Viewing entries in
Listening & Engaging

Like Running Naked Through the City Streets

Catherine Doucette ~ Training Consultant / Speaker My business is teaching, talking, and sharing. In fact, blogging  about training or leadership is one of my favourite parts of owning a business. So why was that upload button on YouTube this time so scary? Why did I feel the urge to inhale an entire chocolate bar or phone a friend?

It was March 1, 2013. With the help of the ever-talented Elaine Shannon, I had recorded a 7-minute keynote talk  to show people are inspired by the message of my second book Be you. Everything else is optional. I am one of about 60 people in North America competing for a publishing contract with Hay House, the largest publisher of self-help books on the planet. The video was required for the competition.

But this was more difficult than uploading my video blog about yoga at home or walking through Rockwood Park. It was scarier. Who the h-e-double-hockey-sticks did I think I was? Here I was about to share with the world that I am a keynote speaker and trainer –ironically, something I’ve done for 20 years. But this was new. I was publishing a piece with my original thoughts and story for the entire world to see. And judge.

Steven Pressfield’s words from the book War of Art came back to me:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

A deep breath, and I pressed that big bad upload button. You know what happened? Not much. Nobody knew it was there. I had to have courage once more.

Using my social media relationships on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter, I began sharing the link and asking people to watch.

Publishing this video and spreading the word felt an awful lot like walking naked through the city streets. I really wanted to vomit.

What happened next?

To quote Sally Field, “They like me! They really like me!”

More than 1,300 people watched the video in two months with 100-plus positive comments and likes. That means more than 1,300 people now know about my training consulting and speaking business and my second book. I was offered a keynote because of it, plus a gig doing public speaking workshops at a large corporation. I have walked into networking events, and strangers have recognized my name because they saw my video.

When you do something well and share it online, it gives you instant credibility. Clients are convinced before you ever walk in the door.

Much courage is needed. But as long as the video is not actually of you running naked through the streets, I highly recommend that you upload a sample of your expertise on YouTube and share it with your networks.

What is one way you can share your work professionally on social media?

Catherine Doucette BPR, MEd is a Member of Learn by Sociallogical™ and teaches businesses how to create and facilitate training with a measurable impact on productivity and the bottom line.

An Analogy for Social Business

Apples and oranges Social is the first truly new gift to humanity that the Internet has ever given us. It makes sense that it is going to take some time and a little effort to understand it and let it soak into our daily lives because nothing about it feels natural to anyone in the beginning.

Postal Mail Goes Digital

First, the business world was given email. Some whined and complained about this new intrusion of technology (and expectation of quicker response times) into our daily work lives, but we adapted quite easily because we understood it immediately.

We've had postal mail for centuries and this was just an electronic version of it. We all "got" it.

Print Materials Go Online

Then came the business web with the release of Netscape and the modern web browser that let us easily "surf" web pages made by fellow business people, academics, and government. Many resisted the demands their customers placed on them to make their information known through the web but we all eventually found our way there and built web pages for our businesses.

We understood it simply because the early business web really just took the information from our print materials - brochures, business cards etc. - and put it on this new digital interface. Just a fancy version of our print materials, right?

Social Media Enables Digital Humans

But then social media emerged that allowed one or a massive number of people to connect to one or a massive number of people with text, voice, video and more and that has never been possible before in human history. Anybody can produce a media empire, free of the financial and infrastructure barriers that used to exist in earlier eras.

Social media enables digital humanity. That's a statement that is almost meaningless as social media is just social now. It's not the special circumstance in which we connect like a conference used to be, it's now the main method of connecting. If it isn't for you, should it be? Or does your business have a few good reasons for not becoming social?

Social is not a new internet. It is you - online. The social layer is the layer of human meaning and stickiness to an otherwise cold digital channel. Embracing that human element and making it work for your business is the pursuit of becoming a social business.

Define Your Brand By What You Share

obama-fist-bump Getting someone who is not you to "be you" online is strange to me. It's like asking someone else to go on a date for you. Not only do you miss out on the engagement and enjoyment of the date, but it is also fake and downright creepy.

But what you say and what you share are two different things. I can get an associate to speak on my behalf and share my interests and positions, as in the case of a lawyer or a press agent, but I would never ask either one of them to actually pretend they are me and imitate my voice when talking to people. It's kind of funny when you think of it.

That's why I have resisted potential clients who have sought to just pay someone to do their social media for them. Instead, I offer them an understanding of the phenomenon so they can take the reins on their online engagement.

The content you base your conversations on

But some aspects of social media marketing need special skills and reap special benefits. For example,

  • creative agencies can come up with brilliant ways to tell your brand's stories that are compelling, entertaining, and sharable.
  • researchers can collect fantastic data that you can turn into consumable, memorable, and sharable infographics that your clients will love.
  • curators who know your brand and what interests your clientele can find great, sharable content that others have made for you to share on your social channels.

That last point, curated sharing, is the one that most businesses jump into, with varying degrees of success. Most people understand, from as far back as high school, that who and what they are associated with impacts how others see them. So finding great stuff to associate themselves with and share online is something most of us naturally start doing when we plug our businesses into social.

Although it can be time-consuming and a major distraction, you do know (or should) what content is most interesting and helpful to your clients. And the content you find (vs. content you create) is the most readily available source for your social channels.

Curate great content for a few great reasons

  1. Define your company's brand by what you associate it with. It looks good when you demonstrate you know what your customers care about.
  2. Expand the 'scope of interest' for your brand by sharing a diverse selection of topics, giving you a wider potential audience for your content.
  3. Add layers of sophistication to your brand by finding content that compliments your own content.

Of course, you need to come alongside the content you are curating with content you are creating and conversations you are sharing based on all of it. That's where the social, human element comes in and without it you're going to have a hard time gaining or keeping your target client's attention.

