Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roaming Salsa

The concierge recommended a club in LA where we could both eat Cuban cuisine and dance to a live Salsa band, but when we got there, the joint was empty, in a seedy neighborhood, and the proprieter had had a tiff with the band leader, so there was no music. So there we were: myself, my boss, a colleague whose booth we were sharing, and his PR agent, somewhere in LA, hungry and without a dance floor.

First thing's first: one of us whips out a phone with a GPS and we start looking for a place to eat. Easy-peasy, you might think. The problem is, all you get is the name of the place. No star rating, no description of the cuisine, no pricing, nothing. Just a name and a street. Eventually we gave up on that and just picked a restaurant that looked nice and had a lot of customers in it.

Next, we started to try to figure out where to go Salsa dancing. Now, we had already looked on Google, and this first place didn't work out, but what else could we do? Actually, none of us wanted to surf to look for a place because roaming charges for data are so outrageous, it's cheaper wasting petrol than accessing the internet. So we asked around, and were instructed to drive about 15 minutes to a place which we found to be... closed. Again.

At this point, the one member of our group with a US phone made some attempts to surf and find something suitable, with no success.

I had a similar problem the next day, looking for a hotel in Chicago (more about my new life in a future post). The important and relevant parameters to me were: price, proximity to public transport, and shuttle to the airport. It was simply impossible to search with those parameters. In the end, I asked some friends and was directed to somewhere just great. I had to order on the phone, though, since you can't order online for the same night because it takes time to process.

I could add to that my failed attempts to find a good British Pub online during my London stay, my inability to locate a printer in Anaheim through the Internet, and a slew of other informational and technological disappiontments.

In theory, we should have never had to ask a concierge, the girl on the street, or the friend about hotels or restaurants. In theory, it should have been easy to find an open dance club, and maybe even get some live video of the dance floor. In theory, it shouldn't take 10 minutes, much less 10 hours, to process my online order for a hotel. In theory, restaraunt star ratings could be incorporated into your GPS listing. And, mostly, in theory, it should not cost an outrageous sum to surf the internet just because you are out of your "home" mobile zone. It also shouldn't take so damn long to get a response from the network.

In fact, the best way to find a good restaurant, hotel, or dance club still appears to be by word of mouth. It's a good thing we can all still depend on the kindness of strangers, because the technology is still practically very far from helpful in a real crunch. And no, we never found a place to dance and ended up in a bizzarre piano dive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

LinkedIn Catchup

While the high-tech world has a tendency to favor first-movers, moving second can have its benefits. LinkedIn is arguably way ehind Facebook in terms of forming groups, and just recently LinkedIn has made it simple to use applications. I've been waiting for this capability since I saw LinkedIn and Google showing off the calendar application on the release of OpenSocial.

Although Facebook is increasingly being used for serious networking and setting up get-togethers, including business networking meetings, Facebook isn't intrinsically designed to be serious. Facebook is fun and colorful, while LinkedIn is black-and-white, I've heard it said, but I don't wear my party shirts to business meetings.

For business networking, LinkedIn is far and away the most popular social network, and by adding groups and applications, they are poised to really take a leap. A minority of users are actively using the professional lists, the bias is clear. If you go to LinkedIn to set up a group, you are doing so for professional networking purposes, and dramatically enhancing your reach to other professionals in the area.

I've been warmly welcomed to every group I attempted to join, and offered connectivity to other group members. This is networking at its best.
You may have some doubts as to the quality of the links acquired through this type of networking, and I agree. However, fundamentally, it's no different than having a coffee at a professional conference with someone. You still don't know the person; you might not necessarily recommend them or refer them to a colleague; but you would be inclined to at least read the e-mail they send to you. The major significant difference in the LinkedIn connection is: you can actually remember you have it and search for it when you need it. Whether you store your paper business cards in a binder of a box, no matter what sorting system you use, there's no denying that it's going to be easier to find a LinkedIn connection than a business card.

The only major feature lacking is "notes", such as you would scribble on the back of a business card. I would like to see that feature on a social network: the ability to write your own personal comments on how you met the person and the ability to apply your own tags for later search of the person's profile.

Apps are just in the nascent stage, and don't yet include the kinds of tools that will connect online to real life encounters. To do that, applications need to correspond real-world activities with online and professional profiles. For example, if you are attending an event, and you want to meet a certain type of professional, you should be able to make the proper search. If you are on business in a foreign city or a particular hotel, you could use some kind of application to put together a minyan, or find someone to go jogging with who is also a professional in your field.

Most business travelers find themselves alone much of the time they travel, so this could be incredibly effective. Imagine being able to find the right person to sit next to on a flight instead of ending up next to the crying baby. Not that I have anything against crying babies; I've had a couple of my own. Still, when on business, the benefit of sitting in a plane next to someone visiting the same conference or belonging to the same industry is clear.

At this stage, the applications tend to restrict your life to the virtual. I'm looking forward to LinkedIn's providing apps that cross the gaps and create meaningful relationships. Recent developments lead me to believe that time is drawing near.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Skype Gripes and Swipes

I've heard plenty of gripes about Skype. I've heard analysts and bystanders say that Skype can't compete with other VoIP platforms. I've heard it's got security holes. I've heard people say it's annoying to talk from your computer. I agree that ebay paid too much for Skype.

Despite all this talk, Skype is now used for real business. As far as I can tell, it's at least as popular as fixed line.

In other words, these gripes and swipes simply aren't true. While it is true that Skype is essentially a proprietary client, and other softphones are "standard" SIP (I know enough about SIP for the idea of standard to be in quotes.), meaning they should be able to call one another, in fact this isn't of much concern to anyone. People still use regular phone numbers and for all intents and purposes, SkypeOut and SkypeIn are no different than the interfaces of any other VoIP interfaces.

For all the talk of Skype security problems, I have not heard one live actual account of a security breach due to Skype. I spoke to one of the Skype founders who told me the same thing. Not one live incident. If you know of one instance, by all means comment (and I don't mean you heard of it or read it on the Internet -- I mean, do you know an individual who had such a problem, not an IT manager who claimed it was a problem).

The bottom line, basically is that Skype has got it right. I can't put my finger on exactly what is right, but everybody has it on their desktop. Today, it's absolutely acceptable to tell a business contact to Skype you, and it's relatively rare for anyone (at least in the technology industry) to say they don't Skype.

The main convenience of Skype over other forms of communication is what people in the industry call "presence". That means I know if you are available before I, um, "dial", the, um, "device". It's also convenient that it's free, you don't really dial, and you see people's name instead of their telephone number, but those features don't change the basic functionality the way presence does.

Presence is revolutionary for two reasons. The main reason is that we no longer need to set fixed meeting times. I recently set a teleconferences with a collegues defining the time as "Some time between 4-6 pm. Look for me on Skype." We didn't have to sit by our desks, worry about stopping in the middle of the previous call, or any of that. We just "saw" one another online. Another meeting was defined by "Wednesday or Thursday afternoon next week when we are both online." Obviously, these weren't the most important meetings on my schedule, and they didn't involve more than 2 people (though Skype is amazing for that, too.), but you get the idea. Using Skype is changing our concept of scheduling. I don't know whether this is good or bad, it just is.

The other reason presence is revolutionary is that getting a phone call really never needs to be an annoyance anymore. Although sales guys have my Skype address, they don't take advantage of it any more than my regular fixed or cell number. I'm an extremely accessible person, being as I have customer-facing as well as spokesperson roles at my company. It's easy to find my cell phone phone number.

Despite my accessibility, my experience is that the best sales people are never an intrusion. With Skype, if they want to call, the usually will open a "chat" first and ask if it's a convenient time. Yes, they could have done the same thing by picking up the phone, but somehow, the quick chat is much less of a bother. Sales people who don't use Skype are starting to be much more of a bother to me than those who have access to knowlege about whether I'm online.

Given this, it makes sense that Skype would also integrate a feature that would allow me to define "work" and "real" friends, and define my status accordingly. That is, when I'm at work, my work colleagues would see me online, but they wouldn't see me online when I am at home. If it integrated with Plaxo to adopt those attributes, wow, I'd really be in heaven then.

Meanwhile, feel free to Skype anytime.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Uncommon Marketing: Out of Touch

In my last entry, I talked about common sense as a marketing tool, and in this blog I talk about common courtesy as a marketing tool. You can apply this one to social networking if you like; it works for both analog and digital relationships, so to speak.

I can't begin a discussion of lead follow-up without the soapbox introduction. (start soapbox)Can you believe that in this day and age, the best way to keep track of the people you meet is by exchanging a piece of paper with ink on it? Even if the person has inconsiderately used glossy colored paper or if the card is two-sided, you can still fit in some scribbled notes in the margins. Nothing invented to date can take the place of having that pile of cards with notes on it. You get back to the office and scan the cards in and put the notes down in a database file, but fundamentally, we are still using little cards to introduce ourselves.

