Bill Piper has no clue what he’s doing in social media

I have this new habit. When I’m alone on a long car trip I will put out a tweet asking people to call me and keep me company. It has led to some serendipitous benefits, including meeting Bill Piper.

Bill called me seeking advice — lots of advice! He had begun a new marketing assignment and admitted that he was over his head.   I’ve followed his rapid progress and he has graciously offered this guest post on his learning adventures in social media.  By the way, he came up with the headline too!  Here’s Bill:

Several months ago, I was handed the reins to my company’s digital brand.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  At all.

I’m a young marketer and enjoy social media for myself, but the most I knew about digital B2B marketing was that I could really blow it.  I work for a cutting-edge IT company, so our ambition was to do social media in the same manner: on the cutting-edge, and with excellence.

Starting from square one, I knew that I needed a solid plan with executable tasks and guidance from someone who had been where I wanted to go.  So I took Mark’s social media marketing class and learned a sustainable process to drive our desired business benefits (revenue) over the long haul.

We started implementing our strategy earlier this year with blogging, SEO, and a few social media outlets.  We haven’t done it perfectly.  It hasn’t been impressive.  But the thing is – it has WORKED!

We’ve secured sales leads, generated revenue, and solidified our brand recognition through social media.

I’m not an expert but I’ve outlined a set of principles that have worked, even when I had to work above my experience level.

1.       Make humility work for you.

For most of us, an honest and objective look at ourselves should enable an attitude of humility.  The difficult part is that it’s not always easy.  To be successful, figure out the people smarter and better at their jobs than you are and ask them lots of questions.  Who is the Mark Schaefer in your community?  There are lots of gurus out there but who can you work with who really knows what he or she is doing?  We all want to look smart, but asking for help and assuming a humble attitude of learning can be your biggest asset in developing your skill sets.

2.       Focus. Develop your skills one by one.

Given the breadth of digital strategies, there’s a lot of knowledge and savvy that goes into successful marketing.  What are the top three marketing skill sets you need to develop? Pick one at a time, get really good at it and move on to the next.  Starting out, I learned proficiency in SEO first, then blogging, and then Twitter, etc. and, I’m going to keep learning, too.

3.       Be committed and decisive.

With inexperience and uncertainty it’s easy to over-think things.  When faced with uncertainty, I found it important to make the best decision I could at that specific time.  I acknowledged that I didn’t know all the variables at play but would move forward expecting to make adjustments.  I couldn’t commit to being perfect, but I could commit to constant forward motion.

Which expert are you more like in your career right now: the expert champ or the expert chump? If you’re a chump, it’s okay.  You don’t have to be perfect in your social media execution.  We’re all still learning, and there are probably things I should be doing that I haven’t even heard about yet.   At the end of the day, though, I’m content with my ignorance-expert status as long as we keep getting results.

What has your journey been like?  How are you learning and growing in your job?

Bill Piper works in business development and marketing for Claris Networks, an information technology firm in Knoxville, TN.   You can follow him on Twitter at @billpiper.

Today’s lesson: Yes, I do have limits.

I had a personal milestone last week — a different kind of {grow} experience — and it wasn’t a very good one.  The story starts with an 8-year-old boy.

Over the past year, I have been a mentor through a program called Amachi which pairs adult role models with children who have a parent in prison. My little boy is Elijah and we have become best friends. I don’t think it is appropriate to say a lot about him but as you might imagine, he has a very challenging life surrounded by stuff no child should ever have to experience.

Elijah’s life is usually contained to an inner city neighborhood and extends about as far as he can safely ride his bike. It is a world without trees, wildlife or open spaces and one of the things I learned is that he loves nature. He is absolutely transformed just by seeing a squirrel or a rabbit. So over his school fall break, it made great sense to take him camping for the first time at one of our state’s amazing parks.

