Microsoft Announces Minus, New Social Network for Pharma

While high-profile social networks like Facebook and Google+ have recently made splashy announcements to try to gain the attention of the masses, Microsoft has been quietly, and brilliantly, working on a new social network custom-designed for pharma.

Steve Woodruff, the Pharmaceutical Connection Agent, was given an exclusive sneak peak at the platform, dubbed Minus, which is being launched today to a beta audience of one pharma company, one patient, and 25 lawyers. While detailed screen shots were not yet approved by Regulatory, a mockup of the interface was obtained, showing the sensitivity of Microsoft designers to the constraints of pharmaceutical industry communications. (click to biggify —>)

Steve Ballmer, President of Microsoft, beamed as he read a carefully prepared and vetted statement to members of the press, who were not allowed to ask questions or engage in dialogue during the announcement. “Here at Microsoft, we understand legacy systems, bureaucracy, and the need to consider the past when developing for the future. That’s why we’re the ideal partner for the pharmaceutical industry to create a social platform that will reflect how controlled, one-way, non-interactive communications can occur in this modern world of digital networks. This is what social media is all about – MINUS all that social stuff.

“Now, please view these 17 slides of disclaimers, safety warnings, software contraindications, and approved uses for Minus.”

The announcement was hailed as a great advancement for an industry dogged by difficulties participating in the public, free-wheeling world of social networks. “For years, we’ve struggled with how to communicate with the public in a safe, controlled manner that will keep us out of trouble,” said one VP of Marketing, whose identity could not be revealed due to privacy concerns. “Now, we can get our messages out there on the Twitter and the Facebook by using this Minus thing to…to…say more stuff. You know, join the conversation.”

While it wasn’t yet clear who exactly would participate on the Minus platform, this was viewed as no barrier to adoption. “We’ll just pull a Google+ on everyone and make it limited rollout for everyone in pharma who has a Klout score of 82 and above, or who has a value of 1,000 or more on Empire Avenue,” explained Ballmer. “That ought to get us to critical mass in no time.”

To appeal to its target audience, Microsoft enlisted the avatar of ancient Uncle Sam Wilson as the key figure in its marketing campaign. “Old Sam had just the right look-and-feel that we wanted to accelerate uptake of the platform,” said VP of Minus Biz Dev Sam Wilson IV. “Doesn’t he just exude social control?”

Addressing the thorny issue of user-generated content in a regulated environment, Ballmer scoffed, “UGC is so 2009. We’re looking to the future by hearkening to the past. Remember the good old days of DOS? Guess what computing kernel powers Minus?”

Reporters were encouraged to submit questions via an analog “Suggestion Box,” all of which would be reviewed by an approval committee and selectively answered within 3 weeks via a special Minus application using U.S. Mail.

(please do not tweet or share this link without prior authorization from a qualified lawyer. Any harm that comes from using this blog post in a way that it was not intended must be immediately reported to proper authorities. 9 out of 10 regulators surveyed approved this message)

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Recently on Connection Agent:

5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

Why Google+ Could Succeed

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Retail or Referral Thinking?

If you’re involved in social media as a professional – hoping to gain some business benefit from social networks – then you have a decision to make. Often, that means you have to question a certain default marketing setting and decide what is the right approach for you.

Are you going to approach social networks with primarily a retail, or a referral, mindset?

A retail mindset, which dominates much of traditional marketing, is typically a numbers game. It’s about reach. More eyeballs, more customers, more volume, more dollars. Translated to social networks, that means more subscribers/readers/connections leading to more potential sales of something.

It’s not wrong. It’s how one part of the business game is played. If everyone is clear on the rules, it’s fine. And on our networks, we’ve refined a pretty effective freemium model (give some level of knowledge/consulting/e-product away as a taste, then charge for the deeper level).

If you want to sell ads, sell books, sell keynote speaking, or sell memberships, it’s quite legitimate. But bear in mind that it isn’t the only way to do business via social networks. It may be our default setting, leading us to crave more, more, MORE numbers – but there’s a different mindset that may be appropriate for the vast majority of us who are not going to generate revenue-by-retail.

The referral mindset focuses on depth and quality. It recognizes that much long-term business comes from a core group of committed fans and activists. This approach is not simply thinking of short-term revenue transactions (which, again, aren’t wrong), but is more concerned with building deep and enduring relationships with people who will influence the marketplace as continual sources of referrals.

In one case, the goal is a simple transaction – dollars for perceived value right now. It requires scale to succeed. In the other, the foundation is character, reputation, loyalty…dare I say love? It is providing the deep value of walking alongside a limited number of like-minded others and being personally invested in their business success. It’s radical, it’s daring, it’s long-term – and it is decidedly NOT the default setting of our short-term marketing culture.

It’s personal.

Of course, large numbers of connections and building a referral network is not mutually exclusive. From the numbers come the individuals who become the advocates and collaborators. But in the referral approach, while having a large network could lead to some level of retail transactions, the primary goal is to exchange value at a deeper and longer-term level.

I have built reasonably large networks in the pharma/healthcare field, and in the general social media/marketing realm. Yet, my paying business really comes from a small handful of clients, and most new opportunities are driven by advocates who are committed to me as a person and a professional. Personally, I don’t feel a need for a bestseller on the NY Times book list. I just want to get to know the best people. They are my best sellers (and I am theirs).

Let’s face it – some people are really great at drawing crowds, and figuring out ways to retail things to them. And some of those folks also know how to work on the referral level at the same time. But for many of us, it’s worth questioning the default setting of more, more, MORE. Will your business grow primarily as a result of quantity, or quality, of connections? Answer that question, and your networking strategy will become clear.

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Recently on Connection Agent:

5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

Why Google+ Could Succeed

Build Your Own Opportunity Network (free e-book)

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5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

I love Twitter. I use it heavily. Very heavily!

However, given how networking technology is moving forward, I have to wonder if Twitter is going to reach an early expiration date.