It's true that the booths at trade shows have barcode scanners, but they are useless. They offer no way to identify the real leads from the giveaway-vultures, and now way to put in personal notes next to the name of the person whose badge you have scanned. And of course, only the exhibitors have the scanners at the booth. Even if the scanners were useful, they are useful in the minority of situations (trade shows) and for the minority of participants (exhibitors only). Booth visitors have to take a slip of paper or other physical reminder they have been there.
(end soapbox)

Given that you've been to a trade show or networking event and have collected either scanned bits of digitized contact information or information rendered on thin dead tree scraps, the next step should be to do something with the information gleaned. Amazingly, this step is overlooked by the overwhelming majority of people. The most "professional" booths scan your card and add you to their newsletter list, which is ok, but it doesn't actually create any useful business contact.

It is rare for you to get any direct personal mail from the person you met, or from the person they said you ought to meet in their company. I wish I could think of any logical explanation for this behavior but I can't. Well-organized sales people are the only follow-ups you get. You can immediately tell these people are using a lead management system. You have to wonder, why don't all the staff use the lead tracking system? Why shouldn't product managers, financial managers, and ops managers track their contacts in an organized manner? It's really a matter of common sense.

It's also a matter of common courtesy. If you meet a new person and say you will be in touch, the idea is that you want to be in touch. Maybe you are secretly hoping they won't hold you to it, because actually you don't have any business interest in staying in touch. One of the beauties of online social networking is that you can "friend" these new people or add them as business contacts, without any obligation to really have a communication.

In fact, it is much more common for me to go to a networking or other event, meet someone I frankly have nothing in common with, and have them friend me on FB or LinkedIn than it is for me to meet someone I have real business interest in and have them send me a personal communication. Think about that for a moment. People would rather add you to their "network" for no particular reason than contact you for a business reason.

But you know what, at least some of the blokes you send out there DO add those guys to their business network and now have another "link" when needed. Some folks are too reserved even to add the link or friend the people. Now, when you think about who you are sending to expensive trade shows, you have some insight about their effectiveness. It's easy to find out who in your company at least LinksIn or Facebooks, right? It is the ones who have more than a couple of hundred friends/contacts, many of whom are from the industry. Before you book those tickets for your staff, check their LinkedIn profile (If you targeting European markets, check their Xing profile.).

Hopefully, you don't have to resort to this methodology with your sales people, because the sales people are tracking their leads already, and you have a quantitative idea of who is or isn't effective at large events through an automated system.

One final word on follow-up. Amazingly enough, if you do follow up and send a personal e-mail, most people don't answer you. I can understand they might not really be interested, or they are overwhelmed, or whatever. In fact I know why they are overwhelmed. When I don't get an answer, I have a tendency to send them another e-mail or two before giving up. No wonder they can't keep up with the flow. If they'd just answer me in the first place and say they aren't interested, it would reduce their incoming e-mail by 50%. It would also be just plain decent.

I know that you are thinking "gosh, if I answered all those annoying sales people, it would eat up my day". Truthfully, that is just ridiculous. I answer all those annoying sales people at my job, because it is my job to work with suppliers and offer my company various marketing options. I can't know about them if I don't talk to those annoying sales people. I often tell them right up front it's not interesting, and then they go away. Sales people work on commission and if there is no chance of commission, they go away very quickly.

Having common courtesy is so uncommon these days it leaves an amazing impression, even on people who will not do business with you. No matter who you are, there is some way to get through all that e-mail in a courteous way. You might need an auto-reply, but frankly I doubt it. One of my most memorable e-mail exchanges was with Guy Kawasaki. I wanted to add this blog to alltop, a library of top blogs and I wrote to the info address (or whatever it said there). Guy personally answered me and we exchanged a few mails.

I don't know who you are, but if you are reading this blog, it's safe to say you aren't busier than Guy. It's worth asking yourself, what is it that is preventing you from having the common courtesy and business sense to simply behave professionally and politely with all of the people in your network on a weekly (if not daily) basis.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Uncommon Marketing: Giving it all away

The longer I'm in the industry, the more it appears that the most commonly overlooked marketing tools are common sense and common courtesy. Note: today's entry talks about traditional marketing with no mention of social networking.

It hit me recently following a trade show I had visited. As the marketing guy at the show, I have several roles: marcom (booth manager), competitive intelligence (visiting other booths with a high level of curiosity) and lead generation (approaching potential customers or partners.) Within this framework, I can't help but noticing the absurdity and lack of common sense of the giveaway and lead follow-up cultures. In this post, I'll talk about the giveaways and speak of lead follow-up in a future post.

The marcoms of the world have an established giveaway exchange system going. At the end of the show, nobody wants to ship extras back home, so we give them away to whoever is around during those last few hours of the show. In other words, we swap with other marcoms. We also trade info during the show about who has what, so we know who we want to swap with, if we haven't already just gone by and boldly asked for the item we want.

On the other hand, when I go to booths with genuine interest, either as a potential partner, customer, or supplier, almost never am I offered a giveaway. Since what I really want is information, I never ask for one, unless I've been tipped off (and as the lead generation guy, I might not have a good marcom to tip me off).

In other words, if you are sending giveaways to trade shows, you can be pretty sure that the majority of them are going to marcoms or giveaway-hunters. Almost none of them are going to the people you want them to go to, that is potential customers or partners.

Just to give people an idea of the cost of participating in these shows, companies who do booths put out from US$20,000 (for a tiny booth and associated costs), on through upwards of $1M for the big booths and big productions. Generally, the total costs for a medium sized booths runs in the neighborhood of $300-500K. Giveaways are a small part of the outlay, something like $5-$10 a piece. The total might be $1000-$3000 if you give out one to every serious booth-visitor at a good show.

In other words, if you are already spending half a mil to show up in the first place, it's worth putting in the extra grand to be remembered. After all, that's why you made giveaways in the first place. Most brochures don't make it to the hotel room, much less the luggage of the person who took them. Most people have poor filing systems for business cards (more about that in the lead follow-up post), so that's not going to remind them. Give them an item, they will at least pack it and get it home and remember the visit to your booth when they unpack.

Some companies will claim they just don't have giveaways or don't give them out at shows anymore. Yeah, right. We all give them out less than during 1999, but any company with one or more salespeople either has giveaways or an open account for alcoholic beverages at the duty-free (or both, depending on the target market).

I used to have common-sense ideas about giveaways, but I've been proven wrong repeatedly. For example, I said not to get things for the kids, because people just give them to their kids, instead of remembering the brand themselves. However, I must have tripped over that noise-making light-emitting bouncy-ball at least half a dozen times this week. I used to say don't give useless gifts, but I swear I've dreamed about Light Reading monkeys and Hatteras cows (boy, am I ever sorry I googled that one). My common-sense theory is that it should be visible and useful, but given that the most memorable giveaways for me were neither, just go with whatever strikes your fancy. Just don't forget to give it away to people who you want to remember your company rather than just swapping with your fellow marcoms.

If you are making a cheap (under $2) giveaway as a way to get people to come to your booth, then you want to proactively give it away, by having a booth hostess actually offer it graciously to passers-by. This mostly is relevant to companies doing mass branding campaigns, or in very targeted conferences. Bottom line=common sense. If the gimmick is for a purpose, use it for that purpose. If it is not, don't bother to produce it.

Incidentally, I found the booth stinginess syndrome runs over into coffee and chairs. Many booths have drink or food bars, or comfortable sitting areas. The concept is that if you spent a quarter of a mil, you want as many people as possible to visit the booth.

Yet in several cases I was either refused a drink or asked to leave the booth area if I wasn't talking to a company rep at that moment. I found this particularly odd at booths which appeared empty. If your booth is empty, you should be pleased that me and my buddy are free-riding at one of your 3 empty tables. If we are there, at least your booth isn't full of your own staff with no visible interest from anyone else.

Even for a customer truly in need, there is something off-putting about stepping into a 20-foot square space with 8 logo-shirt-clad sales guys ready to jump you. OTOH, if you are a competitor, it warms your heart to walk by a booth with nothing but logo-shirts. Plus, just between you and me, I'd rather waste the coffee on anyone in the industry who might have a good word to say about us afterward than to my own staff, who I can treat to cheap instant coffee at the office when we get back.

By all means, if your booth is bustling, kick out the freeloaders. Otherwise, offer me a coffee; or you know what, say coffee is on the house, but we are sending Bill over here to chat you up for a few minutes. At least find out if I am someone you want to know or offer your services to. You can be pretty sure that if you ask me what my company does, I will answer you; that's what I came to the show for.

At the very least, scan my badge, something more intelligent that booting me from your booth. Rather than saving $5 on bottle of fizzy drink, you can be building a story for your boss about how many people visited your wildly successful booth. Incidentally, I can tell you that just by this common courtesy I ended up talking to a number of people I had didn't have any business with. Mostly nothing came of it, but in some cases we were able to refer one another to someone who was of interest. It's called networking, but the basis is just common sense and common courtesy. Again, you've spent the time and money to be there: chat up everyone you possibly can. (Incidentally, I am serious about the $5 fizzy-drink; exhibition organizers force you to buy the drinks from their approved caterer, and that's what they charge. You get some plastic cups and a paper-bucket of ice thrown in for that price, if it's any consolation (which it isn't because you're paying $150/day for the mini-fridge rental).)

