My Second-to-Last Post at Connection Agent Blog

Connection Agent is going away? Yes. And, no.

This week, I’ll be launching a new website at SteveWoodruff.com, which will be the new home for all my writings about marketing (my pharma biz, Impactiviti, retains its own separate identity and site).

So this blog, and the Clarity Therapy blog, will be superseded by a professionally designed and hosted site. The overarching theme will be the message that has been at the core of my work for many years: Discovering Your Fit.

(sneak peek – not quite live yet!)

For a long time here at Connection Agent, I’ve blogged about marketing – and leadership – and network-building – and branding – and blogging/social media – and entrepreneurial business. Since October of 2006, in fact, where my very first post, How to Waste 10,000 Billboards (critiquing UPS’s marketing), still resonates today.

However, over a thousand posts later, I’ve sometimes wondered if I’ve been wasting everyone’s time. Because, truth be told, I often felt a bit like an impostor.

Why? Well, I wasn’t quite sure where my passions about these topics was heading. And there were lots of people with deeper expertise in all those areas.

Lesson for entrepreneurs: keep at something long enough, and the market will tell you what you should be doing. <—(tweet this)

Turns out that my strong suit all along was helping people figure out their purpose, and then set a new direction and distill a compelling message. Really quickly. It took years of just doing it – intuitively – before my mission became clear.

There’s no job description for that, so I made it up (Clarity Therapy). And, it encompasses pretty much everything that I’ve been writing about all along.

I’m still the Connection Agent, and still committed to building opportunity networks that will help businesses and individuals find ideal work. But it’s time to step up and take on the challenge of seeing new generations of talented people find their optimal role in life.

I believe deeply that when we Discover Our Fit, we stand the best chance of changing the world of work, and fulfilling our purpose.

So…let’s do this!

Assuming that all the Internet plumbing does its work*, I’ll see you later this week, over at SteveWoodruff.com (and for some of you, I’ll see you in Chicago at the SOBCon conference)!

*in my final post, I’ll put up all the links to move your feeds and subscriptions over to the new site. There is also a free e-book you’ll be able to download, titled Make Yourself Clear! – Six Steps to De-Fogging Your Direction and Your Message.

The Lazy Social Networker

AppleOrchard

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus – you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

The lazy social networker opens a Twitter account, throws up a few inspirational tweets and a bunch of RTs, and expects the world to roll out a red carpet and hand over an Oscar for Best Performance. This year.

The lazy social networker buys into the notion that more hashtags will mean more followers, which will mean a bigger reputation, which will somehow lead to more fame and riches. Quickly.

The lazy social networker follows all the advice about writing blogs with Top 10 lists and newsjacking topics, contributing to the tsunami of noise without producing any valuable signal.

The lazy social networker then gives up when it doesn’t “work.” Little effort did not produce the anticipated big return.

Be prepared to spread a lot of useful seed, in the form of thoughtful content. Be prepared to water that effort with purposeful and caring relationship-cultivation. Be prepared to rinse and repeat for the long haul, and experience the outflow of a lot of effort with, perhaps, a good bit less return than you ever anticipated.

In other words, be prepared to work. Just like every other worthy endeavor. There may be a lot of effort with little return – for a season.

That’s how agriculture works. That’s how business works. That’s how life works.

The lazy social networker will fade off. As for you, be in it for the long haul. You’re building relationships and adding value, not grasping at some cheap short-term applause.

You’re growing an orchard, not inflating a balloon. The fruit comes in abundance — over time.

The Network Growth that Truly Matters

We who are active on social network like to measure our growth by followers, subscribers, page views, and other numerical metrics.

These things have their place, of course. But ultimately, they’re quite self-referential. I’d like to encourage us to notice some other, more important growth.

Let’s pay attention to the people we’re connected to as THEY grow <<–(click to tweet this) in stature, in skills, and in new endeavors.

ID-10024306

Mack Collier was once (just) a blogger. Now he is a budding author, a more in-demand speaker, a Twitter chat host, and someone who has made slow and steady progress for years. Have you noticed? Isn’t this great?

Over the past year, I’ve seen Tim McDonald grow in stature as he finds a new niche in community management (now working with HuffPost Live). He’s hustling. He’s making the most of his opportunity (and I think he’s on his honeymoon right now, in fact – congrats, Tim!).

Tom Martin was known by a limited (but appreciative) audience as a smart New Orleans-based blogger who did creative digital stuff. Now he’s finding his voice as a thought leader in digital marketing. 2013 will see his star rising even further.

Who hasn’t been thrilled to see the growing influence of Angela Maiers in the educational space? She’s paid her dues and influenced many. Speaking of midwest beauties, when I first encountered Carol Roth a few years ago, she had a great track record in business but little exposure in a broad sense. Now she’s grown into a published author, commentator, and rising star on TV news broadcasts. She even has her own action figure (long story…).

