The next frontier – part I

A new frontier in social marketingI’m biased and I admit it. In the past year or two, something wonderful (or terrible, depending on your point of view) has happened: lots of people are jumping on the “social” bandwagon. As someone who’s been in the trenches pioneering the work to shift a big company to approaching all aspects of our work in a way that incorporates help from our customers, I respect other pioneers more than newcomers. I just do. I suspect the other “first movers” from big companies feel the same way, although no one actually comes right out and says so.

Here’s why: people who were on the boat from the beginning have a shared experience. Without saying so, I know we’ve all faced the same skepticism, rolling eyes, and outright sneers from co-workers we respect and admire. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes with seeing new people understand and adopt new practices that embrace customers. We understand that the wins you have as an innovator may not be the ones you expected, but you celebrate them nonetheless.

A few personal stories on why relationships between pioneers matter so deeply:

When I first met Seth Greenberg four years ago, I suspect we both felt like two guppies in a pond full of goldfish. Both recent hires from internet backgrounds, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the smartest people we’d ever met. And they all thought in a really different way than we did – the consumer packaged goods way. (for those unfamiliar with that approach it’s traditional, disciplined, and steeped in decades of research and data) Our first meeting was at our then VP of Marketing’s staff meeting – he had asked me to present our work with the Inner Circle.  As I walked through the site, explaining how we partnered with customers to create our product, most of the room listened with varying degrees of interest. But not Seth. He lit up immediately, offering ideas of what we could do on the site to make it even more interactive. “Finally!” I remember thinking, “finally, someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

Around this same time two product managers whose opinions I still deeply respect to this day were telling me to, in effect, get a real job because nothing was ever going to come of this social stuff. But not Seth. And when it was time to leave product management for my next career move, our shared experience helped pave the way to a brand new opportunity working for Seth. (Which was transforming for both of us, I think)

Just as surely I knew “social” was the direction to go four years ago, I know the “early majority” jumping on board now is a necessary thing – the next frontier. How can we scale our efforts without their help? We can’t. And like Charlene Li states in her new book Open Leadership I need to find a way to enable even more adoption and still be a leader.

Next up: embracing the challenge of the unknown.

On Boldness

I’m not naturally a bold person, although reading that might surprise some people. This quote, often attributed to Goethe, has lived on my refrigerator for years. I credit it with keeping me focused on making the first step in the right direction. That focus enabled a series of career changes without letting my fear manage me (Marine biology teacher to web developer to product manager to marketer to corporate comms).

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Beyond skunkworks: going mainstream without selling out

In my last post I talked about the notion of starting your new, unproven projects in “skunkworks” mode to get them going without fear of the ongoing, unproductive dance of prioritization against proven mainstream efforts. After a year of being in skunkworks, it’s time to go mainstream. Why? Without further ado, I give you…

The top five reasons you know it’s time to move your skunkworks projects mainstream:

  1. You proved your case: When you launched your skunkworks project, you did it with concrete goals in mind, right? Once you start proving your case with indisputable data, things start to fall into line. The golden moment you realize you proved your case is one of the most satisfying work moments there is – because it means you were the oracle. And your life is about to get easier.
  2. You need the assets “the machine” provides: In order to flourish, your baby needs to grow. And the “core” business has incredible designers, programmers, and marketers who can help you do it.
  3. The resistance you faced initially is gone: See number one. Once you prove your case with some actual hard data, the resistance starts to fade, which means one of the reasons you avoided being part of the core process is fading too.
  4. If you want “social” to be part of the way you do business, it has to be part of the way you do business. Nothing says “I’ve arrived” better than walking through the front door.
  5. You’ll be GD-ed if you’re going to turn your baby over to some other corporate shumuck to takeover. If the business believes your project is worth growing someone is going to grow it. If you don’t someone else to be that person, you better step up. Trust me on this one.

The real cost of “skunkworks” operations

skunkworks operationsAnyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of “skunkworks” operations where you circumvent the huge overhead associated with a corporation’s established “processes” and make things happen behind the scenes, often by working directly with engineers and designers who are passionate about the same things you are. Lots of sites extol the virtues of the skunkworks operations as a great, if not the only way to make innovation happen at big companies. I am not here to argue with them.

There is, however, a cost no one tells you about going skunkworks: you will for sure piss some people off. And some of them will be pretty powerful. Ask yourself this question: what do powerful people do when they are pissed off at you? They tend to take a few well-timed, visible slugs at you, which can add up to some stress. That said here’s what I think the keys to succeeding are:

  1. Year one: Go skunkworks in your passion project. Expect to take some hits for doing it and don’t take it personally when they come. Be brutally honest with yourself about goals and metrics that the business will get excited about.
  2. Years two and beyond: Once you’ve tested your way into those metrics of success and enough of the right people in your business are interested and excited, it’s time to suck it up and go through the established processes.

Next up: why would you want to go through established processes if you’ve had success in the skunkworks arena?

Traveling Shoes

Yes ladies, there is a travel uniform. And if I had only known about it earlier, it would have made my life so much simpler. Thus, I share it with you in the hopes you can have pain-free travels because of it.

