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Is Social Media Really This Simple?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

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Canters Deli has been serving Los Angeles since the 1930s. I recently visited for the first time, immediately knowing the place had the ingredients of genuinely good pickles and tuna fish sandwiches. Even the clanging of plates and silverware add to the atmosphere’s flavor. Waitresses deliver orders along with words of “love,” “honey,” and “sweetheart” to customers.

This is not where I expected thoughts of social media to spring up after climbing a flight of stairs. Up there, a wall of framed articles documented the restaurant’s history in the media. Photographs created a timeline of the people and stories which shape the business we see today.

The concept seems so familiar. I was reading and seeing an older generation’s version of social media. Similar to how people update their Facebook pages, the restaurant had posted on their wall (an actual wall in this case) its history dating back decades. No matter at what table people sit, they likely can see an image or story.

Seeing this while enjoying my tuna sandwich reinforced my theory that social media is not an entirely new concept. Many of us now present our own stories differently, taking advantage of today’s tools. One advantage of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the slew of social media cousins seeking seats at the adult table is these platforms allow us to tell our stories without people needing to actually visit our homes and restaurants. Reaching across the table takes on wider meaning.

However, the essence of social media is what we share. And dare I say being a person (and not a salesperson) has not changed much with the times. Yes, several social media experts act as if they are wearing white coats in science labs watching beakers bubble with formulas. If you struggle with conducting normal conversations with people, maybe you need a coach. But that would mean you need a coach in your corner whether it is 2012 or 1950. Business is relationships and building those still depend on finding common interests and sharing tidbits about ourselves. Sometimes strategies include offering coupons or gimmicks to persuade people to peek into the window or walk through the door. Sound familiar?

Some businesses don’t realize social media is a new platform, not necessarily a new way, and confuse themselves. They don’t understand how sharing pictures from the weekend makes sense. How different are such personal posts than flipping open a wallet years ago and showing someone you just met pictures of friends and family?

On The Flip Side, your Facebook page should not replace the face-to-face timeline you see at a deli like Canters. Take advantage of today’s more advanced tools, but don’t forget the effectiveness of also sharing stories firsthand over pickles and sandwiches.

Social Media: Do Promoted Tweets Work?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

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When Apple released its latest software update for iPhones, one new feature intrigued me more than others: spoken, turn-by-turn directions from Apple Maps.

I wondered if this app would allow me to replace the GPS I place on my vehicle’s dashboard. And would I no longer need to pay to regularly update a GPS?

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The spoken part of the turn-by-turn navigation is not available for my older iPhone.

A few days later, I saw the promoted Tweet at the top of this blog:

“@MapQuest: Free voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation for *EVERY* iPhone – ”

I almost always skip over promoted Tweets. I don’t even read them most of the time. It’s as if I see out of the corner of my eye the small symbol representing the promoted Tweet and quickly avoid looking at it. I’m seeing (and not reading) more promoted Tweets. I’m receiving more messages encouraging me to promote a Tweet myself. I wasn’t buying any of it.

But the Tweet promoted by MapQuest stopped my scrolling finger in its tracks. It was as if I were the Tweet’s ideally drawn up target audience. I favorited the Tweet and later tried out MapQuest’s spoken, turn-by-turn navigational app, making myself the almost too perfect example of using social media to convert readers into customers.

Do promoted Tweets work? For me personally, not most of the time. Only one has spoken to me. However, in a game such as baseball, success is reached by getting a hit only 30% of the time. Someone might argue my one example shows how well promoted Tweets can succeed.

I’m also curious if this example was simply a successful shot in the dark or part of a well-crafted strategy. Did MapQuest somehow know I needed spoken navigation? Did people with no need see the same Tweet?

One of social media’s most difficult aspects is ROI. Some of those considered experts sound like professors when writing about ROI, but I often feel like they’re full of it and put emphasis on statistics that mean little in reality. Sharing anecdotes might be just as important in determining what in social media actually works.

Is secret agent DNA built into dogs?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

 

When I round the hallway corner in the morning, I sometimes hear my dog Molly subtly step off the couch after trespassing there overnight. When I walk away from a half-eaten paper plate of food, Molly glances back at me, strategizing when she might make a move based on my positioning in the house. When she is in the backyard and her nose is sniffing perilously close to something it shouldn’t, she searches for my face peering at her through a window.

These examples indicate secret agent DNA might be built into dogs. But if such training is part of canine culture, then one particular class is horribly absent from the curriculum:  the art of rummaging through trash.