Jessica Northey, Chris Westfall, Lou Imbriano, Susan Cain, Michael Hyatt – all conquering new ground, growing their influence by doing good work and providing value (not by buying Twitter followers – the network growth that means nothing).

When our friends grow, that’s what really matters. Take a few minutes away from your subscriber numbers and pat some folks on the back who deserve it.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Open Doors

When you start talking about social media in the business world, you quickly begin to bump into the ROI question (and if you do, get the insight you’ll need from Olivier Blanchard and buy his book, Social Media ROI).

ROI matters. But for many individuals, consultants, entrepreneurs, small businesses – and yes, even larger businesses – that’s not the only measure of value. There’s another factor to weigh in the balance.

Is this activity likely to produce new opportunities? Potential referrals? Broader awareness? Open doors?

Much of what I – and many others – do via social networking is driven by this long-term view, which is based, not on immediate hard returns of dollars-tied-to-specific-efforts, but by what we might call natural human and marketing principles.

Building deeper human bonds with quality people will, in ways both direct and indirect, lead to increased business opportunities. Do you believe this? I do. And I think it’s true for the solopreneur as well as the biggest brand. That means networking – whether the digital/social variety, or good old-fashioned pressing the flesh (note: I believe in both, together).

An example from my own experience: #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Very little direct revenue has come to the co-hosts (Lisa Petrilli and me) for all the time and effort we’ve put in. HOWEVER – the expansion of our networks, the quality contacts with some very influential people, the collaborations that have occurred, not only for us, but among others in the community – these are worthwhile returns, and the future opportunities yet to come as a result of this initiative will, I’m quite convinced, impact business on multiple levels.

I will trade immediate resources of time and effort for open doors tomorrow and next year. Not only for me, but for others.

Speaking of LeadershipChat, this coming Tuesday (April 10), we’ll welcome John Jantsch, Mr. Duct Tape Marketing himself, talking about referrals and small-business marketing in a networked world. Join us for some new thinking, new network contacts – and, who knows?, maybe some new open doors!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Four Questions for your Future

Social Business is Not Enough

Many of us who use social networking platforms in the professional world know that it can be difficult to get “old school” leaders to understand the power of these approaches for business.

Say “social media,” and they think of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube (and all the baggage that goes with them). Let’s face it – those platforms weren’t designed for, nor did they take flight because of, business. Their roots are in personal publishing and sharing.

The new buzzword making the rounds is “social business,” and while this is an improvement, it still gives a very incomplete picture of the new world of connectivity we’re now part of.

Let’s take a step back and look at the entire mural. At the risk of over-simplification (bear with me, stories are best told in simple terms), we have seen develop, over the years, several “internets.”

The internet of media is what we think of when we look at the early (and current) web of URLs containing informational media.

The internet of commerce (business) is when the web matured to allow us to, more directly, buy and sell and conduct business transactions digitally.

The internet of people can be thought of us as the era of social media – making people connections more readily.

The internet of things, about to explode into far greater significance, is the soon-to-be-endless streams of data coming from objects (sensors, readers, etc.) that will be accessible over the web.

That’s how it looks conceptually. But in our digitally connected world, this is how it is increasingly looking:

Stay with me here, because you’re already guessed where we’re actually heading, haven’t you?

What we’re looking at is an inexorable and rapidly-growing cultural and technological movement toward full digital connectivity at every level. It’s not just social stuff, it’s not just media, it’s not just mobile, and it’s not just business. All of those things are subsets of something far greater, something every CEO needs to recognize. This is the era of real-time connectivity.

Sure, we want to help other professionals understand the revolution being brought on by digital networks. But by “selling” the big picture, we create buy-in for the pieces of it – the strategies and tactics of social media/networking/business as we now practice it (click to biggify ——> )

To further explain, let’s use a very relevant example, something that we all use: the architecture of the Internet. The internet was built as an expandable series of servers (nodes), each with an address (IP address numerically – we usually use the URL or web address). In this architecture, everything is connected in real-time – it doesn’t matter if one of the nodes is in Romania, and I’m accessing it from New Zealand. All (public) nodes are accessible:

Got it? Now, just expand the idea outward to include – well just about everything! Simply think of the nodes as consisting of people (and groups/communities) and servers and devices and supply chains and products – all connected in real-time. You remember years ago when you saw the first evidence of this – when UPS first rolled out those digital pads that tracked the delivery of packages to your door? That was just the start. Just today, when a Proflowers order I made was delivered to my mother’s door, I got an e-mail almost instantly telling me that the transaction has come full circle. And, if she wished, she could have shown them to me 1 minute later on Skype video.

