Is FacebookGate ‘Troll Marketing’?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Ethics, Facebook, Recruitment | Posted on 08-12-2010-05-2008

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Note from Brad – Today, for the first time ever, I lend the SquaredPeg platform to another higher ed colleague.  Meet Lougan Bishop, Web Specialist at Belmont University (@lougan).  Lougan has been at the forefront of ‘FacebookGate 3.0′ since November, and has done an excellent job behind the curtains of helping bring this situation to light for yet another year. After breaking the first FacebookGate in 2008 and covering it again last year, I wanted to provide you a new perspective this year & Lougan has done an excellent job of that.

Take it away, Lougan!
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Remember a couple of years ago when FacebookGate rocked the higher education world?   Then earlier this year, the folks behind the original controversy started a new company called URoomSurf with the promise of more transparency?  Once again, Justin Gaither and his crew are back to their old tricks- except this time under the guise of a company called RoomSurf.

While it may be aggravating to see that particular group going back to their old playbook, I think these days we should expect these kinds of things to happen.  Higher Education has been dealing with this for three years now and nothing we have done has prevented it from happening.  My question is has it really had any significant effect on higher education’s efforts on Facebook?   It has definitely affected our workload as we write blogs and petition the media to get the word out about these folks who are stealing our brand and deceiving our incoming students.  Some of us have even gotten into heated exchanges with Justin Gaither himself.

So where has this gotten us?  Sadly, it appears we’re back to square one.  Can we really expect Facebook to do something about this?   Can we expect the media to get the word out for us?   Maybe, but I really do not think so.  Do we stir up a controversy?  Definitely, but really I think we’re just spinning our wheels and playing straight into RoomSurf’s hands. I honestly can’t say that FacebookGate has had any significant impact on any institution’s enrollment numbers.  They theoretically could, but right now it doesn’t seem like they are.  If anything, the attention that is given to FacebookGate appears to only be fueling Mr. Gaither’s marketing enterprise.

In the past day or so, I’ve begun to think its time to look at this from a different light. Back when I was in college a few years ago, I was really into posting on different forums online.   The more I thought about it, I began to realize that RoomSurf’s behavior might actually be a form of trolling.  Essentially, a troll surfs internet communities trying to get a rise out of members of the community by posting inflammatory or completely off-topic comments.  You could also compare this to fish trolling, the technique of dragging a lure behind a moving boat waiting for fish to bite.  Both interpretations work for RoomSurf.  Institutions react to them and they get stories in the NY Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.  They get a rise out of us by hanging the bait of a “Class of 2015” group and getting our students to bite.

So is this the birth of a new type of marketing or is this a new type of Troll?  No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty ingenious.  There is nothing inherently illegal about it.  The biggest plus seems to be that it’s working for them.  If it didn’t, they would not continue to do it year after year.  Though I haven’t had the best interactions with this company, I have to give them credit.  They know how to work Facebook, and they know how to keep up what they are doing.

So where does that leave higher education?  What can YOU as a higher education professional do to stop them?   The short answer is… not a lot.  It appears that RoomSurf is here to stay (unless they change their name again).  If the combined power of all of higher education can do nothing, you can’t do much yourself.  In the end, you’ll waste time & resources dealing with them.

You may be asking, “What about the students?! We can’t just ignore this, right?”   Well, there are some things you can do.  Essentially, you’ve got to starve out the competition, because honestly, that’s what they are doing.  Here is how you can do it:

  • Create Facebook groups before they do (but you know that right?)
  • Keep your Facebook group energized.  Engage students and help them engage each other.  Activity keeps your community going, and makes it look enticing to new members.
  • Make a very clear distinction between your Facebook groups and those others create.  It’s also a good idea to a webpage with a listing of all university sanctioned social media sites.
  • Educate your incoming students.  When you invite them to your Class of 2015 pages, it might be helpful to warn them about Facebook groups not created by the university.   Though many of them are just fine to join and could be helpful, others may be companies creating Facebook pages to market to them.  Linking to the NY Times article this year wouldn’t hurt either.

My final word of advice is to make plans to do this every year.   The RoomSurf folks and their Facebook groups are here to stay.  Who knows, maybe one day they’ll work with us.  Either way, you have to give them credit.  They know how to use social media.

Here are some other great articles on this topic:

URoomSurf: FacebookGate 2010?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 19-01-2010-05-2008

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If you’ve searched for your school’s Class of 2014 group on Facebook, you might have noticed another group come up in the search results. The group has your institution’s name in the title, but it’s a “roommate finder” sponsored by URoomSurf.com. The logo for the group, a gigantic blue U.

