Can you take a vacation from social media?   6 comments

I’m on vacation right now. And not that I don’t enjoy blogging (because I do), but even I need a break from discussing social media sometimes. And yet here I am, feeling compelled to keep up with a self-imposed editorial schedule even on vacation. Why?

Even when something is your passion you need a break periodically to stay fresh and maintain your creative drive. Athletes have to take rest days. Students get a spring break. But so many professionals, particularly in social media, cannot shut off. We fear what will happen if we do. We’ll miss being the first of our friends to retweet or comment on a breaking story. We are concerned our Klout score will drop (yes, I checked mine and it’s dropped 5 points in less than a week)–even though we haven’t decided if we care about Klout yet.

Of course there are things we could do to maintain our social media presence while on vacation. Hootsuite allows us to schedule tweets and other updates. WordPress allows you to schedule blog posts if, unlike me, you’ve been able to get ahead of schedule and have posts ready to go (I admit that I am currently living the literary equivalent of paycheck to paycheck). Wait. That’s incorrect. Those tools allow us to maintain a media presence–not a SOCIAL media presence.

That’s really the crux of it. Those of us who are in social media do it because we are social and enjoy being sociable. When we “go dark” and turn off our phones and stop interacting with people online, we feel like we are ignoring friends. If we schedule tweets and blog posts and then go on an unplugged vacation we won’t be able to respond to comments and interact with our followers and readers. And as we generally like those people we don’t want them to feel ignored or unappreciated.

We also feel compelled to prove to clients, bosses and colleagues that we can keep up with social media presence virtually 24/7 instead of admitting we are human and need a break. We set expectations far too high and then have to live up to them.

As a protest to this virtual leash and to get back to my vacation sooner I am making this an abbreviated blog in a few ways:
1. You are reading the first and only draft (as opposed to the first-and-a-half or second draft you normally read)
2. I am typing this on my iPad which doesn’t allow for formatting changes (no putting clever or inspired phrases in bold to highlight them)
3. I am not including a photo
4. I am not digging up or including links to other blogs on related topics (and I know there are many so Google them)

How do you handle social media while on vacation? Without further adieu I bid you good night.

Now, back to my vacation.

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Posted July 20, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Career, Internet, Social Media

LinkedIn Networking: Selective or Open?   4 comments

If you’re on LinkedIn much at all it won’t be long before you come across a LION.

Lion lounging

“A lion?”

No, a LION–a LinkedIn Open Networker. These are a special breed, folks who have decided they will connect with anyone and everyone who wants to connect (even strangers!). LIONs are often in recruiting or sales, industries that benefit from having as many contacts as possible. And there are definite professional benefits to this approach. Who wouldn’t like to have thousands of people to reach out to with a question or request?

The decision to be a LION or to be a more strategic networker is a personal one. I have chosen the latter route. It really all depends on how you plan to use your network.

“‘Use’ my network? That sounds a bit selfish.”

Not at all. A network is there to be used. Whether it’s a network of friends for entertainment, a network of family for emotional support or a business network for advice, we all have these networks because they provide value to us–we are using them. It’s only selfish if you use your network more than you give back to it.

But I digress.

Let’s return to our use of a network. Most of us, myself included, are suited for targeted, selective networks. We want to know (at least to some degree) the people in our network. However, even though I am a selective networker I don’t set the bar very high. Mostly I want to feel like you contacted ME in particular for a specific reason. That it was purposeful and not simply a sales pitch or spam bot. This way if someone comes to me and is interested in connecting with one of my contacts I know enough to know how the two people will best connect.

Either option is completely acceptable, so it just depends on your approach. Are you using this tool to generate sales? Then being a LION may be the way for you to go. If you prefer a little more intimacy with your contacts I recommend keeping things selective.

Additional Useful Links

http://www.stacyzapar.com/2011/05/what-is-linkedin-lion.html
http://www.stacyzapar.com/2010/11/why-i-decided-to-be-open-networker.html

Image credit: cheetah100 via Flickr

Google+ isn’t going to kill anyone (but it could make everyone stronger).   2 comments

Let’s get right to the point: Is Google+ a Facebook killer? In a word, no.

To borrow from a famous movie,  you don’t get to 750 million friends without knowing a thing or two. And you don’t lose 500 million friends overnight. The “social” in social media means that most people will stay where their friends are and right now their friends are on Facebook.

So what will it do? Google+ will definitely do some damage to Facebook, but it will take some time (case in point: they have temporarily stopped allowing new people to join). And in the meantime Facebook will be able to revise its site and develop new features to keep people there (Zuckerberg ain’t no fool–he’s the most followed account on Google+ and you can bet he’s doing his research). Facebook has already launched a new feature: video chatting with Skype. (Though Google+ Hangouts is still better.)

What Google+ will really do is motivate Facebook to improve its service and broaden its offerings. Make it easier to group people and send updates to certain people and not others. And while Facebook is working on that, those of us who are attracted to the new and shiny when it comes to technology will begin using Google+ until it eventually goes mainstream. How long that will take and what either site will look like once this happens is anyone’s guess. Google+ is still in its infancy so I expect it to evolve rapidly in the coming weeks and months.