Yes, we are rapidly moving toward a time when everything and everyone will be an IP address.

Real-time connectivity. Inside the office, behind the warehouse doors, back-and-forth with customers – it’s all becoming one universal digital web.

So – while there’s a place for talking about specific apps and platforms, we really need to escalate the conversation to the high-level drivers that are shaping all of global society – impacting everything from supply chains to PR to marketing to internal comms to location to data streams and much more. All of it is being incorporated into real-time connectivity, through a variety of always-on/always-present devices.

We need to step back and educate business people about the unstoppable trend currents that are re-shaping all that we do. It’s not merely about putting up a Facebook page, or even putting social approaches into every level of business. It’s about something much bigger. Something VPs and Presidents and CEOs cannot consider optional.

It’s not about “social” something. It’s about the reality of a real-time, universally-networked world.

I will be so bold as to predict that whole new business models are going to emerge, based on the principle of ubiquitous, every-level connectivity. Where these things all merge together, there will be an endless array of services needed to make sense of information and connections (and take advantage of opportunities).

What would it be like if new and existing businesses started with this perspective at the center – we MUST build (and re-build) everything we do around the real-time digital connectivity that will soon surround us at every level?

Guess what? Those will be the business that survive for the long haul. Because that’s the world we’ll be inhabiting. “Social business” is not enough. This revolution is far grander in scope, and we have the privilege of painting the entire picture. Let me know what you think we should call it…!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Go With What You’ve Got

>> Finding Your DNA

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Going Viral in Perspective (A 2011 Reflection)

This year, I had a blog post (quite unexpectedly) go viral. For a couple of days, it was a crazy ride, as people around the world reacted to LinkedIn’s quietly implemented policy of attaching names and pictures to third party advertising on the platform. The original post was no work of art – it was quickly written without any intention of being a big deal – but because of the sensitivity of the privacy issues involved, it became a big deal nonetheless.

And, in fact, two days later, LinkedIn announced a change in policy, due to the volume of the outcry. That was also unexpected – and quite gratifying, to be perfectly honest.

But what can we learn from a viral incident like this? Here are a few perspectives:

1. Viral happens. Slamming out this blog post early one morning was not some carefully-crafted effort at setting off a firestorm. It just happened to touch a nerve. This was personal – it was about US and OUR privacy. And the whole incident had storyline-drama built in – perceived betrayal, David vs. Goliath, LinkedIn stepping in the same pile Facebook did, etc. Even if the blog post itself was fast-food, the table was set.

2. Viral happens more readily in a pre-existing network. Five years of building a high-quality network meant that I had an engaged audience who spread this thing at light speed. And the global aspect of the reach was breathtaking.

3. Viral posts take on their own momentum. You can do some things to fan the flames (and, yes, I did) when you recognize that you have a tiger by the tail, but most of the spread of the LinkedIn fiasco happened organically.

4. Viral doesn’t necessarily mean business. What impact did all this kerfuffle have on my core revenue-generating business? Probably about zero. For some folks whose business model depends on eyeballs and clicks, the story may be different – but 15 minutes of fame on the Internet may have little to do with the success that pays the bills.

And that’s the main perspective I want to reinforce. The blogger’s dream is to put out posts that garner tons of views and comments. But one happy customer is worth far more than hundreds of comments and thousands of RTs. A close-knit, supportive inner circle of like-minded souls will be far more important in the long run than the passing applause of the crowd.

Be the best person you can be. Do the best work you can. Viral happens. And even if it doesn’t – just keeping adding value to your existing network. We can all do that.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Go With What You’ve Got

>> Finding Your DNA

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

The Past and Future of Leadership

This week on Leadership Chat (Tuesday, December 6, 8 pm ET, hashtag #LeadershipChat on Twitter), we’ll be talking about The Future of Leadership. Co-moderator Lisa Petrilli and I are honored to welcome Ted Coine and Shawn Murphy as guests to help lead this on-the-threshold-of-a-new-year topic! (see Lisa’s prep post, What Leadership of the Future will Look Like)

When I think about this topic, I find two voices inside me, vying for expression – the Cynic, and the Idealist. I cannot suppress either one – so I’ll give voice to both of them!

When we are young, embarking out into the real/business world, we often breathe in the heady vapors of everything’s possible!!! Then, after some decades of being pinballed around through life, you realize that, in fact, lots of things don’t change – especially people. It’s a painful realization.

The battle-scarred, experienced traveler gains realism, wisdom, and – generally – more than a touch of cynicism.