Now one thing about Elijah — he’s a daredevil.  The kid is always pushing his physical limits — and mine!  So when he saw a poster of a person rock-climbing, I knew I was in trouble.  “Can we do that?” he asked.  I tried to explain that you need ropes and special equipment but it was too late — he had that unmistakable, mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

We had an amazing first day at the park with perfect fall weather and ended up at a tall waterfall. Because of our recent drought, there was a 30-foot rock wall exposed that ended at the river above. By the time I had caught up with him on the trail, Elijah had nearly scaled the perilous rock wall.  A chill went down my spine as I saw him throw his leg over the top of the ledge.  He now stood high above me grinning ear-to-ear. My heart dropped.

The rocks were black and slick from the mist of the waterfall and so steep that there was no way he could come back down safely.  Finding another way to the top would mean he would have to stay there alone while I found an alternate path.  My instinct was to go up after him. After all, I’ve spent half my life in the woods and this was familiar territory.

I made it half-way up and realized I was in trouble. For the first time in my life I faced a physical challenge and realized that I was too old and out of shape to do what I could have done a few years ago.  My vision of myself was out of sync with my actual physical capabilities. I still participate in mountain biking, skiing and other physical activities and have surely noticed changes with age, but cannot recall ever facing a point where I was telling myself, “no.”

“I don’t think I can get up there,” I yelled up to Elijah. “I’ll have to find another way to come get you.”

“You can do it,” he said, a little panic rising in his voice. “Remember who you are!”

What I heard was, You are my mentor, my father figure and the guy who can do anything in my eyes.  Don’t leave me here.

So I climbed.  And I fell.

It seemed like I fell a long time, at least long enough for me to say one prayer,”Please God, not my head.”  I had already suffered one spinal cord injury in my life and knew this fall could be catastrophic. What would happen to Elijah if I knocked myself out?

I don’t know how it is possible, but I tumbled down multiple rock ledges and did not hit my head. Every other body part – but not my head. This was a legitimate miracle.

Everything was bruised but adrenaline took over. I told Elijah to literally not move one inch until I found a path to get to him.  And for the past week I have felt like a bruised and crippled old man.

All of this has re-set my view of myself.

How did I put myself in place where a mis-aligned self image and ego endangered me, my family and Elijah?  How could I be so self-deceptive and stupid?

I need to come to terms with my age and physical realities. I hate that.

As I posted last week about my concerns with the implications of “screen saturation” and children, I had to do a gut-check to see if I was expressing a legitimate concern or if I was starting to sound like every other generation before me, lambasting “the youth of today.”  Am I crossing some invisible line here?

These experiences are all natural elements of life transitions yet that makes it no easier to internalize and accept. In an era where we are being bombarded with age-defying advertising themes, how are you dealing with your life transitions?  Have you ever faced a physical or psychological limit yet?

Ten social media problems that drive marketers nuts

Trying to deliver measurable business results from social media marketing can be frustrating. My friend and {grow} community member James Adams has been plowing this ground for some time now and in this guest post shares his personal view of his biggest annoyances …

“Use social media marketing to build your business.” Sure, these are captivating buzzwords, but few understand how difficult marketing through social sites can be until they try it!  I’m learning this from experience.  The truth is that social media marketing is difficult work.  To help minimize the impact of this frustration on the beginning marketer, here are my Top 10 annoyances as I try to market through the social web and a few comments on how I’m dealing with them:

1. Marketing for producing votes – Users of sites like Digg and Reddit rate links, allowing some to soar and others to languish in obscurity. When I found myself trying to write to secure votes and work the system, I decided to re-focus on simply creating quality content in spite of the kind ratings I get.

2. Converting followers – I have hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers: Now what? Followers are not the same as sales leads are they?   I’ve learned to think differently about expectations and conversion rates. Over time, buyers will come, but you need to be patient and accept a low conversion rate as you focus on building relationships, not quick sales.

3. Dealing with spammers, flamers, freaks, and dissenters – I find few things as annoying as having some troll following me around wherever I go kicking up dirt. I found that on some sites you can allow other users to rate comments driving out the problems, but be prepared: some of these people never go away. I deal with them gracefully, ignoring most of what they say and do most of the time.

4. Creating consistent content – Creating content that is consistent and excellent is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a marketer.  The ideas are one thing.  Finding the time to do it is another.  I handled this by getting on a schedule. I budget my time like I do money and somehow I make it stretch until I can get everything done.