Here’s why I’m thinking this way:

1. Twitter’s main function is a commodity. Exchanging text messages is not rocket science. The younger generation does it all the time, but with smartphones and (generally) not with Twitter. And messages (including multimedia files) can be shared more intuitively on other platforms. Facebook replicates real-life sharing much more normally than Twitter, which requires a learning curve, a critical mass of contacts, and an awkward method of composing messages (140 characters).

2. Twitter still doesn’t have a stable and scalable business model. For all of its potential, Twitter is not truly a business tool with a clear value proposition. It’s a communication tool looking for a business model. That’s called “vulnerable” in any language. Also, while Twitter has had a high share level of cultural noise, its true adoption rate and demographic penetration are still quite small.

3. People are reaching platform overload. Even the tech-savvy have a hard time keeping up networks and profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, now Google+, and a myriad of other sites. As these other platforms become more diversified (Facebook’s new Skype-calling integration, Google+’s Circles and Hangouts), Twitter is going to increasingly seem…well, quaint. Training wheels. Expendable.

4. The real network is the people, not the platform. I’ve met a ton of great people on Twitter and continue to do so. It’s been a great tool for a few years. However, those people are also now quite findable elsewhere. We’re going to increasingly build our networks around specific people and purposes, not platforms. Will we absolutely NEED Twitter in future years? Perhaps not.

5. Twitter is basically dumb. Yes, I said it. Lots of our early tools are quite limited. Read my initial thoughts on Google+ to get my drift.

Many have predicted the demise of Twitter in the past. I’m just looking at certain big-picture trends and wondering: is Twitter like a tricycle? Great for getting us going, but now we’re moving on to more adult modes of communication? Is Twitter (as a stand-alone platform) moving toward expend-ability?

What do you think? Am I seeing clearly, or being myopic? Put your thoughts in the comments!

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Why Google+ Could Succeed

Google has begun rolling out its latest iteration of a social network, Google+. It’s getting plenty of press in the blogosphere, with a wide variety of opinions (great start; Facebook me-too late in the game; meh-be; etc.)

Here’s my take on why it could be a winner – our current social networks are dumb.

You heard me. Dumb. Google+ is showing some potential smarts.

Not to say that Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and the like are poorly designed, or that there aren’t really smart people behind them. And certainly not to say that those of us using these networks are dumb for doing so. Not at all. These platforms are a good start, and it’s very smart to be involved with digital networked communications.

But these initial tools are baby rattles, compared to the sophistication we really need.

I’m going to point you back three years, to the series I wrote on the ideal social media/web interface (One Interface to Rule Them All <– the link is to the first of 7 posts). There, I outlined how we need smart platforms that would do things like layering (Google+ Circles),  automated finding via Intell-Agents (Google+ Sparks); and, last year, I had a hankering for real-time private rooms (Google+ Hangouts).

The need is for far better ability to classify, stratify, find (not just search), and control. Google+ is heading in that direction, and that is why it could take on platforms that do a more “brute-force” job of connecting and publishing. And make no mistake – current social platforms are still quite “dumb” on the brute-force level. They give us a bigger and bigger fire hose with only the most rudimentary ways to manage it all.

If  Google+ evolves with simple elegance and solid integration, our brilliant friends at Google have a great shot at a next-gen platform.

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Build Your Own Opportunity Network eBook – Updated!

I can hardly believe it was 2 years ago that I released this e-book, specifically designed to help business professionals get started with social networking.

The statistics and platforms have certainly changed, though many of the core ideas and much of the basic advice remains sound. There are lots of revised links to new resources in this refreshed version.

If you know someone looking for help getting started – feel free to forward this free resource along!

Getting Started Social Networking 2011

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Numbers

When you’re involved in social networking, you can’t escape the emphasis on numbers. Especially if you yourself are a marketer, where traditional thinking is all about reach, and you feel the inward pressure to have more readers, more subscribers, more connections, and higher scores.

I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years, and it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to extract myself from the tentacles of this tidal force.

More isn’t necessarily bad. And, if your business model is based on reach (selling more books, affiliate links on a well-read blog, gaining speaking gigs, etc.) then greater numbers can equal bigger business.

But for most of us, attaining a mass audience is unrealistic. That means a feeling of inferiority at times, and various attempts at boosting numbers through techniques from the gurus.

Perhaps it’s time to question the core assumption, in your case and mine. Is it really all about numbers?

Or is the most important goal to gather high-quality people into a supportive tribe, and who can help co-create new business opportunities?

That actually takes real flesh-and-blood work – caring, interacting, networking – rather than link-gathering. You might not be in the upper echelon of number-boasters, but you will discover the real power of social networks.

Quality and quantity aren’t mutually exclusive, but I tend to think most of us are going to be better off concentrating on depth, not numbers.

Free yourself from attracting the masses and you just might attract the people who really matter. To you.

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Believe

While talking about career transitions and social networking this week, one individual asked me (and here I’m paraphrasing) what was the one thing to do above all others in building an opportunity network.

The answer that came out surprised even me at first. It has nothing to do with tactics, or specific social platforms.

I said to Sara that you have to believe. You need a gut-level conviction that building a network is the most important professional endeavor you can undertake.

And I do believe that. I think I gave it lip service for much of my career, because networking equaled schmoozing in my mind, and frankly, I am not a schmoozer. But it was the early days of LinkedIn that opened my eyes to the potential power of networks – and the massive advantage of a hybrid approach marrying digital technology to personal relationships.

Each step along the way – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – has grown that belief. But it has been getting past the pre-meeting stage which digital tools facilitate, and getting eye-to-eye, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart with people that has utterly convinced me. When friends are made, and opportunities opened up, and lives changed through these connections – well, it’s awfully hard not to believe.

You’ll read a thousand blog posts about the tactics, or the higher-level strategies, of using social networks. There’s a ton of noise about specific tools. I’m going to point you to the one thing that is foundational and drives the rest.

