How Does One Evolve Successfully?

The statement that we must evolve may seem obvious to many. Heads nod, people murmur their agreement, and they share their experiences.

Understanding what is coming next and how to evolve a skill set to meet that change both represent different problems. But to some the risks of failure, of looking like a fool used to far outweigh the rewards. Instead, people play it safe letting the young and the bold take the risks. So in my mind, successful evolution begins with an attitudinal shift, one that will become necessary for a majority of the workforce over the next few years.

The time of letting others innovate and then catching up when a trend becomes the norm is passing. A next generation of executives – millennials – are rising to the fore. Unlike Baby Boomers and to a lesser extent Gen Xers, millennials are less vested in tools and processes. Workers must embrace never-ending change.Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, authors of When Millennials Take Over for xPotomac (post running on Wednesday). They discussed how generally millennials will simply move to the next tool set if it works better. There is little attachment to prior best practices. If something offers a better way, millennials simply migrate.

This new attitude towards change will become increasingly prevalent in the workforce. To stay relevant people must embrace change. Otherwise the consequences include limited career paths and possible unemployment.

Change with New Media

Slack

Changes come in a variety of forms, from workspace structure and layout to simple changes in media types. The latter is oft discussed because they affect so many people.

Here is a current example: xPotomac co-founders Shonali Burke and Patrick Ashamalla wanted to use Slack to help foster our dialogue and communications. For those of you who are not familiar with Slack, it is a next generation messaging service that does a better job of threading and storing conversations. Slack is generating impressive growth as more and more people use the service and share it with their friends.

I was reticent to use Slack given that I am already on Google Talk and Skype, but they gently nudged me. Sure enough, the conversations have been easier to access and maintain. It would be helpful to have Slack better integrated into other tools, but overall it is an improvement for workplace messaging. So on it goes. Adios Google Talks.

The only reason why I experimented was because both Shonali and Patrick touted the values of Slack. I listened. Here was a majority of the three vouching for the new.

Whenever I hear multiple sources tell me about a new method or tool, I force myself to set aside the old and begin experimenting. I have to lay aside prejudices. Experience has taught me that the new will always replace old, sooner or later. When I avoid the new, I miss new tools and become antiquated.

When Pinterest broke out, I scorned the social network. Today, it is one of the most powerful networks out there. As a result I had to play catch up, and learn about Pinterest. I possess enough knowledge about the network to guide clients, but I’ll never be a leader in the world of Pinners. The time of early adoption passed me by.

The Value of Short Term Memory

19388359118_fb530150d9_k

One attitude I try to practice is maintaining a short-term memory. Specifically, I intentionally try not to get stuck on past best practices, tools and technologies. Things change so quickly it’s not worth hardlining an older approach. It’s best to stay in the moment.

This willingness to forget is very intentional for me. I basically have to force myself to set aside skepticism (I guess that disqualifies me as a millennial). It’s important to approach things with an open mind, and without the baggage of preconceived notions.

To be fair, not every new medium or technology is a winner for me. Some are just the shiny object du jour. Others just don’t fit into my business or personal life. What’s important is that I am willing to try them. And if they don’t work, then I must forget them just as easily as I would forget an old technology or method.

It was interesting to see Chris Brogan openly experiment with and eventually reject Periscope as a tool last week. He saw its value for others, but ultimately decided it didn’t work within his media mix. I get that, often finding video to be difficult to incorporate (at least with the budgets I have to work within).

Moving forward, will I usually turn away from video? Probably not. At some point, a new format will make it the right medium to communicate in, or budgets will increase to produce the kind of videos I believe in, or video will become easier for me to produce. It would be smart to lay aside past experiences and experiment yet again.

Yeah, But…

19971268142_7a2300ae4e_k

Attitude is the first thing. But without the methods and means to adapt to change, it’s like having a bike with a flat tire. You still get nowhere.

How can someone evolve their skills successfully and not get caught off guard? Part of that is foreseeing change as it is happening or is about to happen, and the second part is rapid adoption of new skills.

There is more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers

8640301378_327b8be96c

Marketing today remains a great challenge, in large part because of the consistently changing technology and media landscape. Informational sources (conferences, blogs, etc.) consistently address these challenges yet the issues persist.

It may be time to take a step back on a macro level and look at how education and information sources are meeting these challenges.

Here are the seven daunting difficulties for today’s communicators, each followed by an idea or three on how to address them. Please add your own thoughts.

Continue reading

Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander

Spring at Georgetown Campus

Later today I will guest lecture at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on the general state of social media for the Social Technology Marketing MBA class.

I usually write out my thoughts before speaking. Here’s what I’ll be talking about today. Please comment if you’d like to suggest something, I’ve got a few hours to cram (yikes!).

1) Social Media Gets Bigger

We have entered the post adoption phase of social media in America.

Even a significant minority of senior citizens use social media. As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day Pew Internet.

Now that businesses realize social won’t go away, and they intend to invest more marketing dollars.

The most recent CMO Survey (August) showed social media investment continuing to rise. This year social commands 7.6% of the overall budget with an expectation to increase beyond 10% in the next 12 months, and to 19% of the total spend in the next five years.

Continue reading

Inescapable Groupthink

Mass Yoga

Often cursed by reactionary pundits responding to the popular, groupthink remains an inescapable behavior pattern in social networks.

For those unfamiliar, groupthink is when a community’s desire for harmony overrides rational examination of ideas and concepts. Conflict is stamped out in favor of consensus.

So long as people act in tribal ways, we will always have groupthink regardless of media, idealism, culture or geography.

