Bursting the Bubble

I just had an eye opening experience with one of the people who works on our TV show. My co-producer has asked him to write a blog post for the blog we are launching soon. Thing is, he’s a general contractor. He spends his day on the job site, not on a computer. The concept of writing a blog post is pretty foreign to him. So needless to say, he’s a little unsure about how to go about it. About as unsure as I am about how to build a 2 storey addition.

We live in such a bubble with all this social media stuff. I don’t have to step too far into my circle of friends, family and colleagues to get to a place where social media doesn’t exist beyond Facebook (and only one step beyond that are those I know who only use the web for Googling and email).

Those of us engrossed in social media know the power of this new medium to share, communicate, collaborate. We spend countless hours talking about it. To each other.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of people out there who call themselves “social media consultants”. They are knocking on the doors of businesses and marketers, trying to teach them how to get the most bang for their buck in this online world. That’s all fine and well, but what if we took a different approach?

Start With the Regular Joe
Instead of spending so much time yammering on with a bunch of people who are saying the same things back to us, maybe we should spend a little more time talking to the people who aren’t talking about this stuff (i.e. most people). Look at my contractor buddy. We took the time to explain to him what a blog post is all about in terms that make sense to him. He immediately saw the value in doing it – after all, he runs a business. He knows that people will see his post and that it will help him promote his business. For us, we get to expand the stories of the characters on our show and provide additional, valuable content to our viewers. Everybody wins. We’re not selling him social media…we’re providing him an opportunity to make a connection with his customers. And being a smart businessman, that’s something that he totally gets.

Instead of trying to ram social media down people’s throats, let’s find ways incorporate it as an extension to what already exists. This requires education. The kind of education I’m talking about here is not educating clients. It’s educating the web developers, content developers, designers, PR and marketing specialists of tomorrow.

In the new year I am going to be teaching what is one of the first courses on social media to be taught at the community college level (at least at the college where I’m working). I am going to have the undivided attention of 2nd year web designers and developers for 11 weeks. It’s a tremendous opportunity. These young people (most of them are under the age of 25) going to be working in the Web industry in the very near future. They need to be armed with a knowledge and understanding not only of the tools that exist, but of how to use this medium to build relationships, share information, collaborate, help others, and build communities.

Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who already incorporates social media as a fundamental part of the way they create web sites? Wouldn’t you rather hire someone to whom interacting in online communities comes naturally? Wouldn’t that help you to integrate this medium into your development more easily? I think yes. Educate the Web workers of tomorrow, today. Let them be the ones to help you work the magic.

Get Your Other Networks in the Loop
I’m not talking about telling your Grandma to get on Twitter. I’m talking about showing people the value FOR THEM. What I define as value in social media is entirely different than what my Dad defines as value. He gets his value from being able to subscribe to read a few blogs he likes. He gets value from using WordPress to run his Square Dancing troupe’s web site. He gets value from watching his grandkids in the videos my brother posts on Facebook. I get my value from being part of a bunch of networks to do with my industry and with my interests outside work, from working on my blog, and from being a power user of Twitter. Everyone’s perfect fit is different. The key is, show the people around you where they can find value and they will find their own ways to get engaged.

What about you? Do you think we are living in a social media bubble? How do you intend to help burst it?


Social Media’s Secret Sauce

Every time I go to a Podcamp, I come away with so many new things to think about and explore. Yesterday’s Podcamp Ottawa was no exception. Our group was smaller than most Podcamp groups (about 30 I think), but the discussion was compelling. I always have one big takeaway from the day. Yesterday’s take away was a pretty big one for me.

We talked about all sorts of things, from building relationships to writing books to the dreaded “M” word…monetization.

I get a bit persnickety when people start talking about monetization. I tend to lose my usual cheerful nature a bit. It’s not because I’m against monetization. I am an entrepreneur, after all…I do like to make money. What gets my knickers in a knot is the attitude that anyone can make quick buck shilling social media. I had several discussions with other Podcampers yesterday about this. And here’s what I’ve concluded.

Social media is not a product that can be sold.