When I first saw these groups popping up, I immediately thought back to the College Prowler / MatchU incident for the Class of 2009, or as you might know it better, FacebookGate.  And here are the two things I thought to myself:

  1. Whoever is behind this is fully aware of what happened with FacebookGate last year.
  2. Whoever is behind this learned that as a community, we weren’t big fans of them 1) using our official logos and 2) calling it an official group.
  3. Whoever is behind this learned that it’s best to be transparent about who is behind the group.

This year’s story starts with Scott Kilmer from Abilene Christian University, a BlueFuego client. He started with a general inquiry to URoomSurf asking for them to provide the contact on ACU’s campus that has purchased their services and/or given permission for URoomSurf to host a matching program with the indication that ACU’s residence halls would be able to fulfill the requests created there. After URoomSurf noted there is no affiliation, Scott asked that they remove the group, which URoomSurf would not. They did, however, change the name of the group from “Abilene Christian University 2014″ to “ACU 2014″. (Luckily, ACU owns the copyrights for both and Scott will now be pointing to 2 lines of the Facebook TOC: 3) We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. 5) If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.)

So this is where it gets interesting. I passed the email chain over to the rest of the BlueFuego team to keep them in the loop, and Joe comes back to me with a simple email.  ”Does this name ring a bell???” The WHOIS on URoomSurf.com brings up this name: Justin Gaither.

Either the person behind URoomSurf is so intimate with the details of FacebookGate that they even decided to register the domain name after one of the perpetrators, or it is indeed Justin Gaither who is again behind it, back for round 2.  The same Justin Gaither who owned a company last year called MatchU, which had no web presence and was left largely unremembered/unscathed through the whole incident as College Prowler took the majority of the PR hit.

I’m leaving it open as to whether it’s Justin Gaither behind this again, but here’s what we also know.  It certainly makes sense to forget the MatchU name all together and go with something else to match roommates, such as “URoomSurf.” It also lines up that there’s yet to be a website for URoomSurf.com, just as last year with MatchU.

So, here we go again. :) Here’s the spreadsheet of all of the groups and member names to date, feel free to chip in. We’re already seeing the same trends as last year, such as common names starting groups as admins.

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AoR-2dTA7L87dGRlZVRNUFRHaFJXN3M4REtBYS0yQmc&hl=en

Here’s the list of 499 colleges and universities that URoomSurf intends to target (also listed on the 2nd tab of the Google Doc). Feel free to search schools and fill in the spreadsheet with the information.

Last year I mentioned that I thought this would be less of an issue if they had 1) not pretended to be official institution accounts, 2) used copyrighted images, and 3) had been transparent about who was behind the group.   They certainly listened to the community.  So now that you know the information at hand, what do you think?  What is the institution’s place? Discuss in the comments below.

And a huge thanks to Joe and Scott for kicking this off and making this post happen with their sleuthing!

UPDATE: Scott has successfully gotten the ACU and Abilene Christian University trademarks removed from the group name. It’s now called “Incoming students going to college in Abilene and looking for roommates!!” and no longer shows in a search for ACU 2014.  Nice work, Scott!

UPDATE 2: It’s nice to see they’ve actually put a placeholder on their .com site. We’ll see what happens from here.

UPDATE 3: I removed erroneous claims pointing to a Craigslist ad.  After last year’s Craigslist connection with hiring students to do the dirty work, I overlooked a sentence and did not fully read the Craiglist ad I posted.

Augmented Reality in Higher Ed

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Recruitment, Technology | Posted on 15-01-2010-05-2008

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I’ve been doing some research on Augmented Reality for higher ed, and ran across a great campaign utilizing it.   First, you might be thinking “What the heck is Augmented Reality?”  (If you already know, skip below for a great example of AR in Higher Ed).

Wikipedia’s definition states that AR is:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality.

In a nutshell: when I open the UrbanSpoon app on my iPhone and point the camera around (live direct view of a physical real-world environment), it’s going to show me what restaurants are around me (merged elements based on GPS data and compass location) to give me a mixed reality that looks like the below image.  From there, I can click on it, get user-generated ratings of the restaurant, see a menu, check their open hours, and more. Another way AR works is by reading a “marker” on paper and doing something with it via webcam, as you’ll see in the video below. (Doritos did this awhile back too.)

Augmented Reality in Higher Ed

One university that’s pushing AR is Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Their partnership with an agency called BCM has created one of the better Augmented Reality applications I’ve seen for student recruitment.  Check out the below video to see what they’re doing with AR and leave your thoughts in a comment below!  (If the below video isn’t visible, click here).