Believe. And if your faith is a little shaky right now, feel free to borrow some of mine. I have a lot of stories to tell – and so do a bunch of other people I can point you to.

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Introvert Networking: Start Here

My good friend and LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli has a valuable series going on her blog about Introverts Guide to Business and Leadership – she and I share a common bond over this topic since we are both professionals who seek to both leverage, and transcend, our native tendency toward introversion in our professional efforts.

Her post this morning (The Introvert’s Guide to Getting Noticed in Business) sparked a thought about how introverts can successfully build a deep and strong network.

Here’s your starting point: Make Your Own Rules. Specifically, use social networking tools and approaches to change the game to your favor.

You know the standard “rules” that come to mind when you see the word “networking,” right?

  • Walking into a crowded room and wondering how to fit in, and who to talk to…
  • Trying to join in to or strike up a conversation with people you’re not sure about…
  • Exchanging business cards without really knowing why…
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are crowded social parties, artificial networking meetings, noisy industry conventions; and you, as an introvert, look at each of these with some level of trepidation. Because the networking “rules” you’ve operated under – the outgoing are the winners, casual chatter is how bridges are built, the more contacts you make the better – none of that fits you. No wonder it doesn’t feel natural.

So – change the rules. Here’s how:

Use digital social networks to “pre-meet” people. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks give you the opportunity to build bridges and engage in one-on-one small talk without those crowded environments so that the beginnings of a relationship are already put in place. Then, find a format to meet that person one-on-one – either over coffee, or during a larger gathering.

How did an initial core group driving pharma social media – who have since, with many others, become great friends – find each other? Twitter and blogs, opening the door to live meetings and collaborations. —>

(hey, Brad, we’re overdue for lunch…)

Introverts tend to prefer a more intimate, in-depth, “safe” environment to get to know people. As Lisa states in her post, we prefer to go deep with a smaller number of people. Using social networks, you can meet new people, AND build deeper ongoing relationships, through the relatively safe and controlled environment of exchanged on-line messages. And, you can be far more targeted and strategic than walking into a big room and hoping you find someone with whom you have common ground.

Digital social networks allow you to find common ground right now, without uncomfortable events, and to start to build a relationship that can later blossom in an ongoing way. Everything you need to find the right people in a targeted way is available through these amazing digital platforms.

And here’s the not-so-secret secret – most people really want to have someone who knows them as an individual. People respond to the introvert way – deeper communication, one-on-one caring, thoughtful planning. Plus, if you take the time and trouble to “feed” the people in your network (something many introverts do quite naturally) with information and connections you discover – you’re golden.

The fact is – introverts have a tremendous advantage. Just toss out the old rules and make your own. Take it from me, the naturally-introverted Connection Agent. If you network your way, you win!

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Can Success be Predictable?

According to Les McKeown – yes, it can. His book, Predictable Success, explains in step-by-step fashion just how that is so.

On #LeadershipChat this week (Tuesday, March 22, 8 pm ET) Les will be joining us to talk about Why Leaders Fail. And one surprising perspective is this: failure may simply be a function of not understanding the phases a company goes through.

My #LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli has given a very nice summary of the content and message of the book (Lisa’s blog post here), so I’m going to focus, in this book review, on something different. In a word: Narrative.

I was struck right away, in the Preface to the book, how Les was telling a story – his own story about arriving at the conclusions he’s come to. Then, throughout the book, he uses narrative – telling the stories of businesses and people that illustrate the meta-narrative – to make his points and keep the reader looped in.

But, ultimately, Les’ entire thesis about the way businesses evolve is one big narrative (see the graphic below), and that is one of the major appeals of his book. Narratives help make sense of that which is confusing. I’m sure it may seem simplistic to some, but Les gives a pretty convincing case that there is a predictable arc in how businesses can grow into success, and decline into failure. Fact is, I have seen and been part of Early Struggle, Fun, and Whitewater stages, and his narrative regarding those common experiences is eerily spot on.

For the leader of a company struggling to stabilize into patterns of growth and success, I highly recommend giving this book a read. You might be surprised at how often you find yourself nodding in agreement, or striking your forehead as a key insight into the obvious flashes by. Video summary below:

Please join Lisa Petrilli, me, and our guest Les McKeown for our table talk at LeadershipChat (8 pm ET this Tuesday evening). It’ll provide a wonderful excuse to get off the Treadmill!

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Being a Guilt-Free Solopreneur

Sorry, Inc. Magazine, but I don’t feel at all bad about having no employees. Not. At. All.

From the above-linked article:

Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, said in a statement, “Far too many founders are choosing jobless entrepreneurship, preferring to remain self-employed or to avoid assuming the economic responsibility of hiring employees. This trend, if it continues, could have both short- and long-term impacts on economic growth and job creation.”

Why shouldn’t people avoid the economic “responsibility” of hiring employees when our governmental system of burdensome business bureaucracy provides every disincentive to do so?

It is my stalwart intention to remain a solopreneur. And here’s the point missed in the Inc. article – in these days of networked communications, it is so easy to automate certain tasks and outsource others, that often there is simply no NEED to hire employees.

On the other hand, my purpose in the role as Connection Agent is to facilitate MORE employment by MORE people who can become solopreneurs based on their best abilities, through the multiplying power of trusted referrals.

I don’t want to manage people. I want to help them succeed through organic networks.

We should welcome this development, and encourage guilt-free solopreneurship. Self-employment is a liberating trend, not an economic negative!

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Publishing Perma-links: Steal This Idea

Lately, I’m reading more books that use hyperlinks as references.

It’s ugly.

(from Guy Kawasaki‘s new book, Enchantment)

But I can understand why authors choose to do this, instead of using URL-shortening services like bit.ly and tinyurl. These services may be transitory and unreliable, while books are meant to be more permanent archives of knowledge.

Here’s the problem: links are transitory, too.