I know I might be stating the obvious here, but I really do feel as if there’s a lot of misconception out there about how social media is actually making people REAL money. Sure, some people have super popular blogs and podcasts and tons of advertisers and yes they are carving out a decent living. But in my estimation, those people are the exception, not the rule. And frankly, I’m not the least bit interested in making a pile of money off just blogging or just having a podcast. To me, it just seems like too much work to make any real money at it. So what’s the secret? I think it’s this:

Share Share Share Share and then Share Some More
Jeff Parks from I.A. Consultants has a great business philosophy…”Share everything”. What he means is, if you find a place where you can provide value, then just provide that value. Seize the opportunities that come your way through the relationships you built, even if it means no immediate monetary benefit. Jeff, in his session yesterday morning at Podcamp, talked about how he gets invited to various conferences so he can interview the big thinkers in his industry (information architecture and user experience design) and produce podcasts, and how he doesn’t make a penny doing it.

So why does he do it? Because he gets the opportunity to travel around to various conferences and interview the big thinkers in his industry. He gets to spend time with people he may not otherwise ever get to meet. He gets to learn and grow and get better at what he does for a living, so when he gets back to his office he is in a better position to succeed with the money-paying clients he does have. The experience he is gaining, the relationships he’s building by attending these conferences and talking to these people far outweigh any monetary compensation he could get for doing the same.

Social Media’s Secret Sauce
My point is, social media is extraordinarily powerful when it’s used in the right way. Social media, as a tool, allows people to build relationships, share information, and succeed. We all know that. But are we actually doing it? I appreciate that over the past several months I have started to build a larger and larger audience on this blog. I said yesterday during one of the sessions that I have no intention of making any money off my blog, and that’s true. Why? Because I don’t think the amount of work I’d have to do to make any REAL money (I mean mortgage-paying money, not beer money) would be worth it. What IS worth it to me is the connections I’m able to make by blogging, being on Twitter, and going to meet ups and Podcamps (yes, I believe that these latter, in-person human contact events are social media tools as well) are far more valuable than making a quick buck off what I’m doing in these places. Sharing my thoughts with you here costs me nothing. You indulge me, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Sharing ideas is social media’s secret sauce. The truth is, you don’t make money off of sharing ideas. You don’t make money off of social media. Social media is just the vehicle by which you are able to share. You make money off of the opportunities that arise out of that sharing.

What do you think? Am I way off base on this? What’s in your secret sauce?

Surviving the Topsy Turvy Job Market

It’s a funny thing about how I write this blog. Last week, I couldn’t stop the posts from falling out of my head. This week, it’s everything I can do to come up with just one decent idea. So today, I decided to reach out to my network for some inspiration. I put the call out on Twitter, of course. I got several great responses. Some of the ideas are going to take a bit more time to research and put thought into, but this one suggestion from @plabonte really stood out to me as something I could easily talk about. His suggestion: “The economy and tech…how to stay current and valuable in tough times to not get laid off”.

I was immersed in the high tech industry during the big tech bust. In fact, I was working at one of the largest and hardest hit corporations, Nortel Networks. When I started there in 2000, there were over 98,000 employees worldwide working for Nortel. When I left a year and a half later, there were 28,000.

As the layoffs started to rampage through our division, I watched as entire teams of people were let go around me. Every day I went to work wondering if it would be my last. I cringed every time the phone rang, thinking it was going to be my turn to head down to the HR office. But, I was fortunate to be one of the survivors. I lasted close to a year before I got a better offer and decided to quit.

I’ve been asked before what I think the reason was that I survived. I do think that a lot of it, at that time, had to do with the luck of the draw. But I also like to think that there were some behaviours that helped me to stick around as long as I did.

In this time of economic turmoil, people always say “there’s no guarantees”. But you know what? What I’ve learned is that whether the economy is good or bad, there are no guarantees. Anyone is at risk of losing their job at any time. There’s really no such thing as job security anymore. Sound depressing? It can be. Does it have to be the end of the world? Absolutely not. It’s all about finding ways you can try to gain some control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

Be a Valuable Employee
When I was feeling insecure about my employment status, I took it upon myself to be an even more valuable employee. Part of the problem with laying off 30% of a department in one go is that the workload doesn’t decrease by 30% to go along with it. So when times were tough, instead of complaining about it, I stepped up to the plate. I took on extra work, offered to help out people who were struggling, and did what I could to make sure I was making a valuable contribution. Sure, I ended up not sticking around. But, my positive attitude and extra effort won me enough points that I ended up forging a great relationship with my boss. Even though neither of us work there any longer, I’ve been hired by him many times since then for other projects. Why? Because I was a trooper, and proved to him that I could get the job done, even when the chips were down.

