What a Difference a Year Makes

Everyone always says that a year can make all the difference and although I’ve always known that, this year was the first that I’ve truly looked back, taken stock, and acknowledged how incredibly different a life can be on the same day, one year apart.

February 3rd last year started out as any normal day.  It was Wednesday.  A pretty normal day.  Or so I thought.  You see, I was in the middle of a meeting when Jan came in and asked me to meet with her in the hallway.  Honestly, I thought I was getting fired.  When she said that I needed to go back to my desk, get my coat, and follow her up front, I was sure I was getting fired.  When I got up front and saw Dan standing there I at least knew I wasn’t getting fired, but I had a terribly sinking feeling.  Something was wrong.  It was written all over his face.  He refused to tell me what was going on until we got out to the truck.  It’s a good thing because once he told me what I happened, it wasn’t pretty.  No one in the office needed to see that.

We spent the next couple of hours at the hospital.  And then I spent the whole rest of the evening going through several boxes of Kleenex, drifting in and out of nightmares, without ever really sleeping.

Flash forward to February 3 of this year and I’m driving home after a gigantic snowstorm, sitting in the backseat, videotaping our little man and narrating our drive from the hospital to our home.  And just like last year, I’d spend the night not really sleeping, but this time for very different reasons.

A really wonderful person explained to me how I needed to re-script February 3 so that I didn’t spend the day in mourning year after year.  I can’t think of a better way to re-script it than by welcoming my son into our home for the very first time.  Sure, it will always be the anniversary of the day that I lost one of the most important men in my life, but it will also mark the anniversary that I brought home my little boy.

It’s like you were watching out for me and scripting this for me, big brother.  Always watching, always taking care of me.  Even when you’re not here physically anymore.

Happy Birthday, Drill Bit!

Happy Birthday, Drill Bit!

I knew this day was coming, but never thought it would get here.  It’s like what Christmas felt like when I was little.  Only way better.

You may have taken your sweet time to get here, but I couldn’t be happier.  We joked as your due date quickly approached that you were waiting for a snowstorm to make your big debut … well, you have to be careful for what you wish for, because that’s exactly what happened.  Sort of.

You see, I had a doctor’s appointment on Monday morning, and with the combination of a gigantic snowstorm and being a week plus past my due date, my doctor and I decided that you needed to get here before I was stuck at home in the snow, without a way to get to the hospital.  Having an induction wasn’t exactly my first choice, but we came up with a solution that got the job done without tons of medication that we both felt good about.

We checked in at the hospital at 4pm and we got the ball rolling a couple of hours later.  I was nervous.  I was excited.  I was anxious.  Everything was suddenly becoming very real.

Without getting terribly graphic, I needed something for the pain around 5am on Tuesday, and got a shot of Nubain which worked awesome … but not for long.  About an hour or so later, I couldn’t stand it any longer and asked for the epidural, only to find out I was in full active labor, which made me feel not as bad.  You see, I was determined initially to go as long as I could without drugs because I usually have an adverse reaction to pain medication.  The process of getting the epidural was surreal and crazy – your Dad says that it was best that I couldn’t see it.  Everything was fine … until it stopped working.  A couple hours later, I started to regain feeling, but we were at the point of no return – either we had to try to wait it out for an hour or so until the anesthesiologist could get there, or we started pushing and get this show over with.  I elected for the latter and 30 minutes later, here you were.

Proof that yes, you were a big little boy.

All 9 pounds, 3 ounces and 23 inches of you.  And you were perfect.  I had no idea that I could love someone so much so fast.  Seeing your tiny little face and cuddling you for the first time made everything leading up to that moment totally worth it.  I suddenly didn’t feel any pain and didn’t care about anything else going on in the world but staring at you.

Yes, we're Lions fans. Hopefully by the time you can read these letters, they'll be winners again.

Before today, it was me, your Dad, and our trusty four-legged fur-kid, Gibson.  For all intents and purposes, we considered ourselves a family.  And we were wrong.  You, little Mr. Gavin, complete us as a family.  Mom, Dad, and son (and dog – Gibson thinks he’s people, and I’m convinced he’s smarter than some).

P.S. You made it right before the storm.  Seriously.  A few short hours later we got the snow of the season.  Something like 8 inches in a couple of hours and lots of wind.  Roads and highways were closed and they declared a snow emergency where you could be arrested for driving.  They came around the hospital to let everyone know that they wouldn’t be discharging anyone until Thursday and to not expect any visitors since everything was closed.  You truly were our little snowpacalypse baby.

6 Reputations to Monitor Online

Brandjacking (or brand hijacking) has been around as long as Twitter and Facebook have been in existence.  Just as there was URL cybersquatting, people have jumped at the chance to claim the usernames and handles for their favorite (or not-so-favorite) brands and companies in the social spaces.  In some instances, the love for a brand was the rationale behind the name grab, but more often than not, the intentions are not as sincere.

It’s this last instance that is the most critical as it comes to monitoring your brand reputation online.

