Even if you don’t have a website, blog, Facebook page, Yahoo! or Google listing, it’s still not too late. It really isn’t. That’s what they said in 1999, and again in 2005, and every day. The future just keeps on coming, day after day. Jump on now, and you can look back later.
Seth Godin, one of my favorite bloggers, has an excellent post titled is it too late to catch up? He suggests some things to do about it, and one very interesting thing not to do, which is (quoting):
Don’t have any meetings about your web strategy. Just do stuff. First you have to fail, then you can improve.
That’s pretty aggressive, but it makes sense in context of the rest of his suggestions. Seth has suggestions like putting the president’s real email on every invoice, giving bonuses for blogging, getting Gmail email addresses for everybody. Good stuff.
And even this one, which, despite my years as a consultant (and maybe that’s because of) I also like a lot:
Refuse to cede the work to consultants. You don’t outsource your drill press or your bookkeeping or your product design. If you’re going to catch up, you must (all of you) get good at this, and you only accomplish that by doing it.
However, there’s this irony: Seth’s writing it in a blog. I read it in a blog. I’m recommending it in a blog. And the people it’s intended for, those who don’t have websites or blogs or Facebook pages, probably aren’t reading blogs. Sigh…
You could call this post the taxonomy of trolls. I thought there were fairy-tale creatures, ugly and mean, living under a bridge, interfering with innocent travelers. It turns out, though, they’re real. Just like in the three billy goats gruff fairy tale, they are hiding along the way, jumping out to cause trouble.
I like puns and I like the potential double meaning with trolls. First there’s the beast or character of the troll, like in the fairy tale. And then there’s the verb, trolling, which I think of from 50 years ago when my granddad took me fishing. We’d put the baited hook into the water and move the boat slowly, trolling for fish.
I’ve happened upon several kinds of trolls in business. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these. Better yet, maybe you can avoid them on your travels.
Patent trolls. They buy up rights to otherwise useless or abandoned patents and hoard them until they can spring them on unsuspecting businesses. The mere threat of legal action is worth lots of money these days. Do you think it’s coincidence that the vast majority of patent troll lawsuits are filed in a single county in Texas? I don’t. I think that county has developed a symbiotic relationship with patent trolls. Encourage the trolls, get the revenue. The problem is that technology overwhelmed the government so much that the patent system couldn’t keep up with it. A lot of bad patents were issued. They become opportunities to quasi-extort money from innocent companies. These are double trolls: troll creatures (noun) who troll (verb) for opportunities.
Idea trolls. Seth Godin posted Trolls last week, referring to people who “gain perverse pleasure in relentlessly tearing you and your ideas down.” It made me feel better to see that even he – because I so admire his work — gets attacked by trolls. He said:
trolls will always be trolling
critics rarely create
they live in a tiny echo chamber, ignored by everyone except the trolled and the other trolls
professionals (that’s you) get paid to ignore them. It’s part of your job.
Politics-as-business trolls. I don’t mind political opinions, particularly not in blogs, but I do get annoyed by people whose approach is as a small business expert who has dipped their business expert brand into political mudslinging. The right-wingers who object to everything the government does as bad for small business, or the left-wingers who applaud everything the government does as good for small business. I hate the way they hide their politics in business terms.
Social media trolls. Talk about explosive growth—how about the growth in social media trolls. These two are trolls as creatures, but they’re also trolling around, looking for opportunities. Like the people who use Twitter or Facebook as media for selling things to people they don’t know, who haven’t asked; now that we’ve interacted in Twitter, will you tell your company to buy my product? Not to mention the annoying recent development of people selling things by tweeting with my Twitter name “@timberry” with a Web address to go to. I hate to think what some unsuspecting person gets if they go to that link. And it’s not like they’ve interrupted my account or done it as me; they just put my name in the sentence. Bummer.
Trade-show trolls. This is another double-troll situation because these trolls troll the trade shows catching the poor people behind the tables, staffing the booths, making them exposed and unable-to-escape victims of unwanted sales pitches. And the double-troll-trouble gets doubled again –- maybe that’s cubed – because the companies who pay for exhibition space become victims of trolls who didn’t pay for space but troll for sales victims anyhow. My particular favorite (not!) are the ones who want to sell competing goods or services.