Have a Plan B…and a Plan C….and a Plan D
Feeling confident about your job? Well, what if you were to consider that every day you go to work could be your last day? It’s true – and it can happen to anyone. Never get too cozy has always been my job security motto. I have had jobs I thought were the best jobs in the world – great money, great benefits, great environment, great people…but even still, I always kept my resume up to date. I always went out and networked and let people know that I was seeking new challenges. Not that I was unhappy with my job – but I never closed a door. As a result, when the bottom did fall out on a few jobs, I didn’t have to work too hard to sweep up the mess. I remember getting laid off from a job, and on the drive home, I called my brother with the news. A few weeks before he’d told me that someone in another department was looking for a web content developer. I asked him for that person’s number, hung up that call, and phoned her right away. The next day I was in her office for an interview and the next week I started at Nortel. Always have a back up plan. And a back up plan to your back up plan too.

Consider Making the Break Anyway
Three times I’ve had great jobs, and quit them cold turkey. Once was when I worked for the community channel. After 7 years I gave it all up and went back to college. The second time was at Nortel, when I couldn’t take the stress of impending layoffs anymore and quit to take a better position elsewhere. The third time was when I quit my proposal writing job to start my company. Was it scary? Damn straight. Do I have regrets? Not in the least. If you are truly fed up with the job market, consider what you would need to do to break free of those corporate ties. Maybe you can start part time, building up a clientele in your off hours.  See how it goes. You may realize that you can find a market for your services or products and start a business that will survive the tough times we are facing. Always consider that you have the power to do what you want with your career. YOU ultimately hold the cards.

Develop Your Network
Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to build a worldwide network of people that can open our eyes to new career opportunities. Now more than ever, you need to be working on building solid relationships with people. Now more than ever, you need to secure your place and build your reputation in the online world. This is where the new opportunities are. You need to spend some time seeking them out.

Seek Opportunity in Adversity
Not only must you seek the opportunities in the online world, but you must seek these opportunities IN SPITE of the dark days ahead. Great opportunity often comes out of the most adverse situations. Don’t be dragged down by what’s going on around you. Stay positive, keep your eyes and ears open, and find ways that you can make a contribution. With the right attitude, you will be amazed at what can transpire.

5 Fun Facts

This morning I logged on to Twitter and saw that I had been tagged by the lovely Barb Chamberlain of BiketoWorkBarb to produce a list of five things people might not know about me. The original idea came from my newest and coolest Twitter friend Dominick Evans, who sees the real value in doing an exercise like this. The concept is, tell 5 things about yourself, then tag (meaning link) to 5 other people so they can do the same. Not only do you learn some new things about folks, but you are also helping others to make new connections through the links you post. It’s a cool idea, don’t you think? So, here’s my list! Stick around till the end of the post, the most interesting stuff is there – the links to the 5 people I’m tagging (who you should all check out because THEY ROCK).

5 Fun Facts About Suzemuse

1. I’m a military brat. My Dad was in the Canadian Armed Forces for 36 years. Because of the kind of job he had, we ended up in some pretty unique and far away places, including Inuvik, NWT, and Masset on the Queen Charlotte Islands in B.C. It was fun growing up in these isolated, small communities. I didn’t get to do a lot of things other kids did, like go to McDonalds, hang out at shopping malls, and watch TV – because we didn’t have those things. As a result, I became very resourceful, finding ways to fill my days with music, art, and books. To this day I’d rather read a book or play music than sit in front of the TV. (Ironic that I’ve spent much of my career actually making TV!)

2. I couldn’t cook until about 7 years ago. I’m a total foodie, and I have the waistline to prove it. When I was growing up, my mom tried and tried to get me interested in cooking. But I’d have nothing of it. As a result, when I moved out on my own, I could barely boil an egg. I managed on frozen dinners and canned soup for several years, and I could make spaghetti so if I had a boy over at least I didn’t look completely silly. Then I met my husband. This man can cook! I was being treated to eggs florentine, hand made ravioli, and other fancy delights on a regular basis. I think it was pretty much through osmosis, but he helped me to become more confident in the kitchen. And, he is happy to play guinea pig to my culinary wizardry (we have been forced to order pizza on more than one occasion).

3. I have a tattoo. Yup, got it a few years ago. It’s on my lower back – a funky sun-bursty kind of thing. Thinking about getting another one too (sorry Mom!). I think it runs in the family – my Dad, my brother and my husband all have tattoos. Only one that doesn’t have one is my Mom. But we’re working on her.