Strategies for using Facebook Groups and Pages to Yield Students

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Recruitment, Research, Speaking, Webinars | Posted on 14-01-2010-05-2008

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I’m really excited about my upcoming webinar, Strategies for using Facebook Groups and Pages to Yield Students, on Thursday January 28th from 2-3:15pm!

The webinar is $199, and half of the proceeds are going directly to Hope for Haiti, a 501(c)(3) organization that’s using 100% of all  donations to help those affected by the recent earthquake.

We’re going to be discussing all of the changes that have been made to Facebook since the Class of 2013 came through.  Learn more about how you can leverage the updates to Groups to build community and help yield students for your incoming class.  Get informed about the recent changes to Pages that will help you segment and target your messages better, and what trends are coming out of BlueFuego’s research of over 1,200 higher ed fan pages.

I have many key learning objectives for participants of this webinar, including:

- Learn the key differences between Facebook Pages and Groups, and which you should use.

- What to do when students (or spammers!) have already started your Class of 2014 Group or Page.

- How to successfully join and contribute to the community and discussion on Facebook.

- Measuring outcomes: How to track and gauge success of your yielding efforts.

- Targeting messages:  Why the kids in Wichita don’t care about the yield event in Cleveland!

- Social Web Callouts and .edu Integration: How schools are promoting their presence on Facebook.

- Q&A Time: Get specific with your institution’s situation!

Learn more and Register today! Click here.

Differentiation in Higher Ed Marketing

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Branding, Concepts, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Thoughts | Posted on 16-12-2009-05-2008

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There are countless blog posts about differentiation and standing out from your competitors. Rather than try to brush broad strokes about what I think schools should do differently, I think I’ll paint a different picture on this one.

Over the past two days I’ve been updating BlueFuego’s Social Web Research, which has exposed me on over 3,000 URLS for admissions, alumni, and .edu homepages of 1,000 university and college sites (400 sites to go!). I continue to see the same boring story again and again. So I decided to set up some advanced searches on common quotes and sayings that continue to pop up.

A Google search for “professors who know you” on .edu domains returns 14,000 URLs.
A Google search for “you’re a name, not a number” on .edu domains returns 18,200 URLS.
And to complete the Trifecta, a Google search for “not just a number” +”professors” +”small class sizes” returns 5,120 URLS.

(And if you want prospective students to “Become a VIP“, there are 16,799 other URLs just like you.)

Are you really that different?  Have you taken the time to look at your 10 most frequent cross-app schools to see what students see there?  I’d venture to guess there are more than a few similarities. I think back to this blog post, Give Them More Than The Expected, and encourage you to look outside of the basic/expected product and give them the Wow Factor.

Good luck. :)

Are Teens on Twitter? My 2 Cents.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Concepts, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 31-08-2009-05-2008

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Another week, another blog post about the continuing debate of the question “Are Teens on Twitter?”

We first heard from Mashable, who reported in early August that the “Stats Confirm It“.  Then, the phrase ‘Teens Don’t Tweet’ was a trending topic all day long. Not because of the usual Mashable RT crowd, but because of teens coming out of the woodwork. At any given moment, search.twitter.com results would resemble something like this that day:

So the latest ‘research’ comes from a TechCrunch post, and it’s again spreading like wildfire. Don’t miss the first line of the article: “This guest post is written by Geoff Cook, cofounder and CEO of social networking site myYearbook.”

This research (or is it just a well-positioned promotion for MyYearbook??) is now causing people in higher ed to exclaim on Twitter that “More teens tweet than Facebook“.  False. Absolutely False. According to the post, a higher percentage of twitter users are teens than the percentage of Facebook users who are teenagers. But when it comes to straight numbers, teens on Twitter don’t even compare to teens on Facebook. Not yet, anyways.

Looking at Quantcast.com data, 22% of Facebook’s 98.7 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger.  That’s 20,614,000 teens.  On the Twitter side? 9% of Twitter’s 28.0 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger. That’s 2,520,000 teens. According to that count, there are 818% more teens on Facebook each month vs. Twitter. More teens tweet than Facebook? Hardly.

Are they on Twitter? Are they not? What should we do?

Here’s the thing.  Twitter should not be at the core of your marketing strategy. Yet. But should you have a presence? Absolutely. Do you need to know how to use the site? Yes.  Are you building your presence and community as the site grows? I hope so.

If you use Twitter, remember the last time you complained about a bad experience with a company or site and they weren’t there to listen online?  What about your favorite brands that you desire to interact with online and receive valuable information from?  What do you think of them when they aren’t on Twitter, ready to listen? It’s a huge customer service opportunity. Conversations about your institution are happening all the time online, and in increasing frequency on Twitter.

