Saturday, January 31, 2009

A meeting about nothing--how to cut through the mindless minutiae

We've all been there. Head into work. Got a full day planned. You're going to strategize. Brainstorm new ideas that will help the organization build brand, influence key audiences and drive revenues. And meet with key executive leaders to start initiating plans to executing on these outstanding ideas.

Then, it hits. The minutiae.

You get called into a meeting. The topic/agenda is sketchy at best. You're listening, but really only half listening. They're talking about implications of changing our HR benefits from one vendor to another. Or, how we're going to switch payment systems or operating platforms in 2009. Or, whatever. It's boring. It's low value. But it's necessary and you have to do it.

Or, do you?

Should we, as communications and marketing leaders, really be spending our time in these kinds of meetings and consulting and engaging with organizational partners around this kind of work? Is the work worth your time? If you worked for an agency, would your manager want you spending your time on this project?

These are the kinds of questions I, and I believe many other marketers and communicators struggle with daily.

Are we really spending enough time on the high-value work? The work that really matters? If it doesn't impact or tie directly to your organization's goals or strategies, should you be working on it? Isn't that what our employers and clients pay us to do?

So what can we do? A few ideas:

* Start saying no to "those" meetings. You heard me. Say no. Pretty simple, really. I'm not talking about the client meetings where you're presenting new ideas, discussing key initiatives or talking about plans for a major campaign. I'm talking about the meetings with no agendas. The ones where you know no work product will come as a result. The ones that feel like a meeting about another meeting--you know what I'm talking about. You need to get out of those meetings pronto.

* Be "slippery". This one's key. One of my favorite people in the PR biz, a good friend and mentor of mine is terrific at being slippery. She's made a habit of letting the low-value, non-critical work slide off her allowing her ample time to focus on key areas like strategic planning, coaching key executives and other high-value work. Sure, she handles some administrative duties and sits in a few dull meetings from time to time, we all do. But it's a pittance compared to the time she spends on the high-value work.

* Support your team. Junior staffers often feel unable to push back on client demands, putting them in a tough situation. They need to know you will back them up if they push back on the client and not leave them in a lurch. Make sure you take the time to sit down with these team members and reinforce that they're doing the right thing and that you feel the same way. If these folks feel empowered, they will be able to consult more effectively and free up more time to focus on the right work.

* Consult--don't take orders. If the client asks for a message they feel needs to be out right away, ask a few questions. Why do you feel it needs to be distributed immediately? What's your goal with this message? What are you hoping your audience will think/feel/do? Usually by asking a few questions and getting into the nitty-gritty behind the "why" of the ask, you can push the timeline back a bit, consider an alternative approach or stay status quo. All of which can prevent you from spending wasted time on the initial request.

What do you think? Any other tips to add? Whatever you suggest will benefit us all--we need to get out of this minutiae business.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Resource: #healthcomm chat participants

Quick resource for those who'd like to join the #healthcomm chat Sundays from 8-9 p.m. CST. Below is a list of participants from the first chat on Sunday, Jan. 25. Please comment below to add your name to the mix. I'll keep a running list and publish every other week.

Next #healthcomm chat will be Sunday, Feb. 8, 8-9 p.m. CST. Hope to see you there!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Twitter 101 for PR pros

In chatting with a few colleagues over coffee and at recent PRSA events, I've heard a common theme emerge: a distinct need for Twitter 101 for PR pros. For every David Mullen, Danny Brown or Sarah Evans that understands the nuances of Twitter and how to use it, there are thousands of PR pros out there that still just don't get it. But, they want to learn.

Hey, I'm no Dave Fleet or Peter Shankman, but I think I have a decent understanding of the basics and I thought I'd share some of the tips and tricks I've learned along the way to getting started on Twitter:

* Knock off the basics first. Set up your account by clicking on the "Get Started" button on the main Twitter site. Fill out the basic contact information. Then, work out the details of your account:

* Find a good photo or head shot of yourself to use as your avatar. Make sure it's a photo that makes you look approachable. Remember, Twitter's kinda like online dating--people are going to follow others who look friendly and approachable. Plus, you want to put your best foot forward on behalf of your clients and the organization's you represent (if that's how you're engaging).

