To Be, or Not to Be Social: Is participating in social media good for your career?

“Create your presence on social media to be found, heard and respected; otherwise, you won’t be.” – Susan Beebe, Chief Listener at Dell.

Some Thoughts on Lifestreaming

Some Thoughts on Lifestreaming

There are so many cool life streaming content services available that do what they do extremely well: Utterz does a great job at recording and posting audio to your blog, Seesmic is great at video comments, Flickr is my tool of choice for sharing photos on the fly, and Qik is awe inspiring in terms of live video streaming from a cell phone.

You get the idea. Plenty of services to represent slices of your life, either from a browser, a phone, or a desktop application.

I know I am leaving out services like Plaxo, Social Thing! and FriendFeed, which I really think of as more aggregators than originators of content. Maybe others would call these services the lifestreaming services and the ones I call lifestreaming, microblogging services. Tah-may-toe, Tah- mah-toe.

And yet. There is not one killer lifestreaming application – at least in my humble opinion, gentle reader.

For me, the killer lifestreaming service will let me do the following:

  • Let me post video
  • Let me post photos
  • Let me post audio
  • Let me share web links
  • Let me cross post to Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed, Social Thing!, Plaxo, Facebook, Pownce, etc.
  • Support SMS and Mobile Platforms – from day one

And here is the kicker – allow me to do this – all of this – CONVENIENTLY, while events unfold, not having to sit down an hour later and pull all of these elements together hodge-podge at a desktop or laptop.

In short, I want to have the ability from a mobile device to capture and share events on the fly with rich content and no compromises.

Is that too much to ask?

We are really close to being there. I am impressed beyond words at what some of these services have been able to pull off. But we are not quite there – yet.

For now, I’ll keep looking for that killer service.

Is It Really A Conversation If All You Do is Talk?

Is It Really A Conversation If All You Do is Talk?

I’ve recently set about cleaning up some of the social networks and contacts that have stuck to me through accretion over the past couple of years.

My impetus for doing so has really been two fold:

  1. I am no longer actively participating in a network, the network and I are no longer providing any benefit to one another, or one of us is an unequal partner in the conversation, and
  2. Dialog is not taking place and I am expected to be a passive customer or consumer.

Pertaining to number (1) above, I could happily go along and reap the rewards of whatever Google Juice is to be reaped by being connected to any given network.

In fairness, by my reckoning, my participation in a given network or community is a tacit approval or endorsement of that community. If I am not actively engaged on a regular basis, and that community becomes something contrary to my beliefs and values, my online rep suffers through the association.

Conversely, by not removing myself from those forums where I am nominally a member, but not really a participant, I am still rewarding those sites, even in the very smallest infinitesimal way, with whatever little influence I might have over swaying anyone. Better to simply part ways as friends and call it a draw.

As far as number (2) above goes, I have found myself connected to and / or “friended” to several people (as many of you may have) that are either simply takers (use your own definition) or simply talkers (guilty as charged in some cases).

After a while of finding myself blowing past their posts or finding myself diametrically opposed to whatever agenda they are pushing I began to ask myself – “why I am doing this? ”

For the influence? Exposure? Because all the cool kids are doing it?

Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t look at Social Networking as some zero-sum, favor bank undertaking (see Thomas Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities). All people are definitely not created equal and there will never be complete reciprocity across the web within our virtual networks.

But there should at least be the mere appearance of a conversation or interaction occurring. If YOU are doing all the talking (or worse, if I am doing all the talking) and no discourse takes place at some regular interval, then what’s the point? You’re not gonna buy what I’m selling and I sure ain’t gonna transact with you (primarily because I’ll never get your attention long enough to say “how can we help each other?”).

I’ve made a deal with myself that I’m gonna try and be straight up and cut down on much of the social media noise that frankly is stealing away moments of my life with nothing tangible being returned.