Again, I'm not saying you must offer this common courtesy to anyone, but if you aren't planning to, get a meeting room instead of open tables, and keep the coffee maker in the meeting room. Don't get couches. (In general, don't get couches and comfy chairs, unless you are a furniture manufacturer. You don't want people lounging around in your booth.) But if you are thinking "drinks attract people", attract them. Don't let your attraction go to waste by being inhospitable.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Community Atonement

One of the great things about Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, is that you don't have to make up the text yourself. Let's face it, none of us remember all the things we did wrong, and even if we did, we mostly don't admit they were wrong.

When I read through the list they give me in the prayerbook, there are some I am pretty sure I've done, like giving bad advice. I give lots of advice, so for sure I have given bad advice, and I need forgiveness for that. I've definitely been stubborn and insensitive and done bad deeds unintentionally. On the other hand, there are those things on the list that I'm pretty sure I didn't do this year, like having sexual relations with a family member.

It was pointed out to me, however, that the text doesn't refer to things that I did, but rather to things that we did. It doesn't say, Lord forgive me. It says, Lord, forgive us. If you've been following this column, it shouldn't be surprising to you to hear that this had a special meaning for me this year, as I reflected on the responsibility we have as members of a community, not just to do the right thing, but to influence others to do the right thing. The text of the prayers makes it starkly clear. We aren't just responsible for our own actions; we are responsible for our actions as a community and for the actions of members of our community.

For most of us, this is something of an annoyance. I have enough trouble keeping myself in line; you want me to watch that troublemaker, too? Unfortunately, the truth is that what others do influences our lives. For example, in most Western societies, people recycle because of social pressure, not because there is any real incentive. In this context, it's obvious that what our neighbor does has influence on our lives, and that our behavior influences theirs.

The same goes for our online behavior. Recently I read an article that one of the mobile operators is now reporting that Google searches for "Facebook" are outnumbering searches for pornography. You may debate whether this is an actual change in behavior; but at any rate it illustrates something about social behavior. Shifts in behavior online happen rapidly, and are immediately measurable. (One of my favorite sites in this area is Compete.com, and I follow their blog regularly.) You might argue that people no longer have to search for pornography when they are lonely; now they can just search for other people. It sounds pretty good when you put it that way.

Regardless of what it means, online social networks are one of the most obvious places where you can see that our behavior influences others. Just as an example, Jeff Pulver posted that friends don't bite friends, so anyone following him (and he's one of the most influential Facebookers around) probably won't add the Vampires application. Not that it's a real bite or anything, but in that particular circle, that particular behavior has become unacceptable.

The tools available for sharing what you consider moral or amoral behavior have rapidly expanded. People know what you are doing through status messages, what you are reading through shared RSS feeds, and what you do for fun through applications you add to your profile.

More than ever, we are responsible for our influence on our colleagues and friends. Let us resolve to use that influence for the good, so that next year we will have a longer list of things we have influenced others to avoid, not just avoided doing ourselves.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Clean Slate

Thankfully, I don't belong to one of those cultures where we make new year's resolutions. If I did, keeping up with this blog would probably be on my list. It's not that I've run out of ideas, but I have been just a tad short on time. When I can, I'll go public about it, but right now, suffice it to say that this coming year promises to be a wild ride for me.

The Jewish New Year (for those of you who are oblivious to the ways of the "J Club", we celebrate the new year in September), we reflect on what we've done over the last year, and we get an opportunity to repent our sins. We are told that the big guy upstairs will forgive us, but as with everything in J-land, there's a catch. The catch is that you can't repent to the big guy until you have gotten forgiveness from your fellow mortals.

I don't know about you, but I find it much easier to ask forgiveness from God than from my fellow man. Not only that, but it's all written out for you, how to say it and how to apologize for stuff you don't even know you did wrong. With my fellow mortals, I have to come up with something that doesn't sound to stupid, plus I probably need to apologize for things I didn't even know I did wrong (but the fellow I'm talking to certainly does). So like most people, I typically I skip this step.

What we don't realize is how critical it is to forgive and be forgiven. This is the root of leaving the past in the past. You know how it is when something isn't complete with someone in your life. You skip over their phone number, and you get that funny feeling. You avoid thinking about them or talking to them. Or you talk to them about everything except that funny feeling. In these cases, there is no chance for anything new to happen in the relationship. It isn't clean.

Same with yourself. If you have broken promises to yourself, you can't move on. You can't create new things. The act of getting forgiveness from God is not far detached from the act of getting forgiveness from yourself. We dress in white, and we close the book on last year, and then it is behind us, symbolically.

Whatever you haven't personally left behind, it gives you that funny feeling. Whatever you have left behind is invisible, and leaves an empty space, a new year, a new world.

I think that's why Judaism doesn't talk specifically about new tasks or challenges for the new year. It's a recognition that if you have a clean slate, if you have resolved all the issues that needed to be resolved, then what you have is the potential to fill the clean slate with whatever you choose. This can be a year of new relationships with new people, or new relationships with the same old people -- if you have done the work of leaving the past behind you. It's not easy work but it's mandated, so here we go.

I've committed over the next 10 days to make calls to resolve open issues in my relationships. If I don't call you, and there is anything open or unresolved between us, by all means call me. Let's just keep it clean.

For myself, I am declaring this a year of all-out love, all-out fun, all-out freedom, and astonishing results. Stay tuned!

Shana Tova v'metuka to all of you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Um, Do I Know You?

Before the days of social networking and on-line profiles, I frequently failed to correctly correlate people's names to their faces. That's a nice way of saying that I forgot people's names. I'm even worse with faces, actually.

I'm so bad that I couldn't recognize my first cousin at a railroad station. ("He had a hat on," I told my then-husband, who had recognized him immediately despite having seen him only twice before.) Thank goodness most people don't have such poor facial memories, because I can usually find people because the person at the train station is looking at me, and their facial expression shows that they recognized me.

Now, when I forget a name, if I get the context right I can go through the people in my social network, and remind myself of the name. I'm pretty good at remembering names once I've read them in text, meaning my retention has gotten much better. If I'm meeting an old friend, or one I can't quite recall despite having seen him the day before, I can look them up online to remind myself.

It's fun meeting someone for the first time and knowing what they look like, or doing a telephone interview and never meeting them and still knowing what they look like. I mean, it could be potentially fun for people who can remember those types of things. (Yes, I have been unable to recognize someone in a coffee shop despite having looked up their picture online an hour before, too.)

Unfortunately, my poor facial recognition skills have been replaced by non-reciprocal relationship intimacy.

I frequently update my Facebook status, which means that anyone paying attention has a fair idea of what my life probably looks like. I am fairly careful not to write anything too intimate, or anything I don't want my employer to know. However, I do update at least once a day (less on weekends usually), and my profile is public, plus I friend anyone who wants to friend me.

What this means is that I can run into someone at a networking event, and that someone I have never met before could walk up to me and say "Hi, Rebecca! How are the home repairs going?" Now I am totally out of context with the person. I don't know how I know them (I don't), they are into my personal life (because the answer to the question is that I now have a carpet with mint-green paint splashes all over it), and worst of all I don't know their name and don't know that I am not supposed to know it.

They probably know I don't know, or at the very least wouldn't be insulted if they learned I don't know, and now it is too late because instead of giving them a blank look, I did the thing they train marketing people to do, which is too look them in the eye, smile, and confidently launch myself into the conversation. This is what I call non-reciprocal relationship intimacy. If I'm lucky and the context is right, I can exchange business cards with them. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in contexts such as a roller-blading, synagogue, or a supermarket.

I've always been active in online communities, and for at least the last 5 years I have met people who asked me "Are you THE Rebecca Rachmany?" (I wonder why they ask that; there aren't any other Rebecca Rachmanys I know of.) When people asked that I knew they were either members of Digital Eve or Tech-Shoret. Now, if someone asks that, I wonder what happened to their Internet connection. Not only do people not ask, because they've seen my picture, but they also know all about my professional life, and something about my personal life (usually that I am addicted to roller-blading), and they jump right into a conversation.

At the end of the day, despite a bit of discomfort, I've found the status updates have kept my friends closer to me. Often people say they feel they know what is going on in my life even though we see one another infrequently. That's a warming feeling. Even though it often seems nobody notices, people are reading those status updates, and it is creating a bond that wouldn't otherwise be there. So.... what are you doing right now?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Social Networking Birthday

Birthdays have always been inevitable in that you get older whether anyone knows the official date or not. I've tended not to make a big deal over my birthday, since it would mean I would have to remember yours.

Now, birthdays are inevitable in that everybody knows when yours is if you participate in Plaxo, Xing, Facebook, etc., not to mention BirthdayAlarm. Last year, most of my real friends weren't in social networks, so I got a bunch of e-cards and wall posts from people I might even recognize if I ran into them in the mall.

This birthday was the absolute best since the Sesame Street birthday my parents did when I was 5 or 6. I really cannot thank you, my real and virtual friends, enough. It started with dinner with my friend Suzie, went on to warm regards from my roller-blading friends at TAR, waking to virtual greetings, cake and e-cards from my work colleagues, a phone that didn't stop ringing all day, a private guitar concert, and a political meeting with birthday cake and hugs.

WOW!