*Don't get too cute with your Twitter "handle" (name). I'd suggest the first name/last name approach. Keep it simple. Easier for others--including journalists and other key stakeholders--to identify you in the Twitterverse that way.

* Make sure you fill out the "Web" and "Bio" portions of your profile. For the "Web" link, use your LinkedIn profile if you don't have a blog or Web site. Most folks want to know more about you when they follow you. Make it as easy as possible for them.

* Who to follow? Once you have your account/profile set up, start thinking about who you'd like to follow. There are a few ways to do this:

* Use Twitter Search. Easy way to find people with similar interests. Search by industry, product, service, etc. Find the people you want to connect and share with, learn from and listen to.

* Find journalists within your industry/areas of interest to follow. One good resource: (thanks Sarah Evans!)

* If you read blogs in your industry/niche regularly, search the blog rolls for folks who might be on Twitter. Most bloggers have links to their Twitter page right on their blog.

* Raid the followers of your first follows. Once you've identified a few folks to follow, take a peek at the folks who follow them or people they follow. You can find this information on the right hand side under "Following."

* If you're in MN, and you're looking for other PR tweeps to follow, you'll find a slew of Twitter handles for local PR/communications pros using a list I recently created, which has been supplemented from folks across the Twin Cities.

* Lurk, then engage. OK, now you've got a few people to follow (and soon, hopefully a few followers of your own). Before you start engaging, I'd suggest "lurking" for a while. Maybe for a few weeks or so. Read other people's tweets. Get to know them--read their bios and blogs (especially important with media--just like "offline" media relations). Just observe how others are acting and behaving on Twitter. After a few weeks, start posting your own tweets. But, make sure you have a strategy first. What kinds of information are you going to tweet? Will it be professional? Personal? A mix (what I recommend--humanizes you, makes you more approachable). How often will you tweet? More importantly, though, start responding to others. Do this by hovering over the right-hand side of each tweet. You'll see a curved arrow--that's the @ button. Click on that and you'll reply to that person's tweet. Keep in mind, if you go this route, everyone that's following you can see your response. Want to keep it more private? Go with a DM. Find this button on the right-hand side under @Replies. By using DM, your tweet to that person is private and only they can view it (DMs more appropriate for pitches to journalists). Replies and DMs are the lifeblood of Twitter. Use them often to engage in conversations. I try to keep the 80/20 rule on Twitter. 80 percent of my time is spend replying and DMing fellow tweeps. The remaining 20 percent is spent generating my own tweets.

* Be yourself. Some of my favorite people in the Twitterverse are also some of the most funny--and I've never met them face-to-face. People like Danny Brown, David Mullen, Amber Naslund and Scott Hepburn crack me up daily. They also come across as real, genuine people. I think that has a huge impact on your success online--even if you are representing your organization. Don't be afraid to share who you are. How do you pull this off? Create a mix of tweets that reflect your professional thinking and your personal life. The best way to connect with people is to give them a glimpse into your life. If they find something you have in common, they will reach out, connect and share.

Up next, Twitter 201--taking it to the next level (including using favorites, building communities and other Twitter applications to use).

Any additional tips for PR Twitter beginners? What's missing from this list for first-timers?

Photos courtesy of: wboswell, seydoggy and Steve Woolf.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Lee Aase

When you work in the close-knit Minnesota health care PR/communications community, it's almost impossible not to know Lee Aase. He's widely known as a strong advocate of social media (I initially met Lee at a Ragan conference on social media presented by Shel Holtz back in June) and a pro's pro in the media relations and public affairs arena.

As manager of social media and syndication at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Lee's helped this world-class organization foster and grow a strong community of loyal Mayo patients across the world who are more than happy to share their stories. In fact, Mayo counts on it. More than any other medium or communications vehicle, Mayo relies heavily on its patients to spread their stories of the outstanding care they received to others across the globe.

Interestingly enough, Lee and Mayo took yet another step in their social media journey this morning when they launched their new blog, Sharing Mayo Clinic. Designed as a way for patients and employees to share their stories about what makes Mayo Clinic unique, the new blog is another addition to an already impressive social media lineup that Lee has helped engineer the last few years. A Mayo Clinic YouTube channel, a Twitter account and multiple blogs and podcasts.

