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The “why” of Social Media April 3, 2009

Posted by Stephen Dill in Business, Observations.
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19th C. American Community

19th C. American Community

A few years ago the name ‘social media’ was attached to things humans have been doing since living in caves: creating allegiances, or communities of similarity. Motivations for them were defense (picture “forts”), proximity (often called neighborhoods), convenience (babysitting cooperatives, carpools, time shares, etc.), or like interests (wine tasting and book clubs, sports teams, alumni organizations, and so many more). Communication within these communities adapted with the times. Grunts evolved to language, mud on cave walls became chisels on stone, ink on paper went to print, then going electronic with bulletin boards on dial-up services in the late 1980′s and much of the 90′s. The first inkling of what was to come was the launch of Web in the late 90′s. For nearly ten years electronic communication was constrained to relationships known through limited “word of mouth” capabilities. Awareness and growth of “online communities” was dependent on (offline) user group meetings or the chance mention in the only electronic conversation media available—email—limited then because we could count on two hands the number of people we knew with email addresses.

The Need For Networks

But that was then and this is a vastly different today. With the advent of online tools to capture profile information less than 10 years ago, then more tools to analyze that profile data to find the connections between people, a whole new path opened up for mankind. Just in time. As we are just now beginning to realize, subtle but dramatic changes in those same years were bringing the world toward a global economy unlike any we have seen in our limited lifetimes. And with the dawning irrelevance of familiar financial and economic models we are seeing more than ever the nation of free agents that Daniel Pink predicted, for large corporations cannot survive keeping a full complement of staff on salary to react any and all contingencies. Frameworks will remain—sales, marketing, infrastructure, and a relatively small senior management—but staff composition will fluctuate with the demand generated by that framework.

Your First Networking Tools

Enter social media. As with any other product, sales are directly affected by exposure to those who need the product. You are a product; we all are products. And there is competition in the marketplace that buys products like you. In order to be ‘purchased’ we must know who our audiences are, what they need, and then we must get good at making the buyers in those audiences aware that you are the answer to one or more of their needs. If someone was looking for what you do, what keywords would they use to find you in Google? Would you be there? How many ways could they find out what you do and whether or not you can help them? If you are feeling overwhelmed just trying to understand those questions, stop! This is where social media is your best friend. Two tools you need to learn about and utilize are LinkedIn and Facebook. I know these names are not new to you, but I am willing to bet you have strong feelings about one or both of them and they are less than positive for at least one. I recommend you get over it soon.

Overcoming Objections

Those preconceived notions may be holding you back from some of the most exciting opportunities you could ever imagine. I hear your objections already:

  • I don’t have time
  • That’s for kids
  • I’m retired, why should I do that?
  • This is not going to help me pay the bills
  • I will, but it’s not a priority

Time I hear these every day, often from people who should not be saying them – because they are in the marketing business! I addressed the time issue in a recent seminar called Social Media Jungle: Boston and others have told me that helped them realize the value of investing some of the same 24-hour day we all have to get some points of presence on the Web pointing toward them (instead of some other ‘product’ who does what they do). So take 15 minutes to watch that.

Youth Nothing about LinkedIn or Facebook is age restrictive any more. When companies of all sizes are advertising products attractive to all ages on a platform such as Facebook, that should tell you this is not just for younger generations. When the President of the United States is being petitioned on Facebook because he has made it known that he and his staff are listening to what Americans have to say on Facebook and LinkedIn, that should indicate a degree of value that transcends knowing what your college roommate from 20 years ago looks like now, much less when they are going on vacation.

Retired As I wrote to a cousin of mine who asked why he should be on LinkedIn if he has been retired for a few years, “Two good reasons to be on LinkedIn as a retiree: 1) People | For the introductions you could facilitate with the people who you know, and 2) History | For the help you might be able to offer others, sharing your perspective and experience.”

Return Remember, the best product out there will be broke if no one knows they exist. And if you hear, “but I have a good job,” coming out of someone’s lips—or even worse, your lips—then do it for the chance that you may need it in the future (and the odds are getting better every day you will need it). Setting up profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook and then building networks (‘connections’ and ‘friends,’ respectively) is just smart product management. Even if you are totally happy where you are and doing what you do, it makes sense to establish a record for those mysterious “spiders” that search engines use to catalog all that is on the Web. Who knows, maybe you just haven’t thought of something better and someone else has who would enjoy sharing the benefits of that idea with you! My suggestion is to read any of the many postings on how to put LinkedIn to good use and get your nets in the water. You can always say, “No, but thanks.”