So what will the future of leadership look like? Probably, a lot like the past. Because, people, we’re dealing with people – and from time immemorial, people have been driven by greed, ego, selfishness, short-term gain, cruelty, and a host of other unsavory motives. If you have read any history, and if you read any newspapers, you see that nothing much has changed in thousands of years. Sigh.

Or, maybe not. Let’s give rein to some optimism. While human nature remains fundamentally the same, our world of digital networked communications does tip the balance toward a new model of leadership, in some very important ways:

  • The network model of work is slowly displacing the pyramidal command-and-control model. It’s no longer necessary to climb the ladder and lose your soul along the way.
  • The wide-open digital disclosure of information exposes bad leadership practices to a global audience – it’s a lot harder to hide nowadays!
  • Causes and meaningful work are slowly emerging as an alternate model to fitting into someone else’s corporate machine to earn a paycheck.

In fact, new leaders are emerging – and we’re not limited to trying to turn some pre-existing corporate battleship. Opportunities abound in the digital economy for creating new work models, leading like-minded teams (irrespective of geography), and generating outsized influence. So, maybe the future of leadership will look different. Because…well, we’re in charge now. And we don’t have to cash in our ideals.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your DNA

>> Life and Leadership as an Introvert

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Out with Klout. In with Cannoli!

This post begins with Klout, and why (as of today) I’ve opted-out.

It ends with Cannoli.

One is more delicious than the other. Just saying.

My pal Sam Fiorella and I have had lots of tongue-in-cheek back-and-forth over the months about Klout, but the fact is, I agree with his reasoning here where he explains why he has pitched Klout overboard.

In brief, here’s why I’ve done the same:

1. I believe it is an artificial and inaccurate measure of true influence,

2. It reinforces behavior based on (apparent) reach rather than (real) depth,

3. It has no value to me, business or otherwise.

Instead of issuing Klout +K points to people, I prefer real network-building – like shared meals, shared laughs, shared life, and fruitful collaboration. Algorithms do not portray the type of influence that matters to me. And if you want to look at someone, first and foremost, through a Klout lens – well, we’re probably not going to get along anyway.

During #LeadershipChat on Tuesday nights, we have a habit of talking about cannoli – maybe it’s because a bunch of the participants are of Italian extraction, but I think it’s because a cannoli is simply, extravagantly, wonderful. We’ve even joked about awarding +K(annoli) points.

But forget the K – cannoli is all about the C. So, I’m just going to award people who mean a lot to me a nice, big, extravagant +C. Including an appropriate image, like this:

(btw, “cannoli” is the plural form – what you see above is a cannolo)

Meeting over a plate of cannoli (real or virtual) may not get you Klout perks, but I guarantee the benefits (and calories) are far greater!

Oh – and if you want to award someone the +Cannoli picture above, just copy-paste: http://bit.ly/Cannolo  Let’s #OccupyCannoli!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Maxim-izing Your Leadership

>> A Warning from (Un)Happy Valley

DNA Interview: Sean McGinnis

I love sitting down with folks and finding out more about what makes them tick – their professional DNA.

Today’s Skype video interview is with my friend Sean McGinnis (@seanmcginnis on Twitter), principal of 312 Digital and well-known Chicago networker.

Sean’s mission is to help clients with Digital Customer Acquisition and Loyalty. Listen in as we chat for a few minutes… (please pardon the slight video pixelation…)

Need to gain understanding of your personal or company DNA? Contact me about Brand Therapy – you’re only a few hours away from clarity!

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Auto Dealers and Social Media

Since I’ll be speaking this week on a panel about social media and car dealerships, here is a collection of interesting links I’ve collected with the help of friends in my network (& Google!) – how automobile marketing can be enhanced (or damaged!) via the power of social media:

Still wondering if social media is a growth opportunity. Just spend a minute watching this real-time chart update itself. And here are a bunch of infographics showing growth and usage – stunning.

I will say that my experience thus far with automobile dealers has been mostly negative. I’m still waiting to work with a dealer that is:

- more interested in the long-term relationship than the immediate deal,

- pro-actively helpful and friendly even if a sale is not immediate, and

- transparent and up-front about pricing.

None of the above is rocket science, but all of it would earn major points in a socially-networked world. So, how can an auto dealer effectively use social networking to grow business?

1. You have to be good - so customers freely and gladly recommend you (first and foremost in importance!).

2. You need to be “find-able” on-line, with a helpful website and a social presence that makes people feel welcome.

3. You need to be astonishingly responsive.

4. You need to follow through with a positive experience at every level.

Note that the most important factors are those things that have always been most vital in establishing a reputable business. Social media only magnifies – for better or for worse – who you already are.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Who “Owns” Social Media? Answered!

