Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What If We Could Do Something That Helped?

As I dropped my 10 year-old off at school Monday morning, I hoped he couldn’t hear how hollow my words sounded to me when I said “Don’t worry. You go to a very safe school.” I imagine others had similar experiences.

My town, Needham, MA, is so much like Newtown, CT in so many ways: affluent New England suburb with close proximity to a major city; many of the working population commute to that nearby city; people move to the town because of the school system; gun owners and enthusiasts are welcome and abide by the laws. When I first wrote this post in December, I thought the one now-glaring difference between the towns was that Newtown is located in a state without a ban on assault weapons and Needham is located in a state with such a ban. Well, Massachusetts does have a ban on assault weapons. But what I have now learned is that there are many qualifiers in that ban, leaving room for residents to legally own certain assault weapons, including the gun used in Newtown.

Originally having felt fortunate to live under that ban, I now see with new clarity the need to strengthen our gun control laws at the state or town level to make an assault weapons ban truly a ban. I wonder if we, as a community, are doing all we can to protect our children while they are in school. Having made that statement to my child on Monday, I know for a fact that a gunman could force his way into any Needham school, public or private, and inflict great harm – with one of the approved assault weapons or any weapon designed to kill.

What if we came together as a community and enhanced our current school safety protocol to be the best it could be? What if other cities and towns could look to us as a blueprint when they try to do what they can on gun control and mental health on the Town/City and State levels? What if we filled the holes in our gun control laws at the Town level, rather than wait for the State to act? What if other states looked at Massachusetts and realized they could outlaw assault weapons at the State level and not have to wait for the NRA lobby to soften? What if we started a formal dialog or coalition with Public Safety, Public Health, Mental Health experts, School Administration, Youth Services, Town Government, Clergy, and private citizens to enhance our school safety protocol and to address mental health issues as they relate to gun control? The goal would not be to make a foolproof plan, but to make, implement and enforce a plan that gives our children the safest school environment we can create without sacrificing their quality of life.

Needham is a special place to live because of the intelligent and talented people who live here who are willing to give their time and talents to further an important cause. I know there are many more towns and cities like Needham. With our talent pool, we could make a difference locally, and perhaps more broadly – so that a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happens again, here or elsewhere.

I know the problem is not just about gun laws. I know it is complex and involves a long hard look at mental health issues. But I believe it is something that cannot wait to be addressed. Mental health issues have, for too long, not received the attention they deserve. And you may be surprised to discover how many households contain guns in your neighborhood. As an example, there are three household on my street of 30 houses that own guns – and those are just the ones I know about. There must be a way to ensure that those guns never fall into the wrong hands.

As gun stores in New Hampshire (less than 45 miles away from me) post record sales of assault weapons over the last 5 days, it is a sickening feeling to recognize that whatever can be done, can't be done fast enough.

If you live in Needham, watch for an email and a letter to the editor in our town paper from me in early January with a similar note, with a call to action. We have all had enough.

p.s. Please do not comment if your comment includes an unrelated link. I review all comments before they are posted and do not post ones containing unrelated links. Thank you!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Publishing Preacher Kid

Front cover - More on back!
I took a month off from blogging to finally push my big writing project over the waterfall. So here I am, back again, ready to apply and expand my social media skills in the effort of marketing a self-published book. I fully expect that everything I learn about marketing a book via social media will have relevancy in the world of small business marketing. So I hope my followers will continue with me on this journey of developing social media skills! It should be interesting!

I’ve been writing this book for six years – ever since my parents sat in my family room six autumns ago and I commented to my mom that she should write a story about her mom. Her response was “Oh no. You should write it.” So I did. I had been wanting to try my hand at writing a book for some time but knew I really didn’t have the motivation to write a novel. My favorite genre is historical fiction. And I’m a research geek. My mom and her sister knew the story they lived with my grandma and there was the 12-page, handwritten account she wrote one year for my sister’s school project. But there were many holes in her childhood story and in her known ancestry. All of her descendants recognized the amazing qualities of her life and no one wanted the story to fade away over time. Writing the story of my maternal grandmother’s life was the perfect fit for me.

So the research and the writing was a long journey which I won’t go into here. The last piece, the publishing piece, was a learning experience all along the way. I wanted to, and was encouraged by some people “in the know,” to find a commercial publisher for the book. That is a very single-threaded task and covered the good part of a year and a half before I finally realized my book has very little mass appeal (now that admission is not good marketing!), but tremendous value to a certain audience. Although, honestly, I think a screenwriter could take the basics and make a terrific movie out of it! Hmmm. Project 342?!

I self-published with CreateSpace which is owned or partnered with It was a great experience until it came to the formatting. But I’m going to throw Microsoft under the bus on that one. Translating it to Kindle is turning into another headache. But I will get it there eventually.

The best part about the self-publishing process was the cover design. The end product I designed is one I love. I spread a map of Ohio on my dining room table (a table which just so happens to have belonged to my grandma), put an old photo of my grandma on it, and walked around my house gathering an armful of items that once belonged to her. The end result is my cover: an antiqued photo of a framed St. Francis of Assisi prayer, a ring she wore, a sweater she knitted and wore, a fine bone china teacup and saucer from her collection, decorated with her favorite flower, violets, and a photograph of Esther Miller.

It made me wonder: After I’m gone, what armful of treasures will my granddaughter collect on a table to visualize her ties to me? Well, maybe the book, Preacher Kid: A Story from the Heartland, will be one of them. And probably the ring. And on it goes. Keep the connections. Preserve the stories.

If you are interested enough in my book to read it, I hope you will let me know how you like it! Here is where you can find it: 

  • You can purchase the paperback version on Amazon.
  • Preacher Kid is available as an iBook from the iTunes Store. This version includes a small video from 1970! 
  • A Kindle version is also available from Amazon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Whether you are happy or sad about last week’s elections, one of the big challenges ahead of us as a country is preserving or refurbishing our sense of unity. If you were happy at last week’s presidential election outcome, you were probably disappointed with the outcome eight years ago. And vice versa. Over time, all of us have to deal with election outcomes we do not embrace. We are a diverse country made up of many different desires and values. I would venture to say that we have more in common that keeps us together than differences that pull us apart. That togetherness is often hard to see in action with the vitriol on display in Washington DC and in our local election campaigns. It would be great if the new act of heroism became that of compromise for the common good. Do you think our leaders in Washington and at the state levels understand how many of us want a united nation?