So, is there a business opportunity to solve this problem? I think so. Please feel free to steal this idea if you agree:

Someone should launch a combined URL-shortening service and cloud-based archiving mechanism (similar to the wayback machine) that will take and store a snapshot of the referenced page in an archive, as well as have a pointer to the URL in its current state (which may be either the same, or with altered content, or a 404 Page Not Found).

This way, we can have nicer and more compact perma-link URL pointers in print materials (it would work for on-line content too, actually) which will have a permanent record. Tie it also to a generated QR code (used creatively in The Now Revolution by Jay Baer & Amber Naslund) for the archived link and you’ve got a real winner.

Call the service book.it or something like that.

I could easy see a 2-tier free (personal) and paid (professional) version of this, so it could be used by individual researchers, students, and the like. Every publishing house would be on the professional version, and each book released would have links formatted something like this:

http://www.book.it/nowrev/1-1 (The Now Revolution, chapter 1, first link)

I don’t have time or expertise to create this. So do us all a favor – steal this idea. Just put a perma-link back to this post when you’re done, for the first test case!

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Revolution – Now!

The Beatles put it this way when talking about revolution:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
all right, all right

Sorry, but you really don’t want to count yourself out of The Now Revolution. Jay Baer and Amber Naslund have done us a service by writing an excellent volume on how social networking is impacting business. Instead of the usual summary review of content (you can find that all over the place), I’m going to give a video recap of the highlights for me, then just extract some juicy quotes so that you’ll be enticed to buy this book. Because you most probably should!

“This book is about a business culture that has changed more in the past 3 years than in the prior 30 and what you must do as a consequence of that change.” (p. ix)

“Real-time business…is almost entirely a public spectacle. There are no insignificant transactions any longer.” (p. xiii)

“Adopting social media and real-time business means a shift in mind-set.” (p. 11)

“Hire first for a fit with your company culture and values, with an eye toward those who have a passion for their work. Skills are much easier to teach than mind-set.” (p. 27)

“There’s a point at which we’re going to stop talking about social media and online communications as a specialty…and instead start viewing it for what it really is: a series of pipes, tubes, tools, and media that can help us communicate more relevantly and urgently with customers.” (p. 53)

I only have two thumbs. If I could clone one of them, then I’d give The Now Revolution three thumbs up!

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Back to the Future in Meetings

I felt like Marty McFly, marooned in the ’50′s.

Getting settled in to a conference this week (ePharma Summit in NYC), I noticed immediately that something vital was missing.

Yeah. Power.

For several years, I carried my own power strip to conferences, because provision of places to plug in was a spotty proposition. But I figured, in 2010/2011, that all venues and meeting planners “got it” and it was no longer necessary to string my own cord to plug in my computer, keep my iPhone charged, and help others do the same. We all know that computers and smartphones are pretty much essential now at any conference – right?

Nope. Then I overheard a conversation that floored me. One of the conference organizers was describing the price that would be charged for the provision of outlets in the meeting room, and I just about went into cardiac arrest. Because I don’t have verification, I’m not going to mention specifics, but if what I heard was even in the ballpark of reality, then “gouging” has just gotten a whole new definition.

The Wi-Fi was awful, too, by the way.

I’m not a meeting planner, but I think that robust and easy-to-access Wi-Fi, and provision of loads of power outlets/strips, should be the ticket to entry in negotiations. Why even consider a venue that either doesn’t have the electronic goods, or wants to charge a year’s salary for something as mundane as a power outlet? Maybe if enough potential business walked away, these hotels and meeting places would finally get the message.

And while we’re at it, free Wi-Fi for every attendee room should be a given. We’re all tired of being charged 10 bucks a day for Internet access. It’s no longer an extra – it should be a given.

Back in 2005, or in 1955, I could understand this. But we’re in the future now. Plugs and wireless are no-brainers. Let’s make it so.

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Marketing Profs Digital Forum Re-cap

It was a cold week in Austin, TX. But there was plenty enough warmth among the attendees at the Marketing Profs Digital Forum, where a bunch of smart people (they let me in, too) gathered to think together about the future of digital marketing.

Or, actually, the present of digital marketing.

I won’t attempt to give a full overview, but instead, just put a spotlight on a few things that were exceptional.

Organization - the Marketing Profs staff did it right. And, they were all friendly and fun to talk to. You know what? That matters. Special kudos to Megan Leap who did a lot of the pre-event and on-site orchestration. And there was some scrambling that had to occur, with weather-related postponements and what not.

The Now RevolutionJay Baer and Amber Naslund kicked off the promotional tour for their new book, The Now Revolution. And – no surprise here – their presentation rocked. Especially their use of simple slide design as adjuncts to tell the story. Yes, slide design matters.

Content did Rule – Many of the presentations were quite meaty. Some of these conferences can get fluffy, but not here. Plus, and C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley (whom I consider a dear friend) gave a nice talk about the main thoughts in their recently-released book, Content Rules. Both are solid presenters (and, I finally got to meet C.C. for the first time).

Mobile - one of the best talks for me was Christina Kerley (CK)’s overview of why mobile is huge and getting huger. I’ve known CK for years but had not seen her present before. Fabulous. And I walked out totally convinced about the importance of developing for mobile RIGHT NOW.

Anthropology – huh? Yep, one of the highlights was a talk by an anthropologist, Michael Wesch, who gave a breathtaking 300,000 foot view of how media shapes and reflects culture. Many of us felt stunned at the end. It was also another example of using background slides to help tell a story rather than impart a content outline. Yes, storytelling matters.

Tom Martin – I’ve been hankering to meet Tom for years. We’ve talked and collaborated on-line; finally we got to hang out. Not only were our discussions fun and fruitful, but he gave a great talk on his Mardi Gras marketing initiative. Good times.

BBQ – Yes, one minor (but not unimportant!) reason for going to Austin was to have some great barbecue. And Tim Hayden helped orchestrate a very fun outing at the County Line, where the food was plentiful and delicious, and there was time to be with fine folks like Jason Falls, Frank Eliason, Aaron Strout, Tom Webster, Tamsen McMahon, Matt Ridings, and many more (yes, I know I’m forgetting names…can I get away with it by blaming age, the cold, or something else that avoids culpability??)

