Meet Your Audience Where They Are

Meet Your Audience Where They Are

I had some great conversations this morning at the Nashville Geek Breakfast. Several of the topics touched upon some things that I have been thinking about – a lot – lately.

The topic nearest and dearest to my heart lately is “meeting your audience where they are.” What do I mean by that?

Well, all of us have this little voice in our head, our “internal dialog.” This internal dialog is what gives us our self image, regurgitates our experiences and provides us with our world view, or at minimum, how we perceive the world. It also provides our moral compass, gives us a sense of reaction to social stimuli, and either promotes the goals we wish to achieve – or keeps us from maximizing our potential. It is quite literally the little angel on the left shoulder and the little devil on the right shoulder (or vice versa, use your own societal norm) guiding your actions.

A consequence of our internal dialog is that we tend to project our wants and desires onto others, because if something is important to me, it must be important to everyone else.

Some people have an amazing sense of what others want, and can plug in and provide those wants with the right service, the right advice, the right products – seemingly without effort or thought. Others simply listen to their own voices and negate or worse – disregard – the wants and needs of those people they nominally wish to serve or sell to, at their own peril.

I guess what I am ham-handedly trying to say is that when we enter into encounters with people – be it in real life networking events or when interacting on a social tool like Twitter or Pownce or Facebook or LinkedIn – we need to be cognizant that our goals and objectives stand a 99.9% chance of being at odds with those with whom we are conversing. We only obtain real value when we make that connection with those people who share our common (or at least, tangential) interests and desire same similar outcomes.

This is always the answer to the $64,000 question of business – finding buyers / adopters / customers for my product / good / service / pitch. Making the connecting. Closing the sale. Chuh-Ching.

What this may mean is that you cannot always choose the time and place where these connections are made. Some marketplaces are more profitable than others, some tools may be more productive than others, some tools and software may be more successful / friendlier to use than others – but if the people to which you hope to connect are not there, then whatever you are doing is ultimately an exercise in futility.

Because you will find yourself to be an audience of few – or worse – of one.

Does your audience understand RSS and Blogging? If not, then having a corporate blog may not be a good growth strategy. Does your customer block Facebook through their corporate firewall? Then Facebook Apps might not be a good way to extend their brand into the Social Networking Scene.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the low hanging fruit is grabbed first because it is the easiest thing to do. There are a million Social Media Strategists out here in the Wild because nobody knows what in the hell THAT means, it sounds good, and fits nicely onto a Moo card.

The real challenge is learning how to find our audience and make contact in a meaningful way (e.g., I can do something that provides value, they will pay me for the privilege, they will sing my praises and recommend me to their friends and family and associates, they will name their hamsters after me and my children).

First, we have to meet them where they are, and not where it is the easiest place for us to be.

Social Media Sheep

Social Media Sheep

For me, one of the great jokes of Social Media is how much more connected we are supposed to be because of it. “Markets are conversations.” “We GET it.” “The new paradigm.” “Vendor Relationship Management.”

Give me a freakin’ break.

Here’s an experiment. Call your television carrier, now. Doesn’t matter – Comcast, DirecTV, whatever. See how long it takes to speak to a person.

Now, call someone at Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIN. MySpace.

Oh, wait… you can’t.

So… even with services we deride as being shitty (television / utilities / cell phone) we can at least speak to a person.

Social Media? Not a chance in hell. And yet, we think that Web 2.0 is changing the world.

Well, in a sense it is. We are now able to be ignored at the click of a mouse – and no one cares.

The actual engagement between the Management of Social Media services and the denizens of their social networks approaches nil. @selves pointed out to me on Twitter that there is a @comcastcares account. I have also seen @JetBlue and others out there – but strangely, no accounts from Facebook, LinkedIn, or any of the other purported new media game changers.

If we want to affect change for whatever follows this iteration of the web, the clear winner will be the company or persons who realize that being human matters.

All this lip service about how great social media is belies what social media should aspire to be – a two way marketplace of ideas rather than a closed off petrie dish of exploitable user supplied content.

Here’s a few Handy Tips on Moving FireFox and Thunderbird Profiles

Here’s a few Handy Tips on Moving FireFox and Thunderbird Profiles

One of the dangers / side effects of being in business over the course of several years is that soon you find yourself forgetting more than you know. You begin to notice once you outlive two or three (or four or five) laptops. Before too long you realize that that project you once could recite in your sleep is now some 8 or 9 years in the distant pass and you can’t even remember the user id you used to get into the system in the first place. Trust me – it’ll happen.

That being said, there are some practical things that this every 2-3 year “migration of the machines” teaches you about what is important. Namely, travel light and carry only what you must.