The other interesting thing about Lee: he's a chancellor. That's right. A little over two years ago, Lee started Social Media University Global as a way to help PR and communications pros learn about the burgeoning world of Web 2.0. The site is set up like an online university, complete with a full curriculum, videos of the "campus" (read: Lee's home) and tuition and financial aid. Tongue-in-cheek references aside, the site has been a great way for Lee to help educate PR professionals on the ins and outs of social media.

Clearly, Lee is a PR Rock Star. He's also a member of the famed Blog Council, so pay attention folks. And if you're not following him, start now.

Historically, the health care industry has been slow to adopt new communications tools and technologies. Yet, Mayo Clinic is on Twitter, has its own YouTube channel, Facebook group page, and multiple podcasts and blogs. How did you go about educating your internal stakeholders and building consensus around the merits of social media to your overall communications plan?

Word of mouth has always been the most important way for people to find out about Mayo Clinic. So we've emphasized that social media are just the new way word of mouth happens. We also had two external consultants, Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz, come to Mayo to speak and hold workshops to engage our broader Public Affairs department and through that our leadership.

How are you using social media tools at Mayo Clinic to listen to your patients and their thoughts, concerns and ideas? Any examples of instances where you've taken action based on something you heard from a patient through one of your blogs, podcasts or videos?

With our Facebook page, it's been wide open for patients to share their thoughts, and we're launching a new blog this week (Thursday) called Sharing Mayo Clinic where we likewise will be giving patients the opportunity to share their stories and their feedback about their experiences. We had a blog last year for our employee patient population that was related to our Mayo ExpressCare service (a walk-in retail clinic), and through the blog we got feedback on some issues we needed to address...specifically, because the demand was so much stronger than we expected, we needed to add more staff, modify some procedures and accelerate the plans for a second clinic.

How has the social media landscape changed the way you work with the media? Do you still work with traditional media outlets? How are you interacting with bloggers? Are you eschewing traditional channels to tell you story directly to your patients and other key audiences?

Social media tools make it easier for us to provide audio and video resources to traditional media, as well as to bloggers. After the stories come off embargo, those same resources are made available directly to patients. Working with traditional media is still extremely important, but sometimes we do a post on our news blog instead of a full-scale news release because we can do it more quickly and still provide improved resources for journalists.

Physicians, by and large, are not individuals that have a lot of time on their hands. Yet we all know blogs, podcasts and video interviews require time and commitment from subject matter experts like them to succeed. How do you manage those competing demands and keep these key stakeholders engaged in the process?

Our main strategy is to use video blogs, so our physician experts can answer questions on camera. We prefer that our surgeons use their hands for operating instead of typing. By using video, they can talk about their research as they would to a patient instead of taking time to write. It becomes a 10-15 minute interview instead of a lengthy writing exercise. This also proves that the physician participation is genuine and not ghost-written, because the blog viewers see the experts speaking for themselves. The level of ongoing interaction in the comments varies among the physicians, with some choosing to engage directly and others preferring to do summary responses based on the general tone of comments.

You started with your Medical Edge podcast back in September 2005 and have grown your use of social media tools extensively the last three-plus years. Any key lessons you've learned along the way?

Starting with something that's already approved for distribution to radio stations made it less controversial; it was getting another use for the same product. Then we continued to find ways to produce content tailored to the medium (i.e. longer podcasts) in a cost-effective way, as part of our TV production process. It's also helpful to have outside experts share the state-of-the-art with leadership, to validate that other companies and organizations are getting into social media without having major problems. The worst fears are almost never realized; everyone has nightmare scenarios, but you shouldn't let them paralyze you and keep you from seizing the potential (and much more likely) benefits.

Now the tough question--how have these tools helped Mayo Clinic further its vision and achieve its organizational goals? How do you measure results?

We look at traffic to our sites, comments, appointment requests coming through our social media platforms, and also how having these electronic resources has helped us better serve journalists and get coverage in traditional media. The activities would be worthwhile based solely on the increase in traditional media coverage, but we see significant word-of-mouth benefit too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do you have a board of directors?