For me, this conference was about face time with people. I went to share vision and thoughts with folks I respect in the field, and I was not disappointed. It was also about having fun with semi-crazy folks like DJ Waldow, who along with CC Chapman and Matt Ridings helped produce an ad-hoc series of Ann Handley Day videos. Thanks to the Marketing Profs folks for putting on the event (despite all weather-related dampeners!), and I look forward to future events!

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Roddenberry was Right

Gene Roddenberry, the genius behind the early years of the Star Trek series, had an amazingly prescient view of the future.

In the original Star Trek TV series, crew members used devices called communicators which bore a remarkable resemblance to cell phones.

Then, in Star Trek The Next Generation episodes, items that seemed for all the world to be touch-screen computers, iPads, and iPhones were constantly in use. Digital everything. Ubiquitous screens.

Roddenberry got it.

And now, as we daily put to use that which he foresaw decades ago, we reach a point where old labels are shedding their meaning. We still use the term “phone” in various ways, but the idea of an analog device dedicated only to audio voice communication seems rather – quaint. But, we still cling to terms like cell phone, iPhone, Smartphone – heck, the phone is the least-used aspect of my iPhone!

In 10 years, we’ll look back and wonder at the old legacy labels that described separate “things” like phones or cameras or computers.

I’d like to suggest that ultimately, Gene Roddenberry had it right again. You know what these increasingly portable devices are, in their various configurations and form factors?

That’s right. Communicators. Personal Communicators. With which we send and receive messages, info, voice, video – it’s really a far more accurate description than phone, computer, tablet, or what have you.

Kinda brings a whole new meaning to the acronym PC, if you think about it…

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Where is My Business Coming From?

You.

And, if I have anything to say about it, some of yours is going to come from me (if you’re competent and trustworthy, that is!)

Every entrepreneur, contractor, and business owner knows that one of the biggest challenges is finding new business. Or, as I discussed on the phone last week with Canadian networker Kneale Mann (@knealemann), even if you have enough clients, you can always hope to gain better clients.

Now we all know that the best clients come by referrals. A recommendation by a trusted source is gold, both for the client and the supplier. But by and large, this happens only haphazardly. We’re still stuck marketing and selling ourselves constantly, sucking away potentially productive time in the scramble to acquire new clients.

Stop and think about what we so often take for granted. What we have resigned ourselves to. Do you realize what percentage of our time is spent in this gross inefficiency? Now, think from a client perspective – how much time and effort gets drained away trying to find the best supplier, and how much money is wasted when bad decisions are made?

Do you see the billions of dollars, the billions of hours of lost productivity, flying out the window every week of every year? We don’t even see it anymore, just chalking it up to the cost of doing business.

This status quo stinks. I’m tired of seeing good people not have enough work to achieve escape velocity, and tired of seeing clients and suppliers hemorrhage away money in the clumsy dance that is “normal” business development.

My company is built on a network of business matchmaking. And, joining together with other like-minded folks, we’re building a new business reality – where trusted recommendations are the norm, not the exception. Where good people and companies find each other through a purpose-built trust network. Think of it as the Connection Agency.

Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to come…

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The Biggest Challenge during a Twitter Chat

Having co-hosted #LeadershipChat for several months now (with my partner-in-crime, @LisaPetrilli), and having also participated in other chats as well, I can tell you that the biggest challenge – in my opinion – is not the technology, nor is it the speed and volume of information.

It’s semantics.

Semantics has to do with the meaning, or interpretation, of a word or phrase.

Last night on LeadershipChat, we were discussing “macho-style” leadership in a business setting. Now, one thing Lisa and I do before each Tuesday night chat is we each write a blog post, giving our views on the upcoming topic and, hopefully, framing the discussion. We try to explain/define terms. But, nonetheless, we all come into a conversation with pre-baked notions, images, and experiences that attach to certain terms. Which means that, without fail, when we have a chat about concepts like macho-ness or vulnerability or vision or whatever, we often end up during the chat struggling with semantics.

A challenge made even more difficult by the 140-character limitations of each tweet, and the rapid flow of contributions!

We end up, as a group, sometimes sharing dictionary definitions, bouncing clarifications off one another (is an alpha-male the same as a macho man? Is macho-posturing gender-specific?). In certain ways, these are quite valuable exchanges, but at times I think a chat can get bogged down by spending an inordinate amount of time clarifying terms; or, as regularly happens, talking “past” each other by using the same term in different ways.

Any I don’t have an answer for this. Just putting it out there. Your perspectives? Is there a way to make this better?

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My Declaration of Independence

I’ve been blogging for over 4 years now, and have been increasingly active in many branches of social networking – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, video-blogging, etc., etc. (although, without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect has been meeting people and developing long-standing relationships and collaborations).

However, as with any new venture, especially one where the rules are being written on the fly, it’s very easy to fall into two very common patterns:

  1. Follow the leader(s)
  2. Go big

I’m not making a blanket condemnation of either of these practices – those instincts aren’t all bad. I fully “get” emulating those who are skilled and successful, and as a marketing guy, I appreciate scale. But it can become bondage over time. To the point where you don’t follow your own instincts, your own vision.

That’s why, as we kick off 2011, I’m declaring my independence.

No, I really don’t care about maximizing my RSS subscribers and Twitter followers. No, I really don’t intend to make sure I have a singular blogging/writing focus. No, I actually don’t want a massive audience that will create inordinate demands on time and attention. And, no, I don’t care to align myself with social media “influencer camps” of either popularizers or detractors.

I’m going to do what I’m meant to do – to live out my identity as the Connection Agent.