Exxon Mobil, Aston Martin, Burger King, and most recently, BP, have all been victims of Twitter brandjacking within the last two years.  With increased use of these online social spaces, as well as the increased use of these spaces as a means of communicating marketing messages and interactions with consumers, there is an increased need for companies to monitor what is being said in relation to their company or brand online.

Below is a list of keywords, phrases, or reputations that any savvy business owner should be monitoring online on a regular basis.  Many of these can be set up in a Google Alert with just a few clicks and are essential for monitoring your brand or company’s online reputation.

  1. Your Name. This is extremely important if your brand or company is yourself.  You should always be aware of anything that is being said about you in the online space.
  2. Your Company Name. This, along with your personal name, should be a given, but it’s amazing how many people miss this crucial step.  For many brands, this is the easiest way to become aware of rogue Twitter accounts or Facebook pages that may be spreading false information about your company.
  3. Your Brands. For companies who manage several brand names, like Proctor and Gamble for example, this is necessary in order to keep abreast of anything that is being said not just about your corporate brand, but also your sub-brands.
  4. The Names of Your Company’s Executives. Your CEO, your CFO, your CMO, your CIO, your vice president of any number of departments, and your company spokesperson.  These are all worth checking into. Their reputation affects your company’s reputation.
  5. Your Marketing Message/Tagline. This can be a very resourceful way of managing customer feedback to your messaging or determining if your registered or trademarked tagline is being misused in any way.
  6. Your Industry and Competition. In order to stay competitive in your respective industry, you should always take every step toward being informed about what other players in the industry are doing or discussing.  Knowing what is going on in the environment that surrounds your business is crucial if you want to continue to stay competitive and relevant, and keep the doors of your business open.

Photo courtsey of chego101. Original photo.

Future Midwest 2010 Takeaways that Need to Stick with us until 2011

futuremidwestThe tech community in Detroit had a serious case of the mad cow disease over the weekend.  Of the space cow variety.

For those unlucky ones who weren’t “in-the-know” about this two-day knowledge and technology conference held over the weekend in Royal Oak, Michigan, you missed out on some truly powerful and energizing stuff.

Everything about the Friday program was amazing from start to finish, which gave me so much enthusiasm to get moving and so sad that I couldn’t make it for the presentations on Saturday.  Below is a list of mantras that we as technology people in the area need to keep in mind, put in to action, repeat and show the world that the Midwest really does “have more talent and more technical expertise concentrated in one region than anywhere else in the United States.” (per Jay Adelson, former CEO of Digg, Detroit Metro native, and Future Midwest 2010 Keynote Speaker)

  1. Flip the funnel
    Joseph Jaffe kicked off the festivities encouraging everyone in the room to “flip the funnel” and spend our marketing and advertising budgets on keeping our loyal customers rather than trying to get new ones.  Treating our best customers the best encourages word-of-mouth and referrals, meaning a savings in budgets and a boom for bottom lines.
  2. Loosen the screw
    “You need to find that screw that’s loose and loosen it a bit more.”  Jay Adelson’s keynote speech was nothing short of genius and I really want/need to find a video of it to replay over and over again.  Jay reminded us that some of the best inventions and breakthroughs in technology and beyond were developed by people who were generally regarded as being nuts.  We need to bring the crazy back.
  3. Break limits
    Jay Adelson’s keynote was full of wonderful takeaways, but he also encouraged everyone to find some limits, and break them.  “If you want to make a difference in Detroit, I would say think about those limits that have been set for you – anything you’ve been told is impossible – find one and break it, because there’s no people better qualified to do that that the people in this room.”
  4. Detroit IS where it’s at
    Chris Barger, of General Motors, inspired the crowd even before he got in to his presentation about using social media as a crisis management tool.  He reminded everyone in the Royal Oak Music Theater that Detroit was the place to be once, and it’ll be the place to be once again.  Each of us sitting in that room has the power to make that happen.CleverSimon
  5. The Midwest is no longer a place you fly over
    Blagica Bottigliero reminded the audience, and everyone that she encounters in Chicago and in speaking engagements across the country (she’s a Detroit native) of the power of the Midwest.  We are worth stopping for and seeing.
  6. The iPhone has changed the way I poop
    Maybe not exactly something to keep repeating to yourself, but if the iPhone has had such a dramatic effect on @CleverSimon (so much so that Threadless has put it on a t-shirt), I can only imagine what bodily function the iPad (or other next big thing around the corner) will change.
  7. It’s Happening
    Join in or wish that you had.  Check out the opening video from Future Midwest 2010 – if that doesn’t get you amped up to get moving, please check your pulse:

Are you ready?

Don’t Be a Creeper – Engage!

You’ve heard all the buzz about this social media stuff and how important it is to be out there and listening.  So, you set up a Twitter account to monitor tweets and see what’s being said about your company or industry.

But how long are you planning on being a wallflower before you decide to get out there and join the party?

I’m not looking to point fingers or anything, but how long is too long – especially when you have followers?