After an interesting dialogue with Scott Hepburn recently about selling and merging Twitter accounts (he actually posted his Twitter account on Craig's List earlier this week), I got to thinking, as the CEO of my Twitter account, blog and professional life, do I need a board of directors to advise me, bounce ideas off and keep me in check?


Just like a "real" CEO, I need counsel and a reality check from time to time. And I definitely need guidance around how to proceed in certain situations--advice on a potential career move, discussions around how to approach a challenge with a client or ideas/best practices to integrate into a PR/communications plan I'm putting together. I need a cadre of savvy counselors who can guide me on my journey, just like a CEO. 

Turns out, I already have it. Informally, at least.

For me, it's a combination of former managers, mentors, colleagues and people I just really respect and trust. I'm not going to call out my board members by name, but rest-assured I call on them regularly for advice and help. Of course, I collaborate and get thoughts from my entire network of colleagues, friends and family as well (including folks I've met on Twitter), but I really rely on my board--those folks I've come to truly know and trust--for the big-picture thinking and savvy advice.

What about you? Do you have an informal board of directors? How often do you meet with them?  If not, do you have a plan to start something similar in 2009? Why or why not?

Monday, January 12, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with David Mullen

About a month ago when I started engaging more actively on Twitter, one of the first folks I met was David Mullen. Man, was I lucky. 

Right from the get-go, despite his enormous popularity, David's been approachable, accomodating with my questions and requests, and friendly. After multiple conversations online, we've discovered we have a lot in common (two young kids, passion for blogging and a spirited interest in PR and integrated marketing and communications). 

Bottom line: David represents many of the key reasons I continue to devote so much time to blogging and engaging through online channels. He shares. He advocates. He collaborates. In fact, I feel like I learn a little nugget from him virtually every time we interact. So many smart people out here. And today, I'd like to share with you all a little more about David--what makes him tick, how he manages it all and who he follows regularly online--as the first installment in an ongoing "PR Rock Stars" conversation series. Oh, and if you aren't already, start following David on Twitter and visit his blog.

1-You're a busy guy. Two kids at home. Full-time job at Mullen. You're active on Twitter. You blog regularly. I'm assuming you have a healthy array of hobbies. How do you balance it all? 

I'm not going to lie. It's really tough to balance work and family alone most of the time without even tossing hobbies and social media stuff in the mix. Twitter doesn't really take up that much time for me since I quickly dip in and out throughout the day. Blogging, on the other hand, does require some decent time.

There was only one way to add blogging to the plate and not sacrifice time with my wife and daughters. The vast majority of work done on my blog falls between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. after everyone else in the house is asleep. It's wreaked a bit of havoc on my sleep schedule, especially since our youngest girl wakes up around 6 a.m. every day, but you do what you've got to do. Actually, the great thing about that was that it made me decide very quickly if I was serious about blogging or not.

2-I heard you mention at some point that you started your blog six months ago. Since then, you've evolved into a social media luminary online. Any advice for those aspiring to position themselves as authorities in different disciplines online?

You're way too kind. I'll leave the luminary title to Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund and a few other fine folks. My advice would be to blog about what you know and love, and find an angle on it that's a bit different from everyone else.

For example, I'm passionate about social media, but there are a LOT of already established bloggers who tackle that topic with much more background in the space than me. What I know really well is PR and integrated marketing. I write about social media from time-to-time on my blog, but the majority of time is spent on PR and integrated communications generally.

What I noticed about other PR bloggers is that many write about PR industry news and such. What I've done to have a different voice is regularly challenge the way we PR types do business to make sure we're doing things because they are the right way to do them, not simply because it's the way it's always been done. Challenging our profession in a positive way led to a lot of great comments on my posts, even early on, and solid growth in readers and subscribers.

3-You're a pretty savvy "Twittizen." Who are your "must follows"? Who do you make sure to check in with regularly? And whose blogs do you make a point of reading and commenting on each day?

Ah, you're going to make me name names... There are so many great folks I follow and I know I'm going to leave some off. But here are some of my "must follows," for various reasons. By the way, I'm leaving off the obvious A-listers (though a couple of these are inches away from that status). Those folks are pretty easy to find on Twitter.