The debate has been raging across the social sphere – when it comes to business, who should “own” social media? Should it be PR? Marketing? Corporate Communications? HR?

Well, meeting an end-of-October deadline for a decision, the Social Networking Ownership & Responsibility Treaty (SNORT) has just been ratified. At a secret meeting convened by the Global Union of Relative Unknowns (GURU), an A-list conclave of social media mavens and all-stars has come to a final decision, announced at midnight last night on Twitter.

Social media, from now on, will be the responsibility of the Maintenance Dept.

Anticipating an upwelling of surprise at this announcement, the cabal of rockstar bloggers and tweeters outlined the rationale for this decision, in five main points:

     

  1. The other departments are used to just throwing stuff out there and leaving the aftermath to others. Maintenance, on the other hand, is used to cleaning up the mess, and who better to deal with all the detritus that will result from ill-conceived and poorly-executed social media programs?
  2. Maintenance is already “on” 24/7. Instead of paying high-priced employees or agencies to respond to social platforms at all hours, janitors and groundskeepers can easily be trained to field comments and tweet on behalf of the company at little or no extra expense.
  3. Social media is all about tools. Maintenance works with tools.
  4. The only turf wars Maintenance cares about is defeating grubs and crabgrass. That means greater corporate peace, more productivity, a healthier corporate climate, and ultimately, a flourishing of social media happiness and harmony.
  5. Maintenance really doesn’t worry much about ROI. So that’s a natural fit.

It isn’t yet clear what all the ramifications of this move will be, but it is widely expected that most bloggers will now end up with their computers in the basement, which actually should not present any real change management issues.

While all of the members of the GURU committee had expected to remain anonymous, Wikileaks managed to obtain a 90,000-tweetchat transcript of the secret deliberations and decision (#GURUSNORT), which also indicated that there were plans afoot to certify social media practitioners through a SXSW-style popularity contest, and to stratify them according to a new measure of credibility, the “Wiley.” Wikileaks did redact out all the names of the participants, explaining in a statement that, “we didn’t feel it necessary to publicize any particular individual’s participation, because if we mentioned Mitch Joel, we’d have to talk about Joseph Jaffe and Jim Long, and then DJ Waldow would get jealous and want to make sure we also included Amber Naslund and Lisa Petrilli – so we just left all the names out. Even Liz Strauss.”

Meanwhile, the city of Austin is urging SXSW to add a new “Maintenance” track to the annual geek spring break festival,with such topics suggested as “Trash-talking Ain’t the Same as Joining the Conversation,” and “Unclogging your Micro-blogging.” The track should be held after all the other guests have left, so that the downtown area can be restored to end-to-end cleanliness by leveraging an iPhone-toting cleanup crew.

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See prior spoofs :>}

Three Network Realities Nobody’s Going to Stop

For companies being “disrupted” by the new networked communications culture we’re entering, it can all seem like a major threat.

It’s an opportunity. Better still, it’s a fountain of opportunities – if you look forward and not backward.

Pandora’s box is wide open, and we’re in the midst of a revolution. Continual disintermediation. Unlimited self-expression. Bottom-up community-building. Personal control.

This is not just social media. It’s the tide of technology driving point-to-point, peer-to-peer, person-to-person real-time access.

Here are the three realities to embrace, which will shape the way we do business:

1. Connecting opens up new opportunities

2. Collaboration creates bigger pies

3. Communities (co-operations) will become the new corporation

It’s time to stop thinking about “companies,” and to realize that the new, more organic, more human and evolving structure will be the networked organization, in whatever form(s) that takes.

I, for one, welcome it!

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Out of the Bud, into the Flower

Just out my window, red maple leaves are beginning to emerge. What were buds in my yard just a short time ago, now are becoming full-blown flowers and leaves and canopies of beautiful shade.

As it should be. The bud phase is meant to only last a brief moment, to be a quick transition to the real goal.

Musing this morning on Geoff Livingston‘s post explaining the end of his blogging tenure at the Buzz Bin, I saw the process at work. As Geoff put it so pointedly, “I have run out of things to say…I feel like I am repeating myself.” In other words, social media as a topic in and of itself has pretty much run its course. The bud phase is over. Time to move on.

While it is tempting to mourn the passing of anything that has been new and shiny and exciting, in reality, we’re on the threshold of the really good stuff. In the nascent days of computers, or of Web 1.0, the early adopters were (rightly) excited about the technology itself. But it was never about the microprocessor or HTML code, not really. It’s about what we can do with it.

Passion for new technology skyrockets, then wanes, in order to make room for the real passions that matter – how we can transform people and society and business using new tools and approaches. I have been (and still am) quite passionate about social networking. But I no longer much care about re-tweets, Ad Age rankings, or follower numbers. My genuine passion has emerged – building deeper, more purposeful Opportunity Networks that will help change how we do business for the long haul. The “corporation” as we now know it is an aging model. I’m gathering a core of like-minded folks who want to explore how to create the new “co-operation.”