I’m bending everything to my main goal, my primary mission – to create the highest quality network of honest, competent, pay-it-forward people who want to change the way business gets done. Who are ready to build, together, an organic tribe of folks ready and able to bring back an environment where a handshake and a recommendation are the foundations of business – and, who are fully invested in creating a platform of cooperation/collaboration that will outclass and outperform the legacy structures of corporations.

Where social networking is a means, to a far more important end.

That vision has grown continuously in my mind and heart, and I’ve made a successful test case of it in the pharma/healthcare space over the years since I started my company Impactiviti. But it’s always been my intent to take the model and expand outward, and help provide a format whereby talented entrepreneurs and people with unfulfilled talents can create their own businesses without the inefficiency and compromises that throttle so many who should be succeeding wildly.

Yes, I will remain very active in social media. I might even once in a while write an SEO-friendly headline like The Top Ten Reasons Why Twitter and Facebook Are Like Mashable Beets. But, overboard with all the standard Guidelines to SM Success. There’s something far more important to build.

And I – we – are going to build it.

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People of The Year

Every year, I am impacted (generally for good!) by countless people. Some stand out in particular, however; and as I reflect back on 2010, my year-end post will be about a few of those very real people in my network who have inspired, connected, helped, and collaborated in remarkable ways this year.

This spring, I was contacted out of the blue by Lisa Petrilli, a marketer from Chicago just getting immersed in social media. She simply reached out, and wanted to meet when I came to town…which we did. Not only has it been a privilege to be alongside as she launched her blog, but later in the year she came up with the idea of co-hosting LeadershipChat, which has been a real highlight of the last few months. Lisa has also proven to be wise adviser, a stalwart friend, and great connector with others. And, I constantly learn from her, whether she realizes it or not, especially in how she relates to people on-line.

As I’ve contemplated (and even attempted, without success) a move back to Connecticut, I’ve enjoyed building up a growing network of Nutmeg State people via social networks, none more important than my friend Joe Cascio. Joe understands what real people-networking is all about – whenever I’m going to be nearby (he lives near my mother-in-law’s town), he invites me to get together for coffee, and we brainstorm. And brainstorm. He’s a realistic revolutionary, a practical idealist, so we’re often on the same wavelength as we dream of new business ideas. He also put us in touch with a fabulous realtor in the area, and along with Betsy Raymond Stevenson, we hope to spend lots more time in the future growing a network in the SE corner of CT!

SOBCon – OK, that’s an event, not a person, but the SOBCon gathering is all about individuals – an intimate hands-on conference with high-quality people, designed to build networks and boost entrepreneurial business ventures. Here was my summary blog post from the spring where I discuss the many fine folks I rubbed shoulders with there. I’ve been to a bajillion conferences large and small over the years, and SOBCon was, for me, the most impactful ever. This is my kind of gathering – open-hearted, hype-free, practical, and deliberately small to ensure quality interaction. Terry Starbucker and Liz Strauss (the 2 main organizers) rock. I’ll be back (in case you’re wondering, that’s Julie Roads on the chair, who makes up in fire what she may lack in height. And she eats sushi for breakfast. Finally meeting Julie was one of my SOBCon highlights!)

Amy Fitch is a full-time Mom, full-time businesswoman, full-time networker, full-time visionary, who currently resides with her adorable tribe of redheads in northern Vermont. After years of exchanging 140-character messages via Twitter, I had the chance to finally meet Amy and her family this year, as my wife and one of my sons were traveling through and had an invite to spend a day and night at the Full-Time House. During that lovely day in Burlington, I also got to spend more time with Rich Nadworny, who subsequently sent some unexpected business my way (thanks, Rich!) Amy is one of those energetic and savvy younger gals who, like Kirsten Wright and Sarah Evans and many others, give me hope for the future.

Manny Hernandez and Kerri Sparling have been my two sherpas into the world of people with diabetes. These two very active blogger/networkers have allowed me to gain insights into the world of people dealing with long-standing disease by befriending me and opening up their lives and welcoming me in. They are two of my favorite ePatients and, along with Dave deBronkart (get his book: Laugh, Sing, and Eat Like a Pig!) have given me unique perspectives into the “other side” of the healthcare world – regular people/patients. All three of these folks are also incredibly bright and funny. And Kerri’s daughter is a doll!

I was unexpectedly drawn into an unfolding on-line drama when Leigh Fazzina tweeted for help after a bicycle accident in the woods. The awesome power of a Twitter network was brought front-and-center as an ad-hoc, global, virtual support group formed within minutes to help get the seriously injured Leigh found and rescued by local emergency personnel. It actually didn’t seem like that big a deal until it was over; the event got picked up by local and national media and even made Twitter’s list of Top 10 tweets of 2010. Irony – although we’re just a few hours apart, Leigh and I STILL haven’t met face-to-face after years of being acquainted on-line. Maybe 2011, Leigh?

For years, I watched Peter Shankman‘s star rise (he built HARO – Help A Reporter Out – and sold it to Vocus) – we’d exchange occasional messages but didn’t have a natural intersection of common ground. Nonetheless, one day he asked me to meet him when I’d be in the city (that’s NYC for folks who don’t live in a 2-hour radius) just so we could meet and talk. So we did, and became friends. He even sent a speaking opportunity my way later in the year. I will note here that of all the people I’m connected to, Peter is THE MOST rapid-response person on Twitter ever. I think that’s because he has a double dose of ADHD…

The LeadershipChat crew. This lively bunch, gathering on Tuesday nights to discuss leadership topics, was a totally unexpected bonus of 2010. It even led to a spur-of-the-moment lunch meeting with chat participant Lou Imbriano, who saw via Twitter that I was heading on the train up to Boston and invited me to a wonderful time feasting and gabbing over a real Italian lunch. Since I can’t list out all the quality folks that I’m getting to know at LC, I simply invite you to join us (8 PM ET Tuesday nights) and have a seat at the table with the fun little community that’s forming.

My Inner Circle. You know who you are. Your counsel and feedback and encouragement are priceless.