There can be great truth in stories. People have communicated in stories from the very beginning. We use stories to tell about God, family, each other, and business. Stories can be true or false by the message they carry, not just what happens in the story. Fables, parables, short stories … think about how much you learn, and teach, with stories.
Can a story tell truth without being technically factual? I think we all know it can. Is the lesson of sour grapes less true because there was no original fox? Or is the story of the gingerbread man not true?
Marketing is all about stories. (Aside — great book in this area, All Marketers are Liars, by Seth Godin). There’s the story of how it started, the invention of whatever it is you’re selling, or the invention of your business itself, the story of the brand, the packaging, the formula, or whatever. There’s the story of how the customer finds the solution. There’s the story of how the customer problem is solved.
A good business plan is a collection of stories. Your vision is a story about the future. Even financial projections are stories, told in numbers. If we sell this many units at that price, we have this much in sales; but we also have to spend this much in rent, and so on.
As a frequent reader of business plans, I look for the stories. The most important is the story of the customer, the solution to a problem, the path to find it, and the decision to buy. I also look for the story of the startup, and the story of the growth in the future. I want them to be convincing.
Just a few years ago I was mourning the loss of the printed word in our media-hungry and web-hungry society. Even people I really respect, although most of them much younger than I, were starting to show cavalier disregard for the English language. I’d grimace while reading something that mistook then for than, or they’re for their, or misspelled lots of simple words. The response would be rolled eyes, like…
why do you care? You can read it. You can see what it says.
It makes me feel like the archetypical grumpy old man.
Meanwhile, television news has taken over from print news. Newspapers are dying. And books? Doomed. I picked this up in a 2007 New Yorker piece called Twilight of Books:
In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”
But then — about 2007 for me, late, I know, compared to the web literate elites — I caught on to blogs. And discovered where writing had gone to; and where people cared about writing. Writing and reading are alive and well, it turns out, but they’ve migrated to some extent. The Huffington Post, the world’s leading blog, gets something upwards of 20 million unique visitors per month. Blog after blog is about writing: writing well, writing better. I just looked: more than 10,000 hits on Google for the search term “writing blog headlines.” And I keep stumbling on blogs that are exhilaratingly well written. Look at Ann Handley’s Annarchy, for example (for a good sample, read Refugee at Home). Or Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist (sample this post for good writing, but you should know first that, like a lot of good writing, it’s dark.). And I read business and entrepreneurship blogs that are not just good content, but extremely well written. Seth Godin delivers a short beautifully written post almost every day.
Lately there’s twitter, limiting the writing to 140 characters, putting a whole new twist on writing. There’s so many examples of good writing in 140 characters that it’s like searching for needles in a pile of needles. Do this twitter search for haiku to see what I mean. And then I just browsed the tweets of the people above, and came up with this one, by Penelope Trunk. I didn’t have to search for a good one, this was simply her latest as I wrote this post:
I forget to tell the waiter to hold the bacon bits. Then I go wild: I decide a Jewish woman who dates a pig farmer can take a taste of pork.
That’s good writing. And there’s so much of it out there. I’m feeling way better about the future or writing after all.
The posts are divided into meaningful categories, and include a highlights list of best bloggers in any of these marketing-related topics. Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Leo Babuta, Robert Scoble, and many other generally-recognized blogging leaders.
Pictures, words, ideas. If one picture equals 1,000 words, how many ideas does it generate? Is there a transitive property there? I had time over the weekend to pick up two unrelated pictures. Each covers something entirely different. Both are full of ideas.
The first, a chart by Seth Godin:
This is one of those things that must have been hard to come up with, but makes sense when you look at it. A map of communication. On the horizontal axis of the chart, from book on one end to a conversation at the other. With a book, the writer writes it at one point in time and the reader reads it at an entirely different time. With the telephone and coaching, both parties of the communication, sender and receiver, are involved at the same time. On the chart’s vertical axis, how much bandwidth is involved, from mail and graffiti at the low extreme, to movies and coaching at the high extreme.
