Things to Be Afraid Of.

“Marketing without a plan is like hiring builders before knowing if you want an office building or a swimming pool.”

This is a little thought nubbin I shared on Facebook yesterday, which I was surprised and pleased to see got quite a few likes. (Because that’s how I measure my worth as a person.  You do too.  I know.)  It was a conclusion I came to by way of increasing frustration with current and prospective clients who don’t want me to plan out anything I do.  Or at least are completely indifferent to any plan I might create for their project, and have made it quite clear they’d prefer I keep it to myself, thank you.

So that was my Major Issue yesterday.  Today, it’s that I’m a total hypocrite.

I’m going to admit something that may possibly lower my standing with you, my clients, and all of the amazing entrepreneurs I worked with at Count Me In and berrated about their resistence to planning:

I have been in business one year, and I don’t have a business plan.

Still there?  Ok.

Hello, My Name is Amy, and I’m Afraid to Commit

It doesn’t take much soul searching to figure out why I don’t have a business plan.  It’s because, honestly, it took me well into my first year of being in business to decide I truly wanted to be here.  After I got laid off I looked for jobs for a solid six months while also taking on clients, somehow believing that getting through my daily to-do’s was the way to proceed towards some master plan I just didn’t know about yet.

I took whatever came my way, hoping that “the market” would determine the best direction for my business.  I was afraid that creating a plan in one direction would constrain me, and in not being 100% open to every opportunity I’d miss that magic moment of discovering the “right” thing to do.

And that is very stupid.

Things You Think You’re Afraid Of

When it comes to my clients, the story is pretty similar.  In every case so far, they’re businesses who have, at best, had dipped a toe into social media and were afraid that to go in any further would be over their heads.

Enter: me.  The first part of every first meeting with a potential client involves my best efforts to have them define their business’s objectives.  The conversation leads to how we’ll work together, which starts with 1) an assessment and 2) drafting a plan for review by the management/leadership team.

And this is where I lose people.

Reasons I have heard for why businesses don’t want marketing consultants to produce marketing plans:

We want social media, don’t know what for; our budget might change; our org chart might change; our goals might change; we know something is changing and don’t want to make any plans until it’s done; it’ll take too long; we can’t afford it.

In other words: they, like me, are afraid that by planning to move in one direction will prevent them from ever going in another.  And if, jeebus forbid, they spend money on producing a plan they may as well sign it in blood.

Things you should be afraid of

The #1 thing you should be afraid of?  Doing nothing.

When you don’t have a plan, you’re just spinning your wheels.  It’s possible that you’re still doing a lot, and seeing outcomes from your work feels like good results.  Even more possible is, like me, you literally don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re done with your daily to do list.

The #2?  Not knowing what you’ve done.

Back to the good results thing.  Are you sure?  You have a whole bunch of new Twitter followers and the little green arrow on Facebook Insights hasn’t gone away, but without defined objectives and tactics, you can’t really know if you’ve accomplished anything.  Opportunities to create relationships with influencers and respond to customer service issues are wooshing by while you’re posting another opinion poll on Facebook.

Plans are like roads, not railroad tracks

The lesson I’m learning here, and I hope you are too, is that there’s no more reason to be afraid of a plan than afraid of a map.  Thinking through an idea to its logical conclusion, doing some research, and putting it down on paper is still the closest human are ever going to get to seeing the future.  Putting it that way sounds like a pretty good deal, no?

And if you don’t like where you end up, scrap it.  You just saved yourself months of going in the wrong direction.

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Monitizing Digital Media: Part 1

This week I was very fortunate to participate in a panel put on by Ogilvy and the Black Ivy Alum League called Monetizing Digital Media.  It was an intimate but very well attended event in Ogilvy’s new-ish building on 11th Ave, and both the panel and attendees were a great mix of age, industry, experience and background.

At "The Chocolate Factory," Ogilvy's Hell's Kitchen building

The panel was an hour long, and with five energetic panelists it zipped by without getting to most of the prep questions Nelly had sent us.  I thought I’d post my answers in a few chunks to these questions for any attendees and anyone else are interested in continuing the conversation online.