Now, for the best part – I’m guessing this list will be quite a bit longer for 2011. Looking forward to a great year connecting and chatting and scheming and brainstorming and pushing the boundaries with more of you in the coming year!

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10 Can’t-Miss Predictions for 2011

I don’t usually do year-end prediction posts, but after reading so many enlightening missives from brilliant thinkers, I was hit by a sudden flash of inspiration – a massive and luminous outpouring of the blindingly obvious. So, here goes – my can’t miss social media marketing predictions for 2011.

  1. More people will search for stuff on-line in 2011. It’s been growing every year for quite a while now, and the big surprise is, that this behavior will continue to occur.
  2. Mobile is going to be big. Really big.
  3. E-commerce will explode onto the scene. As people discover that they can buy things on-line, they will do more of it. Books, music, toys, pet food – you name it. Disintermediation is the key word here. Big for 2011.
  4. Apple will introduce flashy new versions of its hardware and software products. And people will buy them. In fact, some people will wait in long lines to buy them – and others won’t.
  5. A lot of people will do a lot of stuff on Facebook, which will have more users in 2011 than it has now in 2010.
  6. Very important people will be profoundly embarrassed by revelations made about them via the Internet.
  7. Market valuations for software vendors will go up and down while fluctuating during the year.
  8. Companies will try to sell stuff using social media, and social media purists will be so upset about it, they’ll whine on Twitter and blogs.
  9. Everyone will hate SxSW’s method of choosing panels by popularity contest, but a million bloggers will beg for votes on Twitter anyway, while saying how much they despise doing so.
  10. People will discover that if you join smartphones with location apps with coupons you can cause a lot of people to make a lot of noise on-line about it, and generate stoopid company valuations.
  11. (Bonus) Content will rule. There may even be a book about it (hey – had to get a plug in there for CC and Ann!)

What about you? What are your profoundly insightful predictions for the exciting year ahead?

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See prior spoofs :>}

This Week’s Networking Boomerang

What is the value of investing in building a great network of people? I think it was Chris Brogan that recently pointed out the distinction between thinking of ROI (which, in my opinion, is a fine metric for a specific tactical business approaches) vs thinking of the overall value of social networking.

One huge value of social networking is that, when you add value to others and build bridges with them, good people will add value back. It’s the boomerang effect.

Sounds nice in theory, right? But here’s the value in practice, just this week:

Example 1: We had an oven that died. While my wife attempted to find a source in the traditional way, I tossed it out on Twitter, which is now my default Help Desk.

Result? Immediate response by a friend, pointing a semi-local dealer he knew of on Twitter – which company responded immediately by Twitter and phone, and got the business in minutes.

How cool is that?

Example 2: This week, I confirmed a speaking engagement as a panelist discussing social media for automobile dealers. How did I get approached for this? Peter Shankman (who became an Ironman last week – good going, man!). Peter and I got together a few months back just to chat and get to know one another. He recommended me for this opportunity. Then, in order to help with my preparation, I put out a blog post and linked it on Twitter, asking people for links and resources on social media and automotive dealers. Within a few hours, I had everything I needed via crowdsourcing for a post-event list of resources and case studies.

Example 3: I met this week with someone from a healthcare agency interested in having workshops for social media and project management (two of my sweet spots). I didn’t know these folks from Adam and Eve, but they approached me because someone else in my pharma network passed my name along and recommended me. This is the second time in the past 6 weeks I’ve had an agency approach me this way via a third-party recommendation (thanks, Rich and Jon!)

Example 4: We’re about six weeks into our weekly #LeadershipChat on Twitter, and this past week’s on Passion was wonderfully helpful and lively. How did LeadershipChat come about? Lisa Petrilli reached out to me via social networking this spring, we met at SOBCon Chicago, and have been collaborating since. Also, via networking, Lisa got to know Tom Martin, and together with Lisa Diomede, they put together this week’s CocktailsforCauses event in Chicago.

Now, that actually isn’t everything that happened this week. And I’m not even listing the boomerangs that went out for others, which will bear fruit in their lives and businesses. Or the important, sometimes life-saving things that happen via social networks totally outside of “business value.”

When people obsess over the “ROI of Social Media,” I’m forced to smile somewhat. Who can trace the actual ROI of all the hours and effort that have gone into building an opportunity network? But, is there value? – oh, yes! The boomerangs have only just begun to fly…!

Build your network. Feed your network. Be ready for the boomerang.

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Social Media is not a Strategy

If some famous fashion label VP came up to me and said, “We need a social media strategy – can you help us do it?” – I’d promptly answer, “No, I can’t.”

Why?

  1. Social media is not a strategy.
  2. Though I am heavily involved in social networking, I couldn’t bring business value in this sector.

The point is: you’re looking for business strategy, and business value. Not some stand-alone approach to the latest fad called social media. If you want to win, you don’t just employ a “knight strategy” in chess, do you?

Here is where the discussion should take place:

- We need to launch a Facebook page for our customers! We need a strategy for real-time communications and better engagement with (this and/or that) set of stakeholders. Let’s assume that there is a concrete business answer to the question “Why?” (is there?). Now we can begin to talk about various media and approaches that may be appropriate. “We need a Facebook page!” is not a strategy.

- We need a blog! We have a real problem with public perception and need to humanize to face of the company over the long-term. OK, we can begin to develop a strategy that may involve social media – but will probably also involve serious culture change. Presenting the company story via social media is powerful and potentially has great value, but – a Twitter page or a blog will not rescue an insular and sullen corporate culture. A social media strategy won’t make you nice to work with, or work for. As Olivier Blanchard stated in a recent tweet, “social media amplifies whatever you bring to the table: Knowledge or ignorance, generosity or greed, honesty or dishonesty.”

- We should launch a YouTube channel! We need to provide new avenues of value to our customers in order to make them advocates and evangelists. Excellent starting place. Now, what role will communications and person-to-person engagement play in this? Is information curation and dissemination a major value-add? Making videos on YouTube might get page views, but will it provide value? Ask: what is my audience looking for? – not just what are they looking at.