Social networking and technology tools are a big part of this vision. But there’s enough information out there now about how to be part of the conversation, how to go viral, how to write blog headlines, how to build a wide audience. That’s the bud. What’s your flower? How are you going to use all these good tools and connect with smart people to make whole new movements and organizations and impacts?

It’s springtime, friends. Buds are great – but only because of what they promise. We’ve talked social media and made lots of connections and sought to introduce it to the rest of the world…all good and necessary. But now let’s transition from early adopters to long-term architects. Summer’s coming!

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Holistic Common Sense and Social Networking

I enjoyed reading my friend Amber Naslund‘s post recently entitled The Taboo (but critical) Community Skill. Essentially, what Amber says is that we should not neglect the importance of selling skills – after all, all of this community engagement needs to lead us to some kind of business outcome.

As Amber put it:

When we talk about community or social media people in business roles, we talk about a lot of things.

Their ability to communicate, to interact. To be helpful. To be a diplomat and a conversationalist and a steward of the brand. But because it’s so often a taboo subject in social media, we miss talking about a pivotal skill that I think community professionals need to have. Sales skills.

Now I happen to agree with Amber. We cannot be fastidious about the reality that we are promoting, selling, seeking to grow business. I think we need to look at social media, and those who are tasked with putting it to use, under the very holistic umbrella of Business Growth. In fact, just swap out “social media” and put about anything in its place. The very broad category of Communications. A sub-category, On-line Communications. And a sub-category of that, Social Networking. How do each of these functions contribute to the things that contribute to the “Big Thing” – business growth?

Instead of overly simplistic questions like, “What’s the ROI of Social Media?“, business people should move backward from the “Big Thing” – business growth (more sales, new customer acquisition, better efficiency, great hires, etc.), and then look back to those elements that contribute to it – see the bullet points in blue above.

Now, in order to accomplish those tasks, what long-term strategies need to be in place? You can swap out Communications with IT or Management or various other disciplines – all of it should be geared toward business growth.

Now, think about social networking as part of the larger bucket of Communications. Don’t get narrowly focused in on the ROI of Social Media. Instead, use Holistic Common Sense. Will involvement in these communication approaches help create awareness, build a fan base, build a pipeline of prospective customers, sell your offering, serve customers, position you as a thought leader, influence a market, and provide marketing intelligence?

If social media (or anything else – fill in the blank) will significantly help accomplish these goals, leading to business growth, then come up with a good plan and make the commitment to employ a workable strategy. If not, then don’t.

You may be able to calculate some ROI on specific tactics and approaches over time. But look, first and foremost, at what will lead to business growth. That’s your ultimate goal – right?

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The Twitter Help Desk

I have the best Help Desk in the world. It’s called my network of smart people on Twitter.

Just yesterday, one of my partners (my biz model is operating as the eHarmony of pharma training and e-marketing – matching up my business partners with client needs) asked me about a need they have to control distribution of .pdf files. How to limit the viewing/copying of files to a set number of licenses?

I was clueless, but I turned to my network on Twitter. In short order, four responses (so far) came back:

All of this occurred in a short period of time, and I was able to just pass on the suggested resources to the person who asked. Investment of time? Minimal. Good will created all around? Plenty. Because people like to help and share, at least good quality folks – and those are the kind you want in your network.

Here’s the point – build your social network by identifying really great people, who are smart and have a pay-it-forward mentality. Add value regularly – be helpful and generous when they have needs. And you’ll find that they are more than happy to add value back. Many times I’ve turned to my Twitter Help Desk, and I cannot recall being disappointed.

Just remember – it’s not about Twitter, and it’s not about having 100,000 “followers.” It’s about building a smart network. Do that, and you give yourself a totally unfair advantage!

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Who’s Behind the Avatar?

My friend Toby Bloomberg is collaborating with John Cass to ask a question about transparency – namely, what sort of transparency needs to be in place if “outside” agents are feeding social media content for a client brand?

From Toby’s blog post:

Social media is a hungry beast that to succeed demands content…PR agencies, advertising agencies and social media consultants are seizing an opportunity to carve a service niche from their time pressed, staff starved clients. Yes, the agencies are stepping in and taking over the role and responsibilities of implementing social media initiatives….but unlike an ad campaign or dropping a media release where no one really cares what name you use, social media is supposed to be different. Tweets and posts are supposed to be from the real people who are working for the brand…However, since on Facebook and often on Twitter “no one knows your name” seems to be the acceptable norm, 2010 will see more. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just fact of social media marketing life? Does it really matter?