Here’s the cast of characters, with bios pulled from their Twitter accounts.  (Appropriate, no?)

Madho, Jon, me, Nelly

Moderator:

Nelly Yusupova – Web Technology Consultant, Speaker, @Webgrrls CTO, @NYCWebgrrls chapter leader.  @digitalwoman

Panelists:

Jason “Madho” Madhosingh – working with open APIs; awesome developers and mobile+online products for American Express. Looking to fund great ideas! my personal twitter is @madho.  @AmExMadho

Jon Gelberg – Chief Content Officer at Blue Fountain Media, an amazing digital agency. Prolific writer, speaker and non-stop networker.  @JonBFM

Bridgette Howard – Digital Innovation Lab & Global Mobile Marketing Team @ Ogilvy & Mather, Duke Alum, Bmore native, interior design junkie, part time hairstylist #parlorwestsalon.  @parlorwestnyc

Maisha Walker – Internet Strategist and Eternal Questioner.  @maishawalker (Also a columnist for Inc Magazine.)

General

Q: What are the keys to success in a digital world?

Same as everything else: consistency, credibility, and respect.  (As the first person to answer the question, Madho made a great argument for how essential it is to understand a user/consumer’s mindset when they’re receiving your message, so I added “context.”  Maisha said analytics were the key, and I would also agree with that.)

Q: The online world has fundamentally changed the way we should be doing business – true or false? Why? How?

False.  Since the industrial revolution (I was going to say “always” but that’s not true), there have always been big impersonal businesses, values-driven mom & pops, and customers who share, recommend and complain.  I don’t believe that because customer’s access to those businesses and each other has exponentially expanded means either has fundamentally changed.

Social Media

Q: Can people make money with Social Media and can you give us specific examples or case studies?

(Maisha gave some excellent examples of restaurants and salons who filled up reservations by giving away incentives and posting open slots for reservations, and Jon talked about as a service provider you can up your game by blogging your way to expert status.  Both are cheaper, faster implementation for old strategies.)

In addition to better ways to implement the tried-and-true, social media provides a completely new way to make money through entrepreneurship.  Kickstarter and Etsy are probably surprising but excellent examples.  Etsy allows ways for customers to socialize with each other inside the site and Kickstarter depends much more on Facebook and Twitter to share content.  People from around the world are testing concepts, starting business and putting their for-profit projects up on these social platforms that allow their ideas to be discovered, interacted with and shared.   By testing their ideas in a very low-risk platform, connecting directly to their customers gives them an incredible opportunity to launch prototypes directly into the market then refine and relaunch.  I think that direct connection to your customers helps small and large businesses benefit similarly, in that social media allows for more intimate relationships between customers and businesses, allowing businesses to say “what if we did this?” and getting valuable feedback.

Q: How do you manage your brand on Social Media?

A combination of content planning/calendaring, constant monitoring, conversation, and inspiring customers to become brand advocates because their outreach is far more powerful than that of the brand itself.

Q: How do you measure success? What metrics do you look at?  What tools do you use?

Metrics: size of following (and increase day over day, month over month), interaction, quality and sentiment of interaction, and the specific business goals of the client (i.e. ticket sales).  I use Hootsuite, Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, and my own critical thinking ability.

Q: Time is the biggest challenge: Do you have any time management advice?

Planning, planning, planning!  Calendar out everything in as much detail as you can stand with an eye towards getting assets you need from other people.   Planning also means creating best practices so everyone touching your social media knows how to respond in certain situations instead of having to guess or ask someone else what to do.  Scrambling around last-minute and firing off dozens of emails is the biggest time suck..  If you have a solid plan, you can spend a little time tweaking regularly and on a daily basis be responsive, not reactionary to your customers.  And interns.  (Nelly didn’t get to ask this question, but during Q&A a career coach asked how to handle the amount of time he spends on social media, which he found effective and time consuming.  Maisha’s answer was after trying all the options, look at the numbers and only continue with the two most effective.  She also said to get a virtual assistant, which I agree with.)

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How Cat Cora is squandering her personal brand

Cat Cora is one of my personal heroes.  She’s a tiny, fierce, talented little out of the closest lesbian mom world dominating celebrity business owner.  (In other words, everything we couldn’t get our of Jodie Foster.)

