The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

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In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

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People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

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I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

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With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.

Pink, Thomas the Train and Other Choices

We had a week of fun with Soleil. Her third birthday on Tuesday was a blast, and of course last night was Halloween. Soleil was Cinderella, her favorite princess.

People often remark about her love of princesses, all things pink and purple, shoes, kitties, and babies. She’s a girly-girl they say, and we agree, because she likes these things and most boys do not.

But Soleil is more than that. She likes to chase her Daddy and jump all over him while is sleeping (much to my chagrin). Soleil loves Thomas the Train, and trains in general. She also likes playing with building blocks and gears. We already discussed her crazy toddler passion for technology.

I worry about this girly-girl labeling more than I probably should. It seems that’s what we do as humans, afix labels and concepts on people, judge and put them into a box, and assume that’s going to be their life.

Roles Evolve

So you can see I fear that Soleil will become boxed into a submissive girly-girl life. Fortunately roles have evolved for women, but there are many hurdles to overcome as any good Marissa Mayer debate reveals.

I try not to interfere with Soleil’s predilections to like certain things, though I did put my foot down on My Little Pony. God, that’s mindless drivel. She does get to ride lots of ponies and horses, though.

Soleil should be exactly who she is, and that’s OK whether she becomes a powerful executive or a homemaker or anything else. The world is her oyster if she is willing to work for it, and that’s my primary message. There’s nothing wrong with an engineer who wears pink and purple. Or whatever color her evolving fashion palette determines is right.

I want to be present for her during this time. She has a fantastic life ahead of her, and there is much to see, wherever her path takes her. More than anything, I want her to have choices, the ability to discern consequence, and the education to engage intelligently in these acts of mindfulness.

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Obviously, we have the holidays coming up. Rather than spoil her with everything she wants, her gifts will be distributed. For her birthday, she got a baby doll and a kitchen set. By the way, I cook as well, so in Soleil’s mind, I’m pretty sure kitchen life is gender neutral. Nevertheless, there is the historical baggage the kitchen brings.

To compromise and give her choices beyond stereotype, her Hanukkah gift will be a Thomas the Train set. She may never use it (I doubt that), but at least she will have a choice. Daddy is happy to play with trains or wood tomatoes, alike.

Christmas is yet to be determined. The joys of growing up in multicultural house!

Presence in All Paths

Soleil had her three year check-up this week, and it appears that she will be a tall woman. The doctor thinks roughly 5’8″ or 5’9″. I wonder what she will be like, whether the princess phase is permanent and she becomes a model, or if she’ll jump on sand instead of my back and become a volleyball player, or…

There are many paths. They are for her to choose.

My/our job is to be present, and help her learn responsibility, the power of choice, good and bad, and then to empower her as much as possible to succeed.

It really is an honor to be a parent. I am so very grateful to have Soleil in my life.

What do you think?

P.S. Just a reminder that I wll be fundraising for my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) today. If you’d like to help me or the other dozen individuals fundraising, here are two easy actions:

1) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. More than a hundred of people have already signed up to blast out a timed Tweet at noon on November 1 to launch the Big Give. If you’re interested in joining, sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/5673-support-the-ncflbiggive?locale=en

Please consider making a donation. Just $25 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

The Screen Time Dilemma

Like most parents, I am concerned with my daughter Soleil’s welfare and education. One of the most disconcerting things about this time period is her interest in video and games, and what is an often poor reaction to being separted from the media.

Soleil throws sever temper tantrums when she video and ipad time ends, which is now causing us to discipline her more frequently. Specifically, we are using corner time, room time, restricted access to video, and grounding to work through this period.

She doesn’t go to school yet, but her start is imminent (waiting on pddy training to take hold). Until then we’re actively reading with her and more. We’d love interactive games and fun learning to be a part of this. She’ll need the skills to succeed later in life, but the impact on her mental and emotional development requires close moderation of use and access.

The Need to Be Engaged

With education in the United States continuing to deteriorate (41st int he world), parents need to be more involved in their children’s welfare. It’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s education. It’s not enough to go on autopilot and let schools and tools (technology and media) lead the way.