4. I met the Barenaked Ladies before they got famous. I used to produce a local music show at the community access station. It is the best job in the world to have when you are 25. I got paid to run around town, interview bands, go to free concerts and hang out backstage. We did a lot of stuff with local bands which was great. Every now and again I’d get to interview someone famous (Davy Jones, The Sweet, Los Lobos, to name a few) which was always so fun. But the ones that were the most memorable to me, were the people I got to meet who were yet to be famous. My reporter called me to go down to this tiny club in downtown Ottawa to do an interview. They had a weird name – Barenaked Ladies. So off I went, camera gear in tow. The guys we were to interview were named Steve and Ed. They looked about 15 years old. During the interview they told us that they were so happy to finally be breaking out of Toronto and hoped that they’d be able to come back to Ottawa some day. Then they got on stage and started playing “Be My Yoko Ono”, and it just about blew my mind. The next time they came back to Ottawa, they were playing a sold out stadium.

5. I almost flunked English. When I was in high school, I had two subjects that I was just awful at – Math and English. My grammar was so bad that I had to take special tutoring after school until I stopped dangling my participles. My English teacher told me that I would never be a good writer and that I might as well stick to music. Anyone who knows me knows the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it. So I set about learning to write, almost from scratch. As a result, I ended up having a career as a writer – I write TV shows and web sites, do technical writing, proposal writing and write this blog. My grammar is still far from perfect, but I so love to write. As for my math skills – they are now and will always be horrific.

Now for the fun part!!!

I’m tasking these 5 special people to submit their lists. You need to check them all out, because they are superstars.

Ryan Anderson – The New PR. Ryan has great perspective on the world of new media and PR and there’s always something new popping up on his blog. And he’s fun at parties, too!

Bob LeDrew – Bob is also fun at parties. What’s cool is he makes his own, and invites musicians. Bob and his wife run Bobcat House Concerts, and I can’t tell you how awesome these concerts are. If you don’t live in Ottawa, you’ll have to find someone in your town that does this, and GO!

Maggie McGary aka mizz information – I’m totally hooked on Maggie’s blog. She brings passion and humour to the world of social media and I just plain like her.

Robert Hruzek, Middle Zone Musings – Robert says on his blog that he doesn’t usually do the meme thing. But this is an opportunity to tell some stories, something Robert does exceptionally well. I hope he makes an exception this time!

Karen Putz, A Deaf Mom Shares Her World – Karen and I have been Twitter pals for some time, and I love to read her blog – it’s so insightful! Karen does so much to promote awareness around the deaf community and I’m so glad she shares her story through this blog.

In Case You Were Wondering…

In case you were wondering what all this social media business is all about, let me give you an example. Last night, I was hanging around on Twitter and this question appeared from master woodworker and Twitter afficionado Keith Burtis:


I thought for a minute, then responded:


And then Keith made this video.

This is what social media is. It’s real interactions, between real people. It’s about seizing the opportunities and inspirations that are laid out for you in this space. It’s collaboration, communication, and creation.

This is powerful stuff.

How has social media changed how you interact? How has it changed how you are inspired?

Are You Trying Too Hard? Or Not Hard Enough?

Back in high school, there were lots of different types of people, but the people I found the most difficult to deal with were those that tried too hard and those that didn’t try hard enough.

The kid that didn’t try hard enough always got under my skin. It was mostly because he was a spoiled brat to begin with (and my parents didn’t raise no spoiled brats!). He expected something for nothing and whined and groaned to anyone who would listen if he didn’t get his way. He was always shouting and bragging and carrying on about how great he was but wasn’t interested in what anyone else had to say. He wanted a free ride to the top and he’d step on whoever he could to get there.

The kid that tried too hard, on the other hand, was even more troublesome for me. This kid was the one that was always hanging around the cool kids, but was continuously being openly ignored by the popular set. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a nice kid; it’s that she’d be constantly tripping over herself to try and fit in. She’d try to use the cool expressions, wear the cool clothes, hang out at the cool places. She thought she was doing everything right. But instead, she was trying to be someone she wasn’t. And that was not cool.

Like any community, social media attracts all kinds of people. The majority of the people I come across are genuine. Their intentions are really good. But I think that some people are not getting everything they could out of social media simply because they are either trying too hard or not trying hard enough.