But there’s something about this photo of Cat, and this whole concept, that’s just wrong to me.  And I feel wrong about feeling that it’s wrong.  Allow me to esplanade:

The media and media consumers – so, you know, everybody – uses celebrities as content sources.  We use “celebrity news” as an excuse to keep talking about our fears and aspirations.   For what I’ll shorthand as “minority cultures,” our conversations are disproportionately large because there are way fewer celebs who are doing the specific things we want, and goddammmit, we want to be pretty and strong and happy like Ellen and Portia.

And that is why I loved, I clung!, to Cat Cora.  While I am admittedly a pedi-loving, champagne-swilling girlie girl myself, I’m also a cleaver-wielding entrepreneurial force in my own head.   I, and I think a lot of other women, gravitated to Cat because she was the shamelessly bad ass, no-nonsense leader on Iron Chef America we want permission to be.  So to see her buffed and polished into an anonymous catalog model just…hurts a little.

Thing is, it’s not like the woman doesn’t deserve it.  After 20 years of working her ass off in a hot kitchen to create a solid career and have four kids, who could begrudge her a glamorous photo shoot where she looks like  J. Crew model?  Let’s get real, I also want that!  But not from her.  I go to Cat for the sweat, the screaming, the shot of uzo.  That’s the personal brand she was building on Iron Chef America.  Watching her swing towards the easy-breezy supermom celebr-model with this advertising campaign and similar projects with Kraft, Macy’s and Electrolux, it makes me wonder, Do I agree with, or even understand, her perspective?   And as a self-aware marketing hack, I ask, Is she a trust broker?  Would I make purchases based on her recommendation?

It hurts me to say….probably not.   A check on Twitter reveals she has 11,500+ followers and is following 57.  Every tweet is a link is somehow marketing related, with no RTs or replies, in other words…a community that’s dead in the water.  Her site’s blog and her Facebook page reveal pretty much the same thing.  Cat Cora and her management team are making some huge mistakes in not engaging with the tens of thousands of people who want to engage with her.  The tweets with cutoff sentences, redundant material on Facebook and differing “about the author” info under some blog entries on her site show that she/they are being careless with the  three biggest platforms for creating loyal communities. For someone who’s gunning to be in every American household, there’s really no way to get to know Cat Cora.

I don’t want to come across like I’m harping on Cat personally.  It’s ridiculous to suggest that she, or anyone, should try to be the next David Liebovits or Frank Bruni and build followings of 30,000+ one person at a time.  Those guys write for a living and were made for Twitter.  What Cat  should do is HIRE A WRITER.  It’s OK to delegate.  In fact, it’s preferable to delegate, even if you’re well qualified to manage your social media strategy.  Believe it or not, I’ve done most of my business as a social media strategist for writers who could have done the writing, reading, monitoring and responding, but they knew they should focus on writing the next book and let someone else promote it.

Cat Cora’s conventional marketing for herself and her partners has done OK.  I believe she can even get away with mixing her beach babe advertising campaigns with her half-ponytail, no makeup in store demos, but she’s going to confuse and lose potential followers if she doesn’t develop a personality they can get to know. Social media is a strategy she can define and control for herself, uniting all of her different projects through a conversation about herself and her values.  Right now, Cat and her team are missing an opportunity to connect with tens – hundreds! – of thousands of fans like me who just want to get to know the real Cat Cora.

P.S. The other thorn in my ass about this is that it took me 15 minutes to find this freaking picture.  If you’re a HUGE CREDIT CARD COMPANY running a PROMOTION, maybe you should spend a couple bucks on SEO so people can actually find the photos you probably spent $20,000 shooting.

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Your Friday Time Waster

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cwTGcdZQ9w]

Once again, evidence that avoiding work is a true art. 

I’m off to Red Hook (upstate, not Brooklyn) to spend a few days sipping champagne in a hot tub and loving on Mr. Stuart Munch, my friend’s daschund.  It’ll be my last little break for a long time…around this time next week I will be closing on my co-op and becoming an adult a home owner! 