In real life, we have moved 5 or 6 times since 1999. In each move, we have discarded more and more stuff that once seemed vital, until we realized that it was just stuff that we had moved several times, and never used in a real sense. Bye-bye useless stuff.

Over time, one winds up with only the things that are really needful.

The same is true with your digital life. That application you wrote in comp sci is never gonna be used. Get rid of it. The cool app you wrote two employers ago and sitting on your keychain drive is never gonna make you the next Kevin Rose, Mark Zuckerberg, or (name your favorite uber geek). Get rid of it.

Before we throw all the babies out with the bath water, there are important items that we must / should / need to carry forward as we move from that old doorstop to the new hotness. Namely, our browser settings and that modern equivalent of race memory, our email data store.

Me – I use Firefox and Thunderbird. So, I’ll show you how to relatively painlessly move your Firefox Settings and Thunderbird Settings, along with all of your email, to a new machine. Ready?

First, setup your new laptop and install Firefox and Thunderbird, but do only the minimum to get the software up and on its feet on the new box.

You will need to be logged in with Administrator Access in order to do the following.

Somewhere on your old Windows machine (OK, Apple fan boys – stop your snickering), there is a directory named Documents and Settings. Sometimes this is on C, I mostly find it on D drives. Change the folder view properties so that you can see all hidden directories and files. You will see folders for each user defined on your machine. Find the folder for your user credentials and open that folder.

There are two directories that we are interested in – Application Data and Local Settings.

Under Application Data, there will a Mozilla folder and a Thunderbird folder. You will need to copy both of these directories to their counterpart areas on the new machine (under its Documents and Folders/User Profile/Application Data folder).

Navigate back to the Local Settings folder. Notice that it also has an Application Data folder. Drill down, and copy the Mozilla Folder and the Thunderbird folder to the new laptop’s corresponding areas for these folders.

That is the abbreviated methodology.

In practice, if you have two or three years of email, you’re probably talking about a few gigabytes of email. This may involve an intermediary machine to offload the data first – your mileage will definitely vary. For me, it took a few hours to first offload my email to my wife’s Apple iMac (it had the big hard drive that wasn’t being used, Apple boys, so it made the perfect thumb drive) and then from the iMac to my new-ish laptop.

I would be interested in hearing a similar methodology for (a) Outlook or (b) Apple Mail.

And I hope this helps some poor soul wondering how in the hell they’re gonna make this happen.

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts

Will flesh this out a little later… but wanted to jot down the outline before it totally left my head and into the bit bucket.

To me, there is nothing more distracting than a great idea poorly executed.

Twitter comes immediately to mind, but there are so many other smaller examples as well:

  • Podcasts / video casts with great content but poor sound / audio that keeps you from concentration on the message and instead focused on how poorly the content was packaged
  • A great product or service poorly managed and invisible to the world because the PR / Marketing department is not doing their job
  • Public golf courses. How in the hell can you lose money on public golf courses (other than gambling… but I digress).
  • A great blog post that is 99% factual but has a glaring single inaccuracy that could have been easily fact checked. Not talking about the grammar police or the spelling nazis – but hard statements of fact that would take seconds of time to vet but ruin an otherwise strong piece of writing.
  • A product rollout that is done about half-way right – and then left to die on the vine – because strong follow up is not performed, or worse, advice on maximizing adoption is ignored completely either through ignorance, negligence, or both.
  • This Blog Post

These are just a few thoughts that I have been kicking around, some of which can stand on their own with a full blown post, that I can never seem to get to when I want to. Maybe this weekend.

Use the Right Tool for the Right Job

Use the Right Tool for the Right Job

Lots of stories today in the “echo chamber” about the departure of the Twitter architect, and claims flying about concerning whether Ruby on Rails was the appropriate choice of platform for Twitter, given Twitter’s well known propensity to be indisposed (I’ve already used “suck” in a post in the past couple of days – trying to expand my vocabulary).

I just finished reading several comments / articles about how Ruby on Rails CAN scale, if only… if only the database is partitioned properly, if only the site is properly cached, if only one held your tongue just so while clicking submit.

My thoughts drifted to that well worn bromide “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

There are just times when we need to step back and be brutally honest with ourselves. Sometimes the tools and skillsets we love best are not the most appropriate tools and skillsets for a given job, and certainly not for EVERY job.

When it’s your livelihood you’re talking about, one tends to overlook that little gem, in the belief that you CAN make it work – I must make it work – even in the face of evidence that (a) my tools are not the most appropriate or (b) I am not the person for the job.

