it.

We take so little time for ourselves these days that it’s difficult to remember a time when we could truly relax. You don’t have to take the radical approach of locking every piece of technology in the hotel safe to force yourself to untether and reconnect with your family – you just have to make a commitment, form a plan and follow through. Practice over the holidays and a few long weekends, and by next summer, you’ll be ready to take on vacation with a whole new perspective.