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SEO for Dummies, by Dummies

I always look at my WordPress stats, since I find it fun to obsess over metrics. A few days ago, I got a hit off the search terms “women in sweatpants and socks.”

I don’t have any images of women in sweatpants and socks on my blog, do I? I’m not sure I’ve even mentioned sweatpants or socks…or wearing sweatpants and socks together…and I definitely wouldn’t allow myself to be photographed in such an ensemble and exposed to the intertubes. I wonder, is this a phrase that gets more traffic than one might expect? It’s impossible to think there’s a fetish out there that hasn’t been pistol whipped and unconsciously dragged out of the closet by Jaime Buffalino, Dan Savage, Nerve.com and (eek) Fleshbot.

I figure the only empirical test that will yield an answer is to keep repeating the phrase “women in sweatpants and socks” and see if I get any more clicks.

I’ll reveal the results in a week. I know you’ll all be holding your breath.

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Bringing Back Beautiful

Every few weeks, I find these gorgeous postcards mixed in with my mail. They come from my friend Ian K., an extraordinary calligrapher, designer, artists and juggler. And even though they’re from nowhere more exotic than Stamford, CT, from a man with whom my relationship is deeply affectionate and sturdily defined, their appearance does strike me with all sorts of romantic feeling because…well, how often does one receive the real gifts of friends?

I say romantic in the sense of big, generous feeling, in the sense of being deeply felt, in the sense of what’s rare and precious. When I picked up this card above, it connected me with the scenes of Florentino Ariza, setting up shop in “Love in the Time of Cholera,” typing out the love letters of thousands of illiterate strangers in love.

It’s an act of tremendous generosity, the actual giving of words. Physically writing something down for another person is as close as we can get to literally giving someone the immense, intangible value of our time. And I think it’s equally valuable if one has only the words or only the power to write, so long as you’re a part of getting them combined. Spoken words are largely fast and thoughtless. The intentionality of picking up a piece of paper and writing down an idea gives words a strength that air and sound do not. The written word is a thing that can be seen and touched, a sturdy token of the love that is inherent in wanting to be understood.

So, thanks Ian. Expect something in the mail soon.

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Steve Litt’s Crudbox at ITP

I’m going to check out the ITP (NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program) show tonight to see my brother’s piece. The work from the crazy genius artist builders is always mind boggling. I’ll be shooting to post some photos tomorrow. WP is screwing up my embedded video today, but you can be old school and click on the link to see a preview of my brother’s contribution to the show:

http://www.vimeo.com/2452074

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The Micro Forecast: Data Portability

I want to put my flag in the ground now: data portability apps, the applications that allow your profile information and activity to be shared between sites, will become a fundamental part of social networking in 6 months to a year.  Right now, Facebook is awash in third party apps that will share some information between two accounts, but dependability and actual usefulness varies a lot.  The best apps are coming from partnerships where both halves support a lot of activity.  Equal in my heart are the Flickr and the Vimeo Facebook Connect apps, which automatically update my Facebook page with my uploads and *some* activity from the other sites.  I see them working out a lot of the kinks (like they delay of several hours to update between the two) fairly rapidly, and a strong following developing from socnet users who are currently becoming overwhelmed by multiple online identities and trying to share information among all their associated networks.

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OK Computer, I’ll Pay for Music

First, I have to point out that it’s very hard to write at the moment because the people across the street have a motion-activated cackling witch.  There is comic irony in how motion sensors are probably primarily used in home security systems, and this one will be the most likely cause of considerable property damage.  By me.

Earlier, I was thinking out loud about Joss Weidon’s Dr. Horrible.  It continues to tickle all of my marketing ticklie bits because, well, they’re selling something that’s free.  Can a product be so good that you can sell it to people who can get it for nothing with equal ease and quality?  Apparently!

Today, Radiohead released its numbers for its “pay what you want” experiment, In Rainbows.  With many caveats- they’re a huge band, Radiohead’s listeners are likely more conscious of the debate around recording labels, buying the album was a way to take part in the experiment, etc. – it worked.  They made more on the album during it’s online-only period (where one could download it for free OR one could pay), than they have earned to date for all sales their previous album, Hail to the Thief.  And there were more BitTorrent downloads than purchases.  The business model is facinating, but I’m not yet an expert on business models.  It’s just a rare, remarkable thing that someone created a product that was so good, people actually wanted it.