If I was waiting for the one day when I would suddenly see the impact of social networking on my real life, yesterday was that day. Thanks, everyone, for making this year's birthday absolutely amazing!!!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Displaying One's Privates

Last week's blog talked about control and this blog is going to talk about why I might want control. Anyone who knows me might get the mistaken impression that I am a control freak. I don't know why that is, but leave it for now.

My friend Terri teaches a college-level constitution course and she tells me it's amazingly difficult to explain to people why you need the 4th amendment. Invariably, one of the students says "If you haven't done anything wrong, what do you care if you are searched?" Fortunately for her, it's almost always a woman, and so Terri gives the standard answer, which is, "Ok, I'm an employee of the State. Empty your purse right now so I can check it out." Although I don't have anything incriminating in my purse, there really is only so much I want the general public to know about my personal hygiene.

The constitution doesn't explicitly protect the right to privacy (for those of us living in a country with a constitution); but even if we didn't have a right to privacy, there are some things that are intrinsically private. Nobody can go inside your mind and find out just how close you got to throwing your 3-year-old out the window, for example. And even a dedicated FB user does not have to fill in the blank for "We hooked up and it was ___" even if we did and it was (or wasn't).

And yet...

When people start to twitter, you get a granular accounting of their life. When people upload photographs with name tags, you know exactly what parties your friends didn't invite you to. When you watch what someone diggs or deliciouses, you start to get an idea of whether they are moonlighting or thinking about a new startup, and in what field. Tracking who is friending who on what network? How about whether your spouse added the "Hot or Not" application or found a new match on the blind date app? (What are married people thinking when they add these apps?)

So about my privacy. I am realizing that some of my casual friends and colleagues could make some pretty good guesses about what I do with my social life, or with my spare time. I'm relatively aware regarding how public this information is, and still, I probably rely more on "people don't have time to snoop" than the reality of how easy it would be for them to do so.

Forget about my right to privacy. What about my right not to know? What if I don't want to know my nephew's hottness rating? Who my mother-in-law is hooking up with? Which of my friends are going out to dinner without me? Who can afford a nicer mobile device than the one I've got?

Yes, having privacy would be great; but increasingly I'm thinking I would just settle for not having a public display of everyone else's private parts.

Control Freak

Ever since social networks showed up, I've lamented that this great technology has simply created a situation where I have multiple profiles in various places, with different collections of contacts. It's a bit of a bizarre world, in fact.

Facebook is a kind of place where I collect pretty much anyone I would say "hi" to, my personal address book which is people I actually contact regularly, Flickr contains only friends who I really want seeing pictures of my kids, etc. If only I could have some control over all of this. So far, I've tried some different solutions, like Plaxo Pulse, Flock, and Gaim/Meebo (for IM consolidation). I spend a lot of time thinking about, configuring and playing around with my system, needless to say. I can justify it because I'm a marketing guy... what's your excuse?

Anyway, the latest thing is Friendfeed. Friendfeed is designed to connect up all these networks. It's kind of like a control panel for my online life, in particular my activities and status. My "friends" can now know what I am doing at any time.

I can't help but feeling, though, that while all of these solutions are helping me consolidate my world, and make it easier to manage, none of them are really giving me "control". Only Plaxo differentiates between business contacts and friends, supposedly with the purpose of allowing you to publish different things to friends or family than you would to business contacts. That's obviously the level of control I want.

However, with Plaxo, I don't really get the control at the end of the day, because the other services don't allow that. Ideally, if this blog had a "public", "business" and "personal" setting, I could have a situation where some posts would be available to the general public, some only to my actual contacts, and some only to my real friends. I should have those same options on Facebook, shared RSS feeds, Flickr photographs, whatever. That would be actual control, rather than what I'm getting today which is more like convenience.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Group Paradigm

Groups are a great thing. Groups give a sense of belonging. Groups are a reference point for getting recommendations and assistance.

Different social networks seem to have different group paradigms, but the underlying assumption of all the social network "groups" seems to be that there is a leader and then there are joiners. The paradigm also seems to assume that the joiners will come on a "pull" basis to check out what is happening with other group members. This paradigm is vastly inferior to a listserv (think yahoogroups) where anyone can post to a group. In fact, it's even inferior to blogs, which I can at least get in my RSS feed. Yes, the truth is that Facebook and Ning groups suck. Now LinkedIn is following suit. I haven't joined a group there yet, but let's just say I don't have any great expectations.

The one real use of Facebook Groups is to find more friends you know and attach names to faces. So you join a group, let's say the Digital Eve Israel Group. Now you can see the actual faces of all the women you've been e-mailing for over 5 years on the list. You can "friend" them and then you seem really well-connected. Yay! Not.

Now if you join the Tel Aviv Rollers group, that is really useful because you see these guys ever week but for the life of you can't remember their names. Yay! Only they look totally different in their pictures than they do in RL and half the time it's no use. But the other half, Yay! Not.

I mean, it's not totally useless, but it's hardly what I would call a "group" in terms of allowing you to communicate with other members of the group. It's amazing that an application that Yahoo has gotten so right for so long is completely mysterious to the builders of social networks. A group is where you communicate among the group, not an announcement list where only the administrator can send something to the group.

On Yahoo or Google groups, anyone can send a message to the whole group. On Yahoo there is a group calendar, so all events are in one location. As a list member, you are informed when anyone uploads files or pictures to the group. This way, whenever anything happens in the group, you, a member, are notified.

On social networks, the groups are just kind of there. You can post on various boards (discussion, wall, etc.), but you aren't informed when someone posts on the board. So if I have a great event going on in Hod Hasharon, and I want to inform the 1000 members of the FB Hod Hasharon group, I can post there, but most of them don't check the discussion groups regularly, so none of them will know. The only person who can actually send to the whole group is the group administrator.

One of my associates, Sharon Weshler, has a group where he sends out weekly announcements of what is happening on the group. You shouldn't have to do that. Your group should inform you in some way, preferably a configurable way. You could choose to get a weekly update from Ning or Facebook, or you could get on-the-fly updates through your RSS reader.

I've administered and led a lot of groups. No matter what group I've been a part of, virtual or real, the power of the group is in the GROUP, not concentrated in the leader. A great leader is one who delegates and leverages the strengths of the group members. So far, none of the community sites I've seen have put together the right paradigm for allowing great leaders to do this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Succeed Failure

Most of the projects we set out to do end up as failures.

Today is the last day of the Self Expressions and Leadership Program I've been doing, and one of the most important skills I gained was not just to measure the results in my work, but to measure the results in all of the projects in my life, and to be able to look those results in the eye and call them what they are. Often, what they are is a failure, or at least a partial failure, when compared to the original intention of the project.

So my project to have the teens in my city create and perform a Broadway-style musical has now been distilled to the possibility of a once-a-week activity for 5 weeks in cooperation with the city. On the one hand, that's not any where near what I envisioned. On the other hand, it is something, and it's something that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Furthermore, I've gotten closer with a number of parents in the patrol, been able to help them out with some personal stuff in a number of instances, and several parents who hadn't participated began to participate. Also, as a side effect, some interesting things are happening for me in local politics.

The same thing is going on with almost all of the other projects in our course. A few happened as envisioned, but most of them turned out either smaller in scope or different than planned. All of them had similar side effects in the communities and for the leader of the project.

If you look at your life, you'll probably see similar results. You set out to have a great relationship with your kid, or a specific partner, or a particular job or salary, or start a startup. Most of the time, you didn't get exactly what you set out to get, when you set out to get it.

But you got something.

So then the question is, if you know you are going to fail, or get less than what you set out to get, how do you set out to your project in the first place?

It seems obvious to me that if you want to get what you want, you have to set out with a much, much bigger goal and a plan to reach that bigger goal. (It's not enough to set the goal, obviously, you need to start executing some plan.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kung Fu Video

One boring afternoon in high school, hanging out in a friend's backyard, someone, I think it was Eric Pullier (maybe it was Andrew Goldman, but I'm not attempting to Google someone with that name), came up with the idea of filming a Kung Fu movie with a home video camera. We filmed a few scenes, which was both memorable and entertaining. I don't recall that we finished the film, but Eric seems to have done alright.

That was more than 20 years ago, when creating your own independent film was just a dream for a bunch of high-schoolers. Now my kids walk around the house with my mobile device, filming the cats and disappearing magic acts. We can publish anything we want to YouTube, as soon as I can figure the right resolution on the mobile device (it comes with 3 built-in resolutions, every time you film, apparently).

The online content catching my attention lately isn't the home-made, YouTube type. Two major trends have emerged, trends that make it hard to imagine paying for content in the future.

One trend is entertaining propaganda. Corporate advertising is one example, but increasingly you get clever people entertaining you with important messages. The Story of Stuff is one of my favorites, because, honestly speaking, it doesn't say much I don't know; it would be faster for me to read in text; but it's still entertaining and I watched it all the way through, and showed it to my kids.

The other trend is independent filmmakers are creating content. Some of them are hoping to get funding or looking to merchandising. To some degree, watchers have become tolerant of buffering, and an advert or two before or after a program is no more intrusive than the adverts on commercial television. Everything from worldwide live television to independent films is available free.