A good friend of mine used to joke that extremely difficult programming tasks (usually doled out by a last minute customer request contrary to all prior work we had done on a system) was akin to doing “brain surgery with a butter knife.” Sure – you can do it. But you’re not going to be happy with the results in the way that you WOULD have been had you only had a scalpel on hand.

We all do this, all the time, even if we’re not programmers.

A pair of pliers CAN drive in a nail – sort of – if a hammer isn’t handy. Not so good if you have 50 nails to hammer in. Impossible if you have to hammer in enough nails to replace a roof, when even an ordinary hammer wouldn’t suffice and one would more properly use a pneumatic hammer. But if a pair of pliers is all you have to work with, then by god, that nail is going in. Deep.

In short, sometimes we simply choose the wrong tool for the wrong job because of expediency and not efficiency.

When our incompetency in the choice of the tools we use affects only ourselves, it is merely reduced personal efficiency and inconvenience. When our incompetency in this regard affects the efficiency and productivity of others, it borders on negligence.

I’m passing no judgment specifically on any single person at Twitter for what has gone on this year with availability and uptime.

What I can broadly say is that whatever they were doing, it wasn’t working.

Disambiguating Beta

Disambiguating Beta

Just a few additional words, oh gentle reader, on the unintended consequences of (mis)using words in contexts that rob them of their original meanings.

Specifically, how the term “beta” has been co-opted by web developers in general (and Web 2.0 services specifically and most egregiously) to pre-excuse poor software offerings.

Originally, “beta” was meant to connote software that was at least 1 iteration away from being ready from release, and indicated at some point there was some “alpha” software in the recent past, with the following loosely understood meanings:

  • Alpha Software – functional, but barely operational with most final features stubbed out but not fleshed out
  • Beta Software – software that was essentially feature complete, but was not fully unit and system tested

The term “beta”, however, has been totally misappropriated. Now, every new web service, site, social networking silo, or mashup feels compelled to slap a “beta” icon across its logo and call it a day, support-wise.

In other words, attributing “beta” to your site is now supposed to connote that you will not reliably support the site, the software will be unreliable in its delivery, and the user “community” is expected to ferret out all issues with no compensations or rewards (or acknowledgment).

Is this the height of what we want to put out there, as developers and entrepreneurs? Poorly supported software and services that we acknowledge to be sub par years into its lifetime (I remind everyone, Google News was in Beta for like two years – the current record holder)?

If you are a Plaxo or a Spock (just to name a couple among the hundreds that do this) you should be ashamed to still be exhibiting beta in your logo. There should be a statute of limitations on using beta to excuse poor execution. Even Twitter, in its craptitude of unequal delivery, owns its craptitude by not claiming it’s beta software. I don’t see “Twitter – Beta.” Nor do I don’t see “Facebook – Beta” for that matter.

Own your software – for good or bad.

We let these “beta” services slide because there is no pain involved for us. We’re all getting a free ride, and the underlying theory is that we are getting something for nothing so we should just shut the hell up.

As users of these services, we deserve better, because we are the ones serving up the content and traffic for these sites. We may not be paying an upfront outright financial prices, but we certainly are paying the price in lost productivity and time wasted helping solve other people’s execution issues and bugs, gratis.

Start! Walking on Wall Street Journal This Morning Podcast

Start! Walking on Wall Street Journal This Morning Podcast

Donnie Osmond talks about Start! at 28 minutes into the podcast.

Donnie Osmond discusses Start! Walking (28:00 into podcast)

Business and the Art of the Flirt

Business and the Art of the Flirt

When I first started my professional career back in the mid 1980’s, I started at a company where there was – how shall I put it – a very active after work social life.

One was expected implicitly to participate, and how far along one expected to progress on the job was in part dictated by these after work social connections.

I don’t mean just the weekend nights – this was like two and three times a week, way late into the wee hours. And not just with us youngsters – senior EVPs, Managers, Department heads – you name it.

I benefited financially from these outings. I met with my first business partner on these frequent after hours campaigns, and advanced on the job faster than those who didn’t (couldn’t or wouldn’t) participate.

It wasn’t the best thing for relationships or marriages. I have yet to work at a similar company in the past 24 years that comes close to the fast and loose rules that blurred the lines between personal and professional life.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other jobs where I worked that there wasn’t the opportunity for hard driving socializing after work with the higher ups in order to advance professionally. Fifteen years ago the CEO of the company I worked for and I played darts three nights a week, to the extent that the owner of the bar sent me a Christmas Card that year (needless to say, that spelled the end of my dart throwing career – though if you go to the Villager Tavern in Nashville you can still see my name on some banners hanging from the ceiling. Good times, good times).