@ambercadabra, @bethharte, @shannonpaul, @scottmeis, @sonnygill, @kellyecrane, @scotthepburn, @abneedles, @bradmays, @cubanaLAF, @evanspatrick, @rockstarjen, @dannybrown, @prjack, @susanisk, @researchgoddess and, of course, one of my new favorites @arikhanson.

I don't get to read as many blogs as I'd like or comment nearly as often as I should, but my must-read blogs right now are Amber Naslund, Shannon Paul, Chris Brogan, Danny Brown, Leo Bottary, Todd Defren, Jason Falls and Mack Collier. On the personal side, I also follow Desiring God , The Just Life, and The Resurgence. There are others that I read regularly, but these are the ones I read most often. I also get pointed to a lot of great posts by my Twitter peeps.

4-In your day job at Mullen, how have you been counseling clients who want to get into the social media space because "everyone else is jumping in?" How are you advising these folks to be prudent and strategic in their decision-making instead of taking the "me too" approach? Any best practices to offer?

I ask them a lot of questions during the first discussion that not only provide me with insight about their motivations, but also require them to stop and think about why they're interested. After getting all the answers out in the open, it's usually obvious to everyone if we're looking at social media tools as a strategic addition to our overall communications or if we've come down with Shiny Object Syndrome. It sounds simple, but asking the right questions - even if you already know the answer to some of them - can change a conversation.

5-Lastly, you mentioned the other day you paid off your second car and that you now have no payments. Nice. So, I'm guessing that means you won't be in the market for a new car anytime soon. However, if you were, what would be your dream automobile?

We are definitely NOT in the market for a new one car anytime soon! But if I could pick any set of wheels, it would either be a 1957 Chevy Truck, a 1956 Porsche 356 or an Aston Martin Vantage. Which car would depend on how I felt that day and whether or not my wife was with me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

7 Life Lessons and Professional Pointers You can Learn from Twitter

I'll admit, I'm a relative rookie when it comes to Twitter. I just started really participating and engaging a few weeks ago. But, in that short amount of time, I feel like I've learned as much or more than I have during entire college courses. Or, even some of my post-grad classes for that matter. Hey, Chris Brogan said it best--maybe you don't have to go back to school to hone certain key skills you need for your dream job today.

Since my primary MO is sharing, collaborating and connecting on- and off-line, I thought I'd share with you the life lessons and professional practices you can learn--as I have this last month--by engaging with others using this tool:

1--Twitter will make you a better writer. Writing in 140-word chunks forces you to communicate more efficiently and effectively. It makes you a great headline writer, which is only going to become more important as brevity is stressed more and more in the online--and offline--communications world. Twitter also forces you to write interesting, engaging copy--you know the kind you should be writing for your clients and organizations? If your tweets aren't engaging and interesting, people simply won't read them and engage with you. Wow, seems like I've heard that before somewhere...

2--Connect and collaborate with today's great minds. You would be so lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from great minds like Chris Brogan, Shel Holtz, Jason Falls and Geoff Livingston. And those are just a few of the luminaries in the social media/communications industry. What about finance? Or, health care? Or, technology? They're out there folks. On Twitter, you can connect with these thought leaders instantly in 140 characters. Believe me, these people are more approachable and open to conversation than you might think. Try them.

3--Be a sponge. A big, fat, ready-to-take on the world, kinda sponge. Soak in information as fast as you can take it in. I participated in Sarah Evans' remarkable and wildly successful Journcat last night. With a non-stop stream of tweets running by at warp speed, it was tough to keep up. But, I tried to gather and learn what I could, connect with a few folks, throw in my two cents and move on (One of my lame tweets even landed on her "Top Tweets" list--Sarah, I'm blushing now...) Always remember: Do more listening and learning and less shouting and preaching and you'll do fine.

4--Twitter can make you a happier person. Yes, psychology majors, you read that right. OK, so I may be over-stating it a little, but I find myself laughing at many tweets throughout the day. Just follow @ambercadabra, @darthvader or @skydiver for a while--you'll laugh. Trust me. Doesn't laughing make you happier? I've also met a boatload of people from everywhere from New Hampshire to Australia to Utah on Twitter. Doesn't connecting with new people and building those relationships make you happy? Or, use Twitter to help others. Just look what @armano did last night on Twitter--helped raise more than 4K in two hours (running total is now around 11K, I hear) for a family in desperate need. Amazing.