What all of this means is that entertainment is becoming more and more free. The concept that the digital world is becoming totally free is relatively mainstream these days with Chris Andersen writing a book about it.

I know a fair number of people who are trying to make a living or raise money for various ventures involving video or animation. I have to wonder about that. I'm not saying video can't make money. In fact, my searches came up with clear advice on how to monetize video on the net. But it's not easy these days.

What's happening with video is pretty much the same as is happening with all kind of art. A lot of people in my family are artists, as in painting and sculpture. They create these works of arts primarily for themselves and their families, as a form of self expression. You know, like people who write poetry for themselves and never publish. All of these fairly talented artists make a living doing something else, and they create art for pleasure.

We've been seeing packaged and popular art, video and music, for so long that we've forgotten that developing art as a form of income is a relatively new invention. Throughout most of human history, the primary form of entertainment was music or storytelling that people made up for themselves and their neighbors. Few and fortunate were the artists and performers who found a patron or made a living from it.

The movie and music industries may find themselves horrified by the idea that anyone can produce a movie or music, and that there will be an increasingly smaller market for their wares, but truthfully, for most of human history, that's how it's been.

Modern society is global, meaning that some media will continue to be global. A small proportion of movies and music will still reach very large audiences, becoming the foundation of our common culture. Increasingly, however, our communities will be creating their own media, bonding our closer ties at the expense of some of the broader ones.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

ככה לא בונים חומה

Not everything translates.

In case you've been wondering, I've been light on the blogging because of an extended trip to the States for both business and pleasure. It started with NXTcomm and ended with my sister's getting married. Here is my sister Sara and Brett, my new brother-in-law. They smiled like that practically the entire time I spent with them.

Sara and Brett decided to build their home on some land out in the Catskills. Meanwhile, they are living in a rickety trailer. While visiting we stayed in a pop-up camper we borrowed. Other friends and family stayed in various places, including inside the trailer, in an array of tents on the grounds of the farm, and I don't know where else. Some mornings I woke up and couldn't find all the people I knew had gone to sleep there the night before. By mid-day everyone emerged, but it's still a bit of a mystery to me where they had been all night.

Since it's taking a while to get the building permits for their house, Brett has taken on a number of other useful projects, like clearing the future driveway and the future space for the home. He's upgraded the barn, and started building a stone hen house. So when we got up there, there was plenty of barn-painting, cement-mixing, and other stuff to do. And there were plenty of us to do it. Almost all of these people in this picture were staying in tents, pop-ups and the trailer at some time during the week. At some points there were 16 of us, so there was plenty of work just making food and cleaning up after eating (There's no dishwasher and we tragically out of paper plates for a few meals.) Oh, and we were organizing the last details of the wedding, too.

The most intensive job was building the hen house. I have never heard of a stone hen house, but Brett dreamed it up and everybody got involved. You know, for people like me, who produce things like blogs, there really is nothing to compare with the satisfaction of creating an actual solid thing out of stone. Unfortunately, joint injuries prevented me from taking active part in that activity, but I got a good shot of my kids, nephew and brother doing it.

Brett's brother, Brad, spent many a day on this project, happily. When the friends of Sara and Brett came up to the farm, they also pitched in building as well as painting the barn.

I looked for some good pictures of myself among the many taken by myself and family members. I chose this one for this blog, because it is a testament to my and my family's ability to express skepticism in any situation. Here we are, dressed to the hilt, in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, rehearsing the wedding. My daughter, my brother, and I have the unmistakable look of disbelief and suffering, despite having faith and enjoying ourselves.

I've been involved in a number of community projects, as you, my faithful followers, probably know. One of the main secrets to successful projects (of which my last one was not) is to get other people on board. No matter how ridiculous or enormous the project, if you can get enough people on board, you can get the project completed. How else can you explain landing on the moon? How ridiculous was that?(I know it's unpatriotic to say so, but to this day, I am not sure exactly how useful the moon-landing activity was.)

Brett is exactly the kind of person who could get people to think that landing on the moon is a good idea, or that it makes sense to build a hen house from stone, or that the barn must be red because brown just isn't good enough. He doesn't convince anyone of anything. He's not slick in any way. He's just a guy who believes. He isn't skeptical and he never puts down an idea. He believes it's going to be fun, and, in fact it is. Everybody had a blast.

This vacation helped remind me of the importance of the kind of optimism and love of life that is necessary to achieve truly great results. Hey, if nothing else, I have to drop the attitude just so I can have some decent photographs of myself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On the road again

Over the last 2 weeks I've been in more airports than I care to count. At half of them, my bag didn't pass the X-ray screening and I've been subjected to having a gloved guard go through the contents of my bag. I had a few giveaways from NXTcomm there. The freebie disk-on-key was suspicious, but apparently a melted chocolate bar does not count as a liquid.

On the one hand, I understand these people are here to protect us. On the other hand, does baby formula really pose a security threat? We all know the answer, and we all put up with it because we know that even if they have prevented one terrorist attack, it has all been worth it.

But have they?

I've done a bit of online searching, and the TSA is very good about posting all of their amazing successes here. Not one of their glorious press releases cites catching or preventing a terrorist attack, unfortunately. But did you know that they confiscated 13 million prohibited items over the course of a year? That includes my bottled water from one of the legs of my trip. YOu know, if they did consider melted chocolate bars as liquid, I bet they could at least double the number of confiscated items.

Honestly, I personally don't mind the delays. I do believe there should be some level of screening. But it needs to be rational and human. I found it fairly humiliating to have a guy with gloves asking me if there was anything sharp that could pop out of my bag and endanger him when he opens it. I found it offensive watching them search families with small children and take away their baby formula. Traveling with a baby is hard enough as it is.

I'm still waiting to hear about the apprehension of one terrorist disguised as a mommy with a baby to justify all this. But there are zero. After 5 years of no baby terrorists, perhaps it's time to rethink the policy.

404 people

Last week I was at the communication industry's largest event, NXTcomm. Again, I was surprised at how few of my colleagues are available by doing an online search and that some of them don't seem to use any social networking tools.

I keep thinking to myself, shouldn't everyone in sales in marketing in the technology industry have a profile in LinkedIn or Spoke? Even my mother has a LinkedIn profile. Am I exaggerating to say everyone in the industry should have online presence?

In my mind, when I meet someone, I don't necessarily have to exchange a business card with them in order to find them. If I know their first name and the company they work for, I should be able to find them. If it's a large company and their name is John, probably I need to know their last name or what department they work in, but in theory, that should be enough to find someone in LinkedIn. Strangely enough, though, it isn't. There were marketing people I couldn't find in a Google search, even when I had their business card in my hand, with every one of their professional details.

I honestly feel puzzled. Is there something wrong with my world view? Are there really that many people who are still wary or have privacy issues? Are they so behind the times they don't list themselves anywhere online? Do they think it is useless to have a listing? What reasons have people given you for not having an online prsence?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Media Talk

For some strange reason, I am head of the media team for my course in Self-Expression and Leadership. Although I am a company spokesperson and marketing guy, I felt I was not leveraging my knowledge in my personal life to promote my community projects, so I wanted to get over that barrier.

Being in charge of the media basically means that people in our class call me up to get coaching regarding the media. I am sure everyone reading this column knows how much easier it is to give advice than to actually use that advice in your own life. However, at some point you look like a fool if you give advice you aren't taking, so I've done what I tell people to do.

The number one question people ask me is "What do I do to get an article in the media?" In fact, that's basically the only question people ask me. So far. (Hopefully next week I'll get questions like "that didn't work, what next?") This blog seeks to answer the first question.

What do I do to get an article in the media?

  1. Have an actual story. In this particular course, this is assumed, since all the projects are just amazing.

  2. Have faith that it's easy. Assuming that you reach the appropriate news outlet, it is their job to come up with interesting things to report, so if you are doing something interesting, they will want to report it. National news outlets are putting up articles every 10 minutes, so believe me, they need lots of people to tell them stuff, because they can't make it all up in their heads (They make up quite a bit of it, judging by the zillions of articles on what someone said about what someone else said.)

  3. Identify the appropriate outlet. If you are doing a project, for example, where the kids in your school are giving out MP3s to the seniors in the old folks' home down the street, you can't expect to get a spot on the 8:00 TV news (though you might if you did really good footage, know someone, or are a good salesperson). You can, however, get into your city newspaper or on an online news site covering local news.

  4. Have visuals. Open a paper or an online news site. Amazingly, every article has a picture with it. Some are pretty lame, like a headshot of the person doing the project or a stock photo of a grandfather and a child. The less lame your visual, the more likely the paper is going to want to feature the article. An amazing picture can definitely sell a mediocre article.

  5. Make it easy for the journalist. Send an e-mail where you practically write the article for them. Remember that they are trying to put something new on line every 10 minutes? If it's all written, the 10 minute goal is easy. Include quotes and all the information you can think of. The most important information goes first, and then you go into detail.

  6. If at all possible, quote relevant and credible people. If your project is enforcing fishing laws and preventing overfishing, you could include a positive quote from someone at an environmental organization who sounds like an authority. You could include a negative quote from the ministry of agriculture who told you that nobody enforces the law and they don't plan on bothering with it.