Not looking to monetize every waking moment; not trying to make money in my sleep; but I am looking to learn, grow, and expand my knowledge every day beyond what I knew yesterday – and hopefully be able to do tomorrow what I am incapable of doing today.

To that end, I’m working on being a conversationalist and not simply another babbling voice among the multitude.

Just hoping that it’s not a soliloquy I’m conducting.

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.

No Where to Hide

No Where to Hide

One of the side-affects of the transparency required when making meaningful social media connections is that when one makes a serious misstep, or faux pas, or fails to deliver in a very high profile way… it is now visible in a way that it never was in the past.

There are consequences of this new phenomena. In the past, if you made a serious career misstep, more likely than not you could pick up stakes, move to the next gig, and start anew without too many lasting emotional scars or after affects.

Now, a career misstep can follow one for a significantly long time. And everyone knows about it. Or can Google it.

Thankfully, people have short memories. Still, transparency on the web is going to have longer lasting implications than most people are realizing at the moment.

I came across a great example this morning on LinkedIn of just this very thing. A person had posted in their LinkedIn profile that they were “Unemployable because of career interference.”

Now, whether this is true or not, whether it was the wisest thing to expose your plight to the network of connections who were either the cause or the cure for your plight is not really the point.

The point is that this person perceives that their employability has been hindered, they are perpetuating some Google-Juice now with their negative perceptions of the new reality, and may even be contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it is all out there for everyone to see, each and every time that they do a background check for a new position.

This is of course just one example. The failed high profile project, the vocal disgruntled ex-employee / ex-customer, the unexpected change in market conditions that turned you into a buggy whip manufacturer in the new world of the automobile. All of these types of situations will be forced multiplied by social media and personal transparency.

Be warned – there is now no where to hide.

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Vizzini: Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.

– The Princess Bride

Anyone who has seen the movie The Princess Bride understands the humor in Vizzini the Sicilian’s exclamation; he has uttered “Inconceivable!” a dozen times in the movie, only to have what he deems to be “Inconceivable” become not only the possible but reality.

Social Media mavens /pundits / gurus /strategists are a bit like Vizzini in that they tend to think words means things they actually do not.

For example: Engagement. To most of the world, the word engagement entails a reciprical arrangement where something is expected of both sides. However, in the context of social media, what engagement usually means is that people are merely exposed to each other in some way, but very little is expected of any given social contact. I can Twitter til my fingers fall off, you may be following me, you may think we’re engaged, when in fact you may never respond to me. Some consider that engagement. It most definitely is not.

Another example: Friend. In most of the world, a friend is a person who will do most anything for you, regardless of personal consequence, because of amity, love, and dedication. There is prevenient trust implied. In the context of social networking, a friend is at best what one would call an acquaintance in the real world and implies only that a person known as a friend in any given nexus of the social graph is simply allowed access to you and your personal information with no expectation whatsoever of reciprocity or even fair treatment.

In short, social networking uses many real world words to imply the concept of trust and relationship, when in fact nothing of the sort exists online. You can no more “trust” someone you don’t know online without context, contact, and prevenient /pre-existing relationships. Yet, each social networking silo tries to mask this weakness by following, friending, trusting, joining, inviting.

Just because we call something by a name does not make it that name.

Social networking tends to amplify and force multipy our baser and better natures, but what it cannot do is short circuit the building of meaningful relationships.

That still takes time and active reciprocity.

Morning Chuckle Over Sarah Lacy’s Latest BusinessWeek “Piece”

Morning Chuckle Over Sarah Lacy’s Latest BusinessWeek “Piece”

I LOVE IT when an employee of a news organization or the press lectures Entrepreneurs on the need to get “business savvy.”

How savvy does one need one need to be to cash an employers’ paycheck, Sarah (did I say that out loud)?

Granted, too many Entrepreneurs equate “funded” with “profitable” – but someone who can’t even do THEIR job competently, working for a big employer paying their way to conferences week in and week out has ZERO cred with me in discussing how web idealists need to get “serious” about business.

