Being an Influencer Is Not a Top Priority

Many people engage in online media to promote their services. The idea of choosing between becoming an online influencer or a communicator probably doesn’t occur to them. After all, they just want to win a few clients and projects.

I reached a point where I needed to prioritize my own online interactions versus a desire to do the work, scale a business, and maintain balance in my personal life. Some are able to build larger agencies and businesses that coincide with significant online profiles, but I struggle to do both. So a choice was needed. In many ways, it is a living decision, one that I constantly need to reinforce.

Last week, a top 100 influencers metric came out, as usual based on Twitter reach, though this time it measured the reach of persona’s following, specifically “how many people are following those followers.” I guess that’s potential RT reach? Anyway, I am not sure how that translates to influence, but many friends whom I do consider to be influential were deservedly on the list. My congratulations to them.

As I watched the usual accolades posted on my social streams, I grew jealous. I could have been on that list if I’d only chosen to focus on my personal network growth over the past few years. But then I reminded myself about my choices. I was able to detach.

How This Choice Impacted Me

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I secured an opportunity for my client Cade Martin serve as the primary portrait photographer for the NBA Wives Association (Behind the Bench) black tie gala last weekend. Cade is photographing MLB great Prince Fielder here. Check out all of his shots.

Many who have known me over the past 10 years would agree that I am not as prolific as I used to be online. I am a practitioner now, not an uber-influencer on the social media conference speaking circuit. Ratcheting it back was necessary to achieve those other objectives.

Instead, I am present enough to contribute to the larger conversation and market my business. Further, I use the tools to demonstrate competency with social media, particularly with my photography.

Frankly, I feel like online tools like Twitter, this blog and others are awesome, but they can blind you. You think the attention is necessary to succeed, but it takes a lot of energy and time to keep that influencer flywheel turning. Plus the necessary, um, political schmoozing is not my favorite activity. So I made and continue to make the choice to focus on other things.

This decision hasn’t been unkind to me. I earn a bit more than I used to, and I have better family relationships.

Having attained the right balance, I believe I am still credible to clients. At the same time, my intent is to promote them first, and not myself. I guess that’s old school, the client should be in the limelight, and not me.

Perhaps I have become just a member of the community rather than one of the top voices. Others have taken the mantle, and today, it seems some leaders are newer voices, at least to this old man. I kind of like that. Perhaps it is time for the next generation of influencers.

Me, I just want to build a good business, and do what is necessary online. My time as an uber-influencer — real or imagined — has passed.

RFP: Request for Pain

Having done two mandatory tours of duty in the big agency world, I understand the RFP process. It’s a necessary evil to win most large accounts. However as a small business, I find them to be downright painful. An RFP ought to be called a Request for Pain.

As a small business owner, RFPs are extremely taxing. Consider that in a large or mid-size agency you have business development and senior staff dedicated to winning this kind of business. In a small agency like mine, you are basically pulling time from a very limited resource pool. Instead of focusing on local networking events, phone calls, building relationships online, and developing useful content, you spend 20, 40, 60 or more hours building a proposal and pitch.

The odds of winning RFPs are not good when you are small. I would say the same thing for a large agency, but is easier to dedicate the resources and mitigate the risk.

You almost always have to have a prior relationship, and get the RFP written to you, or intelligence to help you shape your pitch. There is almost always a favorite or two in the dance.

If you do not have a prior relationship, question whether it is worth your time. Many times the third through fifth firms have been referred as good agencies that might be able to do the job, but the odds are long. In the cases were the RFP is hard-wired, some or all of players three through five are asked because they can’t win. They have a glaring flaw.

In the case of a small agency, size is almost always in issue. In a wired RFP, a small agency is an easy kill. Scaling questions must be addressed to the client’s satisfaction. Sometimes this is overcome with a focus on niches, such as community management or social media content. With larger contracts, though, even the ability to scale quality niche work becomes an issue. Most large companies don’t want to deal with a network of consultants and small boutiques to achieve scale. Can you blame them?

People do business with people they like. So if there is no relationship, you have to become the darling of the potential client very quickly and get the same type of intelligence that the favorites receive. That can be hard to do. If the client is cold and distant during the initial RFP process consider it a clear warning that you are wasting your time.