Apply the same thought to your institution or office.  Twitter is not going to solve all of your goals and objectives.  But there are teens out there ready to engage and interact with you.  They want to connect with you, and if you are not there, you’ve missed an opportunity.  (Or worse, someone else takes over your brand/identity and runs with it like many universities we see in our research.)

Final Thoughts

The research is nice. But how much weight should you actually put into it? My challenge do you is this: do your own research.  Throw a quick survey together and integrate it into first week activities.

IU East did, and found out that 67% of incoming students are on MySpace, while only 60% are on Facebook. (Twitter? 6%.) If IU East had just ‘followed the research’, they’d be listening to everyone who says MySpace is dead and missing out on reaching a large percentage of their student and alumni base.

Almost a year ago I reminded everyone to do their homework after a conference.  The same thing goes for any research online.  If you’re changing your entire marketing strategy based on what Mashable or TechCrunch posts on their site, you’re going to have some issues. And if you’re retweeting and spreading this information without even reading or confirming it… please stop.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the research that’s out there? Disagree? Indifferent?  Let me know below in the comments!

AIKCU and SMSummit

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Branding, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 10-06-2009-05-2008

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Yesterday was quite a day.  I drove down to Louisville, KY to meet with the good people of AIKCU and do a 3 hour workshop on the social web for higher ed. For the first 30 minutes of our time together, we connected in to the Social Media Summit, presented by Mark Greenfield from the PSUWEB09 conference. I ‘took the stage’ for 15 minutes to share a few Twitter and Facebook research tidbits from our extensive 60 day data.  It was really neat to be able to do this, and present at a conference from a conference.  The AIKCU members got to watch the participation of over 300 other higher ed professionals in real-time, and we had a great time.  (Yes, that was our laughter you heard… :) )  From there we moved into a lively discussion on a wide range of topics and had a great discussion.

(You can see some of the backchannel from yesterday here.)
(You can see the slides from SMSummit embedded below, or click here.)

But the coolest thing I saw all day was at Campbellsville University.  When I walked in to the building, I met Katie.  Her title — Director of First Impressions.

How awesome is that? How would your front desk person think differently about each visitor if they had a title like that? Kudos to Campbellsville and Katie for making a great first impression on me, and for having BlueFuego in town for the day!


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MiFi… WiFi for me.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Flickr, Higher Education, Lifecasting, Marketing, Photos, Recruitment, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Web, YouTube | Posted on 03-06-2009-05-2008

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If you haven’t heard yet about the awesomeness of the MiFi and how it’s going to change the way you think about media, allow me to explain.

The MiFi (available through Verizon and Sprint) calls itself the ‘intelligent mobile hotspot’.

Thinner and shorter than an iPhone, and as simple to use as pressing an on/off button, the MiFi is essentially a router in your pocket.  You’re able to connect up to 5 devices to it and use the signal.  On Verizon, I typically am on a 3G network and have averaged a 2.0mpbs download speed.  I rarely notice a lag in page loads.

At last check, the price of the MiFi was $99 with a $50 rebate. A $40/month subscription gets you a measly 250mb of data.  Upgrade to the $60/month package and get 5GB of data.

So how does this affect my job?

Two words: Streamlined Media.

With a MiFi, you have internet whereever you go, for whatever device you need (as long as Verizon really is everywhere they say they are!) To explain streamlined media and how you can take advantage of it, let me offer a few examples.

1) Event Photos live to the web

Go pick up an Eye Fi 4GB Explore Video SD Card for $99 and put it in your camera.  The Eye Fi allows you to upload photos as soon as you hit a pre-registered wi-fi network.  With the MiFi, you no longer need to wait to get back to the office to send photos. Do it on the fly, right from the event!!

Here’s what you can do with the Eye Fi:

1) Set the card to instantly upload photos to Flickr with a tag for the event.  We’ll pretend it’s Commencement. So we set up the Eye Fi to upload each photo taken to Flickr with the tag commencement2009.

2) Set up a page on your .edu website that will show all of the photos taken.  Link to it from your social web efforts, the home page, the commencement page, the live video streaming page, and more.

3) Put some simple code on it that will pull in photos from Flickr. (Put your username where the red is.  Find it here.) Use the API to create something like:

<iframe align="center" src="http://www.flickr.com/slideShow/
index.gne?user_id=XXXXXXXX@N00&tags=commencement2009" 
frameBorder="0" width="750" scrolling="no" height="750"></iframe>

4) Go wild!  Take photos and they’ll automatically be put on your .edu website.  No need to get back to a computer and get them uploaded, have someone resizing images and putting them on the web.  Streamlined.