I read a very interesting blog post today that I thought worth sharing. Aside from this creative post on the subject of unity, both of the Bates Communication blogs (Power Speaker blog or the Bates Communication blog) are ones I recommend for business leaders seeking to improve or capitalize on their communication skills. These blogs have a number of contributors, each with insightful points that are easy to read in a collective style I enjoy. I wanted to pass it along in case you find value in them too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inching Ever Forward

An interesting article in yesterday’s NY Times and the announcement today that HubSpot has raised $350 million in capital seems like a combination of events heading in the right direction. The NY Times article, “A Capitalist’s Dilemma, Whoever Wins on Tuesday,” raises some very interesting points on what may be the reasons for our stalled economy. With companies holding on to capital, it is no wonder we have been slow to grow and slow to add jobs. The author, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen, recommends that companies holding the capital should do things differently, not use the old formulae for channeling their investments.

Christensen makes the distinction between three different types of innovation: empowering, sustaining and efficiency. “Ideally, the three innovations operate in a recurring circle. Empowering innovations are essential for growth because they create new consumption. As long as empowering innovations create more jobs than efficiency innovations eliminate, and as long as the capital that efficiency innovations liberate is invested back into empowering innovations, we keep recessions at bay. The dials on these three innovations are sensitive. But when they are set correctly, the economy is a magnificent machine.”

Unfortunately, we have been experiencing an imbalance of efficiency innovations – innovations that reduce the cost of making and distributing existing products and services - thus the lack of growth. Although this type of innovation is essential, efficiency innovations streamline processes and, therefore, reduce jobs at the same time.

What encourages me is that HubSpot, the Cambridge marketing firm focused on social media, received funding not only from some private equity investors, but also from Boston mutual fund giant, Fidelity. The funding enables HubSpot to add 400 jobs in Cambridge and open an office in Ireland. All good. Living in Boston, Fidelity is a bit of a barometer of how our city is doing. It employs about 38,000, the majority in Boston and New England. If Fidelity is growing, Boston is growing. If Boston is growing, Massachusetts is growing. Last year, Fidelity cut jobs in Massachusetts after having held on to their employees as long as they could during the recession. So I am happy to see them as an investor in a social media company: a statement about social media’s role in our economy and a statement about Fidelity’s willingness to spend capital. Growth is happening. And the election tomorrow is all about growth.

It will be interesting to see how social media is used during tomorrow’s election. I have noticed that social media has not helped us keep issues in the forefront of our minds. Social media helps broaden reach but often doesn’t have the depth to make a lasting impact on the recipient. Even though we may get more information about candidates, it doesn’t mean that we retain it. Getting so much information dilutes the importance of any single piece of information. For some, the issues from the conventions and the debates are hard to recall. It is all about what has been said in the last 5 days. We, as a culture, have a miniscule attention span. The information flying at us doesn’t seem to have time to make its mark. Or maybe just the catchy stuff sticks. 

Tuesday will be quite a day. For anyone who needs a last-minute review of Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, I am happy to assist with this link. Full disclosure on what many MA residents think of their former governor: one analyst on NPR today referred to Romney not as Massachusetts’ “favorite son” but as our “ex-son-in-law.”

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Blogging Alternative

Guy Kawasaki poses an interesting concept in an interview with Social Media Examiner: As an alternative to blogging, it is easier to drive traffic via Google+ and Facebook. As a blogger, I am definitely not opposed to or offended by this idea. I think it is a legitimate claim. And as someone who has assisted small business owners who are not really interested in dragging themselves into a blogger role, I’d like to present this idea to non-bloggers as a potential piece of a small business social media strategy.

Guy is a former chief evangelist for Apple and the author of several books – most recently: What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us. Once you have evangelized for Apple and wrote a few books, your opinion is asked on many things. And that is exactly what is done in this interview. But I will concentrate on his thoughts on this alternative to blogging and later hit a point he makes about the evolution of publishing.

The two main constraints felt by many bloggers are (1) running out of things to write about and (2) finding time to write. Working through that experience, Guy has found Google+ as his new base platform. Google+ and Facebook give ample space for lengthy posts, (LinkedIn, not so much, but it can still fit the bill for shorter posts). If you can capture your point in the space of a Google+ or Facebook post, maintaining a blog becomes secondary or non-essential. In fact, the sharing features of Google+ and Facebook make it easier to drive traffic to those posts than to blog posts.

Guy also describes the benefits of evolving from a blogger to a curator – that is, moving from standard blog posts toward spending his time discovering quality content he then shares with his Google+ audience. He doesn’t try to create new content as his primary communication. Instead, he acts as a curator of good information he finds that he thinks his audience will appreciate. His philosophy is, if you curate good stuff, people will still follow you. They will appreciate being fed the info they don’t have to find themselves. Guy makes a practice of daily visits to Top 10 lists from various sources such as NPR and TopTenz (and there are thousands more). A good curator must keep on top of what is happening in order to capture and hold an audience (Guy’s established reputation certainly doesn’t hurt either, but any of us can be rock star curators if we work hard enough).

For those adverse or reluctant to maintain a blog, this is a great concept for expanding your social media presence on Google+ and Facebook. It is certainly less of a commitment than maintaining a blog site. And the possibility of building a large following by leveraging the Google+ and Facebook sharing tools has great potential. Whether you choose to create or curate content, you still need to perform the legwork to find what your audience wants. But the bight-size info delivery idea is very inviting - from both a production and consumption standpoint.

Since I enjoy writing my blog, I have no plans to abandon it any time soon and adopt Guy’s approach. In fact, as my own style has evolved over the past 10 months, I have found a balance between original content and curated content. As more of a mix than what Guy suggests, I think there is great value in finding a good piece of information and sharing it in a blog post with my own perspective. I will certainly take his advice and apply the curating aspect more directly to my Facebook Page management – which can definitely use a boost!