I returned home to find the contents of a garbage bag lined up along the kitchen floor as if a parade passed through. No one did this other than the dog and yet she made no effort at a cover-up. She made a mess and left it all behind as if convinced I would believe a strong wind seeped through or the invisible man stopped by for scraps.

Go through the trash but for goodness sake, if for no other reason than pride, put the Hefty bag back together again. Whatever pooch acts as president over the canine world needs to take bold action and finally address this flaw in dog sneakiness.

Until then, the same set of circumstances plays out. The homeowner returns and scolds dog, who slinks away for a dumpster diver that took place hours ago. Please, for the dignity of dog kind, bring in a consultant if necessary.

If a dog can sneak a nap on the couch and carefully time out when to swipe a plate, he or she can certainly cover her tracks to and from the trash.

Modern Love: A Man In Lovers’ Lane

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

 

I’ve been witnessing a series of events bringing into question the assumption many men are not emotionally available. The man I’ve been observing is 70 years old, reinforcing my unscientific theory that men soften with age. He is decades from when his visits to college football games included fistfights. He is a generation away from the F-bomb assault he once dropped on a man who towed his car. He is a different man.

He carefully chose his partner. He enjoys telling his son about her greatest features. He loves talking to her and is patient when she doesn’t understand him. If he wakes up early, he ensures he is by her side. And I often see him with his hands all over her, caressing her, protecting her. He even stayed up until 2am researching how to treat her better.

I won’t name him. But her name is BMW X5. After trying out several others, he finally made it official with BMW X5. I knew this was more than a casual fling when he bought extra mats to protect her floor mats.

The man’s wife woke up early one morning and noticed her husband not in bed. He was in BMW X5. His research on how to properly wax her kept him up into the wee hours of the night. I’m afraid of touching BMW X5. And when I tried talking to her navigational system, she gave me the silent treatment. I’m sure I just wasn’t the right guy. I wasn’t the guy in the driver’s seat.

But I’m happy he is happy. She is big and beautiful and dressed in leather. They will share his family, friends and America’s roads traveling the country together.

When his wife drives BMW X5 alone and returns home, I’m sure he conducts his own 12-point inspection. His wife understands. She laughs about it. Call it ménage à car.

Meeting a pet with your same name

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

 

I’m watching a movie. One of the characters is named Molly. Molly also is the name of the terrier-German shepherd mix sleeping on my carpet.

A human Molly once stopped by. I told her my dog also is Molly. That felt awkward. Did she mind that I found her name suitable for my dog?

I did not name Molly. I rescued her and she came with that name. I didn’t change it. I didn’t want to confuse her.

I once read Molly is one of the most common names for dogs. I hope this doesn’t bother human Mollys. But I don’t know. I never met a dog named Keith. I honestly don’t think I would mind. But I might feel weird if I met a dog named Keith Yaskin.

When I was growing up, pets had pet names. My Dalmatian was Bandit. My orange cat was Frisky. His mother was Bootsy. After college, I adopted a tabby and named her Chicago after the city.

But if more pets are taking human names, should humans take pet names? I can imagine an old man named Frisky or a cowboy named Bootsy.

I must acknowledge in the past, when I worked with someone I really didn’t like, I sometimes day dreamed of adopting a pet and naming it after that person. I smiled, thinking of walking into work and explaining to that co-worker I just adopted a really ugly dog. You see where I’m going.

Molly is a very good dog. She brings a few bad habits to the dinner table. I think if human Mollys met her, they might appreciate the connection to such a good-hearted and loving creature. Molly is protective. She stands her ground against anyone or anything when necessary. But she doesn’t hold a grudge. She’s patient and by your side. She is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t mind having a beard.

Maybe it’s Molly who should wonder if some humans are worthy of her name.

Have you met a pet with your name?

At some point in our lives, we are taught telling the full truth is too dicey

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Someone called me a “romantic.” It had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.

Earlier that morning, I got into a heated exchange with someone providing me customer service. Her answers are not what bothered me most. Her lack of direct answers bothered me. I asked yes or no questions and she provided answers that did not involve yes or no. Her answers sounded more like theory or philosophy where words drift in the air and fade away without true meaning.

A while back, I sometimes posted Tweets with the hashtag #waronbs or #nomorebs. I’m talking more than politicians, who make statements, get criticism and then claim they need to “clarify” their remarks. Think about it. How many people are truly left who keep it real or tell it like it is?

We live in a world where not returning repeated e-mails or phone calls seems standard. And when people return our phone calls, they often prefer to control the conversation by responding with texts and emails.

When people say something went wrong due to a “miscommunication,” how often do they really mean, “someone screwed up”?