5--Twitter will help you hone your "pitch" skills. If you're in the media relations game, you know what I mean. When you pitch a reporter or blogger on a story idea you have to do a little research before crafting your pitch, right? You need to find out what makes the reporter tick. What he or she writes about. What they're interested in. Twitter's the same way. Before connecting with others on Twitter, take a few minutes to review their profile and read their blog. Find out where they went to school and if they have any special interests. Mention some of those things in your tweet. It's the same skills--different arena. One more thing: reporters appreciate it when you send them a personal note after they've written a great story, right? Again, same principle holds true in Twitterville. Retweet a follower's recent post. Or, just send them a nice tweet saying how much you've enjoyed connecting with them. Makes all the difference in the world.

6--Twitter: The new post-grad degree. Of course, it's not all about Twitter. It's about the conversations you have, the connections you build, the stories you share. It's also about what you put into it--blog posts you write, comments you provide on other blogs, videos and podcasts you develop. Think you can learn all that in a classroom right now and in the next six months to a year? I'm not saying post-secondary education isn't useful or a smart thing to do. I'm just saying tools like Twitter now give YOU the keys to your future. Take it. Run with it. You might like where you go.
7--Be yourself on Twitter. Isn't that the first rule of dating? C'mon ladies, help me out here. I know it's been a while since I've been in the dating game, but I've always followed this mantra. Applies on Twitter, too. Be funny. Smart. Irreverent. Whatever. Just be who you are. People see right through the folks who are trying to be someone they're not--just like in the real world.

OK--your turn. What have you learned on Twitter? Any life lessons or professional tips you'd like to share?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Minnesota PR/Communications Pros online

Over the last few weeks, I've been informally compiling a list of Minnesota-based PR and communications professionals who author blogs or are engaging on Twitter. Lately, I've found myself asking "Gee, I wonder if X is on Twitter." Or, "What other MN-based blogs can I link to or follow and learn from?" 

After a handful of searches for a definitive resource/list, I continue to come up empty. So darn it anyway, I'm starting one myself. 

This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. Instead, it's merely a starting point. So please, if you know someone I've missed, please leave a comment below or DM and I'll add it to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all MN PR/communications blogs and Twittizens. 

Blogs (Waxings--authored by various Beehive staffers) (authored by various RMPR staffers) (authored by various FH staffers) (authored by Katie Konrath)


@graemethickins (GTA Marketing)
@jenkaneco (Jennifer Kane--Kane Consulting)
@stephaniesnyder (Padilla Speer Beardsley)
@annehendricks (Fairview)
@patrickstrother (Strother Communications Group)
@timotis (Axiom Communications)
@aprilnel (April Nelson--Weber Shandwick)
@mjkeliher (Mike Keliher--Provident Partners)
@jeffshelman (Augsburg College)
@albertmaruggi (Provident Partners)
@karyd (Kary Delaria--KD Public Relations)
@asdeos (Anthony Deos--Target)
@leeodden (TopRank Online Marketing)
@cbensen (Connie Bensen--Techrigy)
@reinan (John Reinan--FastHorse)
@bskogrand (Brant Skogrand--Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@bmjewell (Bridget Jewell--Mall of America)
@jasonsprenger (Xiotech)
@saramasters (Minneapolis Synod)
@rebeccamartin (Beehive PR)
@curtisrsmith (Carmichael Lynch)
@sleepnumbersara (Sara Ryder--Select Comfort)
@prchck123 (Heather Schwartz--Weber Shandwick)
@evakeiser (Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@ekdao (Erika Dao--Mall of America)
@uptowngirlmpls (LeeAnn Rasachak--Select Comfort)
@knegs (Keith Negrin)
@terrijellman (Tastefully Simple)
@kellygroehler (Best Buy)
@azemke (Ayme Zemke--Beehive PR)
@perfectporridge (Greg Swan--Weber Shandwick)
@joel22882 (Joel Swanson--Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@laskaroy (Jared Roy-Risdall)
@mnpr (Ryan May)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Don't ignore your "offline" networks

The other day I got a quick, early morning workout in at our neighborhood YMCA. I was a little surprised when I noticed nearly 80 percent of those working out were 70 or older. It was like a scene straight out of the 1980s hit "Cocoon" (OK, I'm dating myself now). Then, I started to notice the elderly gentleman working out on the treadmill next to me had a steady stream of visitors. The guy knew virtually every person who walked by. I immediately and affectionately dubbed him "the mayor."