  7. Use the contact details on the web site, then follow up by phone if the journalist doesn't get back to you. If you know the name of a journalist who covers that particular topic, call him up. Again, pitching to a journalist isn't like pitching a sale. Assuming you have an actual story, there is no reason the journalist won't want to talk to you. Every news outlet has an official way to contact them either electronically or by voice, and a system for dealing with those calls.

That's it. No big secrets there.

The one thing you want to keep in mind is NOT choosing the wrong outlet and being careful not to step on toes. Journalists want to be the first to report something. If yours is not a must-have news item, getting it published somewhere may prevent competing journalists from publishing it. In other words, if it is a national story, go first to the national media, because they won't like being "scooped" by local media.

Keep in mind specialty media. For example, if your project is recording opera so that kids can download and hear opera with their parents, music magazines and web sites might be interested.

BTW, the two projects I mentioned as examples are actual projects from the Landmark course I am doing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thanks and Flower

My good buddy Yariv Dror is putting together a project called Thanks and Flowers, where the central idea is that parents will all give a flower to their teacher on June 20th, creating a positive atmosphere in our schools. Funnily enough, Yariv's daughter is too young for school. Almost as funnily, as much as we parents gripe about our kids' teachers, my kids think this is a great idea.

Yariv has combined social media, including online petitions and Facebook events, as well as personal meetings, phone calls and e-mails, so I asked him what works and what doesn't in organizing a national movement. (Wow, that sounds grandiose! A national movement.) By the way, the timeframe for this national movement is less than 3 months start-to-finish, and it is definitely happening. He has support of two national parents' organizations, the mayors of two cities (so far), the national students' organization, and my daughter.

Yariv's tips on various kinds of media:


  • Social media has its place, but the most support comes from direct contact with people.
  • The best contacts were referred by someone. It didn't have to be someone he knew personally, but personal referrals worked well. This could be because people referred him to the right person, or because when he said "so-and-so referred me" it worked better.
  • E-mail was good for initial contact, but calls to action and details had to be worked out by phone.
  • Publications in on-line media made him feel great, but didn't give a noticeable increase in the hits on his home page.
  • The Facebook event setup was good way to spread the word, but most people ignored or declined the invitations to join. Some people who were invited that way also sent e-mails to various mailing lists in the country.
  • Social media is so prevalent it's hard to categorize it. For example, he spoke directly to the education coordinator in his city, who said she wanted to post the information on the national on-line forum for education coordinators.

For me, the bottom line is that there is no such thing as social media anymore. Everyone uses certain forms of communication on a regular basis, and those forms flow into one another. Personal contact still rules, but getting to people is easier.

Yariv used to be the kind of guy who didn't answer phone calls from unidentified numbers. Now he answers them all the time. He can't track exactly how people heard about his campaign, but he's convinced that each of the methodologies has enabled him to broaden his coverage.

What are you waiting for? Sign the petition and spread the word!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breakfast Hugs

Wednesday morning I set out for the Tel Aviv port with the mission of seeing what would happen if I combine Jeff Pulver's Social networking breakfast with the Free Hugs Campaign.

I put together a few dozen "Free Hugs" tags, put them out on the table, put one on myself, recruited Jeff to the campaign, and we were all set for the Free Hug Social Networking event.

It didn't work out amazingly well: only a few people chose the tags, and a few hugs were exchanged, but not enough to significantly change the ambiance. Well, what did I expect?

It takes a while for the movement to catch on, and it takes a while to change group dynamics. Honestly speaking, there's only so much warm and fuzzy feeling you can infuse to a networking event. But it was a fun experiment. And it's all about fun, if you ask Jeff.

Over the last few months, I've been working on adopting hugs as the standard greeting in some of my communities, rather than the standard kiss on the cheek. It makes a difference in the group dynamics. It takes some guts and it takes some persistence, but my finding is it is worth it when it comes to creating a warmer group atmosphere.

If you are a community leader, to be effective you need to create a group people want to belong to. For voluntary groups, one of the major obstacles is preventing people from leaving. Although it seems trivial, greeting people with a warm hug can make a huge difference. You might be saying to yourself that this doesn't make sense in some contexts, but I have had success with the Green Party (political) group, which is a pretty serious context.

Think about how you feel as an onlooker, sitting in a coffee shop. A couple of people are at a table, and they are joined by their colleagues. As each one arrives, everyone stands up and hugs everyone (with a huge smile, because it's almost impossible to hug without smiling). You want to be a part of that.

If you aren't convinced, just watch the videos.... Free Hugs Campaign.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Do you know where your children are?

YOW! It's been several weeks since I posted a blog, so let me tell you what I've been up to that's been taking up my time. It's my own community project.

I'm a member of the Parents' Patrol in my town, Hod Hasharon. We walk around the public parks on Friday nights from 11 pm to 3 am, just kind of checking in on the youth, talking to them about what's on their minds, trying to give them some educational info, driving kids home if they are too drunk to stand, etc. We aren't enforcement officers; just caring parents who want to know what's going on.

Most parents have no clue what's going on. Their kids are "good kids" and only try that stuff occassionally, if at all (yeah, right). Unfortunately, in the public parks, your good kids are sitting on a bench across from a group of 15-year-olds smoking a bong, with an "escort" who is in his late 20s. Unfortunately, your teenage girls are hanging out in the same park where men (ages 20-30), from a nearby town are offering them gifts in return for their attention. These are the kind of guys who, if they caught their sisters doing what your daughters are doing, the sisters would be eliminated for staining the family's honor.

I love being on the parent's patrol, because the kids really appreciate us, and it gives us the ability to communicate and help them. It seems like a little nothing, but lots of little nothings together are making a real difference in our town.

With the summer coming up, what struck me is the unbelievable level of boredom. The kids simply have nothing to do with their time. During the summer, they are going to be in those parks every night, bored out of their skulls, with ample alcohol and etc.

What they need is something to work at, something to contribute to, something that shows results, something they enjoy, something that connects them to the community.

I decided to put on a musical, as an extension of what we as the Parents Patrol is offering.

Now, I don't know a lot about doing a musical. I was the assistant director of the musical twice in high school, and what I remember is that it was fun and that it needs a lot of different talents.

So to succeed, we need people who can act, play music, and sing, obviously. We need people to help with logistics, sets, costumes, adverstising and fundraising. Once we are well into rehearsals, we will perform some of the songs in hospitals and senior citizens homes, to promote the show as well as connect to the community, so we need people to organize that.

In short, hey, come join, and get your teens to join! It will be fun. It will make a difference. I'll write about it more in the context of what works and what doesn't work in online and face-to-face encounters. Oh, yeah, if anyone wants to help me set up a home page, in Hebrew, that's more than welcome

To give credit where credit is due, I am putting together this production as part of the Self-Expression and Leadership Course in Landmark Education. There's a Hebrew site too.

I'll also be telling you about some of the other projects in the context of on-line vs. F2F networking. One of the projects is using Facebook and e-mail to get the word out. I'm following that campaign with great interest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where Status Doesn't Matter

If you are a kewl social networker like myself, you update your status message on Facebook regularly, as in more than once a day. If you are a Twitterer, you do it as part of your ongoing Twittering, meaning you update something like once an hour unless you're in an airplane. Honestly speaking, there is something nice about knowing the status of my friends and their mundane lives. It's not totally mundane to me, and it does give something to talk about when we get together or speak.

Potentially, the status message could be useful. I've seen a number of blogs from big social networking types regarding how they've gotten immediate help by Twittering or updating their status message on Facebook. I've made a point of responding to a number of friend statuses to see what happens, and every now and again I've gotten some responses to my status messages (usually claiming I was being funny, a sign that at least a few of my friends have humor as dry as my own.)

By and large, though, the status message just doesn't matter. Honestly, 90% of what most people do is what they did the day before. I'm sure it is of no interest, even to my good friends, to have updated info about when I am at work or at home. There are only so many moods you are going to put on there. Thus, those of us who update our status regularly spend a fair amount of brainpower thinking of something clever to write in there. And being entertained when someone else puts something clever there.

I've made some genuine attempts to use the status message to do useful stuff, like get a babysitter, invite friends to something, get you to read my blogs, catch a coffee with someone in Tel Aviv, etc. Unlike the big social networkers with 4999 friends or followers, or those who post specific questions on how to configure their web servers, I've found the status message basically useless.

Assuming that most people don't have thousands of friends, and that their requests are more arbitrary, and that most people don't check their friends status on an hourly basis, it's pretty reasonable to assume most of us will find our status to be insignificant.

Status messages, furthermore, suffer from configuration scatter problems much worse than e-mail. We may have a few e-mail accounts, but most of us have our mail forwarded to one or two, both of which we check at least daily. But status messages? I have status on every social network, status on g-mail, messenger, Skype, etc., and each one needs to be set separately.

Do you know anybody who, when they answer the phone, sets all of those to "busy"? I think not. Presence and status actually are of importance in communications; but today's implementation is incredibly crude. Add to that the minimal amount of attention our associates are spending worrying about our status messages, and the value of them diminishes even further. I guess that just goes to show that there's only so much status to go around.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You're Never Alone

When I travel for business, it tends to be to conferences. As the marketing guy, I am there to learn, my main job is to meet new people in the industry. What this amounts to is that what sounds like "getting away from the bustle of daily life" ends up more like a non-stop marathon of being friendly to strangers and desperately trying to keep up with work in between.