I almost always decline to participate in RFPs because of these many issues. The pain is not worth it. At least for a small firm like mine. My time is better served networking and building relationships for projects and winning business with people that know and trust me (and my firm).

What do you think of RFPs?

The Delicate Art of Letting Sacred Cows Go

Forced change is one of the hardest aspects of communications today. With consistent technological evolution and its impact on the Internet and media, change we must. Often change requires letting go of sacred cows, meaning those marketing and communications initiatives that are important to us or the company yet we know their not working.

Why would a company continue efforts that produce little or no results? Precious “must have” initiatives can pale in comparison to other efforts when it comes to delivering actual results. Still internal stakeholders feel these programs are the way business should be done.

External perception and trends can provide as much if not more peer pressure. You need look no further than the perception that every business and nonprofit should be active on Facebook.

This is where data can offer a great marinade, the evidence that helps spur a conversation about change. But you need to have that conversation, probably many of them to get an organization to let go of its sacred cows. The process of helping people move beyond set beliefs also requires a deft hand that allows them to save face.

Begin with Clarity

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Every organization should have a mission that helps the company or nonprofit determine its communications goals. When you understand where you are going, you can build key performance indicators (KPIs) that clearly show whether or not a particular tactic or initiative is meeting its goals.

KPIs are a black and white type of measurement, specific in their intent. You may even want to break goals into types of actions. Consider some of these possible KPIs:

  • Engagement will be determined by the amount of website traffic referred from each social network (branding). A successful social network post will yield 5% click through.
  • Successful website content will be determined by a) amount of shares, totaling 10% of visitors (branding) and/or b) amount of email sign ups, a goal of 5% (lead gen)
  • Successful social network communities worth investing in will produce lead identification through email sign-ups, online chats and contact forms. Five percent is the target for all social networks (lead gen).
  • Eventually customers should be produced by identified leads. We expect a 10% conversion rate for identified leads (ROI)

It’s fairly easy to set up these types of goals with a combination of web analytics and CRM. Almost every marketing automation system empowers this type of tracking.

However, the real yield in these efforts is gaining clarity about your customers. While your sales people may understand customer profiles in general, data yields exact profiles. For example, they work in mid-cap companies and are either directors or vice presidents. They tend to work in technology or security concerned industries. You may be able to determine gender and age. Sixty eight percent are women aged 30-49.

In addition, you can map customer behavior. They interact with us on Twitter, but share our content on LinkedIn, too. Those that like our page on Facebook never share the content, nor do they click through.

What Your Data Allows You to Do

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Suddenly, you have a clear picture of how your customer interacts with you and who they are. It is important to identify what is working and what may be failing, including your sacred cows.

I think its critical to look at the data with an attitude of discovery. If you go in and say this isn’t working, then people act out of fear. Covering up and saving face becomes more important than changing. This is the conversation to have: Look at what this data is showing. Maybe we can better meet our KPIs if we tweak our current outreach. What do you think? Make it a safe conversation where everyone has a voice.

Don’t push to cut things unless everyone or a majority of your team is in agreement. You may need to go through a cycle or two in your program before prescribed change is agreed upon.

Perform an audit of your communications and content. Experiment to see if you can get more yield on social networks, email, ads, etc. Instead of generic content, you can now drill down and offer specific content that may be more compelling (e.g. contextual). For example, instead of offering photos of men at work, show pictures of women at work. Perhaps offer custom content for your top industries as the reward for signing up for emails.

If getting authorization to experiment is difficult, data should help to justify A/B tests. Try it once and see if the results are different. What CMO won’t give something a one-time try to see if they can get more engagement, leads, and potential customers?

As you experiment, you learn more about the role of each medium in your networks. Poorly performing sacred cows continue to stink. Each time you present the data about which actions are meeting KPIs and which ones aren’t, it becomes clearer that some initiatives must go. The question may be changed to should we cut this? And then when should we cut this?