Continue reading

Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin – 1st Edition

Welcome to Microsoft Research building 99
Image by Robert Scoble

In an effort to better serve readers with value added content, every month “Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin” will be sent to interested readers. The Bulletin encapsulates all of the new interesting market research studies over the past month that seem worth sharing in one place. Sign up today if you are interested in this free email newsletter.

The below is an abbreviate version of the first newsletter sent to subscribers yesterday.

Geoff’s Market Research Bulletin, September, 2011

Curated by Geoff Livingston, written by Henry T. Dunbar

Social Networking Growth Slows

A new study from the Pew Research Service’s Internet and American Life Project reports 65% of all American adults online are using some social networking site (which is up from 61% a year ago). This is the first time we have seen social media growth drop to single digit rate, indicating the late majority and final phase of adoption has begun.

A more interesting milestone might be that for the first time, a majority of ALL Americans are using online social networks (there being a small percentage that don’t use the internet at all). Furthermore, the growth is coming largely from older demographics. The under-30 age groups were stable while the 50-64 age group grew from 20% to 32%. Finally, the study also reported that most users gave a positive response when asked to describe their experience in social networking, indicating that once they’ve tested the waters, many are opting to stay.

Like It or Not: You May Be Defined by a Single Search Term

For an interesting peak behind the curtain of marketing research, read comScore blogger Eli Goodman’s August 29 post. In it he reviews three sets of comparative search terms and demonstrates how market researchers can parse the demographic data available to help deliver relevant results (read ads) to the searchers. This is a practice he says is being used increasingly and with more sophistication.

By breaking down the data on who searches for Google+ vs. Facebook, iPhone vs. Android, and Red Sox vs. Yankees, Goodman shows how market researchers quickly deduce from that lone word that a Google+ searchers are younger and wealthier, cellphone searchers are generally about the same, and that Yankee fans are much more geographically diverse. While is generally known that this is going on (we all see the interesting ads that pop up on our screens) it’s another thing to see how they do it. It is also enough to give us pause we turn to our browser to find the latest new gizmo.

Location Apps Are Popular

In looking at groups of location-based applications on mobile devices, the Pew Research Service’s Internet and American Life Project recently reported that 28% of American adults have used at least one of them. The services included using phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location, using phones to check into geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, and setting social media service to automatically report their location.

Most cellphone location service users fall into the first category, with latter two of these activities only representing single-digit percentages of cell and internet users (5% and 9% respectively). Digging a little deeper into the report, there are some obvious finds (younger people use location services more) and some interesting divides (whites are more likely to seek location data while minorities — particularly Hispanics — are more likely to disclose their location).

3rd-Party Apps Usage on Facebook Reduces Engagement by 80%

There’s an old adage that if you want results, you have to do the work. There are no shortcuts. And it applies to social media, too. A new report from the makers of EdgeRank drove this point home last week, noting that its analysis of more than 1 million Facebook updates on 50,000 pages show that when users post updates using a 3rd-party applications like Hootsuite or TweetDeck, engagement drops, on average, by about 80%.

Theories abound as to why there is such a huge drop (that Facebook penalizes the apps or collapses their content, or even that communities regard these posts as spam), but the fact remains this is a big blow to effectiveness. What good is saving time on posting if the messages are only 20% effective? (On the other hand, using 3rd-party apps will save a lot of time on the back end because there will be no comments to respond to.) Bottom line: social media is like anything else, you get out what you put in. Take the time to manage your posts, tweets and updates from within the platform.

Defrost and Humanize

Lady Bloggers of DC
Maddie Grant, co-author of Humanize, is pictured second to the right

Ever have a conversation with brand manager who espouses things like, “The name is not exactly right, it needs to be changed to include ‘Acme, purveyor of fine goods’ and needs to be listed that way every single time, too.”? Or, “We can’t talk about the competition in a positive light. Have you run it by legal?” Or, “Take out that negative blogger!” Or… These are the common acts of brand managers who have forgotten how to add humanity to their communications.

Humanize, the about to be released book by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant next week, looks deeply into this phenomena, and how social media can help companies and nonprofits resolve it. It’s a timely book as we enter the maturation phase of social media adoption. Brands still struggle mightily with the relational aspects of the media.

The first organizational reaction has been to play cute with gimmicks, adopt conversations, while doing everything companies can to bring the old ways into new media. Social has not been about evolution. Instead adoption has been an awkward attempt to stay relevant.

This change towards publishing on social networks, social ads, spamming bloggers and brand complaint stalking on Twitter is a result of media shifts, not a desire to become more personable and likable as a brand. It’s not just the communications department either. The lack of humanity extends across organizations who are used to departmental silos and controlled actions. When in doubt, trust in the machine of beaurocracy, damn the people.

Last week, Travelers Insurance was slow to respond to complaints filed about flood coverage. However, when a hard tweet went out last Friday, a phone call was received. Matters were resolved. But you can sense the tension on the phone. This was triage, not culture. A blogger with some firepower was speaking negatively about the brand. Travelers had not responded effectively to the first tweet and calls.

How Humanize Approaches the Problem

Humanize cover 207x300

Humanize looks deeply into what it takes to shift a brand and become more personable. The book theorizes there are four elements to this shift: open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous.

“We saved courageous for last because, frankly, the problem of fear in organizations is arguably our biggest challenge,” said Maddie in a guest post on Michael Britopian’s blog. “Fear rules in our machine-based organizations. When we encounter dysfunction in our organizations, it can almost always be traced back to fear, and when we create structures and design processes, they are frequently only work-arounds to our fear, creating a kind of synthetic courage that unfortunately enables an unhealthy avoidance of the problem.”

Humanize promises to offer one of the deepest looks at the cultural challenges of social media adoption, and organizational life as a whole. In that respect alone it is a worthwhile read, for this is still the great challenge. Congratulations to Maddie and Jamie!