If you listen to the podcast, you will also hear Guy’s thoughts on the evolution of publishing. Since his first book in 1987, he has seen publishing options evlove from a 6-9 month turnaround time in hardcopy, to a less than 7 day turnaround in electronic books. This piques my personal interest as I approach my goal of publishing a book before year end. I’m curious: Do you read books made of paper or delivered electronically on a Kindle, Nook or tablet? I wonder what my potential audience would prefer. Your opinions on this are most welcome! I won't make you read it!

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Less Item on My Bucket List

This weekend, I will get to check off an item on my “Bucket List.” I’m taking my family to a Notre Dame football game! It is no small feat getting five people to a game (with tickets) that is 900 miles away. I’ve been talking about it for years, with a definite ramp-up in frequency in the last year. Now I am really going! It is only happening with the help of my sister, Megan, in Chicago who is cramming us into her condo and with the help of my cousin, Will, in Chicago who bought the tickets through auction on my behalf. Plus some copious fare-watching from my end.

I’m not a Notre Dame fanatic, but a loyal fan with great appreciation for the time I spent and especially the friends I made there. Now it has become a bit of a magical place for me – a balance between disbelief and pride that I went there, wrapped in the warmth from the glow of memories that I am so grateful to have. For me, it is more than a place to see a great football game. It is the place where the person I have become was roughed out. It is where the beams were laid on the foundation my parents gave me. My appreciation for what I had there has definitely grown over the years and I felt I would have missed something great if I didn’t get a chance to take my kids there to experience game day and stroll the campus. This will also serve as a premature college tour for all three of them, since it is unlikely we will be back before the college years overtake us! As long as it doesn’t pour rain, I am hopeful for a lasting, positive impression that won’t matter what they would have talked about with an admissions counselor.

If there is one thing I have learned since graduating from Notre Dame, it is that it is never too early to start a list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket. And equally, do not wait to start checking things off of it. 

My bucket list is not very exotic nor is it adventuresome. For instance, I have no interest in jumping from a large helium balloon at 128,000 feet to break the sound barrier. My list is significantly tamer:

  • See a shooting star
  • Catch a view of the Northern Lights
  • Watch wild horses run
  • Take a sleigh ride
  • Learn to surf on a tropical shore
  • Take my family to see the Grand Canyon

So, all I really  need to do is visit northern Montana, book a surfing trip to Costa Rica and stop at the Grand Canyon in between!

I think my dad would have liked my list. Not because he had a bucket list – if he did, and I didn’t know about it, it probably just had one item: Be with Peg. He may have liked my list because he loved the outdoors, loved teaching us about what we saw and because he had such a grab-the-steering-wheel-and-go (or grab-an-oar-and-go!) attitude toward travel. This is his birth month and I think of him often as the leaves change and fall. I followed him to Notre Dame (I even lived in his exact dorm room my freshman year!) and I will be walking with him on campus this weekend. I will light a candle at the Grotto for my uncle, his brother and fellow-alum, for good health. And I hope I can teach my boys a thing or two about Notre Dame and setting goals, on my dad’s behalf.

And if you think Jack McCarthy has nothing to do with the current Irish winning streak, so his grandsons could see an undefeated team, think again!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mission and Compassion Intertwined

One of the underlying drivers of all of the small businesses I have encountered is a passion to do something good. Maybe I’m just lucky and my sample size is small. I’m sure there are plenty of businesses out there that succeed without incorporating compassion into their mission. But what I am finding is really quite amazing. Whether it be a yoga studio dedicated to healing and nurturing the whole person, a graphic designer inspired by young moms in their common journey and designing products that speak to those stories, an architect passionate about green solutions that help the earth, or chefs committed to organic, local foods that support local growers and healthy eating, their business goals are intertwined with care for others.

One example very near and dear to me is the Life is good company who, this week, will be honored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in the culmination of their Small Business of the Year Awards. One of the reasons I am a fan of Life is good and its owners is that they started in my little town of Needham, MA, selling T-shirts out of a van and have grown to a $100 million business without losing sight of their early vision. Another reason  I am a fan is because of the Life is good pajamas my aunt and uncle in Colorado sent my three sisters and me as we tried to celebrate Christmas in my mother’s house 23 days after she died – we were beneficiaries of the Life is good vision in a truly thoughtful surprise that pulled us forward. The last reason I am a fan is because the Life is good company is a great example of finding a purpose (promoting optimism) and using their business to serve that purpose. Since their start in 1994, they have grown their business and their brand which has enabled them to develop a non-profit action arm. The Life is good Playmakers provide education, resources, and support to childcare providers who dedicate their lives to helping kids in need.

In Owner/CEO Bert Jacobs’ words: “We tend to think of nonprofits and government organizations when we think about organizations that do good things, but in truth a lot of the power is with people who know how to make money. So if you know how to make money, and have the visibility through consumer products, then you can do some pretty amazing things.”

In my world of small businesses, I don’t normally think of $100 million businesses (especially those headquartered on Newbury Street in Boston) who wield this kind of life-changing clout for others. But no small business should ever be discouraged from trying to achieve the exact same thing – whether it be on a small or large scale. Our life’s purpose and our business can coexist. In a recent interview with Inkandescent Networking, Bert listed 15 tips for entrepreneurs. It is a great list, worth a full read, with an important final point - Start from the end. Ask yourself this question: When you are old and gray, what do you want to look back on and say that you have accomplished? Once you know the answer, go ahead and do it. 

On the subject of mission and compassion, Bert recommends asking ourselves the question posed by (my favorite) poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” If your compassion and your business mission intertwine, as they do at Life is good (and Pipal Leaf Yoga Studio and and One Penny Per Mile and more), what a great combination that becomes. As Bert says, “We weren’t created for business, it was created for us. So your business should serve your life’s purpose.”

Catch some optimism from “Jake”, the Life is good mascot, from the many facets of their website (fun and optimistic images, their blog, Fuel (stories from people who have embraced the power of optimism), learn about Playmakers and/or their Festival). They can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. It may add optimism to your day or inspire your business.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A PR Toolkit for Small Businesses

I don’t spend much time in the press release side of marketing. I think all that is about to change Monday when a new Marketing Communications Director comes on board at my company. The director will be filling a newly created spot as my department takes steps toward molding itself into a real marketing department. What it means for me is an opportunity to contribute to the evolving social media strategy of the company, which is late to the party.