DSW has had a Twitter account since March 2009, and has over 400 followers, without a single tweet.  Same thing with Target.  Their account was created in May 2009 and are approaching 1,500 followers without answering that ever so simple (and yet sometimes complicated) question “What are you doing?”  And these are just two large brands that I found in a quick search.

If two bigger brands like these are sitting on the sidelines, I can only imagine the number of small to medium size businesses that are doing the same.  At the very least, engage and post specials, deals, or sales for the upcoming week.  You don’t have to start out engaging right from the start, but at least utilize the tool for broadcasting messages to followers, especially if you have them by the hundreds without ever needing a single tweet.  Clearly, with a follower list, customers or potential customers are interested in hearing from you, even if you haven’t said anything yet.  Why not give them what they are looking for?

Don’t be that company that waits too long to get involved.  Don’t be a creeper.

Measuring Social Media: ROI and Sales vs Value

Measuring the ROI (return on investment) of social media activities is a pretty hot topic for marketers today.  Many have theories on how to measure, what to measure, and how often to measure.  But is it right for your business?

Without getting overly technical (because, let’s face it, I didn’t major in accounting/finance for a good reason), ROI is mostly defined as the ratio of sales minus investment to investment [(x – y) / y where x=sales and y=investment].  Seems simple enough, right?

The not-so-simple part comes from trying to attribute your social media activities directly to sales.  Where the water is muddied is that many confuse sales with marketing, when in reality these are two different business functions.  According to Seth Godin, “Marketing tells a story that spreads.  Sales overcomes the natural resistance to say yes.”  Simply put, sales is the measurable (at least in dollars) part of marketing.  However, there is much more to marketing than simply sales.  The bigger part of marketing involves building relationships and leveraging those relationships to hopefully then make sales.

Breaking the argument down:

If social media = marketing

And marketing ≠ sales

Therefore, we can ascertain that social media cannot be equated to sales (by manipulating that whole transitive theory stuff from high school math).

My contention here is that just because social media cannot be measured directly in terms of sales, does not mean that it doesn’t increase the likelihood of sales (afterall, the purchasing decision is a complicated one and social media involvement can play a role in that) and thus does pose value to businesses.

I know, all fascinating stuff, but what does it mean to your business?  It means that as business leaders, we need to realize that not all business activities can be directly measured in dollars coming in the door, but that doesn’t mean we stop (or never start) doing them.  Just as many times sponsoring a charitable activity many times can lead to dollars floating out the door rather than in, that doesn’t mean that as a business you stop being charitable.  Businesses realize that this leads to building relationships within your community, bridging gaps, and sending out the good vibes about your organization as being one that gives, cares, and participates.

Social media is just bringing this to a different level.  It generates value for your organization that may not be directly attributed to sales, but definitely contributes.  Your business needs to find a way to benchmark, set parameters, and define what value this brings to your particular business as this won’t be the same across the board.

I’m not aware of any of my friends or colleagues who have purchased a product or service on the sole basis of a tweet or Facebook post, so we as businesses should stop trying to measure our social media activities as if this is true.

When Companies Shouldn’t Use Social Media: Top 3 Excuses that Will Simply Backfire

I’ve seen a great deal of articles, blogs, and conversations out there surrounding the concept of whether or not social media is right for businesses.  There are some very poignant reasons to get involved, engage, and listen.  The question of whether businesses should think about engaging in social media activities is an easy one to answer.  Every business should certainly consider it, but should definitely weigh the pros and cons and see if it is the right fit for their organization.

Here’s a list of reasons why a company shouldn’t jump right out there and start tweeting or building that fan page:

  1. Everyone’s doing it. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?  Seems a little silly to put it in the same perspective as a lecture from Mom and Dad, but when you break it down – is it that drastically different?  Successful businesses hardly make strategic decisions based upon the notion that “everyone else is doing it, so we should.”  You shouldn’t look at or operate your business as if it were in a vacuum.  Some things just make good business sense, and some things don’t.  You need to evaluate which one of those things social media is to your specific business.
  2. Our competition is doing it. Although this sounds like a far better reason than “everyone’s doing it,” it still could be the wrong answer for businesses.  Is your competition doing it, and doing it well?  Are they floundering around without a clear direction or purpose, offering you an opportunity to seize?  Maybe there is a reason they are failing – but can you identify what that is and correct so as to not repeat?
  3. We have people here who use social media, so they could totally do that for the business too. Whoa, whoa there.  Personal use of social media and social networking sites can be far different terrain than using it for business purposes.  Take it from someone who’s seen the short-end of where that line blurs.  Just because you have an employee (or employees) who seem well versed in posting Facebook status updates on what they’re doing that weekend or sending out tweets about the latest and greatest iPhone apps, doesn’t mean they are qualified to just transition into engaging with customers via the same tools.  There’s a certain etiquette that can be involved that must be understood before jumping in with both feet.

All in all, I strongly encourage businesses of all forms to engage in some kind of social media activities to supplement or enhance their business.  My premise is that the reasons outlined above aren’t the justification that you should be using when making that pitch to upper management.  The “me too” mentality might have worked for getting curfew extended another hour, but doesn’t always work here.