The point of selecting great content to share, above all, is to be helpful and interesting to the people you want to attract to your brand community. It is a discipline every company should be exercising as a basic, foundational social media investment.

What It Means To "Be Authentic" Online

3126124170_da01234924_o Here's a simple suggestion when considering whether your profiles and activity online are "authentic": if someone who only knew you online met you in person would they be surprised?

No one should ever be surprised by your appearance or your behaviour because you are the same person online and as you are offline. The online you matches the in-person you. I think it is unwise to risk deceiving and likely disappointing people who otherwise had no expectations of you except for the inaccurate and inauthentic version of you that you carefully cultivated for them.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” ― Donald MillerA Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Why is authenticity important?

Many people are complaining that the word authentic is over-used and has lost its meaning (here are a few). That may be true but words often lose their impact when their meaning is forgotten.

Here are the first definitions for the word "authentic" from

  1. not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique.
  2. having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified...

Relationships are investments we ask others to make in us and no one wants to make a bad investment. So, like it or not, we carefully choose who we'd like to get to know better based on the evidence we have and we invest accordingly. And just like buying a product that doesn't match the marketed promises, disappointment can lead a person to devalue their investment and invest no more.

Who wants that? Some even define the difference between expectations and reality as stress! Who wants to cause stress to a potential friend?

By removing the filters and presenting ourselves as authentically as possible we can have confidence that few will be cashing in the investments they have made in us. We can trust that they know the real us and that our relationship won't be undermined by some revealed truth in the future. Authenticity puts our relationships on a more sure footing.

We all do it.

We have all written resumes that embellish, put on clothes, makeup, or a hairstyle that skews our appearance, and changed our vocabulary to match the person we're talking to.

Most of us find it hard to talk about ourselves. A few years ago when reviewing my online profiles I found it hard work to come up with creative ways to explain myself. So I decided to stop it and make it simple. I started with "culture change excites me", because it does, and I went from there. My avatars turned into simple pics of my face in the kind of clothes I wear every day (I wear a suit and tie maybe a dozen times each year) and my most recent pic was taken by my wife, unplanned, on a day I hadn't shaved (which is once or twice a week).

The goal is to be you. We are already interesting and attractive to people who we would want to get to know better and possibly work with or else why would we? The effort to deceive always backfires.

Take a look at your profiles and some of the things you have shared recently and ask your friends to do the same for you. Then ask; would someone be surprised by any of it if they met you and spoke to you in person?

Online Social Media Will Never Get Rid of 'Phone Calls'

A phone call with Santa Online social media can draw people to your brand community and help return humanity to the world of business but it will never get rid of one-on-one voice conversations.

On one end of the bell curve are those who wish all human interaction could be kept to text and under their personal control. They see phone calls and postal mail as 'so last century', so they shun it as much from a sense of personal style as from a need to feel productive.

On the other end are those who are offended by the new social media and the distance it seems to breed between people. Completely misunderstanding what social media is and how it accomplishes just the opposite, they fear it will erode society through disconnection and lack of community.

Somewhere in the middle are those who are learning to use all tools for what they do best. And in this spectrum will always be a very important role for voice conversations that we've always known as 'phone calls'.

Why one-on-one conversations are so important

One-on-one conversations are disruptive. It's hard to do much else when you're having a conversation with someone else so multitasking must stop while you focus on the other person. This drives some people crazy.

One-on-one conversations are so important because they communicate importance. If your goal is to communicate how valuable another person is to you, dropping what you are doing and giving them your attention is a great way to do this.

Why my Mom gets a phone call

Our family is currently expecting a baby and, as of today, we are 11 days overdue. Many people we love want to know what's going on and want to hear from us as soon as there is news. Most will find out when we post news online but my Mom wants a phone call.

To call my Mom and let her know what is happening with our baby's birth I need to set aside a few minutes to do nothing else but talk to her, just like in the olden days. But doesn't she deserve this? Shouldn't people in our lives like our mothers receive this top-level treatment in which we drop what we are doing and make them our priority for a few minutes now and then?

The same efforts that keep you close to your Mom can also keep you close to your clients.

What qualities do you bring to your business?

We value various types of communication partly based on the investment required for the communicator to share it. We are so deeply offended by businesses who automate their communication too much because we feel we deserve more. We are giving them our money, after all. We also still cherish handwritten or signed letters or even requests for a video conversation because we appreciate the cost in time and effort involved for the other person to share with us in these ways.

I'm obviously not against all forms of automated communication and I am certainly not against one-to-many social media sharing. But it's important to recognize what each type of communication costs us and what we can expect from the relationships we feed with it.

Online social media keeps people connected to us and our brands. It keeps us on their minds, adds value if we are sharing helpful content, and allows us to keep personal connections alive the same way our grandfathers used to tip their hats and share a kind word with their neighbours (and their customers) on the street. But social media only enables a personal connection if we personally invest in it.

The technology will change but 'phone calls' or one-on-one voice and video conversations will never come to an end for any business that wishes to bring people close and to build community around their brands. A business can't chat with every customer. But every conversation they do have is an investment in relationships that should matter to a business.

Call your customers now and then, just to say "hi" or offer some friendly advice. Be cautious not to waste the other person's time, but if you know your contact is wanted or even requested your interest in wanting them to stay close to you will be understood better than with an email or a social network post. And that investment is worth so much more to the success of your business than extreme efficiency in how we communicate.

Do you shun the phone or embrace it as a powerful relationship building tool for your business?

The photo above is of me talking to Santa Claus on the phone, Christmas Eve 1978 - obviously proud that Santa would take a minute of his time to call me on his big night!

The Importance of Online First Impressions

Virtual First Impressions In the business world, we aren’t meeting in office spaces and conference rooms as much as we once used to. Instead, we meet online – a place where we are also making a lot of first impressions.