- We need to show up on Twitter searches! We need to be more “find-able” on-line. This is a no-brainer, but the question is; How? Will social media provide that exposure, and do you have the personnel resources to feed the beast over the long-haul? Is it a simpler SEO issue? Would a beefed-up LinkedIn presence be more effective than a blog? Best methods for raising an on-line profile will vary from industry to industry, and from need to need. Copying someone else’s social media approach isn’t a strategy.

- We need to be out there on all the social networks! We need to build a broad opportunity network. Social networking technologies are great for this. But they are not the strategy, they are a component of a business approach to networking. Just putting a profile on every social site known to man or beast is not the same as creating and cultivating a business network.

Here in pharma world, where I do a good bit of my business, we finally crossed the Rubicon this year – companies have by and large moved out of the “what is social media and should we even touch it??” phase, into the “how do we do this?” phase. And for those of us involved in the industry evangelistic work over the past years, that’s rewarding – but also dangerous. Because now, social media is often treated as a bolt-on, a check-the-box component of the marketing mix. The awareness level has grown – three cheers! – but the strategic understanding aspect is still immature in most cases.

Yes, people and companies have to start somewhere, and specific tactics using social platforms are often the first toes in the water. An iPhone app can (and should) be part of a big-picture, longer-term strategy with business goals beyond just checking off the “my brand did social in 2010″ box.

Because in the long run, you don’t need a social media strategy, or a stand-alone social media expert. You need a holistic business strategy. Which should incorporate an intelligent approach to the opportunities, challenges, and trench work of digital networked communications. People who know social media can help you learn the landscape, but don’t carve something off into a “social media strategy.” Increasingly, that notion will seem as odd as proposing an e-mail strategy, or an operating system strategy.

Great people and strong companies will flourish under the spotlight; mediocre companies and poseurs will simply be exposed for what they are. If you’re in the latter category, as Jay Baer recently put it, maybe you’re just not ready for social media. You may have some cultural infrastructure to build, and some broader strategies to put in place first. If you don’t understand the forces at work, then social media may not be a shovel-ready project – yet.

If you can articulate a sound business strategy that involves tactical usage of digital networked communications, go for it. Otherwise, you’re grabbing onto a solution without defining the problem.

(now if you do come to me about social media in fashion or some other field, I may not be your guy, but I’ll try to help you find the right resource you’re looking for. Because matchmaking clients with providers is a business need I can meet!)

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Multi Me-dia: Connection Agent

I’m writing up a brief series of posts to explain the various identities I maintain on-line, via blogs and here on Twitter.

Why do I have these identities? Well, I have several quite different networks (with some overlap), and I fear overwhelming people who are interested in one aspect of my thinking and sharing (say, business networks) with a flood of information about another (say, pharma).

So, I maintain one ID that is Steve 3-D, where I interact with pretty much everyone, while also feeding three other streams that are more topical.

One of those identities is Connection Agent, which is my account focused on the business (and people) of social networking. The term “Connection Agent” is also my comprehensive brand – it’s who I am and what I do across all networks. Connection Agent is a blog (which you’re on right now), and a Twitter account. I use the Twitter account to share great resources that I find on networked communications, and also to re-tweet thought leaders in the space. If you want to know my top thought leaders and influencers, just look at who I follow at @ConnectionAgent.

I have downstream plans to create new business approaches via Connection Agent, but right now, I’ve still got my hands plenty full with Impactiviti. I believe that whole new ways of doing business via networks of quality people (Opportunity Networks) are possible. For now, a lot of the posts I write here on Connection Agent focus on social networks, marketing, and leadership.

So if you want to learn more and connect more with the social networking for business crowd, I’ll try to be your Connection Agent. If you want to interact with me on Twitter, we’ll still do that at @swoodruff. Make sense?

Next: What is Steve’s Free?

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Multi Me-dia: Steve 3-D

What’s a Steve 3-D??

Well, this week, I’m going to briefly explain the various identities I maintain on-line, via blogs and here on Twitter. And that’s one of them – the 360 degrees, HD, 3-D version.

In brief, there’s a pharma/healthcare me (@Impactiviti). The there’s the network business me (@ConnectionAgent).  Personal and inspirational stuff, including daily photos: that’s @StevesFree. Finally, there’s @LeadershipChat [shared with Lisa Petrilli] a place where we talk leadership and network around a weekly Twitter chat (8 pm ET Tuesdays).

For me, that’s plenty to keep up with – and it may be rather confusing for you! So, here’s how it works:

All of those Twitter accounts (and corresponding blogs) above are more topical in nature. They are concentrated sources of information and networking contacts so that if you have shared interests in those areas, you can get the “full dose” through those accounts. The people I follow and promote through those accounts are also my equivalent of “Follow Friday” recommendations, by interest area. Think of them more as streams from which to drink, than the get-together on the back deck.

What about interacting, however? That’s @swoodruff, my main Twitter account. Here, I share nuggets from all the different areas of interest, as well as take a more “lifestreaming” approach (today’s wine; family stuff; pix of great food; snarky observations; on-the-fly pictures of stuff; etc.) And here, we talk and exchange and interact. This is my broadest network, and it’s  Steve in 3-D, warts and all.

So, if you just want the simplest approach, find me at @swoodruff and let’s get to know one another. Next,  we’ll give a quick overview of the @Impactiviti account, which is the channel for my entrepreneurial pharma consulting business. If you’re in pharma or healthcare, there you’ll find a more concentrated network of people in the industry, and a higher-proof blend of news and resources.

And, of course, you’re welcome to follow multiple accounts, according to your interests. And if you’re a glutton for punishment….!

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Can We Re-Make Business via Social Networking?

I think so. You?

Our goal should not be so small as to get corporations to adopt a social media strategy. That’s fine – but, frankly, I want to transform how business gets done. Who’s with me?

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