The Second, from Buzz Networker:
This one is fascinating to me. As always with this kind of research, accuracy depends on how they sampled, but even if it could be off by a bit, it still gives a big picture of the main social networking sites (which is what I assume the acronym SNS stands for) usage by age. I have no conclusions to draw, but maybe you do.
I thought it was one of my better posts ever on Huffington, A Great Debate About Ideas, because it covered something really important — the battle of free vs. not — and tied Chris Anderson, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Ellen Goodman together.
But it wasn’t, it turns out, because of a dull deadline. Maybe I should have called it “The Battle of Free vs. Not.” Hmm, no, see, I’m not that good at headlines. “Naked idea orgy?”
Make it a list of 10
Make it a list of 5
Insult somebody famous
Find a way to add one or more of the words “naked, brutal, violent, sexy, stripped, revealed, angry, face-off” … or something like that.
Blame it on the readers, the editors, or anybody else you can think of.
Take a walk, and think about a single sentence that would make you want to read the rest of the post.
Go browse a blog reader like Google reader set to show just headlines.
Go back to point 1 and go right down this list again.
True story: when I was young, working with UPI in Mexico City — we’re talking about early 1970s, so seriously, a long time ago — the system we used to report Mexico news to New York Editors showed them the first sentence only; from that, they had to decide whether or not they wanted to see the whole first paragraph. And, with that, they had to decide again (push a button) whether they wanted to see the rest of the story. So I should be able to do this.
And something else, that I’ve learned, in a lot of years writing: there are many different varieties of writing. Being good at one doesn’t mean you’re good at another. I used to think I was a good writer, but copy writers amaze me. And in newspapers, reporters don’t write the headlines. And writing and creative fiction plots are totally different skills.
To me it used to be about well-known experts whose names became brands in an almost-traditional business sense: Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tom Peters; they were experts whose names sold books and speaking engagements. Lately my view of personal branding has expanded as I start following John Jantsch, Anita Campbell, and Pam Slim, for example; bloggers, tweeters, authors, and experts.
I like to think that my favorite experts, my favorite personal brands, are authentic. Guy Kawasaki really is an investor, really was an Apple evangelist, and believes every word he says. Seth Godin has built his remarkable name around remarkable marketing. John Jantsch lives for Duct Tape Marketing, and Anita Campbell for Small Business Trends. These are real people.
And, whether you like it or not, you too are a personal brand. Much as I dislike the phrase personal branding it’s not just for big names any more. It’s for just about everybody who has enough online access to be reading this post.
Whether you like it or not. Which brings me to Me 2.0, Dan Schawbel’s new book — due out today — on personal branding.
Reading Dan Schawbel on personal branding is something like a mirror image of a mirror. He has a great personal brand. He’s always on Twitter, often on major business blogs (not to mention his own) and is frequently quoted in business magazines. And he’s only 24 years old.
Like his book, and his quick career success, Dan is completely immersed in the realities that have grown up in just the last few years: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on.
It may be that being young wasn’t even an obstacle, in his case, because that whole world began on college campuses (mostly) and then spread to the old folks like me. So of course he’s only 24. How could he not be?
And he’s got some very good advice to share. Beginning with his main point, the “like it or not” truth about it. Personal branding is no longer an elite concept reserved for a few big-name authors, columnists, or experts. The new world of the 21st century, with social media and Web 2.0 and Google and friends, makes it a fact of life for just about everybody. He tends to focus a lot on the Gen Y college student looking for a job and starting a career, but he would, wouldn’t he. There’s a lot of specific, detailed, real-world advice here about how to get your first job and manage your career, in the context of social media, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and friends. And a lot of what he says applies just as well to an old guy enjoying his journey into social media. I had to chuckle: what is “Me 2.0” to Dan is something like “Me 11.0” to me. I’ve been around longer.
I still hate the phrase. Personal branding sounds to me like white suits and pink ties and gold chains. I wish we’d called it personal footprint, or something like that. Maybe just engrave the phrase “this goes on your permanent record” on every keyboard.
When I started in journalism close to 40 years ago, one of the better teachers suggested that we also keep an ego file, always, of things we’d written. Today it’s almost reverse — Google and friends keep the file of things you’ve written, whether you like it or not. And Dan points out that you should think about it ahead of time, and make sure you like it.