While you carefully select your business wardrobe, keep yourself manicured and fresh looking, and are mindful of where and how you are seen professionally, how much care do you give to how you represent yourself online, where most people will meet you for the first time?

Most people will meet you for the first time online

Our virtual images have become increasingly important. Leather chairs and mahogany desks are being replaced with social media avatars, YouTube clips, twitter pics, LinkedIn, Google+, Blogs, Facebook, and websites. Our online appearance is how we are presenting ourselves to potential clients and customers every day of the week, almost exclusively.

How does your online first impression measure up?

Below is a sample of headshots and links to the profiles of the people they belong to. I commend the recognition by their companies of the importance of a fresh, clean, professional virtual image for the company and especially, for their people. Click through to their profiles and take a look at a few of their before and afters - look at what they used to have versus their new ones...

Do your online avatars represent the real people that you want your clients to get to know? Follow Kelly Lawson's board Headshots (Avatars) on Pinterest.

3 Community Branding Lessons From the New iPad Mini Launch Event

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP What I noticed most about the launch of the new iPad Mini by Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller this week is that he did not sell us on how this new device will change our lives. That's what Steve would have done.

He would have reenacted dreams of our childhood made real by this new device. He would have painted an irresistible brand picture for it that would make it feel like it belonged in its own category of product; something we hadn't already seen many times before. Instead we were sold on specs. There was certainly a romantic praise for the industrial design that Apple always deserves, but he gave us information, not religion.

Absent was a play to the emotional, personal experience that indicates a true understanding of what Apple customers want that Steve never missed. Was this device created because competitors' success indicated a demand for this type of device? Or did they build something that would make their buyers lives better? That's what Apple used to always strive for. That narrative was weak this time.

'Belonging' Strengthens Brand Communities

Apple taught us that we should build a community around our brands. They did it before social media and now they continue to do it without brand-generated social media. Despite their heavy use of traditional advertising and marketing they still connect with their community (advertising on social channels is not a very social use of media).

Here are 3 things Apple used to do better than it does today that any brand can learn from:

  1. Demonstrate understanding.

    Your products and services should always communicate that you understand your customer. Not just what they want to pay you for, but that you understand them as people. You know how they live, what's important to them, and what they enjoy and don't enjoy.

  2. Communicate emotion.

    Information won't accomplish anything unless it stimulates an emotion that supports your brand. Make your customers feel nostalgic, unique, or even afraid if that's what they want and expect from you. Stephen King told beautiful stories, but fear needed to be part of them to satisfy his community.

  3. Share the experience.

    Regard your company, products, and services the way you want your customers to so you can authentically project that regard on to others who might want to be part of it. Company + Customers = Community.

Steve Jobs knew these pillars of branding better than anyone. Without being social he still used that channel for viral reach by pushing traditional media buttons: PR, advertising, events, etc. He made Apple a company that could carry out these 3 brand goals using the old ways. Imagine what a brand could do if it reached for these goals with social media.

How would you pursue these 3 goals with your brand?

What the Maturing of Social Media Use Means For Business

Mature In the mainstream, people are no longer excited just to be using social media. Users are becoming sophisticated about how they allow themselves to be interrupted by notifications and how they filter people and content based on their interests. This inevitability has implications for business and presents challenges especially for businesses who have been slow to embrace it.

The Fad is Over

The fad phase is over. That doesn't mean it is going away, it means online social discourse is the norm. As a society, we're not going back to relying solely on traditional media and the trends toward social will continue in that direction. But businesses can't count on just being there to ensure success in reaching their communities.

The novelty of making a video, posting a tweet, or writing a blog isn't enough for your audience anymore.

In the same way, just creating an event on Facebook or Google+ and sharing it is not enough to get people's attention anymore. Social media has become overwhelmed by events, especially on Facebook, so that it can be difficult to stand out or for people to even notice your event before the date arrives.

Tenets of Advertising Are Back

Advertising has been about getting noticed and remembered as well as having a clear call to action that appeals to your target market. Social media had a short run that could shortcut those first two requirements simply because it was on a novel platform with an attentive audience. Since social media has been mainstream for a few years now and the field crowded, the novelty is fading and getting attention online is becoming increasingly competitive.

Businesses that are not truly social will never be heard. Posting brand messages like an advertisement is not social and won't give you the engagement you're looking for. Getting to know the people in your community on a personal level is the only way to make the social channel work.

Unless a business can compel people to share its content because of its relevance to their lives, its importance to their friends, and the humanity of its approach, media creation will be a wasted investment.

The two principal measures of whether or not a piece of media content will be shared socially is 1. is it informative? and 2. Is it sharable? Without a yes to those two measures, your content is going nowhere.

Mature With Your Community

Businesses can buy media but they can't buy social. There is a learning curve that social media imposes that takes time and forces a company to really consider who they are and who they serve. Get started on the learning curve and know that there is no solution that doesn't involve you and your team using social media on a personal level.

How else can you be "social"?

Hangouts Are Not Your Parent's Soda Shop

Screenshot from First +Hangout Good times. Good times.

Yesterday afternoon 8 friends and clients of Sociallogical jumped on a free, high quality, responsive and easy to use video conference that was fun and shocked the heck out of more than a few of us. After our brief conversation, the whole thing was automatically uploaded to YouTube in HD quality where it can forever be watched and shared, hopefully for the benefit of others who want to give it a try.

This great experience was courtesy of Google+ and its Hangout feature and was simply a 23 minute chat for friends and clients who expressed interest in trying it out to do just that. We planned it last week, called it a Sociallogical Google+ Hangout Intro intended to last 5-15 minutes, and we broadcast it "On Air", which meant that anyone in the world could watch our discussion live as it was happening - and now anyone can watch the recording of it forever.