2) Live Video anywhere on campus

If you haven’t realized that it’s time to get serious about video, wake up.  Video is becoming increasingly important and with the MiFi you can provide it.  Whether it’s using the same steps above to do YouTube videos on the fly or have a uStream feed from anywhere you have a signal.

And remember this that I talked about last January?? Next week, it will be 2 years to the day since I put together the plan for it at Butler.  With the MiFi, it just became that much easier. And yes, it’s coming to a campus near you very soon.

3) Campus Tour Enhancement!

This one comes from Adam Epstein at WPI (@epsteada on Twitter, blogs at http://epsteada.com/), and some discussion we had while I was at NEACAC last week. (If you want to see the slidecast of my presentation, it’s over here.) Adam talked about the possibilities of photos during the campus tour, and when the students arrive back to the Admissions office…. BOOM!  They’re already on the screen as they walk back in.  For a tech-savvy campus like WPI, that’s pretty cool stuff to show off.

So what can you think of?

There are probably 101 other ways to use this new technology, what do you have in mind? Where are we going from here as we get one step closer to an internet chip in our skin? :)   Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and next time you’re at a conference, look for the BlueFuego connection.  And if you need an internet fix, come find me for the password. :)

mifi

Simple Tip: Find and Follow

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Higher Education, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web | Posted on 18-05-2009-05-2008

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We’re heavy in commencement season, which means hundreds and thousands of people are sitting uncomfortably close to strangers and relatives for what seems like eternity to watch someone walk across the stage for 15 seconds.

So what’s a person to do when boredom sets in and they’ve read the pamphlet 3 times?  For some people, it’s time to update Twitter.

Bored Commencement

So what’s an institution to do?  Find and Follow.

Get on http://search.twitter.com, search for your institution and try several variations.  Abbreviations of the name, acronyms of the school, and the words commencement, graduation, etc.   You might be surprised at how many people you find.  And isn’t that what Twitter is all about?  Expanding your network to be able to interact with and share information with people who have an interest or connection to your institution.

Define your Efforts: Social Web Recruitment Funnel

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Flickr, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web, YouTube, Zinch | Posted on 13-05-2009-05-2008

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I’ve had this thought bouncing around in my head that came out of a client visit/strategy session… a visualization of the traditional recruitment funnel in terms of the social web.  This is what I came up with.

(Click Photo to Enlarge)

*NOTE* –   This chart is by no means inclusive of all sites or tools available. This chart is meant as a visualization of strategy to help you think about a framework for your recruitment efforts.  This chart is meant to be thought about, modified to fit, and executed as resources are available.

The Social Web Recruitment Funnel

The Funnel resembles a traditional recruitment funnel (suspects -> prospects -> applicants -> admits -> enrolled), and is designed to dissect 3 areas of recruitment:  Seek, Engage and Retain.

Seek.

The students are not always going to look for you.  Traditional methods such as name buys, print and email still hold a place in your marketing/recruitment arsenal.  But take a good look at web-based tools and sites, for example: Zinch, CollegeBoard and Cappex. Facebook might also be a method of seeking potential applicants and this platform can be leveraged as a great place for prospective student Q&A.  Use email and print to reinforce your message and to drive students to your social web efforts. Your .edu website is still important and things such as ‘Get more info’ need to be prominent and easy to find/fill out.

Engage.

This is where it gets fun.  Build your social web presence to start engaging and interacting with these prospective students.  Think outside of the box. Never before have we had access to so many opportunities to connect and utilize free tools, but approach with caution and don’t overwhelm your audience.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  It’s easier to make your web presence bigger. It’s much harder to shrink your web presence and cut connections and friendships with others on a platform you decide to no longer utilize or maintain. Allow them the opportunity to engage with you from the moment they show interest to the moment they step on campus.

Retain.

After the applications come in, your pool has decreased significantly in size.  Take the opportunity to create community with these students and allow them to interact with each other.  Host the conversation or set up a Facebook group for them to interact.  Promote it heavily through traditional methods such as email and print, but drive them to the conversation. If possible, scale back your efforts to a smaller collection of tools for this select group and focus on community management and getting them excited about your school and brand. Outside of the social web, continue interactions via yielding events and personal phone calls.  Use the web to enhance these connections and to network the students together.

Final Thoughts

These thoughts are from the 30,000 ft. view and hundreds of other decisions and ideas would go into each effort. A well-defined strategy would incorporate many, but not all, of these social web tools.  The most important thing is to know where your audience is and cater to them.

If you have any thoughts or comments, leave a message below or shoot me a message on Twitter (@bradjward).


Are you ready to Ignite the Fuego and work with BlueFuego on your strategy? Contact us today.
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