As I’ve tried to get smarter on all things PR over the last year, I have subscribed to PR Newswire’s periodic tips and, through them, recently found PR News’ Small Biz PR Report

If your small business is new to press releases or hasn’t even contemplated them, you might find the Small Biz PR Report blog worth exploring. It provides a cost-free introduction to the world of Public Relations (including social media, media relations, press releases, etc.) as a vehicle for expanding the reach of your business. Of course much of their free advice leads to a sales pitch. So remember the source and use it as a respected basis of opinion.

To narrow the focus even further, today I came across a recent post on the Small Biz PR Report that I thought was worth sharing. Pamela Bartlett, VP of channels for PR Newswire, has developed a PR Toolkit for small businesses that is packed with educational and marketplace information. This is a very good place to start for all levels of PR-savvy-ness -- whether you need to learn what a press release is or you have a decent level of familiarity with PR but don’t know quite how or whether PR and/or press releases can work for your business.

The Q&A with Pamela Bartlett is helpful and she makes a very good point that many small businesses perceive press releases to be just for large businesses. She stumbles with her first sentence, heavy on the marketing lingo. But she adjusts quickly and the rest of the dialog is very worthwhile. So that you don't stop at the first line and miss the subsequent insights, the gist of that first sentence is: Write about your latest business accomplishments or solutions and spread the word about them with press releases.

Ms. Bartlett comes across as a cautious social media supporter. And I applaud caution! In her interview, I quickly see that some of the fundamentals of writing a press release are shared with writing social media content. So if you do your homework with the PR Toolkit and other resources, and discover that press releases may be a tool you want to add to your marketing plan, you can leverage your knowledge gained in social media to write engaging press releases. And vice versa: Many of the PR Toolkit tips can be applied to writing social media content.

In reality, press releases, unbeknownst to them, were the stepping stones to social media – businesses use them to publicize significant events. Now we (businesses and individuals) use social media (and press releases) to publicize significant events. The danger and challenge is that so much is publicized via social media that it is hard to sort out what is significant.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carrying a Social Media Tune

Because there is so much material out there on writer’s block in social media, it is an obvious challenge for many. Or, maybe bloggers blog about blogger’s block to try to work through their own block! One of the beauties of social media technology is that it brings potential topics, relevant discussions and the associated metrics to our fingertips. Staying on top of trends can be overwhelming but we cannot complain for lack of resources.

To help crack a writer’s block, it is essential to stay on top of trending topics by adapting a few of the following techniques:

  • Monitor Twitter & Facebook discussions and industry leaders.
  • Read the blogs you have sought out and subscribed to.
  • Poll your community.
  • Use LinkedIn Answers to troll for what questions are being asked in your industry.
  • Visit trending sites or social bookmarking networks to see what gets the most votes.
But at the end of the day, it is the tone of our delivery that can hold or dismay our audience. In music, striving for perfect pitch, a note out of tune can be sharp or flat. In social media, I'll meld tone and tune and equate a “sharp” delivery as one that brags or is delivered from a lofty space above the crowd. “Flat” would be the negative approach of conveying a success by pointing out failures of others in a demeaning way. Reaching that perfect pitch takes practice and requires writing with passion (not drama – drama and passion are very different!). And, of course, the “selling of the CD at the end of the show” needs to be handled delicately, respectfully, subtly and never overdone.

I recently read a blog post by Scott Weighart of Bates Communications who nicely summed up the tone of content to which he is attracted. I would draw up an identical list, so I thought I’d share his with you: 

  • Here’s a really provocative, interesting article that I wanted to share with you.
  • Here’s a funny observation or a counter-intuitive take that I have about something relevant to you in the world today.
  • I’ve got a concise thought about my area of expertise that will really make you stop and think differently about a topic that interests you.
  • I wanted to share a little story with you that will entertain, challenge, or move you emotionally.

I especially like his last point which includes the “out” to write about a side topic, but one in which your target audience may be interested. As I exercise my own communication strategy for my business, I like the flexibility to include blog topics beyond my industry in order to develop a closer relationship with my readers. Those off-topic posts won’t solidify a reader’s opinion of my social media skills, but it might help shape in their mind whether they would like doing business with me.

The more posts (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) we read from others, the better “ear” we will develop for recognizing tone. Understanding the differences between flat and sharp enables us to develop our own unique business or personal tone.

Let the music begin!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back-to-School Reality Check

This has been a busy week, dominated by Wednesday’s mark as our town’s opening day of school. There are so many mixed feelings that come with back-to-school: sorrow that the summer is over, parental joy in watching the kids moving forward into a new grade or school, stress and anxiety at the anticipation of the unknown, frustration sitting in gridlock as Boston tries to move-in tens of thousands of college students all at once, claustrophobia in Staples trying to get the right supplies in a frantic setting equal to the shelf-clearing hysteria caused by an impending New England Nor’ Eastern.

This year, my back-to-school experience was broadened by learning that our high school athletic department is now on Twitter. I’ve watched Facebook become the grand communication tool for my son’s athletic teams, officially and unofficially. Now we have stepped it up to Twitter. It will be interesting to watch it catch on. The combination of Parent and Child audience should be an interesting, challenging target for the director. But it just reminds us all that this generation lives and breathes by social media. As email falls off the radar of these young adults (foreshadowing the demise of the e-newsletter), businesses need to keep in mind the evolving communication tastes of their target audience. Even though I’m referencing current high school students, the adults 5 and 10 years older than this crowd are already spending their new or newish paychecks. Businesses need to engage this crowd with social media in order to stay competitive.

