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.