This is one of the reasons why I am thrilled to help my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) with its first annual Big Give, or the #BigGive4Families, this November 1. More on this at the end, but in short NCFL’s mission is to use the family as the focal point for learning.

I think that’s more imperative now, thanks to technology. Digital media are advancing so quickly that parents have to be actively involved in their child’s activities. There are many unexpected traps.

One example is the application PBS Kids. PBS offers great programming, but it’s also addictive and creates the Soleil zombie state where she won’t do anything else, and then throws temper tantrums upon separation. Perhaps that’s Soleil’s personality at play, but I would normally feel safe trading on the PBS name. Sorry Daniel the Tiger, but access to you has become restricted (My Little Pony, too).

Screen time behavior is the biggest challenge facing Soleil right now, so all in all, we have high quality problems. Soon she’ll start Montesori school, which has no tech, no phones lying around, etc, and that will help. Notice that we are sending her to private school.

It is my intent to make sure she has the opportunity to participate in the finest schools possible. If that means going to private shcool, then I will work to make it happen.

To be a part of Soleil’s growth, I make sacrifices, the same sacrifices that many parents choose; keeping that camera another year, buying a lesser version of a car, eating out less often, etc. Most importantly, I sacrifice my time. I stay up late and wake up early to work, so I can spend more time with her. I know spending time with Soleil on education dramatically improves her learning process, and increases her chances of a prosperous life.

Many families don’t have access to the education resources that I do, nor do they have the knowledge to learn with their children. Because of cost and the deterioration of the country’s educations system, I feel very strongly that NCFL’s work is necessary.

If you’d like to help me or the more than a dozen individuals fundraising during the #NCFLBigGive, here are two easy actions:

1) It may seem obvious, but if you can’t fundraise the best way to help us make our goal is to donate to my personal fundraiser on November 1 or before. Even $50 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

2) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. Hundreds of people will blast out a timed Tweet on November 1 to launch the Big Give. Just sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest.

How do you handle access to phones, TVs and other forms of screen-based media with your children?

P.S. Though NCFL is my client, fundraising is not part of my scope of work. I architected the big give, but also decided to fundraise because I believe in the cause.

Will Media Make Our Children Think Differently?

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Semantic data, smaller screens, texting, social media, short videos, network update streams, augment reality, and more continue to evolve the way we receive information from both new and traditional email. As each new innovation arrives and evolves, people ask whether or not the new XXXX is harming our youth. Will they will be unable to think logically or effectively? Perhaps the right way to look at this is to ask whether they will think differently.

Inevitably, the answer is yes. Their media information environment is dramatically different than the childhood we remember so fondly.

Currently, there is much concern about literacy, and the state of language with texting and short form media. In actuality, what new media seems to be doing is increasing spelling skills and literacy. However, face-to-face skills may be suffering. Meanwhile, the iPad is revolutionizing learning with more than 40,000 education applications.

But, generally speaking, we have seen a decline in the general public’s ability to discern quality information with the rise of social media. As online media becomes more prevalent, it increases the amount of reading an individual is subjected to in their daily lives. More and more of it is headline oriented, and less and less of it is text rich. Sources are not validated, and this is already creating problems with poor media reporting, much less the general public’s belief in unproven data.

Mobile and tactile media continues this trend, leaning towards shorter media, less text, and more video. While this is a natural trend, there is no emphasis on quality or on educating people and youth on how to intelligently discern what is fact, what is fiction, and what is actionable. Further, they are not being taught how to create quality information either.

Adding to the face-to-face issues, we have already seen how millennials and generation xers will text to each other in a room rather than talk. Relationship break-ups are now occurring via text message. There is a general devolution or devaluing of face-to-face interaction that technologies inherently bring.

Yet, is this bad, or is it just change? Was the telephone and televisions’s impact on local neighbors any different? Would you get rid of voice and video technologies because of it?

Point being, media is changing. It changes us, and the way we behave towards each other, but that doesn’t make it good or bad, just different. The waters move further down river, and we need to move with them. Our children simply have an easier time of it.

What do you think of new media’s impact on the next generation?