While everyone moves forward with mixed back-to-school experiences, it is interesting how personal social media tools such as Facebook carry, primarily, the up-side of the experience. It has been analyzed that the bragging nature of Facebook can carry with it stress for those who read posts of others and feel left out or inadequate. It is human nature to want to report on good things that happen. But there is ample evidence of the dramatization of reality, as well as the flat-out pretending. Especially on the college scene, someone eager to fit in can get depressed at how much fun others are having – or seem to be having - without him or her (on Facebook, that is). The exaggeration is giving Facebook the reputation of dramatizing life. It is a real turn-off to many while to others who can’t see through the fabrications, it is a real source of anxiety. 

In business, it is important to remain true to your followers and true to your mission. Exaggerated claims only lead to trouble and a backlash of un-followers. Followers can be very savvy and quick to rat out braggarts. Businesses do not need to market themselves with false claims or pretend to be something they are not in order to attract a crowd. If you have a good product or service, don’t embellish it to earn followers. That is a short-term strategy. Win with creativity, engaging content, humor, information and truth. Oh, and hard work.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coyotes Circling the Henhouse

I was awoken Friday night to a din that sounded like a pack of dogs. “A pack of dogs” was the first thing that went through my mind, even though I’ve never actually witnessed a pack of dogs! It was 2am and it sounded like the many neighborhood dogs had gotten loose and were staging a mutiny. Then there was a whistle or a yell and all went quiet. The next day, we discovered that three coyotes had been spotted a short block away, bringing the occasional news stories of wildlife encroaching suburbia that much closer to home.
Earlier in the summer, a black bear wandered into our town, to later be tranquilized out of a tree by police in a nearby town. In that instance, the apprehending, social media-savvy, police department sent a humorous tweet, with all due respect to Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle: “Black Bear, Black Bear, what do you see? I see Brookline Police looking at me!”

I live in a sleepy little bedroom suburb of Boston. When did we begin to become so wild?! I suppose it has been gradual. There have always been the skunks, opossums, red-tailed hawks, and the occasional red fox. My friend helped the local animal warden corner a fisher cat a few years ago, which seemed rather exotic. I keep an eye out for deer off the exit ramp into our town and there is a definite spike in the bunny population. So maybe that is what is bringing the coyotes into town. From where?! The woods where my children play?! Hmm. Getting off-topic.

So, part of this realization about my surroundings is an evolving learning process for me. My neighbor diagonally across from me has three chickens, and has had them for years. It is a little unusual, but it fits with their strategy to acquire every potentially domesticated creature known to man, in their (successful) attempt to avoid getting a dog! I’ve gotten used to the chickens in the morning, as I lay awake, unable to sleep past 5am but equally unable to get out of bed until 6am.
But I was still surprised to hear, on further evaluation of the coyote situation, that my neighbor three doors down also has chickens (5 or 6!). And my friend who lives across the street from the coyote siting has chickens! I am certainly late to spot a trend. Those are only the ones I now know of. Now I see why the coyotes like my neighborhood so much!

All of these neighbors are Facebook friends with Red Cupboard, so I felt my worlds colliding as I read about a Facebook Page contest in which one of the finalists is none other than “The Chicken Chick,” an advocate for backyard chicken-keeping!

So for my favorite chicken-keepers and everyone else looking for small business Facebook page ideas, here are some great examples of small business pages with commanding Facebook presence and whose owners have faithfully kept them updated, generating high marks for fan engagement: The Social Media Examiner Top Small Business Facebook Finalists post. If you are looking for ways to improve your Facebook presence and engage your fans, these finalists offer some real-world examples of how it can be done.

Now, to see about getting myself some fresh eggs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vacationing Unplugged

Summer is winding down and the vacations we took fill my mind. If you know me well, you know that I live from vacation to vacation! So now I have a bit of a wait until December. Luckily I’m breaking up that long stretch with an October trip to Chicago and ND for a football game!

Vacationing unplugged is a common topic these days as adults try (some more successfully than others) to extract themselves from their work for a week and as parents try to pull their kids’ noses out of electronics to enjoy their precious free time unplugged.

Minus the tent and duffel bags on top. And the dirt.
I have a favorite childhood memory of a trip my family took out West when I was eleven. Let me tell you, round trip travel from Cleveland to the Grand Canyon -- 2 parents, 4 girls, a 6-man tent -- is a journey of many miles and memories. And now, as a parent, I have profound admiration for the challenge my parents embraced by taking that trip - bottle of Scotch, and all. I think when we joined forces with my uncle and his family in Boulder, there must have been a definite “there’s no turning back now” moment.

My sisters and I laugh about the memory of my dad calling very deliberately from the driver’s seat of our blue Chevy Impala station wagon: “Put down the Nancy Drew books and look at the wheat fields” (periodically substituted with hay bales/river crossing/hawk flying/mountains ahead/etc.). My parallel life finds me directing my boys with, “Put down the iPods and iPad and look at the horses.” Vineyards/valley below/cows grazing/etc. It is hard to find the balance when games and social media have become so engrained in our daily lives. Oh, to have to get a child’s nose out of a book!

I am not yet so connected with smart phones (still don’t have one!) and internet that I can’t disconnect. I love disconnecting – except when my email account gets hacked while I’m on vacation and I have to use my son’s iPad and a pizza parlor Wi-Fi to execute some damage control.

The constant connectivity is addictive, to the point where our disconnected environment (a.k.a., the world around us) sits at a distance from our physical lives. I have what may be classified as an over-zealous connection with nature and, when given the choice, I choose nature 100% of the time over electronics and social media. But I don’t think that is the way our culture is headed. I’m certainly not sure that is the way my children are headed. The New Yorker Magazine had a humorous cover earlier this summer of a family posing for a picture at a scenic overlook -- each person had a different electronic device in full use for the portrait. We are sometimes so eager to get a picture of what we are doing or seeing posted on Facebook that we miss the moment of awe or pleasure that our surroundings are offering.