Priority Life is all about priorities. It’s how we manage our time, constantly evaluating “what’s important now?” consciously or unconsciously throughout each day. Knowing that few of us are walking around with little or nothing to do, it is understandable that devoting time to something new with little apparent benefit would be forever relegated to the bottom of the “To Do” list. Some of you have started a Facebook profile because one too many friends mentioned that they had set one up. Maybe some of you started a LinkedIn profile with 2 connections years ago because you read about it somewhere and the intrigue was enough to create the page, but never enough since to maintain it. Consider this. Can you imagine it important enough momentarily to make it a NOW priority to get a profile started on each? And then can you devote a set period each week or a set amount of time every other day to maintain it? Even if only to peruse other people’s profiles to see what they are doing? You never know, you might find you like growing your networks, helping other people, asking for help and getting it – or any of the other benefits of communication in the age we live in.

In Closing

My wish for you is that these thoughts have provided an on-ramp to social media for you. LinkedIn and Facebook are the most mainstream of the SM tools – there are many more. But they are powerful! Do not sell them short for their ability to help you build large and responsive communities. Even if you never ventured further, you will find a search for your name coming up in the first page of Google results almost immediately, that’s how influential these two tools are. If being found for what you do rather than who you are is crucial to your lifestyle and paying the bills for that lifestyle, then you will have to do more. For that, there is Mashable and hundreds of bloggers willing to help you build communities to accomplish what you want to do. Most of these resources far surpass my skills, but I am here for you as well. Please keep me posted on your progress.

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Greatness Passes in Sharon, MA February 11, 2009

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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More and more I believe everyone is great in their own way. Sometimes a person’s excellence is easily apparent to even the most casual observer, sometimes only the most intimate friends know what makes a person uniquely excellent in one or more qualities. A friend of the town of Sharon just made his transition yesterday and leaves many who knew him to miss him, for now, and then to wonder how we will fill the gap of excellence that he leaves behind.

 

Some Other George Bailey

Some Other George Bailey

George Bailey (not the fictional one in the picture) was a man committed to his family, friends, town, and state—roughly in that order. He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of everything he had an interest in and an equally impressive recall to provide constant, ready access to his experiences and knowledge. In matters of civics, he  knew in detail the relevant sections of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then went about making them available to all those who needed his gift. I suspect that the town of Sharon benefited from George’s mastery of his interests more on a daily basis than did any of the other state agencies and task forces that called upon him to be a member or consultant. During the course of my first 23 years as a resident of Sharon I never served on a committee with George. However, one could not live in Sharon and profess even the slightest modicum of involvement in the town without becoming aware of the value of his amazing recall and total commitment to the progress of the town. He was a fixture at Town Meeting, all the nights of Town Meeting, and could remember key issues, votes, positions, proponents, opponents and virtually any other detail of seemingly every Town Meeting he ever attended – to include the incredible number of Town Meetings he had attended! George’s voice would emanate from the TV in the evening as I passed through the living room and I would know that my wife, Abigail Marsters, was watching a town committee meeting of some sort on the local access cable channel. Abigail and George served on the Charter Commission together and she would often tell me of the nights where George would gently remind the committee or someone being interviewed by the committee of a recollection of a meeting twenty or more years ago that became the foundation for an amendment of those General Laws so that they now define what the committee is charged to do. 

 

The Real George Bailey

The Real George Bailey

Abigail and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with George and his wonderful wife Lucy at a mutual friend’s Christmas party. This was one of the most extended conversations we had ever had with George, and probably the only one that included little to no town politics. The only current events we spoke of were his recent diagnosis of leukemia and the chemo treatments that were soon to start. For the most part, though, George regaled us with tales from that rich trove of memories he had gained as a sailor, a mass transit advocate, a college student, and so many other roles. More than anything I remember thinking, “This is a life well lived!” At some point in the evening before Lucy took him home to rest, George mentioned that he would probably need a mask the next time he saw us as the chemo would weaken his immune system. Karin and David Hagan, our hosts that evening, picked up on that and immediately thought that we should decorate masks for George so when he did host friends at his bedside, he could do it in style and with humor. So just last week David, Karin, Abigail and I met for dinner and a mask decoration session for George.