I’ll toss in a few brief thoughts:

1. Since there is an expectation set currently in place with social media (real people interacting with real people), and since violating that expectation leads to a lot of unwanted on-line attention, it’s not wise for a brand to play “let’s pretend” in social media platforms – at least, currently.

2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing expertise to “feed the beast.” Life is full of outsourcing. Just be honest about it.

3. I’d recommend that brands who outsource the maintenance of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. establish a “brand” identity on those platforms instead of trying to pretend that there is one person behind the account. I’m OK with, say, TiVo having a brand account – as long as it is positioned as a brand account. I’m also OK with the TiVo account being TiVo Shanan if Shanan is for real (she is, apparently – and very nice!). If the platform is going to provide info and interactions from a team, fine – let’s just have accurate expectations.

4. These platforms are communication channels and we all have to take a deep breath and have a reasonable view of how companies will use them. I happen to think that the companies who advance with real personality in their social media endeavors will likely do best, but not every company is prepared out of the gate to have designated in-house personnel to “feed the beast.” We don’t need to beat these folks with a purist club and accuse them of being inauthentic – unless they’re being inauthentic! Let people get their feet wet, and outsource as they must. We should encourage brands to use social media responsibly, realizing that those who abuse it by a lack of transparency will be outed in time, and the lesson will be learned!

My 2 cents – your thoughts?

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Five in the Morning 012209

From Mashable - By the Numbers: Inauguration’s Impact on Social Media. Enlightening stats and graphs. Wow! “The social web flexed its muscle yesterday with Twitter reporting five times the normal tweet volume, and Facebook/CNN showing mind blowing engagement.”

David Henderson offers a free e-book: Media Savvy in the Internet Era.

I’m Not your Catcher. My most recent MarketingProfs Daily Fix post. “For a while, I was enslaved, under contract, and you could pitch whatever you wanted at me. I would wear the mask, put on the glove, mutely make signs; but whatever signals I gave you about what I wanted, you simply ignored. You pitched what you wanted…”

Like wallowing in others’ mistakes? The Superlist of What NOT to do in Social Media has been updated! This link is full of amusing stuff.

On the other hand…Getting Great Testimonials, from Andy Sernovitz. Some excellent advice here, with a couple of very creative ideas drawn from two sources.

Social Media Marketing an Hour a DayLee Odden interviews Dave Evans, who wrote a book by that title.

–I guess I can’t count. That’s six, not five. Oh well, why not toss in one more…

AND, just for fun – Making friends in Social Media. Amusing cartoon from our friends at Hubspot.

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You – Projected.

Over the past few weeks, there has been some blabbing going on over the social media networks about Personal Branding. I won’t attempt to re-hash it all here – a prior post on MarketingProfs Daily Fix gave a bit of a summary, with some of my thoughts on the subject.

I don’t question the concept of personal branding. I think the idea is valid and valuable. But semantics and varying definitions can confound the discussion.

projectorMy feeling is that if a concept is valid, we should be able to distill it down to a very few words that capture it well. So, with personal branding, here is my take. Two words. You – Projected.

Having narrowed it down, now let’s blow out each word a bit:

You – the real you. Not some faux image you want to project. Not some imitation. If it ain’t authentic, it’s worthless as a “personal brand.”

You – all of you. Not merely your words or pictures, but your personality, your tastes, your values, your thoughts, and your experiences. The most powerful personal brands create attachment because people gravitate toward whole people they can relate to.

You – unfolding over time. All brands take time to establish themselves, and there is an evolving process of growth and expression. The more that others see you over a long stretch of time, the more strongly your brand will make its imprint.

Projected – pro-actively. Personal brands can “just happen” I guess, but anyone involved in any kind of branding knows that you need to actively put forward your identity. I won’t go into the myriad of ways in which this is accomplished; just note that building a personal brand, like building anything, is not a passive endeavor.

Projected – accurately. If you’re a down-to-earth person, then writing blog posts with flowery Victorian language (even if well-crafted) will not be an accurate projection. The person you “see” in a picture, an avatar, a profile, a series of tweets, and on a blog must be the very person you meet in a restaurant.

Projected – by others. Here’s your reputation. Ultimately, the power of a personal brand multiplies when you have a great reputation among others. And when others actually do have an accurate knowledge of you, and word-of-mouth you to others, your brand is on its way to being well-established.

As simply as I can explain it, that’s a personal brand (at least from my perspective). What do you think?