I will be the first to admit and itemize the benefits of electronics and kids in a car (non-driving kids, that is) (have I mentioned that we drive round trip, Boston-Cleveland, twice a year?)! Or at the end of a long (but wonderful, nature-filled) day at the beach where I just want a beer and a crossword puzzle on the deck, in peace. And I don’t have the answer to finding the balance. But my kids know that when on vacation, there is still allocated “screen-time” and no one should assume that down-time means screen-time. 
Growing up, the big nemesis in my house was the television. So we were raised in a complete void of daytime TV and exclusively on the evening news, NOVA, Jeopardy, Little House on the Prairie, Wild Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Disney, The Waltons and The Justice League. Period. Compared to our peers, we were TV-illiterate. But somehow we all managed to learn the lyrics to Green Acres and Gilligan’s Island for the school bus rides. And as I reached babysitting age, I expanded my Friday and Saturday night viewing repertoire substantially. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! As a parent today, the nemesis is the internet, social media and games/apps. I can only control the allocation of time for a few more years. They will do what they want when they are on their own! I just hope that by then I will have instilled within them, amidst all of the techno-clutter, some value in observing and participating in the world around them.

My day is easily made when one of my boys in the back of the van says, “Hey Mom, look how many birds are on that wire!” He was looking up! And I didn’t ask him to!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lessons Learned This Summer

My mixed bag of social media and life lessons:
  • Sports: MLB players on the DL take time to tweet from the dugout of the All-Star Game. Has social media surpassed sunflower seeds and tobacco spitting as baseball players' boredom beaters?

  • Celebrity: Predictions of new TV lineup successes are tied to the number of Twitter followers of the shows' stars.

  • International Social Media Binge: Olympics' Opening Ceremonies tweets clog the social media highway.

  • Olympics and Needham, MA: An unknown gymnast with nerves of steel earns gold medals and the love of her town - Way to go Aly Raisman! Puttin' Needham on the map!

  • Suburban Life: I love my neighborhood and my friends within it (this is not a new lesson, just a recurring realization that never gets old)! See photo below for details - nice to have our castle guarded while we were out looking for sharks.

  • Work: I am the only crazy person I know who starts a new job in mid-August - two years in a row!

  • Home Life: Pulling away from the house each summer day, leaving the kids behind, stinks.

  • Family: Children are joy. Two teenagers are harder than one.

  • Anxiety: Don't worry until they tell you it is time to worry. Otherwise, you've either worried for nothing or wasted time worrying twice as much as necessary.

Summer isn't over, but it sort of feels like it is almost gone! Make the most of what is left!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Got Balance?

I had two revelations today as I was reading a piece in the Globe Magazine on the power of moms. From it, I learned that I, not being in possession of a smart phone, am in the 7% minority of moms who have internet access from any location (courtesy of Edison Research). Last week, I could have gone to the local library or borrowed my sister’s laptop and hotspot to check email while on vacation. But I chose to remain off the grid. 
My bigger revelation is that working moms need to leverage networking more and better. The mom-based groups highlighted in the article consist of new and relatively new moms who have collaborated via social media to create very powerful, collective voices, weighing in on new mom and toddler issues. I was in that seat not that long ago and I love the efficiency of the parenting listservs, discussion groups, and Facebook Pages that pull interested parties together (none of which I was lucky enough to utilize – dating myself!) 

Coming off of a recent experience of helping my employer find a replacement for me as I move on to a new opportunity, I read about these social media parenting groups and realized a need exists for moms in a different chapter of life: Moms working full time or part time, trying our hardest to find the right balance between work and family. 

In my replacement search, I sent emails to about 40 women I know who might be interested in my position or who might pass my message to someone who is interested. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a local discussion group for moms in the workforce or on the verge of entering? It would have been the perfect place for me to share my job posting. It could also be a great resource, as the membership grows, to share joys, frustrations, opportunities, and tricks of the trade. It would be perfect for women who are contemplating returning to the workforce after time off to raise children – a place to get motivated, to feel the momentum of a group of women who are succeeding in roles that seem daunting to anyone peeking through the doors. It would be a great place to go when the balance is tipping precariously to one side and we need the virtual support of women in the same boat to get our determination back on track; or to laugh about the insanity!
I had the great fortune to have a role model in my life who raised her family and then returned to the workforce as college tuition loomed. My mom didn’t go back to work as a hobby or just to exercise her brain. She went back for financial reasons, to enable us to attend private colleges. She didn’t want to leave my youngest sisters at home to fend for themselves in high school. But she did it. And what started out of financial necessity grew into a career that earned the organization she steered an honored spot on President George H. W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light.” Taking that huge step back into the workforce is at least twice as hard without a good role model to help keep your backbone steady and strong. As I found myself eerily, but not uncommonly, in her shoes, I am grateful to have first-hand knowledge of her successes.

Women re-enter the workforce for a variety of reasons, some not always exactly as planned; spouse job loss, relocation, death, divorce, or financial hardship. The happier stories are re-entry because we miss the work or it is simply "time." And there are plenty of those stories, thankfully. All of these scenarios could use a good network to help jump-start the process. I know they are out there, but I'm taking a pro-active approach.

In my own little corner of the world, I’ve set up a LinkedIn Discussion Group called "Got Balance? – Needham, MA." If you are in Needham, on LinkedIn, in or nearly in the workforce, and still raising a family (seems like a lot of criteria, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of our personal definition!), I hope you will consider joining the discussion. If you are outside of Needham, consider starting a local network of your own. If you are male and know a woman who might benefit from this idea, send her this post! I am optimistic that these local discussion groups will grow into useful networking tools for many people for many years.
If you are a small business that markets to young mothers, the Globe Magazine article is required reading. If you are a small business that doesn’t market to mothers, you might want to start! In addition to the stunning fact that at least 85% of family spending is controlled by moms, here are some of the statistics from the article:

How and How Often Moms Connect (Edison Research):

  • 93% have internet access from any location,
  • 61% have a smartphone,
  • Moms spend an average of 2 hours 43 minutes per day on the Internet – that’s up from 53 minutes per day in 2002,
  • Moms check their Facebook page an average of 4.7 times per day (compared to 2.1 times per day for dads),
  • 46% use social networking websites several times per day,
  • 35% have 5 or more devices in their home connected to the Internet,
  • 74% have a wi-fi network in their household.
Got Balance?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yahoo's New CEO: Having Her Cake

At first, I thought I would blog about how Marissa Mayer’s move from Google to Yahoo's helm was a refreshing example of how a pregnancy was not viewed as a career-limiting move: How hope remains that young mothers may shake the business perception of distraction or flight risk. Then I read a post by Victoria Barret from Forbes on Quora’s insight into the move which did not mention Marissa’s pregnancy once - Why did Marissa Mayer Go To Yahoo? The Answer From Quora, Silicon Valley's Collective Water Cooler.