The process of experimentation helped vested internal stakeholders see the poor performance, try to save it, and realize it was simply no longer a viable communications path or method. You may have known through this whole process that your sacred cow needed to be cut. Going through the process was necessary to create palatable change within your organization.

Usually, we see change as a moment in time. But in reality change is often an evolutionary process. This was the case when Tenacity5 announced its stance towards Facebook marketing last week. We experimented and changed approach a couple of times before letting the overhwelming and consistent data inform our decision.

What do you think?

Eating Dog Food

Sometimes you have to do things because they are right, even though you don’t want to. I yielded to staff pressure last week, and committed resources to doing more with our Tenacity5 Media social media accounts. We have to eat our own dog food here.

Why not engage in social before now? I honestly felt doing the client work was more important given how small the company is (three people currently).

Plus I have developed a bad attitude towards social media boutiques — all talk and no experience. So I didn’t want to have the company grouped within a category I consider to be increasingly marginalized by the bad.

But good marketing is good marketing. Quality marketing includes social as part of the overall strategy today, I don’t care what kind of business you have. That doesn’t necessitate an over reliance on a medium, but you can’t avoid it anymore.

A parallel can be drawn to blogging in the 2015 era. Just like I wouldn’t over rely on a blog today, I still think blogging is part of the mix. So I blog once a week just to eat my own dog food. It’s the right thing to do.

Walk the Talk

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Practicing what you preach was the very reason that I engaged in deep emersion with visual media through photography. I also invested in a significant website upgrade with a focus on the visual.

It’s really hard to take someone’s opinion about visual communications seriously if they don’t practice those same views. That is apparent every time I read a social media blogger’s text-heavy post about visual media (see paragraph 2).

Many people wag their fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and opine about the way things should be. This is easy to do. It is the path of the pundit.

But sooner or later, you have to stand on your own efforts. It’s one thing to engage in criticism, it’s another thing to become a demonstrative example. One creates attention, the other builds reputation.

We’ve got to eat our own dog food at Tenacity5, and that starts with me.

Featured image by Mel. Second image by Mazen Alhadad.

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Let Go

The hardest part of business and life for me has been learning to let go. Specifically, letting both the small AND the big things that seem like must solve issues fade away.

Sometimes not doing anything does more to heal a situation than over-reacting or demanding a resolution. You just have to drop the rock.

Letting go may be more of a selfish act than one would think. It is an act of forgiveness — or a decision to not become the judge and juror — and to let people off the the hook. In forgiving we free ourselves to work on and experience what matters, the people and projects in front of us.

Of course, the alternative is walking around holding grudges and/or worrying. It’s the equivelant of renting space in your head to things you can’t control. This type of mental energy is really unproductive, and something that I think impedes one’s ability to become successful.

Letting Go In Action

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Last week I won Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s Instagram forgiveness challenge, which means I will have a private conversation with the storied Archbishop and daughter via Skype. I am sure one of the questions will be how does one practice this live and let live attitude on an everyday basis, from traffic jams to highway robbery.

Bigger offenses are harder for me than small things. During the Instagram challenge I found myself practicing the principles of forgiveness and letting go of three distinct situations of theft. Two were professional, and the third situation was my grandmother’s estate. To be clear, the Tutus recommend reconciliation whenever possible; however they do recognize that sometimes you just let grievances and relationships go, and wish people well (The formal Forgiveness Challenge begins next week, if you are interested).

Prior to the challenge, in one of the professional situations I enforced and successfully protected my rights through threat of legal action. In the other two cases, I simply ended up cutting ties. But I never achieved peace of mind, and continued to experience resentment.

As part of the challenge, I wrote out my grievances, and then tried to look at it from the other persons’ perspectives. While I may not agree with their actions, I could see they were simply acting in self interest, rationalized and justified. No one thinks they are actually doing wrong, usually.

This is important. If someone doesn’t think they have done wrong, they won’t apologize or rectify a situation. See most people hold grudges because they are waiting for the other party to acknowledge and correct a wrong. The expectation of an amends is likely to remain unfulfilled, creating an ongoing pattern of negative resentment. The offended party becomes a prisoner of their own angst.