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Five in the Morning 121008

Lists, lists, lists. It’s that time of year – lots of Top 10s. Louis Gray has a nice summary of Top 2008 web services (and their prognosis for 2009). Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy at ReadWriteWeb sums up the Top 10 Consumer web apps of 2008 (quite diff list from Louis’). And then, of course, there’s Time.com‘s Top 10 Everything of 2008. Plan on spending some time here…

Should bloggers/social media types self-promote? Mack Collier started up this discussion. I also chimed in, as did Lisa Hoffmann. Read the posts and the comments – what do you think?

Matt Dickman with some thoughts on HR in the age of Social Media.

Not Everyone likes Coffee. Consider your audience and their tastes as you serve “your stuff” up. Good thoughts from Jon Swanson over at Levite Chronicles. (Jon – strong! Cream and a little sugar…).

The Only Important Thing is….what??? You’ll have to let Doug Meacham tell you!

PLUS – Sarah sold me on Opera – sorta. How one voice can bring you into a new genre. AND – this Spouse 2.0 concept is just bizarre. Really. Don’t do it!

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“Why Don’t They Get It/Me/Us?”

Mack Collier has started a good discussion on his blog (The Viral Garden) about the use, or non-use, of self-promotion among social media types.

Now I’m against blatant, obnoxious, noisy self-promotion by any person or company. Hate it. But I’m all for prominent, “sticky”, clear, and repeated communications by any person or company about what they do. Because most of us are in business, and new business doesn’t happen if people don’t have a clear grasp of what you have to offer.

I’m going to use Mack as an example, because he’s a good sport, and by putting up this post, he’s “asking for it!” It takes 3 fairly involved clicks on Mack’s blog to get a grasp of what he does for his living, and even when you reach the post where he explains his social media consulting, it’s really not clear what types of companies he is aiming for, and what exact and tangible deliverables he has in mind.

Let’s just say (I’m making this up) that Mack was aiming to be the top social media we’ll-get-you-started-in-this-brave-new-world for, let’s say, retail organizations (I do believe in having a defined focus and niche whenever possible). Then it would be great if, prominent right on the sidebar as you come onto the Viral Garden, there was a summary paragraph such as: “Mack Collier helps retail organizations navigate the uncharted waters of social media by applying community-building strategies that lead to higher sales.” Or something like that. And then had it on his footer on blog posts. And on e-mails.

You see, it’s not enough to say you’re a _______ consultant. I’m a pharmaceutical consultant, but that could mean a lot of things. In particular, I have developed a unique network to help pharmaceutical training organizations find optimal suppliers for outsourced training development needs. But here is the ironic thing – though I have blogged about this for 2.5 years, sent out a weekly e-newsletter, sought to explain the business model numerous times through words, graphics, video, analogies (“I’m the living eHarmony of pharma training… I’m a matchmaker/broker…” etc.) …people STILL often don’t get it! I regularly have to explain it “live” before the light goes on. Why??

It’s because what I do doesn’t really matter to them, until it does. Our limited attention bandwidth is totally absorbed with the immediate and day-to-day. My business model is irrelevant to people 99.9% of the time. However, if I have self-promoted (or, if you prefer, self-explained) effectively, regularly, and added value without being obnoxious, enough of the message sinks through for that critical phone call, e-mail, or referral, when the time is ripe. We HAVE to promote ourselves effectively and winsomely in a very noisy market, and explain over and over again what we do and how we do it, if we want to gain business.

Of course, I’d be happy to refer Mack, or a bunch of the rest of you talented folks I’ve met via Twitter and blogging (my entire business is built on referrals) – but I can only do so if I have a clear grasp of what you do, so that if the need arose with one of my clients, your “metadata” is stored in my noggin. That’s effective marketing 101. That’s self-promotion. And it’s more than OK. It’s absolutely necessary!

Also see Lisa Hoffmann’s take here.

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Five in the Morning 120908

Negative PR in advertising travels fast! Just ask Dr. Pepper (from USA Today – hat tip to @prsarahevans)

Will MLM kill Twitter? What do you think so? I doubt it, but some interesting points made nonetheless. From Karl Long.

Fun - Superlist of what NOT to do in Social Media. Courtesy of Robin Broitman at IIG. On the flip side, Lee Odden shares 26 tips on being Social Media Smart.

Thank you very much for the link, Mike Sansone. Now THIS is how to search for that perfect image in Flickr!!!

How do you compare with other Twitter users? Jeremiah Owyang brings out some very interesting stats from HP Lab’s research on Twitter use.

BONUS – As a rule I don’t watch long videos on the web, in particular not 15-minute ones. Yet, very late one night, when unable to fall back asleep, I stumbled across this one on Cheryl Smith‘s site, and it captured my attention. The message continues to resonate in my mind and heart. It may seem hokey the first few minutes, but stick with it. You may need, as I did, a reminder about the importance of Validation.

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