A typical day starts with my waking up 2 hours early to catch up on e-mail, walking over to the conference center, mingling and attending conference sessions all day, making my way back to the hotel, and answering more e-mail. Often I have a scheduled meeting before, after, or during the conference.

You might ask how I have time to blog, and the answer is, obviously, I don't and apologize for the 2-week delay since my last post.

Despite having come on this trip alone, I don't get much of a chance to actually be alone. So I greatly cherish the one hour I religiously take for myself, no matter how busy my business trips are: I take myself out to a proper dinner in a proper restaurant.

Being in downtown London, I'm not the only diner eating alone, and on Monday another lone business traveller entered and sat at the table next to mine. Keeping in mind that it's basically my profession to strike up conversations with strangers, this should not have made me in the least uncomfortable; but being as I was quite determined to have this one hour to myself, I immediately started thinking of ways to avoid conversation. Fortunately, the gentleman pulled out his cell phone and began texting away.

Indeed, it's noteworthy how unaccustomed we have become to being alone. One of the VPs at a local cellular carrier told me that they actually have tracked the phenomenon of people who pretend to be talking on their phones in public places, just so as not to have the appearance of being alone or unimportant.

How are you with alone? Do you too feel you need to text, twitter or call someone just so you won't be too bored with yourself? Can you just sit still and enjoy your meal without multi-tasking? Moreover, are you avoiding doing things alone because it might make you look like a loser?

Take heart, you are in the majority. But also take care. We need our time alone to decompress, to think, to enjoy being with ourselves. When we lose touch with that, we lose something precious.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Topping Off Education

A recent blog by Clay Burrell speaks about Using Alltop to Teach Social Networking If you don't know what Alltop is, you aren't a blogger. Alltop is an aggregator of the top bloggers, divided by topic, so that you can ask yourself a question like "What should I be reading if I want to learn about life?" and then you just go to "http://life.alltop.com/", and there you have a list of blogs about life.

Guy Kawasaki has managed to jaw-droppingly outdo himself for marketing brilliance on this one. Without making any predictions on the viability of the business itself, the built-in marketing aspect is a work of art.

Obviously, if you are a well-known and respected entrepreneur, and you are starting a blog aggregator, every blogger is going to want to be on your list. Guy is generous about adding you if you ask nicely. I'm assuming there is an engine in the back which tracks how popular your blog is, so that your placement on the page could change over time, depending on how many people click through. Once you are listed, then of course, you have an interest in Alltop's success yourself, meaning you will want to mention it in your blog.

Along with his generosity in adding bloggers and his characteristic gentlemanliness in personally answering all of his e-mail, Guy's marketeer gears are well-greased. Coincidentally, just a few days after announcing Alltop publicly, his blog magnanimously offers useful tips on kissing up. Now, I don't want to sound cynical here, especially because I am taking his magnanimous advice, but you can read into it whatever you want.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Clay Burrel's blog, in which he talks about his failure to get his students excited enough to use RSS feeds, and his relative success in getting them to use Alltop. Mr. Burrel doesn't claim to be using Alltop to teach research; just to teach writing. However, it did get me thinking about where we get our information, and what information is considered reliable these days.

Increasingly, my reading list is made up of books, sites, and reports that I've heard about in blogs. Increasingly, I get my news from blogs rather than news sites. My RSS feeder has both, but I read the blogs a lot more. Blogs are more interesting, no more biased, and for the most part, better written and more insightful than most of the news. When I fill in forms asking "where did you hear about our product?" I don't know whether reading it on a blog is "word of mouth" or "from another Web site".

It's good to see this kind of innovation in teaching. On the other hand, how many of us, like myself, are getting lazy about fact-checking, and are relying increasingly on word of mouth for our news? I think we would all agree that there's a qualitative difference between a New York Times report and a blog about an event. On the other hand, increasingly, we don't care.

For work purposes, if you are in the high-tech industry, nothing but real-time blogs will do for industry intelligence. I know my kid uses Wikipedia as her main reference for school report, and so far the sky hasn't fallen. How long will it be before blogs become a legitimate reference too?

Reservations Notwithstanding

Using the Internet, it's now amazingly easy to invite people to events and track RSVPs. Sites like Ning and Facebook allow this as a feature; MeetUp and Evite are specifically set up with the purpose of creating real world events. I also belong to a number of sites, such as groopy that are designed for specific groups, in this case cyclists, to meet for sports workouts. I suspect there are similar non-jock sites, but I wouldn't know. And plenty of people just use plain old e-mail. Just today I read an e-invitation from someone saying "Please regard this as a personal invitation to..." Real personal, thanks.

As the invitations have become less personal, so have the responses. If you've been to a groopy ride, a Pulver breakfast, high-tech meetup, or FB-organized party, you will quickly see that the number of RSVPs and the number of attendees have a loose relationship. People RSVP and don't show, or show without RSVP, and the number of attendees is invariably 50-70% of the RSVP-ers. Not having asked for RSVPs for my wedding, I don't know how this compares to real life events.

Someone raised the question of whether the RSVP-to-attendee rate varies per site. That would be an intersting study, but my gut feeling is that the rate is determined by (a) the size and type of the event (b) your relationship to the invitee (c) cultural factors.

Two extreme examles are signing up for a dance party on FB, where you have never meet the inviter, and signing up for a 7 am cycle ride in the desert with people you've ridden with before. In the first case, you have pretty much no obligation to come. In the second case, you would send an SMS to notify if you can't drag yourself out of bed, so your friends don't wait up for you.

In all honesty, virtual invitations are ineffective. If you really want people to come to something, you need to call them, ask them face-to-face when you see them, or send something that looks actually personal. After you do that, you also need to send a reminder by SMS on the day of the event. It sounds ridiculous, but I have found that I get reminders for courses that I've signed up and paid money to attend.

At first I wondered about that; If I am paying that much money, you can bet I will show up. On the other hand, your dentist's office also calls to confirm the appointment. Apparently, people who really make a living at this know the honest truth: people forget or skip out even on the important and expensive appointments in their life. If you want them to join your networking event, political rally, or celebration, only the personal touch works.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Yoo Hoo! Where are You?

"Howcome you have so many friends?" asks my 9-year-old daughter, Maya.
"Like who?" I ask, "I don't have that many friends."
"I'll prove it," she declares, picking up my phone and scrolling down, "Adrienne, Alik, Allan, Alon, Alon, Alon, Alona, Amir... "

"Wait, read slower." We went down the list for a while and found it is composed of approximately 20% obsolete contacts, 10% semi-obsolete (I could imagine needing them some day), 50% business or community (school, synagogue, etc.), 8% friends I speak to occasionally, 2% friends I could call and tell my troubles to without a pretense for the call. Considering the number of contacts I have, that is a good number of friends, btw.

Speaking of troubles, the trouble is, my contacts are totally out of control. So are yours, I guarantee. How often do you look at your cell phone to find the number before calling from a land line? Look up someone's e-mail signature to find their number? Become frustrated when their sig doesn't include it? Google someone you actually know to find their e-mail? Cut-and-paste an e-mail address to/from Gmail to Outlook? From Facebook to Gmail? Download a LinkedIn vcard? Get email from someone you have known for years asking for your phone number?

More often than you care to admit? Me too. I remember the days when every, I mean, every, one of my contacts was found in my computer address book. Sheesh, I remember the days when every one of my contacts was in a dead-tree address book, but I didn't know that many people back then.

Or didn't I? How much of our perception of who we know has changed, as a result of technology, or just as a result of getting older?

Once upon a time, I went to an event, and I met people, and that was nice. Now, I go to an event, I meet people, and then I friend them online. Now I can get some information about them, since heaven knows I won't remember where I met them later on down the line. I can't wait until someone figures out that I want to tag them, too. If I had anonymous tags (or trusted any of those networks to keep them anonymous), I would use tags like "overpriced", "SOB", and "sponge-worthy" as well as tags like "attorney", "friend of Jane", and "met at VON".

That would be cool, but it wouldn't solve my fundamental problem, which is that my contacts are spread out over bunches of apps, formats, networks, and devices. Furthermore, most people have a preferred contact methodology. Some people like SMS, some e-mail, some IM, etc. A growing number of people rely on caller-ID and expect you to return a call even when they don't leave a message. My brain knows which of my contacts to find in which of my address lists, and the preferred contact preferences for each, but that information isn't stored anywhere other than my brain, which also stores the information on whose turn it is too call whom.

What we've got here is a huge mess. There are two organizations who address (groan) the problem, while the other organizations are busy trying to lock you in. The two organizations are Microsoft and Plaxo.

Despite whatever else it may have done oddly, Microsoft Outlook has always gotten this right. It is fairly easy to import contacts from almost any other device or format, whether it is a scanned business card, a list of comma-separated-values, or the address book from your telephone. The main limitation is that most synchronization programs on mobile devices seem to lose a bit of data each time you synchronize. So Outlook almost has it down perfect. Granted, everyone felt the need to accomodate Microsoft standards, but at least there are standards to adhere to. Furthermore, Outlook allows you to export into a wide range of formats that can be imported elsewhere.