Want to try this? Learn How To Get Ready For Your First Google+ Hangout

I don't plan to blog about every +Hangout we host or take part in. But watching people experience the power and simplicity of this new medium for the first time is a pleasure and I urge you to watch a bit of it (below at the end of this post) if you have never seen it before. I actually started recording it early because I didn't want to miss the surprise and pleasure on people's faces. A couple of people had trouble using their microphones or webcams for the first time, but that's expected. They won't have that problem next time.

A Powerful Brand Builder

Just think of how powerful this tool can be to reach an audience and build a brand community:

Idea 1: Discuss new trends with leaders of your industry Idea 2: Instruct your clients on something they're interested in learning Idea 3: Give demos of your product to clients, potential clients or partners

There are lots of ideas that you can come up with to help your business by using it to build community around your brand. Think about it and let me know what they are in the comments below. We love learning new ways to be social.

And let us know if you'd like to join us on another "first-timers" Hangout sometime soon because it really was a good time.

Special thanks to Garth Frizell from Prince George, BC who was our experienced guide on this brief tour. And I'm so happy that Kelly Lawson, David Hayward, Greg Hemmings, Judith Mackin, Sarah Tapley and Chris Boudreau were all able to join us.

How To Get Ready For Your First Google+ Hangout

Google+ Hangouts are an engaging social media channel that

  1. connects you with guests and partners in a personal way,
  2. allows you to speak directly to your audience, and
  3. creates highly sharable and engaging content for your brand.

Because we host Google+ Hangouts regularly, we have prepared this simple outline for getting ready if you have never joined a Hangout before. If you're already using Google+, skip to step 3...

1. Get a Gmail or Google Apps account

Most of us already have one of these, but if you don't have a account or an email account that uses Google Apps (gmail for your business), you'll need to get one. Since Google+ is the only social media channel that requires you to have a specific kind of email account, this is a necessary step if you want to get the most out of the Google suite of services (Youtube, maps, gmail, etc.)

I have a account that I forward my other personal and work-related email accounts to so I only have one inbox and it is tied to the other great services I use each day.

2. Get a Google+ Account

Even if you're already using Gmail, you still need to say yes to sharing across Google's services by setting up your Google+ account.

3. Get the Tech

On a computer:

On a mobile device:

4. Respond to the invitation from your friend

If you're getting ready for your first +Hangout that someone else is inviting you to, you'll receive an invitation in your Notifications section (a little box that lights up red in the top right of your Gmail or Google+ page - or any Google service page, for that matter - when there are any messages). The invitation to +Hangout will be there and all you have to do is click the link to join! And if you don't see it there, visit the Google+ profile page of the host and the invite should be one of their more recent posts.

A Few STRONG Recommendations

Use a headset with a microphone. I just use the headset that came with the iPhone I bought several years ago and it works like a charm. Most laptops, tablets and other devices made in recent years have built-in webcams but even those will often pick up a lot of the sounds around you and not just your voice. A personal microphone on a headset is much better at just picking up your voice, making the experience better for everyone.

Join a Trial Run


Every Thursday morning at 10am EST Sociallogical hosts a FTH (First Time Hangout) for anyone who wants to try one out for the first time or just practice with a new change to your video or audio setup.

No pressure. No agenda. Just practice.

You'll need to add the host, Sociallogical, to your Google+ circles to see the invite. You'll see an invitation to the next FTH in our recent Google+ posts so you can say Yes and get notified of the next one.

Do you have any questions that we don't answer here? Let us know in the comments below.

Do the Yellow Pages Deserve Your Marketing Dollars?

The yellow pages printed directory When considering all the ways that people will look for you or what you sell, the yellow pages won't top the list for most target markets. Not anymore. So why do so many businesses still put their money there? I have 3 theories.

1. It's what they've always done.

For businesses who have been around for many years, the yellow pages have long been a resource that their customers have relied on to find them and they have good anecdotal evidence to support it. That evidence is getting old.

2. They are unsure of the alternatives.

The web and social media is not yet a comfort zone for a lot of businesses still apprehensive about committing wholeheartedly. Many have dipped their toe in that vast ocean but not a lot of them would express confidence in understanding how their customers use that medium and even fewer have figured the best way to respond to it.

And if social media is daunting, the complex algorithms and nuances of online advertising is an even tougher nut for many to crack.

3. They believe their target customer still relies on the printed directory.

That's fair, if there is evidence for it. After almost two decades of digital hegemony, there are still resistors and those who live unplugged.

Be where your customers will look for you

In the spring of 2011 I taught our first course on understanding social business to 10 people in 3 restaurants over 3 weeks. There were men and women from their 20s through to their 60s with varying comfort levels using the internet. One of the most poignant moments for all of us was when my friend Chris asked the room how many people still use the phone book to find a person or business. Two people put up their hand.

If you search for research on yellow pages usage you'll find a ton of articles and pseudo-research that is skewed and suspect at best. It makes sense that a dying billion-dollar industry would fight with the tools they know work and today the internet and the social web are just that. The industry is using as a weapon the mediums that are eating their lunch!

What really matters is for your business to be found by your customers when they decide they want what you sell and go looking for you. And the best way to find out how people discover and reach you is to ask them. Ask how they found you and ask how they would prefer to have found you.

And with so many of the most widely used channels available to businesses for free - search, social, online directories, and more - how does a business justify the cost of the yellow pages any more? Can you? I'm curious to know.

The simple back story: The yellow pages were delivered to our doorstep unsolicited yet again this week. The picture above was taken 2 days after delivery, showing that neither we nor our neighbours could be bothered to even pick it up off our step and toss it in the bin.

Summer Is More Important For Renewal Than the New Year

Summer Is More Important For Renewal Than New Year Despite the hype and pressure around New Years resolutions, when it comes to making real change happen in the life of a person or a business, summer vacations are much more potent and enabling. While the phenomenon may be more confined to businesses in the parts of the world with short summers, the culture and mood created by the need to capitalize on the warmth and comfort of the season has to have an effect on any business that has any connection to these areas.