The post reminded me to view the development not as a gender issue, but to appreciate the magnitude of the move for Marissa as a business person rather than as a female. There is certainly a gender element in her acceptance of the role at Yahoo, as she becomes one of the most visible CEO’s of the decade. But the huge upside to her appointment has everything to do with who she is as an executive, a leader, a visionary, with insight into Yahoo’s weaknesses, and how she will right the ship she recently helped run aground.

Quora is Silicon Valley’s “collective water cooler” and as my first introduction to them, I am impressed with the terrific job they did of sidelining biases in their analysis of Marissa’s new role. There is great satisfaction in witnessing her escape from the limitations holding her back at Google. And watching a rising star willfully accept a challenge is exciting for everyone, including the conspiracy theorists!

While I still feel pride for women-kind in Marissa’s move, as well as some pity for her that she will most definitely miss out on some new-mom moments (and beyond) as she plans to work through her maternity leave, it is great to read about the potentially great upside she is about to experience and shepherd. I wish her all the best and am relieved to know that someone so capable is at the helm of a Google competitor -- to ensure that someone is keeping Google in check.

About three years ago, a former boss replied to my description of my ideal work/family balance with “so you want to have your cake and eat it too?!” There is nothing easy that comes with having your cake and eating it too in the work/family balance. Well, I hope Marissa gets her cake and gets to eat it too! That former boss, now with a new company, called me recently with a job offer I couldn’t refuse. There is nothing wrong with going for your cake and eating it too!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Get to Know Your Audience

One of the most amazing elements of social media tools such Twitter and Facebook is that they serve up free information about our audiences, if we take the time to roll up our sleeves and poke around. So put on your research hat and take a hard look at your followers, those you follow, friends, and the chatter in which they engage. The findings of this valuable research enable us to build the profile of our social customer. With an accurate profile, we can fine-tune our message and the timing of its delivery.

Social Media Examiner recently covered the 4 Ways to Discover More About Your Audience With Social Media in its blog. I’m giving it a quick summary. The short post is worth a read for all of its great tips and some of the specialized tools available if you want to take your analysis to the next level.

The bios of your followers often describe what is important to them, where their passions lie. While some people don’t take their bios seriously, most take considerable time to come up with the perfect abbreviated description of their social media persona. These bios can reveal useful information which, in turn, can be applied to fine-tuning our marketing messages.

Knowing when people are reading our content is a key component to delivering our message in a timely fashion. Check the timing of your followers’ posts. Try to tailor your posting schedule to their activity schedules to avoid your posts getting lost in their news feeds while they are off-line. For example, if you are trying to reach young mothers, they are most likely to be socially active in the early mornings and after 8pm. If social media is a large part of your following’s day, posting during regular business hours will most likely hit them while they are paying attention. Monitor the timing of the chatter for a while to get a sense of the best time(s) to try to engage your audience.

Twitter and Facebook give us the opportunity to connect with the top influencers in our respective niche businesses. Take advantage of it by following the gurus in your industry. Learn from their social expertise and mistakes. Engage them and you may find you catch their eye, leading to increases in your own traffic.
The social sites our audiences frequent can help us develop our content. Understand our audiences’ interests and we can post content that will draw them to us.

Take the time to learn from your audience, whether it is large or still building to a respectable level. There will be surprising discoveries as well as expected trends.  Twitter and Facebook are handing this information to us! We should get as much out of it as we can.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Social Media Fun House

Cedar Point, the great Ohio amusement park, used to have a Fun House that was scary, good fun. Along with the standard Room of Mirrors, black-lit ramps and undulating floors, it had a rubbery floor which made you feel as if you were walking on the stuff they used to fill Stretch Armstrong! There was also the darkened section where some panels were fixed, while others gave way to new paths or nightmare-invoking clown bobble-heads. As a non-risk-taker, the Fun House was one of those places where the fears I wrestled at the entrance were overwhelmed by my sense of adventure and pride, as I held my breath, ducked my head and pushed my way in. It was an attraction that gave me many sensations I really didn’t like, but ones which I couldn’t resist.
This memory came to mind this weekend as I assessed my stance on social media, in light of Saturday’s Social Media Day. The commemorative day debuted in 2010 when Mashable introduced it as a way to recognize the digital revolution happening right before our eyes.
I have experienced and read of the wonders of social media for small business. These tools level the playing field for the smaller players, enabling us to directly connect with industry experts, capture attention of global vendors, gain notice from target audiences and critics, and reach into buyer homes we never before could access. With social media, spare bedrooms can be transformed into home offices capable of offering products and services with an expertise level on par with the industry experts. Dining room tables can become Command Central for small businesses whose online presence explodes overnight.
The Internet and social media tools enable us to know our new customer or boss before she or he steps in the door; qualify leads in an hour when it used to take weeks; become a thought leader as our creative posts gain traction; reach across continents and oceans to find the experts we need to take the next step in our business and/or professional growth.
The positively charged power we are given to expand our presence with social media tools comes as a package containing the risks of receiving negative (however warranted), viral feedback, and managing those experiences publicly, with composure and realism. I could use the House of Mirrors as an easy analogy to the social media experience where the potential for distortion and surprise dead-ends is perceived as too risky. It is true that some control is sacrificed by putting ourselves out there for public consumption. But the potential outweighs the risks. And businesses that wait outside the social media “Fun House” because the perceived risk is too high will be left behind.
From a personal standpoint, social media brought my far-flung family and friends to my fingertips through Facebook, enabled old school friends and business colleagues to find me on LinkedIn, and gave me a vehicle with which to spread my thoughts and ideas through blogging. As these tools became accessible to me, so did the tools and social games become accessible to my children – the flip-side of the fun being the serious, constant job of policing my children’s access. There are too many choices – some taken intentionally, some taken with a complete lack of understanding. What starts out as fun can turn dark in a flash, private info can spread to an incomprehensibly large audience, bullies are given a vehicle for destruction, and predators are allowed unprecedented access.
This personal piece of social media is what most distinctly reminds me of the Cedar Point Fun House – the kids march through with their hearts in their throats and the bravery of an explorer, hit a panel that takes them off in a different direction, and what opens before them is unbridled access to worlds we do not control. Society pulls us in to social media, as wary parents hold off allowing their 'tweens access to Facebook, until they realize that is how the coaches communicate with the players. In we go.
Social media has been blamed for making us more disconnected and distancing ourselves. I see this perspective and recommend that we respect it in order to effectively execute a social media strategy in business. But I stand in the camp that sees social media’s great value as a connector – professionally, politically, personally, and culturally. I also strongly believe that no amount of technology will ever take the place of the value gained from live, in-person, face-to-face connecting. 