Masks For George

Masks For George

Unfortunately, the masks were not allowed into the hospital, but George heard about them from his family. And while George had invested heavily, and unwittingly, into being a truly great human being, he was still a human being. And that human left us yesterday. I have been blessing him and his soul that it may make the transition smoothly. I suspect as wise as George was, he knew well of his spiritual nature and was at peace with the process of going back to pure spirit. I now direct my thoughts to his family, and to the town. For while I know that grief will be replaced by joy in having been blessed to know this man we called George Bailey, the many committees of people, the entire town for that matter, will be feeling the loss of his experience for many years to come. 

I know there are some who never perceived the greatness of George Bailey. Being a man of principle he had to take a stand on issues and sometimes that positioned him in opposition to his neighbors. But for those who did, immediately or eventually, take heart. George taught us all that person with a calm demeanor and respectful attitude, embodied in a thoughtful listener, and motivated by an inquisitive nature could make quite a mark on this world. Thank you for that lesson George.

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Good design will always be important October 20, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Business, Observations.
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A recent discussion with a friend over the perceived value of elegant design, using Apple and OXO products as examples, reminded me of an article I wrote years ago on this topic. I took a minute to go back and examine it on my company website and found it worthwhile repeating:

What Are the Benefits of Good Design on the Web?

Let’s examine how important Web Design is to the success of any Web-based marketing campaign. In a September 2003 report from Forrester Research titled “The Best and Worst of Site Design, 2003″ the authors stated, “Most of the problems we found were self-inflicted wounds resulting from site managers who naively allow designers to: hide value, turn interfaces into dexterity tests, favor “white space” over information, and leave users hanging.” The traps are subtle, but good design is a triumph over more than the pitfalls. Good design is the result of a process of deep thought. And therein lies the biggest benefit of good design: visitors to the site who are thinkers know that the designer is a thinker. They know that the designer was not acting out of ego, but of thinking of the needs of others.

Sites that exhibit good design — those that anticipate the needs of their visitors, prospects and patrons — are directly rewarded with ROI: return on investment. Using scenarios and personas to truly step inside the visitor’s likely situation(s) give designers clear priorities in the numerous decisions around navigation, use of imagery, arrangement of content, linkages within the site, and required functionality. Without clear objectives and a firm grasp of the audience, misuse of the opportunity to communicate value to each and every visitor is the likely outcome. Using technology to dazzle does little to convey meaning, much less compel thinking customers to stay. For those who use the Web as art, technology prowess is fine. For those who are intent on conducting commerce and generating qualified leads, the name of the game is conscientious, concise, controlled experience of the features and benefits of the products or services the site owner offers.

There is more to achieving a site’s objectives than good design, and we will in future issues address some of them, but at the first view of a Web site is the visitor’s impression of the whole site formed. If it’s not positive, the rest of the site and its intent is fighting an uphill battle. Thinking becomes the most important step in any site design. Who are the visitors? What are they looking for? What is their situation, are they rushed? Are they knowledgeable? Are they looking for opinions or facts? Are they the kind of prospect the site owner is looking for? Knowing the answers to those and more questions will better inform a designer than any images, cool Flash techniques, or PHP application.

At first I wrestled with context. Are all websites expected to be well designed (as herein defined)? Or is there a delineation among the simple marketing, the complex e-commerce site, the social media, the game and the many other flavors and roles websites play? Should the variables of time, budget and available resources dictate whether the beauty of a site is more than skin deep?

Once my role as strategist becomes that of general contractor and project manager I am often struck by the drop in understanding of “insanely great” web design that is directly commensurate with the drop in the price. This is a much deeper discussion, but suffice to say that you get what you pay for, and in-depth thinking in order to design on the order of Apple Computer is not something done overnight.

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The flaw of “common knowledge” exposed by data September 4, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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It took me 3 years to realize the value of Freakonomics, the book published in 2005 by the economist Steven Levitt and journalist/author Stephen Dubner. But fortunately I noticed it on the Books on CD shelf at the Sharon Public Library and I took it out. The affect of listening to this book is similar to what “Slap On The Side of the Head” by Roger von Oech did for me the first time I read it. You begin to question what we all too often take for “common sense.” Perhaps we were too quick in accepting the opinions of the majority – who have not thought about the issue?

Take for instance, car seats. HUGE improvement to auto safety for children, right? Levitt looked at data from 45,000 auto accidents involving a death and realized there was proof within those data that car seats were not adding appreciably to the safety of children strapped within them. Check out his presentation on TED Talks, either on the TED website or on iTunes, it will make you wonder.