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Social Networking Applications – Focus and Commitment

Social Networking Applications – Focus and Commitment

Bear with me as I flesh this out.

One observation I have made over the past few years as a “sports parent” is that a child’s level of participation and focus to a team is generally tied to the level of financial commitment to the sport they are engaged in. This is one of those no-brainer, “no shit sherlock” observations – but noteworthy, nonetheless.

For example, the kids on my son’s travel hockey team can pretty much run their own practices with very little guidance. They are punctual (ice time around Nashville runs about $175 an hour for a rink, so if you miss your slot – tough), attentive, and motivated. Compared to my son’s soccer teams, which is very much the epitome of herding cats, the hockey practices are efficient and economical in movement and time management.

The financial investment as a hockey player in equipment is steep when compared with other youth sports. Worse if you happen to be the parent of a goalie (which my youngest son is sadly showing an aptitude for, being the human backstop for my 8 year old). So, if you have a son or daughter playing house league, at a minimum you’re looking at between $500 and $750 in fees and equipment for a season; double that if you also play on a travel team, plus associated travel costs, hotels, food, etc. In short, before too long one can begin to spend real money to watch a bunch of eight year olds skate.

Soccer – a pair of shorts, shirt, shin guards, and cleats – has a relatively low barrier of entry allowing participation to the most casual of participants. This is not a knock of soccer, BTW. In fact, it is surprising that soccer has not advanced more in the US above the high school level given its accessibility and affordability, though travel soccer is just as time and resource consuming as other travel team sports. But my GENERAL observation is that, because of the low barrier of entry, focus and attention to the tasks at hand is extremely lacking. Pretty much anyone who can kick a ball can coach a soccer team. Again, not a knock, a plus in gaining participations across a wide swath of the community.

But this low barrier to entry, relative de-emphasis of skills, and poor coaching talent pool has kept the sport back in the country… while youth ice hockey is beginning to gain momentum in non-traditional sports markets, and is sustaining this level into the minors and college level play. As a prime example, the Nashville Predators (my local NHL team) just drafted its first player “locally grown” last year.

The difference in how poorly soccer has done in capturing the attention of the US sports market – compared to the world, and compared to sports like youth ice – and inline – hockey, is that the level of financial and time commitment to the sport in order to achieve a high level of play.

If one is serious about becoming a better hockey player, you’re probably also taking additional skating lessons outside of regular hockey practices. Lessons usually run around a dollar minute for a good power skating coach, and usually a good session runs 20-30 minutes in length. My eight year old skates a couple of lessons a week outside of hockey practice, and usually cuts this down to a single maintenance skate session per week in the “off season.”

In all, my eight year old son is on the ice about 7-8 hours a week during regular game weeks. Minimum. He has been skating since he was four. My 2 1/2 year old just started lessons this past month.

Am I writing these things to be on that show on Bravo about Uber-Stage parents?

No – I’m writing this to show that in order to achieve a high level of participation in any endeavor (sports, business, personal relationships) it takes sacrifice of self, time, and prolonged focus.

Low barrier to entry only means that more people can participate, not that the quality of play will improve because of the law of large numbers.

In relation to social networking, the low barrier to entry to writing Facebook applications has led to an explosion of some 17,000 or so Facebook applications. Most of them, including some of mine, are less than shall we say noteworthy. Why? Because the level of financial investment in order to be a player is so low that participation is “throw away”, and the consequences of walking away are negligible. There is no real commitment needed to play.

I believe that in order to sustain a viable business social networking environment, a higher bar of entry will be needed to insure focus, commitment, and high quality of engagement. If we are forced to sacrifice and have a little pain in order to participate, I believe we will find our attention to detail will improve, our commitment to reliable uptime will improve, and the level of overall quality of service will improve.

Or, we can continue to find anyone who can write a PHP script as our social media “expert” for the day. That, or find someone who can kick a ball.