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.

What is Social Media’s Next Big Thing?

One possible answer:   The Enterprise.

No, no. Not the Star Trek kind of Enterprise (although that would be pretty cool).   I mean using social media technologies internally, within the large company kind of enterprise.

I’m often asked what I think the next big thing in social media might be.  I’m excited about a lot of different possibilities — true integrations with traditional advertising, big data, real-time interactivity with TV and movies, augmented reality, the promise of location-based apps, the Internet of Things — but “enterprise social media” is the idea that I think could be the biggest near-term game-changer for many large companies.

Let’s step back a minute and think about some of the benefits an individual realizes from social networking:

  • Linking people who might not otherwise be linked
  • Information sharing and education
  • Crowd-sourced innovation and problem-resolution
  • Collaboration
  • Relationship-building through trust and community
  • Exposure to diverse ideas

Now what if we applied social software to those people working within a company?  If employees in a far-flung global company could harvest these benefits internally, couldn’t this create a significant competitive advantage?

The enticing aspect of this idea is that the technology is certainly already there to achieve this. And, of course there are people in every company who would share the vision too.

So why aren’t we seeing more success stories in this area?  The problem is undoubtedly rooted in an issue I wrote about recently — companies are usually not moved to action by vague promises of improved collaboration. They want ROI, but sometimes the benefits of the social web are intangible, and very difficult to plot on a spreadsheet.

While there are isolated examples of success in applying social technologies across an enterprise, most companies still do not let employees access the social web from work, let alone implement internal social networking platforms.

A recent article by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown in the Harvard Business Review did a terrific job of capturing the potential of this opportunity as they explained how the social web can drive real internal company value.

1) ACCESS

“Access,” the authors note, involves the ability to find, learn about, and connect with the right people, information, and resources to address unanticipated needs.

In today’s global companies, the information needed to create a breakthrough idea, or even just do your job more effectively, may reside in people scattered across departments and geographies.  No organizational chart is going to help you find the knowledge you need.

Social software allows the user to reach out to a large number of relevant participants and bring them into a virtual discussion on a specific problem or challenge, so tacit knowledge is shared and new knowledge is created. But social software also captures, and makes these informal conversations searchable. IBM’s internal Twitter experiment is a well-documented example of the potential of this kind of application.

2) ATTRACT

The biggest benefit I’ve personally received from social networking is attracting a group of people (like you!) who have helped me create new business benefits — concepts and opportunities I had not even considered before.

The article notes that this “serendipity,” or the discovery of important and needed resources without even knowing what to look for, is exactly what occurred for the Enterprise Social Media Experiment team at SAP.  What began as a discussion between a small group of participants grew into a synergistic global collaborative development effort between developers from different parts of the world.

3) ACHIEVE

“Achieve” is about driving more rapid learning and sustained performance improvement through meaningful relationships as they develop through the internal social network. Companies won’t be able to achieve sustained and extreme performance just by connecting workers weakly to resources and information.  The real value comes when the one-off interactions develop into relationships and those relationships facilitate sustained collaboration. Individuals and companies achieve their potential when they can tap into and create tacit knowledge through long-term collaborative relationships.

And just to add fuel to my argument about finding new ways to calculate the value of social media qualitatively, the authors also conclude that “Calculating a financial ROI requires too many assumptions, and it distracts from a more explicit focus on the key operating metrics that drive line managers. Once you have embarked on a social software implementation, measuring the improvement in specific operating metrics and looking for opportunities to tell and re-tell the stories of workers who became more productive through the use of these tools can make the connection to social software tangible for others in your organization.” So there. : )

What’s the next big thing in social media?  So many exciting possibilities!  Are you seeing any internal social applications in your company?  What innovations capture YOUR imagination?

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