When a friend says she hasn’t returned your message because she’s been swamped, how often does she mean she actually had more important things to do? Let’s keep it real. Even though that friend was busy, I bet she included time to update Facebook or eat lunch, moments she could have called.

At some point in our lives, we are taught telling the full truth is too dicey. Telling your boss the truth might make your job less secure. Telling your customer the facts might sound cold and callous. Telling your friend the reality of the situation might hurt her feelings.

We all know people who pride themselves on being direct and straightforward. Too often, they are the very ones who send texts when the toughest times of truth come calling.

Much of the media, our longtime truth seekers, can’t shoot straight. After another reporter aired a story, I often heard in the newsroom the “real” story. That part never made air.

Email, texts and social media allow spin to thrive. Less often, we are forced to communicate face-to-face, where we might reveal real feelings. Instead, we write well-crafted emails better suited for an English class. We read them over and over. We ask someone else’s opinion. We try to tell someone “off” in the softest, kindest way with a cherry on top. The email ends with “Thank you.” Sometimes I end an email with “thank you” and don’t know why.

So someone called me a “romantic” because I still expect a straight answer. He also told me civility has slipped away in our society. I don’t know. I didn’t live through the 1950s. I can’t compare a range of decades.

I’m not arguing for more conversations with four-letter words. I’m proposing more professional, respectful conversations where we say what we mean and not use words that serve no other purpose than to make people feel better. Do you really believe the public figure needed to “clarify” his words or was “misunderstood”? When your friend claimed he was busy the last six months, did you really believe it?

If you don’t like this blog, I will clarify my remarks later. Thank you.

 

Indiana Jones and the lost art of public relations

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

We called a company to request what the industry refers to as a “courtesy credit. ” We first navigated the phone system, which requires the talents of Indiana Jones minus the hat and whip. The feeling of finally finding a real person must be similar to Indiana’s relief when he’s defeated all obstacles and the treasure is safely in hand.

What we didn’t anticipate was a customer service representative who, intentionally or not, liked to lay down some verbal booby traps. He explained our account didn’t qualify for a courtesy credit. Why? He listed possible reasons. Which reason applied to us? He didn’t know.

We asked if we could speak to someone else who might further assist us with our request. He said yes, but our statement apparently wasn’t clear enough. After some silence, he asked whom we were interested in talking to. “Your mother! We would like to talk to your mother and explain you’re being difficult.” We actually asked for a supervisor, which we thought was obvious but clearly needed to spell out in more detail. After another pregnant pause, customer secret agent man double-checked if we wanted to speak to a supervisor now as if scheduling a call for next month might be an option. When agreeing to make the connection, he couldn’t help but point out moving up the chain might not help.

When the supervisor later joined us, she might as well been his mother. She was nice, sweet, professional and granted our courtesy credit as if she was handing us a batch of chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk. Her son seemed more like Dennis The Menace or Mr. Mayhem we see in those insurance commercials laughing at us at the other end of the line. Yes, we got our courtesy credit but after how much frustration and time wasted?

Give your front line employees some authority to make simple decisions that require mostly a strong dose of common sense. If employees can’t give what customers want, give them the tools to specifically explain why. If customers want to speak to supervisors or someone’s mom, train employees not to treat the request like an act of Congress. And don’t encourage those on the customer service team to discourage customers from seeking a supervisor’s help. Employees often tell us supervisors may not offer us a different result but they almost always do.

We don’t have an Indiana Jones hat handy. But sometimes we desperately feel like we need one.

How I used social media to sell a 15-year-old car with 173,500 miles in 35 minutes

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

My first new set of wheels was a forest green, 1996 Jeep Cherokee. It’s been most places I’ve been and brings up many memories. Back in a North Carolina snowfall, I once locked the keys inside when it was still running. My Dad and I drove it across country with my cat. My cat, so distressed about an outing to the vet, once peed in the passenger’s seat. I made countless efforts to do away with that stench. Loren, during our second date, pretended to ignore the scent while sitting in the same spot. My Jeep performed amazingly well during its 173,500 miles on our road of adventures.

My Dad recently took ownership of the Jeep and decided to put it up for sale. We hadn’t sold a vehicle in many years. My Mom talked about parking the Jeep with a for sale sign on a street corner. That seemed to go against my philosophy of knowing your target audience. My Dad talked about placing an ad in the newspaper. I told him fewer people read the papers since the last time he sold a car. We also discussed websites specializing in selling cars. Ebay Motors was mentioned.

I recommended trying social media first. Tell your friends and family first, right? Tell people in your network. I told my Dad to shoot pictures of the Jeep. I would publish the pictures on social media. If the effort failed, we would have a go at more traditional methods.