Judge My Own Actions

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The low probability of receiving an amends makes it critical to let go of small and big issues alike. Letting go frees the offended party. In the case of the three acts, I was able to see why these people acted, and I decided to let them off the hook. That doesn’t mean I endorse these parties actions, nor would I be surprised if there was repercussions later on.

That being said, by letting matters go and mentally wishing individuals well with their ongoing lives and careers, I was able to free myself of resentment. I could focus on what mattered; the people and opportunities in my life today.

The Tutu Forgiveness Challenge taught me that justice and forgiveness are separate. Justice is not mine to seek in 99.9% of situations, except in the truly criminal context. Perhaps other people are better able to deal with the anger that comes from a true wrong. Me? I need to work through the anger, let go, and focus on the good things I can impact.

It may seem trite, but I think moving on is an essential part of success in business and in one’s personal matters. When I hold on to anger, it drains me and stops me from building things, and loving the people in my life.

A recent Lifehack article highlighted 15 things confident people don’t do. Number five was don’t obsess over the opinions of others, and six was they don’t judge others. Eight was they don’t make comparisons.

Look, the article had no methodology to it, but I think it’s points were spot on. I should judge my own actions and hold myself to standards, not others. Understanding this principle helped me let go of problems beyond my control, and forgive others. It is an amazing and freeing experience.

What do you think?

Don’t Expect Campaigns to Disappear Anytime Soon

Sometimes I wonder about supposed technology trends that are discussed. One of the latest trends I am hearing about is the death of the marketing campaign.

Marketing technologists and analysts say that new tools will put an end to the dreaded campaign. My response? Don’t bet on it.

In the mid 2000s, this meme emerged for the first time. Then, the end of the marketing campaign was a Cluetrain Manifesto-esque railing against corporate treatment of customers. Thanks to social media, corporations would be forced to talk to customers, one to one.

What ended up happening was a new way for brands to cultivate loyalists, customers used a different public channel to complain (hello, Twitter!), and an immense amount of data was created. As for the marketing campaign, it now includes social media.

This time, contextual media and broken funnels drive the meme. Automation solutions will use data created from social media, and companies will be forced to create Choose Your Own Adventure content and lead paths to better serve customers. Global campaigns will end, forcing niche campaigns.

Sound familiar? I think so, too, though a bit more realistic than the one-to-one argument from the prior decade.

Why Campaigns Won’t End

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Marketing automation will empower companies to create strong niche campaigns as opposed to deploying one-size fits all efforts. Though customized and more targeted, this will not end the campaign, rather make it more sophisticated with better tools.

The problem with ending campaigns is threefold. First, marketing campaign critics always address the matter from the perspective of the customer. They forget that campaigns are often a function of corporate budgets and anticipated profits. The same could be send for nonprofits and annual fundraising.

Budgets and revenue are time-bound, especially for public companies. This creates a compelling reason to develop specific campaigns within budget that achieve the necessary results, all to satisfy shareholders, owners, and keep companies and nonprofits alive.

Second, customers don’t react to campaigns, say the pundits. Well, actually customers just don’t like marketing period, but they do react to campaigns when they need/want a product or service. What the Internet evolutions of the recent past have shown us through tracking is a much more sophisticated non-linear sales cycle.

OK. So, that tells me that marketing campaigns will become more sophisticated, with better tools (automation, for example), more transmedia options for customers to accesss information, and more specified messaging. But like the social media era, the campaign evolves. It doesn’t disappear.

Finally, campaigns address a human need on both the customer and the company side of the equation: A desire for new. Whether it’s a mobile phone, a car, or a software solution, people have come to expect new evolutions from their current provider and competitors alike. Similarly, new products and services drive growth and competition amongst companies.

Guess how new products and services are launched? You got it, with campaigns. Customers may not like marketing, but they like the same old boring marketing campaign even less. The campaign helps fulfill the core need of new.

Until Wall Street ends quarterly expectations and companies and nonprofits stop functioning on an annual budget; the ability to adapt to customer expectations disappears; and the need for new things ends; marketing campaigns are here to stay. I’ll check back with the pundits in the 22nd century.

What do you think?

A version of this post ran originally on the Vocus blog.