While you are there (either at the site or on iTunes), check out the presentation by Mark Bittman entitled “What’s Wrong With What We Eat?

Enjoy! Life is for learning – constantly.

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Looking for a cause to support? July 24, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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I was blessed to get to know Jessie Doktor, a young casualty of childhood leukemia, before her diagnosis and throughout her 6-year battle with the disease. I followed her through the eyes of her parents via their blog at dok.com on a daily basis. Just before she succumbed, she inspired her mother with a phrase that Jessie thought was appropriate for her attitude to the challenge she faced: “Bright Happy Power” (usually said with an exclamation mark at the end). In honor of Jessie’s memory, and in response to the ongoing needs that Gail Doktor knew firsthand from all those years of camping out at Children’s Hospital in Boston, a non-profit called Bright Happy Power was incorporated to “place hope, happiness and empowerment into the hands of and lives of children facing life-threatening and catastrophic challenge”.

Bright Happy Power (BHP) is actively identifying other programs around the world that are addressing the needs of children with cancer. Through the network of people who maintained a constant awareness of Jessie while she was alive (over 187,000 visitors to the blog as of last week), and the–unfortunately–ever increasing list of people new to the cancer challenge coming into Children’s and the Joslin Center in Boston, BHP is directing funds and materials to those programs. If you have an interest in learning what you can do for children and their parents who are focused on this daily battle, click here and make a few additions to your next trip to the grocery store, Walmart or Target.

Please pass this on, you have people in your address book who are looking for a way to help others. No, I haven’t been looking at your address book, it’s human nature to do good for others. Thanks for anything and everything you do to support Bright Happy Power.

Stephen
– — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – –

“There are two primary choices in life:
to accept conditions as they exist, or
accept the responsibility for changing them.”
– Dr. Denis Waitley
– — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – — – –

What “Awash” Feels Like July 1, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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I recently watched a father walking alongside his child who was barely taller than the father’s thigh. They were walking away from me, and I couldn’t hear them, but the child looking up and the father looking down periodically with mouths moving told me they were engaged in earnest discussion as they walked along. The rush back in memory to the feelings I felt 12 and 15 years ago when I was in the same scenario was immediate and visceral. I was experiencing near-total recall of how I relished the art of conversation with a child who relied on me and loved me.

Now that my children are 18 and 21, those conversations are commonplace and at the level of maturity I began desiring more and more once I realized that 5, 7 and 9 year olds could not sustain conversations long if they were of a theoretical nature or otherwise outside their interests (“Too many words” my wife would say as she shook her head.)

But for that moment, I knew what it felt like to be awash in an emotion, to be immersed in a memory that commandeered my senses.

Then the light turned green and I drove away, but not before looking one last time to silently thank the father and child for unwittingly playing a part in exercising my memory and reminding me of how my own two children have blessed me.

Reminders of why I live where I do, still. May 20, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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Went to the polls this morning to vote on local roles to be filled (selectman, planning board, etc.) and to approve a charter commission and the first 9 commissioners. One stretch of sidewalk outside the high school, at the edge of the legal standoff from the doors to the gym where the polling takes place, is lined with the candidates and their supporters holding signs, shaking hands and handing out leaflets.

For some a gauntlet they dread enough to not vote at all, for my wife and I it is a welcome reminder of the fabric we have created here in Sharon, MA. We stop at almost every sign, suporter and candidate, to hug, catch up on life, share stories, reconnect and generally bask in the glow of active community building. It’s such a unique and satisfying experience, I almost wish there were more elections per year for such interaction. And we will be back tonight just before the polls close to hear the Town Clerk read the results, celebrate the victories, and console and encourage those less successful.

Amazing to me how many live in this town, and thousands like it across America, who have never experienced such community, much less understood or appreciated its value. They pay for it in so many ways. And don’t get me started on why small Italian hill towns are more stable and healthy than many  American towns because they come together in the square routinely to keep in touch.

Personal Branding April 2, 2008

Posted by Stephen Dill in Observations.
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This blog is in response to the growing importance of a personal brand. For a marketing professional to not have a blog and participate in social media is to admit that they have made a decision to stay put, rely on the past methods and seek some sort of plausible deniability that marketing has changed or is changing. Images of an ostrich come to mind.

This blog indicates that I have made a decision and what that decision is.

Stephen Dill (@srdill)

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