New Year Lacks The Energy and Spirit of Change

The significance of a new number on the calendar aside, The dead of winter and post-spending spree is a lousy time to expect great change from ourselves and others. The time to learn something new and make fundamental change is not when the pressure of survival is upon our culture and when short days and cold climates sap the energy from our people and have many of us longing for a vacation or for spring to arrive.

New Years is a time of reflection, for sure. It may even be a good time to let go of things that aren't working. For many businesses, it's a time to let go of relationships that aren't working also, which doesn't always help the mood of the business community either.

We shut down in the winter. We hibernate. We get cozy and focus on family and others who are closest to us. We sit by roaring fires, read books, and eat "comfort" food.

Summer Is When We Open Up

Summer is when a good part of our northern societies take vacation, replenish our vitamin D, our recreational pursuits, and our social relationships, and generally open ourselves up to possibilities, new beginnings, and new energy.

Even if we're not among the lucky ones to have vacation time in the summer, those of us who are left to work, generally do so with less chaos, less demanded of us, and there is more support for a social tone to our workday. Business golf days, working remotely on patios, backyards, and even from the cottage are more often tolerated or even encouraged during this season.

The foods we eat tend to be more local, fresh, and nourishing. The air we breathe is more often straight from the outdoor source and the sunlight is warm and comforting.

This is the perfect time of the year to learn something new and take on a new change. This is the time of year to breathe deep and welcome something we have put off for a long time. We all want to return to September energized and ready for growth and summertime is the season to do the prep work for growth and change.

What Change Are You Using Your Summer For?

Summer may not be the time to make change but it can certainly be the time to open ourselves to it. The books we read on vacation, the student interns with their youthful perspectives, or the new/renewed friendships and conversations we enjoy can feed us with new ideas and directions.

This summer I am finishing two books I started a while ago: Trust Agents, and The Identity Society (please read along and discuss with me if you like). I like books that make me think in a new way and often avoid the how-to type. I have been exercising more and have returned to cycling after a 25 year break (slowly, of course). I also intend to introduce a regular daily strength training routine - which I desperately need. The most important thing I plan to do this summer is slow down and spend less time working on non-essential things. Especially with a new baby on the way, I don't want to live a busy life anymore, I want to be productive and energized. I will need to shift from multi-tasking to focused work.

While you are open and rested, what do you intend to do to set yourself and your business on a course for success in the coming year? How are you feeding yourself this summer?

Social Media Is Not Busy Work, It's Business Intelligence

Social Media Is Not Busy Work, It's Business Intelligence While social media gurus push hard for businesses to be busy writing content, posting links, and sharing media, most businesses can't help but become discouraged by what appears to be a lot of work without an obvious connection to sales.

While I see the matter quite differently, I understand the barrier and believe it exists because not everyone understands the real opportunity social media presents.

Business Intelligence Is the Big Prize

I have said many times that social media is in its infancy. But even at this early stage, gathering data and painting a picture of what a customer wants, why they want it, and how you succeed or fail to provide it is the great gift of social media.

Today there are powerful tools that give us an enormous amount of data that could employ teams of people to interpret. But it will get easier over time as tools provide more value beyond just the data. Even now, by staying focused on continuously improving your method of gathering data and interpreting it to honestly answer the big questions will keep you ahead of customer expectations and ahead of your competitors.

Start With a Question

Social media doesn't become social until business leaders become curious about their customers. Curiosity will create questions that you desperately need answered and those questions should start conversations that can help you give a better service worth paying for.

Start with a question you really need to have answered and start asking that question online. Ask it through the pictures, videos, blogs and tweets that you share, and answer the comments as they come in with conversation.

Social Media Strategy Belongs With Those Who Set Business Strategy

All of the traditional business functions need to take part in this effort. Public relations, marketing, sales, and human resources need to participate in the brand community but social media isn't just a benefit to any one of them and should not be owned by any one of them.

Social media is a lever that serves the bigger goals of the company and needs to be led by the leaders of the business, not any one department.

Here's my question that will help me serve you better: Who owns social media for your business and why?

Personal vs. Business Social Accounts: 3 Questions to Figure it Out

Personal vs. Business Social Accounts: 3 Questions to Figure it Out

People don’t socialize with brands, they socialize with people. So even if you have a brand account for your business, finding a way to feature your people through it is essential. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when sorting through this issue.

How To Get Into Google+: Share Everything

Share everything The best way to get into Google+ is to get into the habit of sharing everything.

For a long time I have advised clients and friends to spend more time listening online and worry less about what to share. By listening we can find conversations to start or jump into and truly enjoy social interactions.

So my advice to become a sharing fiend to really get into Google+ may sound contradictory but I think it is the best way to let yourself get sucked in and appreciate what this powerful network has to offer.

Share Because You Can

Whenever we come across something we like online we don't react to it by sharing all of it because we know (or should know) that we'll drive our friends and followers crazy if we do. Most social networks are giant soapboxes through which everyone we're connected to can see everything we share. Sure, Facebook offers other sharing options but they are not intuitive and rarely used.

With Google+ nothing gets shared at all without first selecting one or more circles to share them with. If you want to share something with everyone, it's as simple as selecting the Public circle and sharing.

But here's the difference: when I snap a photo of my kids doing something cute my thought doesn't jump to sharing it because I consider that to be private and personal. Unless there was a way to just share it with my immediate family or close friends, which there is with Google+.

So now, for me, I just share everything and select the right groups to share each thing with. Google+ makes it easy to make that choice and when I use the smartphone app it uploads everything I create automatically so I just need to select who to share it with and I'm done.