Let’s not forget there are other sites affected by Google+ besides Facebook. Twitter, for example. While Google would like to make Google+ a Twitter replacement they are a long way from being able to do this. Where Google holds the power is in search rankings. If Google starts giving Google+ updates more weight than Twitter updates then companies have a serious incentive to interact with people on Google+ because it means they are more likely to place higher in search engine rankings. A great analysis and example of this is here. And Google also has Twitter beat on ease of use and slick design. So there is more potential for Google to do serious damage to Twitter than to Facebook. Twitter may be the best known provider, but its service is easily replicated and improved upon. They had better hustle to find new ways to engage with visitors or they could see a serious decline in use.

Finally, let’s talk about LinkedIn. What is LinkedIn? A place to post your resume, connect with colleagues, post updates, get info on companies and, as of recently, see news about your field. All right let’s break this down into its parts and review through Google+ eyes:

  • Post your resume – It’s rudimentary in Google+, but do-able
  • Connect with colleagues – Check!
  • Post updates – Check!
  • Get info on companies, including job posts – Coming soon
  • Read news about your field – Check! (See Sparks on your Google+ account)

So with only a few minor upgrades you could do most of your LinkedIn activities on Google+. The main thing missing is to be able to see who in your network works at a particular company or with certain other people. Until that feature is added LinkedIn remains a valuable tool.

The key takeaway from all this is that Google+ changes the landscape by providing a viable alternative to each of the three major social networks. However, there is still time while Google+ grows and develops for the other players to learn from Google’s growing pains and improve themselves. I’ll be curious to see if they do.

Image credit: RHW-Photography via Flickr

Posted July 7, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Internet, Marketing, Social Media

First Thoughts on the Google+ Project   2 comments

Google bread manIntriguing.

That is my first impression after reviewing some of the features of the new Google+ project. I’m still willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt (even after the Wave, which I have yet to be given a compelling reason to understand or appreciate) and there is a lot of potential with the new toys. The concepts are simple, yet elegant. The design is friendly and usable. However, the adoption of Google+ will all depend on the usability of the final execution. Check out this article from Wired.com for a full write-up from people with far more insider knowledge than I have.

Circles
Similar to your Facebook friends, Circles allows you to group contacts into “Circles” that you name. Unlike Facebook, this appears to have a very user-friendly interface that allows you to easily drag and drop contacts into those circles. Early descriptions of this functionality seem like a cross between Facebook and Twitter: you can designate which circles receive certain updates, or you can make them public to the entire world like a tweet. Apparently you can even include contacts in groups who are not using the system, so family members can still receive your photos even if they haven’t “friended” you. While you can send non-Facebook using contacts links to photo albums it’s not an easy or convenient process which this has the potential to be.

This has been my biggest issue with Facebook. With the privacy settings being so complicated,  how can I be sure that my colleagues won’t see my vacation photos? I do, after all, have multiple online personas for a reason! I generally refrain from typing anything that could be the list bit embarrassing onto any site, but I’m human and my personality shines through at times. I need a site that protects me from those moments! Perhaps Circles will be it.

Hangout
One of the most fascinating features is the new Hangout. This TechCrunch article gives an apt analogy: “If your neighbor is sitting there, you know that they’ll likely be interested in striking up a conversation. In fact, it would be rude for you to walk by and not say anything.” The idea is that if you’re online, surfing the Web, but none of your friends are on at the moment, you can tell them you’re ready and waiting to video chat should they hop online and feel interested. This would almost replace my need for Skype and my constant texting with my parents to figure out when we are both available.

Other Features
The other features of Google+ seem very interesting, but are less ground-breaking. Sparks simply reminds me of LinkedIn Today, but with more varied categories of information. Instant Upload and Huddle are cool, but I have other ways to accomplish the same things (though of course in other sites). This could be a good way to combine all these tasks in one.

My Early Assessment
I predict this product will be successful. Not Facebook successful, but better than Wave anyway. It is unique and user-friendly.I plan to try it out as soon as I can and I hope you’ll join me as I experiment with it as soon as I can get my hands on it it!

Image credit: DannySullivan via Flickr

Marketers are manipulative? Nope, think problem-solvers.   Leave a comment

Let me set the record straight: I love marketing. I have a marketing degree, I continue to study marketing in my free time and I genuinely enjoy the practice of it–when it’s done WELL. These facts do not make me a lying, manipulative attention-hog (though I admit to occasionally being a bit of a ham). What I hate is the reputation marketing gets because of people who do it poorly, or claim that it is something that it isn’t.

Marketing Does NOT Equal Sales
Pet peeve numero uno in my marketing book are sales people who call themselves marketers. Marketing is not sales any more than a logo is your brand. These are two different roles requiring very different skill sets. Typically extroverts make good salespeople, whereas I am most definitely an introvert (an outgoing one, but still an introvert). I prefer to focus on the why and how rather than the who, what, etc.

Pet peeve number two is when people think marketing is flyers. Or postcards. Or emails. Or any number of other tactics. These are tools used to implement marketing, but they themselves are not marketing.