Where am I going with this story?

This guy clearly has a very large social network. If he knows this many folks at the Y--how many do you think he knows at his local church? How big is his network of friends, former coworkers and extended family? I'm guessing it's huge. Remember, he's the "mayor." 

Point is, as we invest significant time and energy in online networks and tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it's wise not to forget the personal, "offline" networks we've built over the years. It's incredible to be able to connect with people like Danny Brown, Mack Collier and Sarah Evans in Twitterville. But, the lunches I had last week with my good friends Sara Masters and Brie Gunderson were just as important. 

It's the same principles, but that face time makes all the difference. It's irreplaceable. It's no wonder you see Twitter relationships blossom after people meet at TweetUps or at conferences. I've noticed a few instances of this online recently--Shannon Paul, Amber Naslund, Liz Strauss and others connecting in Chicago. Mack Collier and other "tweeting up" in Hunstville. Once these folks meet in person, it cements the relationship. They're instantly more likely to provide advice. To point out interesting articles. And to help each other along the way. 

So tonight, instead of spending an extra 30 minutes on Twitter or 20 minutes updating your Facebook status and sharing photos, try one of the following:

* Reach out to a former colleague, ask them to lunch and see what's new in their world. 
* Call a member of your professional organization whom you've fallen out of touch with and find out how you can help them. 
* Send a personal, handwritten note to a former manager and tell them how they made a difference in your professional life.
* Meet someone new by asking one of your current colleagues or partners to introduce you to a person in their network whom they think you may share common interests. Great way to expand and diversify your network.
* Always wanted to connect with someone at Google, Nike or Best Buy? Ask your people in your personal network if they know folks at these organizations. And if they do, would they mind brokering an introduction?

Building and nurturing these personal relationships will complement your online networks nicely and give you additional opportunities to learn, collaborate and share in 2009. And, in an economy like the one we're mired in now, that's more important than ever.

What about you? What will you do in the weeks ahead to solidify your offline networks? Any other tips to share?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cast your vote for the best Twitter avatar

How did you choose the pic for your avatar? Did you struggle with your choice? Did you go with a straight head shot? A cartoon? Or, maybe a random graphic? 

Whatever the case, our avatars are a big part of our online persona on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. You make first impressions of people you meet face to face within a few minutes based largely on their physical appearance, right? Online, people base those same first impressions on your avatar--the only visual they may have at the time. 

So, I thought we'd have some fun with this and find out who really does have the best Twitter avatar--at least, according to the Tweeple. 

Here's the deal. Cast your vote by sending me a DM at before midnight, CST, Saturday, Jan. 3.

As you consider your choices and cast your vote, there really are no hard-and-fast criteria. But, think about the creativity of the avatar. Does it make you laugh? Does it pique your interest? Is it mysterious? Does it make you want to follow that person and engage them in conversation?

That's it, really. Again, vote now by sending a DM to me at Deadline is midnight, Saturday, Jan. 3. I'll announce the winner on Sunday afternoon. 

To get you started, here's a few avatars that have piqued my interest over the last few weeks:

* @armano--Anyone who wears a yellow cowboy hat is OK in my book. 
* @darthvader--Classic. Vintage. Pure evil.
* @skydiver--How did he get that pic anyway?
* @chrisbrogan--Changed his avatar a few times lately. I like clean-shaven Chris a little better, myself.
* @mackcollier--Much debate lately about the hand on Mack's shoulder. Did we ever find out whose hand it was?
* @perfectporridge--Tip of the cap to one of the Twin Cities social media gurus. Creative execution.
* @prsarahevans--She just looks like the kind of person you want to be friends with, doesn't she?
* @tedmurphy--I'm both intrigued and a little frightened.