Sharing Leads To Engagement

While over sharing leads to disengagement on most networks, on Google+ it leads to more engagement because not everyone is going to see everything you share. You may still only share the same number of things with everyone that you do on Facebook, but you may share so much more with your hiking circle, your curling team circle, your jogging buddies, your family, or whatever other circles you've created. And if you are thoughtful with how you curate your circles they will rarely overlap.

The result is that you'll have content that others will see, comment on, share and +1 that will pull you into the network naturally, just like on Facebook and Twitter.

So have fun sharing. It's what the network was built for and once you get into it you'll find it more natural than you expected. Maybe in time you will back off a bit, but to really get into it, let yourself loose with sharing for a while and get in the habit of choosing which content is right for each circle of relationships. For me, it has resulted in Google+ becoming my favourite online social channel. I don't even email my wife any more when I find something interesting, I just hit the +1 button, and enter her name.

If you're staying away from Google+ because "no one is there", be one of the first ones who is. What else is keeping you from jumping in?

Why Your Location Matters in Your Online Profiles

Uluwatu Sunset by Sean McGrath You are not from "everywhere", "the world", "the globe", or "the web". You are a human with your feet planted somewhere on the earth that influences your view of the world, your business, and your society. So tell us where it is so we can get to know you better.

Whenever someone new connects with me on a social network I check out their profile to find out if they are a real person, and a few other characteristics I have mentioned in earlier posts. And one of those key characteristics is a person's location. More than almost any other profile element, location gives me context for that person. And when a new connection doesn't tell me where they are or where they've been it significantly lowers the likelihood that I will add them to my list of people I want to listen to.

We All Care About Place

Where we live and where we have lived in the past influences how we see the world as much, in my opinion, as our education and work history. I know that every city I have lived in has had a significant influence on me, both while I was living there and after I left (that's one of the reasons why I love the "places I have lived" section of the Google+ profile). Think about the top 5 questions you ask someone new that you meet at a trade show, webinar or when you're away on vacation. I'm willing to bet that "where are you from?" is on that list.

So it's best not to be coy or cute about where you live and just tell us. It doesn't have to be a street address or your detailed latitude and longitude coordinates (The long code after "UT" that very precise people use). Just your neighbourhood, city, state, or region. Something that gives the people you want to connect with you a sense of where you are in the world so we know a little more of who you are so we can get to know you better.

How do you feel about sharing your location? Is there a reason why you are ambiguous that overrides a potential friend's need to get to know you a bit better?

Culture Shift | The End of Small Talk, Part 1

Before social media, many believed that small talk held us together. It was how we kept things at the surface where we could show courtesies, respect, and basic kindness and stay away from areas of friction. Small talk, they said, was the fabric that held our society together. Instead, I believe we just wasted a century talking about the weather.

Religion, politics, sex, crime, children, and money are all discussed openly through social media. Real debate occurs now. There are few taboos. Many of the limits society placed on itself in earlier generations are gone and it is liberating and energizing. Every day we learn about and discuss issues that matter.

That's the positive view. The dark side of this is that many are not part of this exchange and have opted out because they fear and misunderstand this new world. I hope this changes.

Many say social media reduces our privacy, and I agree. The fundamental difference between the previous generation and this one is that this one generally doesn't see that as a bad thing. It is an issue of culture and values and the "you're either with us or against us" paradigm labels these big 21st century changes as "bad" or "good". Privacy: good. Openness: bad.

Collaboration was a buzzword in the last century. It is the model for this one.

Some think that too many people share meaningless things through social media. It keeps us "communicating" too much of the time so we spend less time living and relating to each other in a real way. Hogwash.

What social media does is bring public places into our personal space. We now have access to the city centre, the marketplace, the sports field, or the trade show floor wherever we are, whenever we want it. In these places we are public, not private.

Because of our online familiarity with each other, when we find ourselves face to face we don't waste time with the small talk, that's all out of the way. We dive straight into the meaningful, interesting, productive dialogue that enriches us, informs us, energizes us and challenges our creativity.

As a result, the people of this age are more creative, energized by ideas and opportunities, connected and, most importantly, collaborative. Research even shows that the more social people are online, the more social they are offline. That's a fact that many on the outside of social media will have a hard time understanding or even believing.

It's not a matter of intelligence. It's a matter of culture and perspective.

Small talk is so 1999. Wasting face to face time talking about what we had for lunch, what we think of the weather, who we saw walking down the street - these are true wastes of opportunity and relationship when we are together. This is what constituted most social interaction in the last century and now occupies a minimum of our conversations online today. This is what critics believe is so valuable and is being lost on the online folk. Seriously?

On twitter I sometimes share things of this nature in addition to sharing the most interesting experiences of my day, ideas, articles, perspectives, news, data, and opportunities. My relatively closed network on Facebook or my controlled circles on Google+ see my family photos, my interests, and the events I am attending. If you care to know me, it's there. No one is forcing you to read about my life but it enables you to know me better. Your daily news becomes the news from my life and the lives of the other people you know and have chosen to connect with.

The Dialogue That Builds a Society

Forget the period pieces of hillbillies and yokels; the pioneers of the 1800s built a society with confidence, aggression, vision, and tenacity and there is plenty of historical evidence that these pioneers said what needed to be said, did what needed to get done, and built the foundation for a middle class that fed our economy for the century that followed. I see the same traits emerging in the young people who have entered the workforce in recent years.

What the new generation knows is that the present and the future have a creative foundation and communication feeds that creativity. As these people mature in their careers, understand the sophistication of their professional relationships, and gain confidence in their abilities and experience, expect social media to grow even more crucial in bringing them together so they can make big things happen. They'll have the most powerful tool for collaboration humanity has ever known and the strength of character and perspective to use it in a powerful way.