While I ponder upon this a little more, you can read all the details on Mashable.

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The Audacity of Success

There was a lot of yap among my friends today about this article, on ways to look for a job in tough times.  The debate was largely along the lines of, “Interesting, this is stuff I didn’t know before,” and “this is totally pointless because all it says is that internet job searches don’t work.  How the fuck are you supposed to go out and meet people?”

There are a zillion ways to meet people.  Check out MeetUp.  Get on Facebook and LinkedIn and join every freaking group that’s even marginally related to your personal and interests.  Go to every show, party, opening, release, cocktail hour, and discussion group you ever get invited to, ever.  There are people looking for help.  Even if the guy you talk to for 20 minutes doesn’t have a job opening that screams perfection for you, hook that guy up with one of your friends or colleagues who can help him out.  Unless the connection is a smoldering failure, you’ve just established a relationship with someone who will probably come back to you the next time he needs something, and the friend you hooked up is now on the lookout for someone who needs you.  Go out, meet, connect, repeat.  I sometimes think this is all my friend Jeff does, which explains why he’s so successful.

But really, the fact that a lot of people ask this question indicates there’s a lot of ingenuity involved in going out and meeting the right people, which is why the people who know how to get themselves in front of other people are more likely to succeed for a few reasons.  It’s the difference in a person’s perspective, between “I just learned something I might use later” and “No one’s telling me how, so I can’t.”  I work for a non-profit that helps women entrepreneurs build their businesses, and if there is one single lesson I’ve learned, it’s that no one can actually tell you how to do anything.  And I will tell you, even though we want to be the best resource for women who want to know how to be successful, and the people I know and work with have seen it happen and made it happen, they can’t tell you how to do it. Every success we see is a woman who asked a lot of questions of lots of people, went balls (boobs?) to the wall with executing her own plan, and then made a lot of shit up on the fly.

There is, if you’ll forgive me, the audacity of success.  From everything I’ve seen in my short little life, my conclusion for the moment is that success does not belong to those who know how to do something.  It’s for those who are in the constant, aggressive pursuit of figuring it out and are extremely brave in the actions they take.  I heard from a woman a few weeks ago who flew hours to go to the office of a distributor who wouldn’t return her calls, and when she got there she found herself in front of a locked glass security door, with no appointment, and a receptionist on the other side.  So what did she do?  She tapped on the glass, and when the receptionist looked over, she did little potty dance and mouthed “I need to pee!”  The receptionist let her in, and Amilya ambushed the distributor in front of the Men’s Room. She got the deal she wanted, and was on her way to building a company she later sold for $100 million.  This woman is now my personal hero.

I had my own quarter life mini-crisis a little before hearing this story from Amilya.  I love my job, but I was freaking out that if I wasn’t able to somehow cram all of my personal and professional aspirations into what I did at work, I would never fulfill my destiny.  (Do not ask me what I thought this was, I just knew I wasn’t going to make it.)  I was overwhelmed with very narrow visions of my future and pissed at everyone for not supporting my development as a unique little butterfly out to conquer the world.  In the following weeks I worked one of my company’s events full of entrepreneurs, and I talked to a lot of interesting people at some kick ass parties.  I got a kick to the head about making it happen myself.  I took out my camera last weekend, created a Flickr account, and finally built myself a blog that I’ve committed to developing because I want to turn my personal pursuits into something real.  There are millions of people who have done it before, and none of them can tell me what choices to make.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t figure out how to make it work.

The thing is, there isn’t a book that will tell you how to get a job, have an emotionally mature relationship, or arrange your living room furniture correctly.  There are MILLIONS.  And its the same with people, everyone’s got their own story and advice. Instead of being terrified or resentful that there is no difinitive guide, this is an excellent thing.  The absence of a guide book means that no one can tell you no, and no one has to grant you permission for anything.  I believe that being able to handle that, or really love it, is the key.

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