But none of my jobs since have ever come close to the coupling of social and business interests, for good or bad. The funny thing is, that this was when I was working as an actuary, arguably one of the most boring jobs ever conceived of by man. But I digress.

One of the challenges of doing business in the new social networking milieu (at least, as I perceive it) is separating the business from the social. Both agendas may be proffered simultaneously. But one should always be cognizant that the two are not the same thing, regardless of the popular perception that seems to be out there among many of the digerati.

How people interact is an infinitely interesting subject. At every job I have ever worked, people have hooked up, whether married, attached, single, or not. I have the worst radar in the world concerning who is with whom, who has been with whom, or who wants to be with whom. I lack the gene. My wife of 22 years, on the other hand, has about a 95% accuracy on such matters.

That’s not to say that I don’t recognize “the flirt” (for lack of a better term) while on the job, or the use of “the flirt” to advance an agenda – job, position, sale, access – it’s just that usually my focus is elsewhere and my social radar is simply tuned to a different frequency in that regard.

One look at my mug and it is probably obvious why I am so oblivious.

But in my experience looks usually have little to do with who winds up together after hours at work.

A friend of mine I carpooled to work together for six years was having an affair with his immediate supervisor and I was none the wiser (or simply resolutely convinced no way in hell it was happening – he had two kids at home under the age of ten and the supervisor was in no ways a looker). But opportunity and proximity have a way of changing expectations and what we consider to be acceptable targets of opportunity. Or maybe we simply confuse prolonged contact with intimacy.

I guess what has been on my mind is the recognition that for many, there is no distinction between the personal and the professional. Maybe its a power thing. Maybe its a “boundaries” thing. Or maybe its even a level of maturity or attainment of wisdom that is lacking. But I see it as a fundamental danger in how social networks, as they move into the business realm, will need to address in an honest and open fashion.

Because we operate in networks, real or imagined, that lower the boundaries of intimacy that one would ordinarily be wary of in real life, we should be ever mindful that there is no substitute for common sense in our approach for what is considered appropriate business conduct.

As long as there are companies and business socializing afterwards, there will continue to be the opportunity for the ill advised hook up, the too familiar touch, the spoken comment best left unsaid but out there forever. Social Networking hasn’t changed that, only amplified the consequences of similar behavior when non-intentionally extended into our online connections cum real world contacts.

Everybody’s mileage will vary in this regard. The twenty-something will be able to get away with what the forty-something never would (or should). Conversely, persons in positions of power and authority will continue to step in it the same way they have in the past – just with a bigger and longer lasting stage upon which to demonstrate their human frailty.

Our actions – personal, professional, or mixed – should always undertaken in a manner that is intentional, so that we understand what the consequences will be: the job not offered because of those pics on Facebook, the hook up splashed across ValleyWag, the off color Tweet that revealed something we wanted to remain hidden, the resulting busted relationships and broken trusts.

The art of the flirt is alive and well – and has a time and place – in our professional lives.

Just don’t confuse your professional and personal conquests as being one and the same.

Pred vs. Red Wings, Game 6

Pred vs. Red Wings, Game 6

Captain Jason Arnott is out with concussion-like symptoms.  The Preds get Scotty Nichol and David Legwand back.

The Wings are up 3-2 in the series and can clinch today with a win.  A win for the Preds means a trip back to Detroit for Game 7 at The Joe on Tuesday.

Puck should drop around 2:20 CDT.

I absolutely have no feel for how the team will play after the dagger-in-the-heart loss in OT at The Joe Friday night.  Ellis played a career game Friday with 50+ saves, and like Trotz said, it’s too bad the effort was wasted in a loss.

So, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Here’s to writing about this several hours from now in a celebratory mood.

Email: The New Dead Letter Office

Email: The New Dead Letter Office

My influx of email spam has been crushing today – something like 80 crap messages every ten minutes. Compare this to normally “only” some 300 spam messages overnight, or usually 600 spam messages per day.

In short, my email has become nothing more than noise.

Every effective means of communication eventually becomes co-opted by people who want your money and attention – no surprise or secret there. There is always an ongoing battle between getting messages through versus getting only the messages that you wish to see.

What is surprising is how much email has degenerated – at least for me – over the past couple of months. It is next to useless, and I have to carefully “whitelist” those people whose messages are vitally important to me.

I have some business contacts who have resorted to DM from Twitter for primary business communications; some have opted to switch over to SMS; while others have just gone back to the good old standby, the telephone.

I can foresee a day when I simply close down email for good. It is somewhere in the not too distant future.