I've learned a fair bit about how this dynamic plays out in business cultures and how we can plan for good outcomes. I'll hit on that next week...

Social Envy? 6 Recommendations for Great Customer Service

[Edited] Photo of the Display Window at Envy Saint John, Fashion Forward 2011 Every day brand interactions occur that either draw customers into your community or send them running for the hills. Online social networks offer an opportunity to salvage small mistakes that leave big impressions, or add salt to wounds that starts a movement against your brand.

We all remember the infamous 'United Breaks Guitars' incident, where a dissatisfied customer wrote an unflattering song and video about United Airlines and, as of today, has close to 12 million viewers. The damage caused to the United brand by a relatively small, yet poor decision to throw a customer's guitar and fail to make amends is monumental and a lesson to us all.

The lesson that seems gets missed is that, in contrast, small interactions can become powerful hooks that draw people to your brand, building loyalty, respect and affection for your company and the people who work for you.

A Mini Case Study: A Social, Local Fashion Industry and One Bad Apple

Some businesses get it right and I want to draw attention to a few great businesses in my community who provide excellent service and online support for their women’s retail stores, and one that doesn’t. Following are 6 Recommendations to avoid a customer service crisis, using our great local shops as an example of the do’s, contrasted with the story of a recent interaction I had with a large chain store called Envy for the dont’s.

1. Let Employees Take Ownership of Your Community

I’m not a power shopper but I like to shop and consider it an important part of my social life. The local, independent stores listed below call me by name, ask me how my pregnancy is going, treat me as a friend, and chat with me online.

  • Je Suis Prest never questions the nature of a return, knows my style, my size, my buying interests.
  • Silver Daisy Designs, after getting to know me and trust my loyalty and appreciation for their products, has offered for me to take clothes from their store to wear at local events.
  • Manchester Shoes asks me how my mother likes the boots she bought a few weeks ago and congratulated me on my pregnancy (which doesn’t show yet, by the way).
  • Urban Shoe Myth, is another great boutique shop that brings in unique products based on an intimate, personal knowledge of their customers.
  • Both Silver Daisy and Je Suis Prest take part in Saint John Cut (community photo shoots), in support of local artists and a growing fashion sector, among many other community-based fashion initiatives benefiting a variety of community charitable organizations.

Imagine seeing the same person at least once a month for more than 2 years and not caring to find out anything about that person, even their name. If the company you work for doesn’t reward this kind of curiosity, it is likely that you wouldn’t bother.

Last week I attempted to return a $50 sweater with receipt and tags attached to Envy and was told that they would need to contact “the head office on Monday” because I missed the return deadline. Yesterday they called to tell me that Envy would not be granting a return or exchange on the item...

2. Empower Your Employees To Build Relationships With Great Service

...Envy has been one of my favourite women's clothing stores. They employ kind, helpful, and knowledgeable staff who are a pleasure to visit on a day out shopping. What they don't employ are policies that let their staff give the same excellent service that their small, independent competitors do.

While Envy is in the business of selling clothes and making profits for their corporate head office through sales and visual branding, their smaller competitors are building community (and selling clothes and making profits) through respect, personal interactions and flexibility. I would be willing to bet that the great people who Envy employs in their store have a good sense of what great service is but are granted no decision-making power to execute...

3. Be Found Online

If a customer is not happy and they want to talk to you about it, be available so they talk to you before they complain to others. Your conversations with customers won’t always be happy interactions but you will always have the opportunity to show your respect, concern, and excellent service as you become part of the solution to their problems.

Every small local retailer I buy from has a social media presence that they watch and feed, through which I can contact them with any issues. Usually what I share with them are +1s, likes, and compliments for great service. But when customers do have a problem or leave a complaint, I can also see them providing solutions and keeping a friend, which keeps me too.

...After 15 minutes of searching for Envy online I located a Facebook account and posted my concern to their wall. Envy made their decision not to accept my return so I made my decision to share a simple post with friends and fellow shoppers on their Facebook account - which Envy chose to delete a short time later.

I learned that Envy, Samuel & Co. and Psuedio, all sister companies under the title of Sherlock Clothing Ltd., have a ‘head office’ with almost no connection to my community and all customer related decisions limited to Monday-Friday 8-4pm...

4. Respect Your Customer’s Network

It used to be that corporations had a voice and customers had nothing. Now consumer networks often rival your brand and usually command greater loyalty and credibility. Before you choose your response to a customer, know that you are talking to a partner, not a peon.

...Deleting my online complaint didn’t hide the issue. In this case, my message of poor customer service reached 8110 people (Facebook and Twitter combined) within 30 minutes. Envy’s reponse to an 8000+ audience was “Our return policy is written on the receipt, email our head office,” and soon after deleted the entire thread.

Guilty? Embarrassed? I get that. I also get that deleting customer complaints doesn’t hide or make the problem go away. Ignoring your customers is not as easy as it used to be...

5. Use Your Data To Know and Serve Your Customers

The small independent retailers that I shop from use their information about my purchasing patterns to recommend products I might like and to welcome me as a friend with personal knowledge of my interests and big life events. They know that I don’t take advantage of their good will when the occasion arises that I wish to return a product. They also know I’ll be back when they do.

...Envy has been tracking my purchases since I started buying from them in 2003 by asking for my phone number every time I buy. They would know I started buying from them when I lived in Halifax, continued to shop there in Moncton, and was excited when the store came to Saint John a few years ago. They also know that this is the first time I have ever attempted to return anything to them and, admittedly, they would know that I have spent considerable money there year after year...

6. Invest in Communities, Not Just Promotions

For the local retailers I’ve mentioned, their goal is to build a community and social media is merely a tool to help with that. They have conversations with their customers, positive and negative, and behave with friendship toward the people they are in business to serve. This community is attractive to others and is what someone finds when they search online for retail stores in my city. They support local events and local businesses because being active participants of our community is also a part of their brand.