I tried LinkedIn and Twitter first. Shortly after 9:30 Friday morning, I posted the following message on LinkedIn. “Please let me know if you are interested in buying this 1996 Jeep Cherokee Sport for $1,200? Contact me for details. Thank you.” I included one picture, the same photo you see above. The first reply arrived in my in-box two minutes later. I exchanged e-mails with a number of people. Thirty-five minutes after I posted the orginal LinkedIn message, I received a reply with the following words: “I’ll take it.”

Using social media, I sold a 15-year-old car with 173,500 miles in 35 minutes. And I sold it for the asking price of $1200.

Some of my former co-workers mocked me for driving such an old vehicle. An old friend on Facebook asked me jokingly if I still locked The Club on the steering wheel. My Dad gassed up the Jeep at Costco and someone who saw the for-sale sign asked to look under the hood. He then offered $1200 and said he had the cash at home. He was second in line to the LinkedIn buyer. An owner of a local restaurant wanted to visit and look at the Jeep, but she was third in line. The guy on Facebook who said he’d pay full asking price was fourth on the waiting list.

Maybe I got lucky. Maybe there’s something about an old Jeep my cat and I never appreciated. But using my social media network, I speedily found people who I never knew had such interest in cars. The following line is worth repeating:

Using social media, I sold a 15-year-old car with 173,500 miles in 35 minutes.

The Flip Side’s Video on The Monkey, The Mermaid and The Money

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Being Mr. Mom is Manly

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I spent a portion of the weekend watching Mr. Mom. I’m convinced the movie is on a list of films cable TV plugs in when schedules need to fill a cinematic hole. I’ve watched Michael Keaton play Mr. Mom more times than I’ve seen him dress up as the dark Cape Crusader. But this experience affected me differently.

This time I tuned in more to the movie’s message about difficult, economic times. I connected to the father who, to the theme music of Rocky, eventually approached raising kids and running a home with the same strategic tenacity as he approached his job as a car engineer.

I once dreamed of appearing on television as a network correspondent. I imagined myself based in a sophisticated city living off laptops and hotel rooms, occasionally looking at life through the window. But during my last few years as a TV reporter, I began to realize the number of times I missed a family moment while I covered a story (or sat in a meeting) that provided little passion for me. Something struck me. No matter how good I was or how good I got at my career, the achievement would bring minor fame and respect from colleagues. Then they would move onto the rest of their lives.

Even the most renowned members of our industries gain brief notoriety and if they really hit it big, might be remembered by pop culture or by insiders who appreciate the nuances of their field of interest. Woodward and Bernstein are legends, but I don’t daydream about them on a regular basis or find serenity by contemplating their achievements. My path in local news was not about to disrupt government corruption at the highest levels and leaping to a network would ensure I would miss years of family time. I might travel the world and meet leaders as a network journalist, but in the end, I would be a legend in my own mind.

My true legacy will live on only with family. They learn from me. I learn from them. Like many men if not most, I once feared earning the lesser of two salaries. I once feared not meeting manly standards. But after years of conference room meetings, covering big stories, being recognized and watching office politics swirl around me, I was done with that scenario. I proved I can survive and excel in that environment and it bored and frustrated me.

A friend told me, even if financially feasible, he could not stay home with the kids. He wasn’t built for that. I laughed inside. That’s all I wanted. My work achievements quickly paled in comparison to teaching children values and being beside them for the simple things in life. While I build my new business under my rules and by my time, my schedule is flexible for family. I’m probably more passionate about work than in years because I found the balance I desperately sought. I don’t need a rush hour drive, a desk, daily meetings and live shots to define who I am. What’s more manly (or perhaps crazy) than turning down a regular two-week paycheck to blaze your own trail?

While building The Flip Side, I might also turn into a mom taxi or start cooking some dinners. I might take pride in an organized house with the same zeal I take pride in writing a perfect script. I’ve already learned the challenge of a corporate job and maintaining a household are equally daunting. Mr. Mom eventually shaved his beard, dumped the old T-shirt, stopped feeling sorry for himself and learned building a family was as or more important than building a car. If being manly is succeeding at a good job with a good salary, then I earned my man card long ago and played the role of stud. And if sometimes playing dad, Mr. Mom and business owner aren’t enough to meet society’s and my own expectations of being a man, I’ll go cut down some trees, change a high up light bulb or drive around the family taxi while wearing my Miami Dolphins cap and rubbing the stubble covering my face. Instead of building a false legacy, I’ll be manly my way. Just don’t ask me to buy a mini-van.