How to Tell if You’re Not Trying Hard Enough
Wondering why you post on your blog every day (sometimes twice a day) and nobody shows up? Or maybe a few people do drop by, but they don’t ever leave a comment. Wonder why you follow 20,000 people on Twitter but only 300 follow you back? There’s a chance you are not trying hard enough.

Social networks only work if they work two ways. Essentially, you get out of it what you put into it. If your blog or Twitter posts are only about you promoting your latest product, or you whining and complaining about things, or you bragging about how great you are, then there’s a big problem: it’s that your posts are all about YOU. And as interesting as your life is, people are not interested in being constantly blurted to. Eventually they will give up on you.

What To Do About It
Make your social network interactions about something that people can relate to. Touch a chord. Inspire change. Raise awareness. Help other people. Most importantly, reach out to others. Ask questions, start a conversation. Don’t sit back and wait for everyone to come to you. This takes effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. It might take years. Keep reminding yourself why you are here. Then take one step at a time.

How to Tell if You’re Trying Too Hard
You’re going along, interacting with lots of important and famous people, commenting on a ton of popular blogs, reaching out on a daily basis to anyone who has more than 10,000 followers. Last week, Ms. A List blogger even posted a follow up to your comment! Yet, since then, she has outright refused to respond to any of your emails, DM’s, requests to send out links, or latest business ideas. The nerve of some people! And you thought she was your friend.

Trying to be one of the popular kids is rarely successful. It didn’t work for you in high school, honey, and it certainly isn’t going to work for you here. The reason why is simple; when you are trying to be popular, you are not being yourself.

What To Do About It
If you are using social networks to be popular, you are doing it for the wrong reason – it’s that simple. Instead, try this approach. Be real. Be yourself. Be interested in other people whether they have 50 followers or 50,000. Be interesting to other people by having real conversations about things that matter to both of you.

In The End…
We could sit around and analyze for years why certain people gain more popularity than others. Some would say it’s dumb luck. Others would say it’s because of the kind of person they are, and how they interact with and engage others. I say it’s probably a bit of both. Look, what you do with your time in this space is up to you. If you are not getting the results you want, though, seriously consider your motivation and how you might begin to see things differently.

And I’ll Tell Two Friends…

Remember this commercial?

The woman in this commercial is pretty impressed with herself that she told TWO friends about how great Faberge Organic Shampoo with Wheat Germ Oil and Honey is. She’s hoping that her TWO friends will then tell their TWO friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. She’s hoping that YOU will tell two friends too, and the shampoo company hopes that word of mouth will sell shampoo. 

Watching a commercial like this today seems just silly. TWO friends? For those of you involved in online communities – when was the last time you had only TWO friends?? Word of mouth ain’t what it used to be. 

I have ridiculously thick, coarse hair. Seriously, it’s out of control. If I don’t take serious efforts to tame my mane on a daily basis, I absolutely run the risk of taking someone’s eye out. So, if I try a new shampoo, that makes my locks silky, soft, shiny and smooth, you’re darn right I’m going to tell someone about it. But I’m not just going to tell two friends. I’m on the Internet! I’m going to tell 1000 friends. And that is precisely the kind of word of mouth marketing that companies are scambling for these days. 

The issue is that word of mouth marketing can’t be forced. If the shampoo company called me up, or sent me an email saying, “Try our shampoo for the ridiculously thick-haired! If you like it, then get on Twitter and tell all your friends!”, I would be much less inclined to spread the word. Why? Because I KNOW I’m being marketed to. And I might lose credibility if someone were to find out that the shampoo company had contacted me, telling me to pass on the good word about their product. (I guess that’s why disclosure is important – but I digress.)

My point is, it’s no secret that companies should be thinking about ways to get their products in front of the eyeballs of people online. But they need to be more subtle about it. Perhaps they just need to send me a free sample when I order beauty supplies online. Perhaps I can go to their site and enter a coupon code for a free bottle. Perhaps they can buy http://www.ridiculouslythickhair.com and then put up blog posts about how people with ridiculously thick hair can learn to manage it, and earn my trust that way. 

If I try a product and it solves a big problem for me, then I will shout it from the rooftops. I WILL tell 1000 people. And maybe they’ll tell 1000 people too. And so on, and so on, and so on….

Online communities hold tremendous power in their hands. Companies who don’t see the power of the new word of mouth are missing the boat in a big way.