Plaxo has taken this a step further, and allows you to align your addresses with other people's address books. That is, if you and I are in the Plaxo network, and you update your phone number, my Plaxo account will show that updated phone number. As far as I am concerned, that is the ultimate clincher feature. Plaxo Premium (which costs significantly less than Microsoft Outlook) synchronizes with a good chunk of the social networks and on-line services.

So what have I ended up doing? I export all of my different phone books into Outlook, then I export my Outlook into CSV, and then I import it into Plaxo. If I join as a premium member (free for the first few weeks), I can coordinate the duplicates I have in my address books, and I have lots.

Unfortunately, to use Plaxo, I now have to be online, which somewhat defeats the point of having telephony. If' I'm online, I might as well Skype you. Oh, wait. My Skype addresses. Dang.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anarchy is Better

Most of the time we don't like to acknowledge the real reason why democracy and law work fairly well. Truthfully, the reason government and law are reasonable systems is because most people intrinsically understand and live by the rules. If we really needed to force people to follow the rules of common decency, and we were depending on government to take care of us, we would be up you know where without a paddle.

I spent a good part of my evening at a City Council meeting here in Hod Hasharon. I mean "good" in the sense that it was a large part of my evening. It certainly could not be considered good in any other sense of the word. As the title of this column implies, it was a notch or two worse than anarchy. It was chaos.

My town is blessed with a charismatic and well-intentioned mayor who has done nothing of note in the 4 years he's been in office. I mean, unless you consider throwing money at expensive and impotent consultants to be "of note", and most of us would agree that for a government official, that is not worth noting.

Hod Hasharon is also blessed with 14 additional council members, none of whom seem to be able to work together for any significant amount of time. The ones who were elected on the same ticket are barely on speaking terms, and they almost never come up with anything they agree on, except for opposing the mayor. Most of the elected officials are there hoping to get some personal benefit in the form of a job for a family member, desirable zoning for family property, or a cash flow to a dubious non-profit organization. You'd think with such a group of people who can be easily paid off, the mayor would have no trouble forming a coalition, but even that is beyond his grasp.

Basically, going to a city council meeting is not terribly different from dinner with your in-laws. A bunch of people sit around a crowded table, complain about who is spending too much money on what, interrupt one another, try to show how smart they are, and when none of that succeeds, stand up and yell at one another. After about 4 hours of this, they and go home having achieved little more than getting on one another's nerves. The other significant difference between this and a holiday dinner with your in-laws is that the newspapers write about it.

People tell me that anarchy isn't better, but the more virtual I become, the harder it is to convince me of that. The Internet is a pretty good reflection of how anarchy would look. Yes, there are perverts, people who rob Second Life banks, and destroy one another's data. But by and large, most people behave fine, most of the time, and those who don't are labeled as such and avoided. And because of the transparency of everything on the Internet, it is easier than in real life to find out about someone's credibility.

I thought about this in the context of buying electronics the other day. A friend tried to prove to me that when I make a large purchase of an electronic item, I need to go and touch it and talk to the guy in the store, etc. After some thought, I realized that the opposite was true.

When I go to the bricks-and-mortar store to buy, for example, a refrigerator, I am fairly sure the guy there is trying to sell me the thing that will give him the highest cut, not the thing that will give me the highest satisfaction. I have a limited selection per store, a limited number of stores I can physically get to, and nobody to ask about that product or seller once I get there.

If I go online, the process is the opposite. First I go to a site that gives me ratings of a bunch of items in my category. I can compare a virtually unlimited number of options, and read what real people have to say about them. I can then look at the retailers offering the item, and the reliability and terms of the retailer. I can't do any of that in real life.

All of this works online because, fundamentally, anarchy is a decent system. The vast majority of people give their true opinions of things, probably because they feel anonymous. The vast majority of people want to warn you about the scammers, and the scammers are labeled and downrated. You even have tools to screen out the people you don't want to see. (Imagine if I could do that in the city council meeting. Just the thought brings my blood pressure down several notches.)

In short, anarchy is a better system than government. If you still doubt me, you simply haven't spent enough time in city council meetings.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fake Flirts

I was chatting with a friend I had met on a social network, and at some point, we realized we did not know who had initiated the friendship.

In fact, this happens quite a lot these days. Someone uploads their contact list to their social networking account, and voila. Since we have set our e-mail program to remember everyone we ever send mail to, most of us have a fair number of contacts who, for the life of us, we cannot remember. Perhaps we answered their question on a professional mailing list. Perhaps they recommended a plumber to us. Perhaps we did business with them a decade ago. Maybe we met them on a bicycle ride.

Personally, I have a lot of business contacts I can't recall, because I worked as a consultant for almost a decade, and have been a prominent contributer on a wide number of listservs, as well as a moderator for a few. Because I was a consultant, I made sure to upload most of the business cards I got, and use LinkedIn to connect to anyone I ever did work for or who did work for me. (If you are a marketing consultant and don't have many contacts on LinkedIn, you don't look like much of a marketeer.)

Also, as a marketing person, and just as a friendly type of person, I tend to "friend first, ditch later" rather than "ask first, friend later". I've ditched very few friends. As long as someone isn't sending me some new app twice a day, being lewd, or trying to sell me stuff, they are my friend. You are my friend if you are reading this, as far as I am concerned. I never complain about having too many friends.

But it did occur to me, as my newfound friend and I were both denying First Friending rights, that for some apps, false friending could be a feature rather than a bug. For example, a dating application could set up an algorithm that would take into account age and geography, and set you up with a match arbitrarily.

Obviously, if they did this too often or too blatently, it wouldn't work. But if 10% of the matches you got were faked by the system, you might never find out and it might increase your satisfaction with the app. At first, as a marketer, I thought: what a great idea! Forget the ethics of it, you can always justify giving people more friends as morally good. You can get people to use your system more by making them artificially popular!

In fact, none of us really know how Facebook apps work at the backend, and we are astonishingly nonchalant about adding them. The apps have access to our personal data, and we usually have no idea who the creator is. (I have one developed by my brother-in-law, but that's an exception.)

And for all we know, they are sending us fake flirts, fake greetings, etc., from our real or virtual friends. Did you really challenge my knowledge of '80s sitcoms? Because most of my aquaintances are aware that neither my current home nor my childhood home had a television set.

In short, we don't really know what any of the applications are doing. We don't really know if the notifications are real or fake. Marketers may think they are very clever by creating defaults that make it seem our friends are constantly sending us something, inviting us, or challenging us. Frankly, it's only clever for about a month. After that, it's just noise.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Slightly antisocial

This post is to some degree a response to Robert Cringley's blog this week, in which he says that most of the social networks won't survive for lack of a business model. My two main reactions to that are (1) Duh, and (2) Social networking is a means, not an end.

Firstly, "Duh". In any industry, there are typically 2-3 winners, a few niche players and dozens of losers. When a new industry is born, you get a lot of players, and eventually the best, luckiest, or most aggressive win. It's that way with almost any type of software, service, or product. There's Salesforce.com, and there's ... um... There's Amazon and there's ... um... There's ebay and there's... um... So pointing out that very few social networks will survive is stating the obvious. Now, tell me which one will turn out the winner and you are making a risky prediction.

Secondly, what people don't seem to get about social networks is that social networks, primarily, are a means to an end. Participation in pure social networks like Facebook is declining, because they just aren't all that entertaining. Once you've established yourself on a social network, you check in only occasionally. For example, you might use LinkedIn when you are looking for a job, an employee, or a referral. You might use Plaxo to look up someone's current phone number. And then log out. Facebook and Twitter addicts are a special breed, but they are also quite virtually mobile, so it's hard to count on them.

However, where social networks get exciting are where they are a means to an end. So, if you are listening to pandora, emusic.com , and you start to form a network of friends, you can start to find out what your friends are listening to. In Second Life, or any multi-player online game, you form social networks. You can imagine how this could be useful in a variety of different contexts, where the basic business model is to sell something.

You'll notice that this blog doesn't have Adsense on it. Although I know that reduces my search engine placement (I've written about this in a past blog.), it reflects my basic philosophy that the advertising model is fundamentally hokey.

It simply seems untenable that people want to be bombarded with advertising. The whole scheme on Facebook these days is that you become a "fan" of something, and then something will advertise to you. I joined a fan club of one or two bands and I get their e-mails, which I regularly delete without reading. For a while I had an iLike on Facebook and I could find out where some of my select favorite bands were playing. But the novelty of that wore thin rapidly.

As a long-time emusic.com subscriber, I have 250 artists on my hard drive, and that doesn't include any of the physical CDs I own (though I haven't bought any since the word DRM entered my vocabulary). So if I took an app like last.fm, which detects all the legally purchased on my system (all of my music is), and started to feed me the concert schedule of all 250 artists (minus the deceased), well, no thanks. Come to think of it, no matter how much I love my tooth floss better than any other tooth floss I've tried, I don't want any promotional material from the manufacturer.

In short, I don't believe in the fan-club, advertising model in the long run. There's definitely some money to be made there, but not enough to sustain the social networks on an advertising-only model.