So don’t pass up the opportunity to foster or cement any relationship with a face-to-face meeting.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Amazing Graduate

Every graduation season takes me back to my own graduations, when I, consistently, couldn’t wait to get going but was never quite ready to leave. Graduation is always a heady time for anyone on the cusp of enormous change, especially when you are trying to figure out which oar to bring, when you are still not quite sure of the size of the ship.

This year, I received a simple announcement from Laureen, a friend from graduate school, whose daughter, Alexandra graduated from high school on June 2nd. The announcement made me sit right down as if someone had pushed me down - not for any particular mountains Alex climbed to get to where she was, but for the choice she made as her next step in a world which has been so defined by those around her.

When Alex was two, her brother, Garrett, then 4 years old, and her father were in a car accident that left Garrett paralyzed from the chest down. They were running a morning errand in their small New England town when a man coming home from a night shift fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into their car. Over the years, Garrett and Alex and their parents have been unwavering in their focus on a cure for Garrett’s injury. Garrett has found inspiration in others’ similar conditions such as Travis Roy and Christopher Reeve. He, in turn, has been an inspiration to countless others as he has maintained his resilience through multiple surgeries, sought to encourage others with spinal cord injuries and embarked on a fundraising effort of his own design: Garrett and his father, Benton, flew in a single engine plane to the capitals of 48 states, lobbying support for stem cell research, a promising avenue for research into curing spinal cord injury, raising $50,000 on the tour.

Garrett’s story is amazing and he is awe-inspiring in so many ways. His story continues to be filled with hope as he projects a cure for his paralysis as well as the return of his sight which he lost 2 years ago due to complications during a spinal fusion operation.

What I see when I look at the picture of Alex which accompanied her graduation announcement, is the child who accompanied Garrett on so many doctor visits, who missed him and her parents when they had to seek treatment far from home, who helped him be a normal kid in a normal household, who shared his thrills on the Disneyland rides and the frustrations at his limitations. I thought Alex might have lived in Garrett’s shadow. But I was wrong. She has been shoulder to shoulder with Garrett every step of the way. All the while, Alex was tucking the knowledge learned and experiences lived into her budding young mind.

So when I read on her announcement that she will be attending MIT to study Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biology, I bowed in awe of Alex. Not just because she must be one smart cookie to get acceptance into MIT, but because of her choice of study. I can feel it in the depths of my soul that, as an adult and as a scientist, she will contribute to her brother’s recovery, just as she has contributed to his tenacious will to overcome the obstacles in his path.

Bravo Alexandra! You are an inspiration to me and so many others. You will be unmatched in your understanding, empathy and motivation in your field. A job fantastically well done, in getting where you are. And brain and spinal cord injury patients all over the world just felt their ray of hope brighten.

We should all find inspiration and do something with it to make the world a better place, or to make the world better for one person.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Time-Saving Social Media Tools & Tips

Facebook & WordPress Collaborate: This week, Facebook introduced a social plug-in for use by WordPress bloggers. The Facebook for WordPress plug-in is receiving positive feedback for enabling bloggers to cross-post WordPress content to their Facebook Timeline and the Facebook Pages they manage. If your blog is based on WordPress, this new feature is good news for you! It is another great way to intertwine your content across your social media tools – broadening your reach, efficiently. 

How are you saving time?
I almost wrote “cross-pollenate” instead of “cross-post,” above! But really, that slip is not that far from the truth. If you spread your posts across social media tools, you will capture new followers who are connected for different reasons. If you can spread your posts across social media tools with less keystrokes, you just bought yourself time as well as exposure.

Clients have asked me whether they should choose Blogger or WordPress and I haven’t had a compelling case to choose one blog application over the other. I use Blogger, so I have been partial to that. But I have to admit that the advancements I have read about on the WordPress front make me a little jealous! I don’t consider Facebook the supreme judge of all things social, but their pick of WordPress for their new plug-in might be a (potentially temporary) leg up for WordPress in its survival-of-the-fittest race against Blogger. I fully expect Blogger to reciprocate. Sometimes Blogger will beat WordPress to the punch and, at other times, it will be reversed. That is what is called healthy competition. This time, WordPress got the head start.
Get further synchronized: If you are using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, be sure to synchronize those three tools so that your posts on one tool are published to all of these tools. Another purchase of invaluable time.

Still adjusting to Facebook’s Timeline? Recently, HubSpot published a handy little (free) Guide to Facebook’s Business Page Timelines. It is a good resource for taking advantage of the new Facebook features which your business can use for marketing. It offers short explanations of:

  • Six Facebook Timeline Features You Should Know
  • Best Practices for Using Facebook Timeline
  • Examples of Great Business Page Timelines
Get a handle on these features and concepts and you will be in a great position to better use Facebook Timeline for your business.

Keep an eye on your past: Don’t forget to analyze your own activity. Use analytics (from WordPress, Blogger, Google Analytics or through social sharing plug-ins such as Digg Digg or Shareaholic) to discover what is driving traffic to your blog, website, Google+ or Facebook Page. Try to identify what topics and/or keywords are drawing the larger crowds, as well as what falls flat. Stay in tune with trends in your industry and continue to blog about them. Your opinion is important to those who have chosen to follow you. Give them your creative perspective on your common interests and they may pass them to their circle of followers. 

Let me know if any of these new tools or tips helped you, and how!