5. Platform pressure – One blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account is not enough any  more …  and you still need to get on YouTube and Linked in. I do the best I can on what I’m doing right now and don’t worry about expanding too quickly.

6. Standing out – It is getting really crowded out here. I find it challenging to be different in social media, especially when you have to sell a legitimate product and be heard above all the MLM and other spammers out there with far more resources than me!  I have tried drawing, promos, and special games and have had some success. Ultimately, I find that participation and real engagement is more important than being cute.

7. Building a brand online – Developing goodwill and brand recognition is challenging and frustrating. I find that persistence is the key; keep at it over time and one day you will wake up at the helm of a well- known, well-respected brand. I’m finding it might be better to consistently show up rather than show off.

8. Finding quality help – Learning the best practices in social media marketing is difficult: most of the free advice out there is what you already know, and paying for training can be perilous with all the schlocky gurus around. I’m finding that identifying some consistently reliable resources like Mark’s blog can be my best teacher.  What resources do you rely on?

9. Leveraging social media for public relations – Even if you don’t sell, you want to find ways to cut through the clutter and  use social media marketing to promote your business. This can be frustrating, but by offering some free advice and real life examples of how my business has made the world better, I have had some success.

10. Putting my brand in the hands of others — If you focus on social media, what happens when your favorite site becomes changes the terms of their conditions, makes dramatic interface changes or becomes “uncool” and goes out of business? What are you going to do when Facebook or another platform gets hacked, bringing your marketing effort to a screeching halt? Remember when MySpace was the ultimate venue? I am learning to buffer myself from the failure of others by giving most of my attention to what Google, Bing, and Yahoo can do for me and owning my content.

So these are some of my concerns and frustrations. As you market on the social web, what are YOU finding out there?

James Adams covers the latest gadgets and tech announcements as well as writing detailed reviews of hardware like the CLI-521 at an ink cartridges supplier based England.

Illustration: toothpaste for dinner.com

Why are bosses anti-social media?

Why are bosses anti-social media?  There seems to be a lot of articles asking this question lately … perhaps even blaming bosses for the destruction of our social media hopes and dreams.

I’ve been thinking about this and think I have found at least one answer to the question in some classic management research.

One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  This was written way back in 2001 when books had more than one idea in them.

The book is a classic and one of the lasting concepts was the “Level 5 Leader” — an executive that personifies genuine personal humility blended with intense professional will.  While we may picture the prototypical executive as a charismatic celebrity dynamo like Richard Branson (perfect social media material) more than 20 years of research led Collins to believe that the most effective business leaders are more typically shy, unpretentious, even awkward.

In other words, brilliant executives who produced the most sustained business excellence in corporate America were definitely NOT the social media type!

I think there is a personality bias in social media because it is so … social.  A lot of people just DON’T WANT TO ENGAGE (frequently followed by the words “damn it!”).  That doesn’t make them evil, or even the bane of your social media existence.  In fact, as Collins shows, they may be the greatest boss you could wish for — but they just are not going to play nice with you and tweet.

According to a recent survey by public relations agency Weber Shandwick, 64% of CEOs are not using social media, although 93% of them are using traditional methods to communicate with external audiences. That doesn’t come as a real surprise to me.

But an “anti-social” boss doesn’t mean your dreams of social media rainbows are over, it may just mean it will not involve your top executive.  Instead of spending your time trying to “change” a perfectly good boss, look for other ways to deploy in your organization. That is a key trait of an effective leader — work with the cards you are dealt and overcome. Don’t keep wishing for a Branson-boss. Deal with it. Move on.

I should end with a caveat. I am assuming that your boss is effective, but just not social.   However, if your boss is stupid, all bets are off.

Even if a boss doesn’t want to be social, they still have to understand it enough to say “yeah, go ahead.”  There is no such thing as a grassroots strategic effort. The sponsorship must come from the top.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to you, the awesome {grow} community. What problems (and successes) are you having with YOUR boss and social media? Let’s work it out together in the comment section …

Illustration compliments of toothpaste for breakfast.
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