He tells some good stories: Facebook stupidity, for example — the guy who was convicted for a crime from evidence he posted on Facebook, and the almost-urban-myth of the woman who skipped work because she was “sick” but posted her free-day fling on Facebook.
Much more important than that, however, is a well structured review of how the new world almost requires an awareness of personal branding. Unless you’re outside that new world you can’t escape it, and you can, with some good thinking and organization, manage it. Visibility is there.
Some key points that apply to me and my baby-boomer friends as we enter into social media:
Authenticity: You can’t fake it for very long. You have to actually be yourself, or the effort to be that other person is overwhelming.
You have to live with who you’ve made yourself to be in things that show up in Google and friends.
Better to think about it and organize it — like a standard profile, picture, and personal statement — than to let it be random.
It’s amazing to me that Dan is only 24 years old. But maybe that’s the point. He’s onto something.
One of my favorite quotes, by Adam Osborne talking about product development, gives way to Seth Godin talking about running your business.
Adam was a writer first, and a personal computer industry pioneer later. I met him when he spoke to my class at business school, then followed his nova-star company, Osborne Computers, as it rose and then fell. During the first high-tech industry boom in the early 1980s, talking about the critical problems of product development, and getting the product out the door, he said that the problem sometimes was that the product people wouldn’t stop developing and ship it:
Adequate is good enough.
That’s not a theme song or a motto for everything in business — not hardly — but it does fit some situations.
Fast Forward to Seth Godin’s post yesterday, Why aren’t you (really) good at graphic design?. He has put together a page of resources to help real-world people to do slides and such better than most of them currently do, with this rationale:
But now, in a world where it is expected that professionals will be able to make beautiful PowerPoint slides, handsome business cards, clever bio photos and a decent website, it’s as important as driving. And easier to learn and do, and requiring less talent.
That suggestion produced some criticism from designers, “upset that I would recommend that anyone do pretty good design.” Which leads to this response:
The fact is, business people do copywriting, simple legal and accounting work and more, on their own, every day. You compose your own email, don’t you? If your legal decisions were as bad as your design, you’d get fired in a minute for libeling people. Getting pretty good at things is merely a first step, but one that you need to take in order to be ready to spend the money to get great.
And I want to emphasize that last sentence, which belongs in the same real-world and practical reality as Obsorne’s wisdom above:
Getting pretty good at things is merely a first step, but one that you need to take in order to be ready to spend the money to get great.
Things in business are rarely simple and obvious. It’s hard, even dangerous, to come up with general rules that always apply. Sure, everything should always be insanely great; but there are times, projects, issues, on which our business is better with pretty good, and sometimes, even, adequate.
What we have to do is figure out which time is which.
In running a business, speaking to groups, teaching a university class, I’ve learned that often an exact-sounding guess in the right range is more useful than “I’ll check on that and get back to you” or “I’m not sure exactly, but it’s around such-and-such.” So “ROI of 7%” sounds much better than “something like 5-10%.” And it means really the same thing.
In the world of business there is the fact that business information is worth the decisions you make with it. Technically, it’s worth the difference in your bank account between your bank balance with the information and your balance without it. Obviously one of those two values has to be hypothetical, but the concept is still true.
Similarly, 1.23 million registered users is a lot more credible than “more than a million,” but in business terms it means just about exactly the same thing. Annual growth of 9.7% is more credible than annual growth of “about 10%” and for decision purposes, it means the same thing.
Seth Godin reminded me of phenomenon this morning with his post Let’s make up some numbers. And his point is a lot like what Chip and Dan Heath are saying in Made to Stick, about communicating ideas. Seth says specifics sound better:
Marketers make up numbers all the time. It’s a great way to tell a story with efficiency, and if you do it in the right spirit (meaning that the numbers are as close to true as you can get them) there’s little downside or damage. Except to your reputation when you’re wrong…
Do we need to know how much the Dow moved to a tenth of a point? No, of course not. But when we start delivering numbers with that level of accuracy, people can’t help but believe them.
I would add that in many cases making a number more specific, but in the right range, isn’t really being wrong. It’s communicating well.