...I also posted my Envy issue to Twitter where a fantastic flurry of responses ensued that demonstrated to me that our local retailers have built a solid community - often shared with each other - around personal relationships, exceptional service, and responsiveness on social channels.

These retailers acknowledged interactions they have had with me and even their awareness that I am pregnant! How’s that for personal? To my knowledge, Envy/Samuel&Co was unaware that their potential community had been hijacked.

Our local retailers know me on a deeper level than Envy head office. They responded to my online posts about Envy as friends with support and concern, but not with disrespect to their competitors. In contrast, I didn’t hear a word on Twitter from Envy or its sister company Samuel&Co. Instead, their choice was to ignore me, delete our interaction, and keep my $50.

Deconstructing The Envy Service Failure

Perhaps the Envy/Samuel&Co/Pseudio empire is executing the same customer service model that has helped them to grow their clientele for decades, and are therefore unwilling to ‘fix what isn’t broken.’

However, the way customer service is delivered is changing all around them and consumers have an expectation that they will keep up with these changes in standard. If buyers like me have grown entitled to excellent, personal service it is because others have provided it to us.

The Sherlock Clothing Ltd. corporation has chosen to keep $50 in revenue at the cost of losing a loyal customer. I’m really not sure how they could have expected a different outcome if they understood what social business means to their profits. We care about being treated as human beings, with some appreciation that without our dollars, there is no business.

The Empires Are Making The Small Brands Shine

Perhaps it is because I am so well treated, listened to and engaged with by other local companies that I am even writing this blog today.

Social media has introduced two-way mass communication and has ushered in an era in which we expect social businesses to respond to us and treat us like our friends do.

Why on earth would I support a business that does not support me back, ignores my concerns, my fellow shoppers, its own employees, and my community? Why would I spend another dime in a place that is run by someone who sits by the phone miles away, dead to the world of social media, when my neighbours, my community members, my friends and retail owners are rolling out the red carpet for me every time I walk into their store? They listen to me, engage with me, and make my community a better place to live in.

Thank you to Envy for making this clear to me, and thank you to the $50 sweater that will go forever unworn. A constant reminder of the treasure we have in local, social retail.

Do you have a story of great (or not so great) customer service online? Tell us in the comments below.

[Video] Owning Your Own Message: 5 Lessons From The Obama Campaign Video

Battered by messages and mantras from the other side that aren’t always true and often wildly exaggerated, the incumbent candidate for the US Presidency responded this week by sharing his own message in his own way in a format that is entertaining, informative and, above all, sharable.

While the opposing Republicans would likely accuse the President of the same, his response to them is truly unique and, I’m sure we will learn over the next few weeks from polls, effective.

What’s also noteworthy is that he shared it first through an online news source that is extremely popular amoung his target demographic of supporters - the Huffington Post. By doing this, the people who are most likely to support him will be first to see it, share it, and distribute it, increasing the likelihood of a rapid organic spread of the video amoung an obvious, visible, massive group of supporters.

5 Lessons For Politicians and Businesses

The result is momentum and a direct feed into millions of personal networks in a way that a traditional campaign could never hope to reach. And through this one piece of political storytelling are a few lessons to apply to growing any community; political, business, or otherwise:

  1. Be entertaining. More than any other nation, Americans vote for leaders who, above all,  make them feel proud to be an American and hopeful for their future as a nation. Content that feeds this need is captivating and entertaining to the President’s target audience and compels many to consume it. What motivates your community to take actions that support the growth of your company? Be entertaining by speaking to your audience in the language they know and respond to.
  2. Be factual. My wife often jokes to “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. But when millions have readily available tools to research the facts and the means to distribute them, you’ve got to make sure your claims stand up to this scrutiny. Was Obama advised to let the auto industry fail by his opponents? Yes he was. Did he ignore that advice and bail them out anyway, leading to their return to profits? Yes he did.
  3. Be sharable. It seems so obvious but is so often missed. If you have valuable content you want shared with your supporters it needs to find its way to one-click consumption. Radio interviews that never get posted online or news stories locked behind paywalls are useless to a candidate (and a business) who wants the message spread widely online. Find a way around it or reconsider how much time you are willing to invest in that kind of exposure if you agree with the research that the most influential audience is online.
  4. Be personal. In his recent video, some of the most poignant moments hit home when the President shared what is important to him about the events and decisions he’s made, on a personal, emotional level that people can connect with. He brings us in to what motivates him, what he cares about, and what human qualities a voter can identify with and want to see in a person who represents them. Machines follow orders, people make decisions, and it’s important to know the human qualities that make those decisions.
  5. Be consumable. Be honest, how many lengthy articles do you read in the run of a week? If you hope to convert voters into supporters, don’t count on many of them to read through your lengthy campaign platform. By all means, write that lengthy manifesto for those who do, but make sure that every part can be broken down into a bite-sized, sharable nugget to pass around and discuss throughout the timeline of the campaign. Not everyone will care about everything you do. Make sure they can rally around and amplify the parts they care about most.

What These Lessons Mean For Business

Read through the bolded lines of the 5 points above and consider which ones do not apply to your business and the community you hope to build around it. In my opinion, they all apply. And if you add the social lessons we have shared since this blog was born, the content you create will feed a wonderful community that brings a lot of value to the people who like you.

Political campaigns are big business and there are many pundits around the world who have dissected the process of winning in great detail. There’s a lot to read and a lot to learn. But the basics of building great content that draws people to you and turns them into supporters are simple and straightforward and, surprisingly, still lost on many businesses.

As you watch the political campaigns unfold in your part of the world, consider what resonates with you. What draws you in, what content compels you to share, and what is so meaningful that you’re willing to speak out?

Learn from it, copy it, and use it for your business. And please share your observations in the comments below.