So What IS Marketing?
My favorite class in college was “Consumer Behavior.” I enjoy studying the way people think and why they do the things they do. To me, marketing is the combination of psychology and business. The study of people and what makes them tick–and how to put that information to good use for your business. Some people see this as manipulative, but to us honest folks that’s not the goal.

The goal is find people who have a problem and solve it. Make people’s lives better through your product or service. Clearly I am rather idealistic in this sense and many companies are not like this. But the good ones are. Here’s a high-level overview of how this works.

How To Be A Problem-solver
Before you can do anything you must first know your product/service, your company, your industry, and your competition inside and out. That information, when analyzed properly, will tell you who your target audience is. The people who need what you have to offer (I’m assuming you’ve established that there is a need prior to launching  your company!).

Once you know that, you can start learning about that audience and how they work, where they get their information, what drives them. Ask “Why?” a lot. You then write copy that shows your target audience the benefits of what you have to offer in light of their needs (your audience wants to know “What’s In It For Me?” so be sure to tell them). You use the tactics (electronic, direct mail, flyers, etc.) that will most effectively get that message in front of that target audience. This entire process, among many other things, is marketing.

I’ve simplified this to a ridiculous degree. There so much more nuance to this than I can express here, but rest assured it will be addressed in future blog posts.

Photo: antwerpenr via Flickr

Posted June 22, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Business, Marketing

Conference attendance is critical for maintaining job focus   1 comment

For the past four days I have been immersed in all things communication. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) 2011 World Conference was held here in San Diego and I was thrilled to be able to attend–especially considering how it lived up to its international name.

The U.S. Was still the number one country by number of participants, but do you have any idea what the next two were? The 2nd most well-represented country at then conference was Canada, followed by Australia. There must be something good going on if people are flying from halfway around the globe to be here.

So what did we do? We talked shop and it was wonderful. I enjoyed learning how to write for. different media with the renowned Steve Crescenzo, I was a presentation guinea pig for All-Star Jim Endicott, I hosted dinner for six of my peers at the delightful BiCE Ristorante. One of my favorite activities was shaking the hands of people who were previously only known by their avatars.

Probably the most significant thing I got out of the conference was the reassurance that I am on the right track. You know you’re in the right place when you genuinely ENJOY talking shop with your peers. Many of them are going through similar challenges as I have and it’s great to have that validation.

So I return to work tomorrow re-energized, re-focused and ready to do what it takes to get the job done.

Posted June 16, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Career, Professional Development

Why I blog. (And why you should, too.)   2 comments

BloggingI spent more than a year with the avid desire to start a blog, but many things stopped me (raise your hand if you have the same challenges):

  • Not enough time to dedicate to doing it right
  • Not sure of the topic (What new thing could I possibly have to say about my areas of expertise, marketing/communication/social media/business?)
  • Not enough time
  • Fear of being judged
  • Not enough time

Finally, a conversation with the lovely and intelligent Michele Dortch with Write to Incite inspired me to get started with SOMETHING. Essentially she told me that you just have to jump in and make it happen. So I made the commitment to do it no matter what. Now, what to write about?

I started researching topics and seeing what other people had run into the same challenges and concerns. So I Googled. And found this excellent post from Patrick Garmoe at PureDriven. Patrick was kind enough to give me his thoughts on writing about a common topic like marketing and I continue to be grateful for that. The comment that inspired me the most was this: “people buy from certain places because they like and trust the store staff, not because they can’t get the advice or items elsewhere.” It told me that I don’t have to be the first to say something, but if I’m bringing value to my readers (all three of you–hi, Mom!) through a unique perspective, then that’s what’s important. So I jumped in.

I’ve found that this blog is as much a creative outlet for me as anything. It’s also a way for me to take control of my online reputation. So far I’m just writing about whatever topic strikes my fancy in the broad marketing/social media space. I haven’t yet settled on what I hope to achieve with this blog, but I’ll get there. You don’t have to have all the answers when you start.

I’m also not doing this to get paid through ad sponsorships or to support a solo practice so I’m not worried about optimizing it for search engines just to drive traffic. While that kind of thing can be very helpful depending on your goals, like most things it takes time to do properly, especially on a new blog, and with a full-time job, a toddler, and some semblance of a life there’s only so much I can do. SEO is not a priority.

However, I do enjoy connecting with people and hearing their thoughts, which is why I decided on a blog format instead of an online journal or simply typing up a Word doc. I’m human, I have an ego, and I want to talk about things I am passionate about with people who are passionate about those same things. It helps if you enjoy developing relationships.

I am working to stay disciplined enough to post one solid article every Wednesday morning (which is why I have been at a laptop at 11pm each of the last several Tuesdays) because without a routine this blog would quickly lapse into nothingness. Sticking to a schedule is key.

I tell  you all of this because if you’ve been thinking about it and want to do it, now is the time. I don’t care what excuses you have. They are not acceptable. Just dive in and start writing, even a brief one hundred words at a time. You won’t hit a home run every time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing at all. If you’re doing it just for the attention, there are easier ways to get that. Blog because you want to and will enjoy it regardless of the response.

Image credit: Search Engine People Blog via Flickr