For the flight:

bring a big bag for carryon

Big bags hold everything and make security a breeze

  • Black yoga pants
  • flip flops or slip on shoes
  • two layers of tank tops
  • open front button-free cotton cardigan
  • hair in pony tail (with a metal free pony tail holder)
  • stud earrings (insert joke here)
  • big huge carry on bag which contains wallet, computer, toiletries in the quart-sized plastic baggie (mine is pictured at the right)
  • If you’re speaking at an event, bring a black shift dress -they travel well and are almost always appropriate. Dress it up with accessories. I got this little tip from Kira Wampler and she couldn’t have been more right. (thanks, Kira)

So what did I miss? What travel uniform do you wear?

Top six things about being on the exec floor

Top 5 reasons it's good to be on the executive floorToday is my first day in my new office, which is on the “executive” floor. It’s different than the more marketing-heavy third floor with all its hustle and bustle. So what’s the good part of making the move? Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen I give you the top six (good) things about being on the executive floor.

    6. It’s really quiet. No one wants to be the clown who disturbs all those VPs.
    5. I can look out a window from my office.
    4. You get to sit near some super-smarties: like Chelsea, Ashley, and Julie.
    3. The snack machine is up here AND the soda machine with the Diet Dr. Pepper.
    2. Just by being here people think you’re strategic.

And the top reason to be glad you’re on the VP floor:

    1. The cleanest, least used ladies’ room in the entire campus (there are very few women on this floor).

Utter B.S.

This morning I saw one of the much-maligned tv ads for BP and how sorry they are and how committed they are to fixing the massive oil spill they’ve caused. bp oil spill bird rehabI don’t blame them for trying to control their image (although I don’t think it’s going to work given what they’ve done) but I take major offense at the image on the left. As a person who worked at SeaWorld for almost ten years and spent some time with rescued animals, I can tell you for 100% certain that this image of smiley, happy people surrounded by clean, sudsy birds is utter bullshit. And it infuriates me- and it should infuriate you too.

I’ve worked with a few rescued animals and you know what it’s like? Dirty. D-I-R-T-Y. And back breaking, exhausting, and potentially dangerous. And you know what happens at the end of all that? Most of the time, the rescued animal dies anyway, breaking your heart. The heroes who really do this work all the time operate on the same level as emergency room doctors: no time to get too upset about one loss, since they’ve got dozens more to try and save where that one came from.

I’ll share one personal story to illustrate: one year while I was at SeaWorld there were a number of common dolphins who beached themselves and needed to be rescued. (Right there, that’s heart breaking, right?) At any given time we had between 1-3 beached dolphins being rehabbed to be re-released after they healed. The demand to take care of these animals 24/7 was so great the animal care specialists asked for help from some folks in the education department, which is where I came in. My first shift began at 2 in the morning. I was to don those sexy Helly Hansen yellows and get in the water with this common dolphin (who was having too many problems to stay upright to breathe for himself) and physically walk him around the pool for two hours in the dead of night. As I walked up, I realized the dolphin was really, really sick. Just after I arrived he died – the single most beautiful animal I have ever seen die in front of me. I cried. At two thirty in the morning, the three of us carried this gorgeous dead dolphin out of the pool to the necropsy room to await analysis. (Do you know how heavy dolphins are?) The other two folks I was there with left, and I went back to counting respirations of the remaining rescued dolphins until dawn when the regular animal care team arrived to relieve me. At that time i learned one of the beached baby harbor seals they had rescued had died as well. When I got home I couldn’t eat until I had taken a hot shower, not knowing what sort of bacteria or viruses I had been exposed to in the prior hours.

Please tell me what part of that story sounds like that PR photo above. Add on top of that the death of COUNTLESS dolphins, sea turtles, fish, invertebrates, corals, and more – all the animals I spent ten years of my life teaching kids to value and conserve – it’s an absolute outrage. Maybe it’s time for bike baby, bike.

I got a new job!

As of July 5th I’ll be moving into a new role for me: Sr. Manager of Social Media and Corporate Communications. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing, but on the communications side of the house with more emphasis on direct customer engagement. (Incidentally, that’s the part I love) I’ll also get to work directly for my long-time mentor and with a great team of strong, smart women.

Making this move is bittersweet; I’m getting a great opportunity but I’m leaving behind a team I love and a boss I adore in Seth Greenberg. I’ll still be working in very close collaboration with the team (and my replacement) but it hurts a little to move forward from a group of folks that brings their “A” game to every challenge and yet still supports one another.

Here’s to new challenges and opportunities and rising to meet them!

Kids, there *are* bad ideas

I am tired, ever-so-tired of hearing people say “there is no such thing as a bad idea.” Believe me, there are plenty of bad ideas out there. Plenty. I have no idea how we got to this “I’m okay, you’re okay” place regarding the equal goodness of all ideas but I’m guessing the answer has something to do with New Math. (Thank you, 7o’s)

What’s more interesting to me is what principles can I adhere to ensure the ideas that come out of my mouth don’t suck. Here’s what I’ve got so far… I’d be interested to know what I’m missing here:

  1. Have a strategy. Your strategy should ladder up to the businesses’ strategy. If you do nothing else but refer back to this principle, it would be almost enough.
  2. Stay up on what’s current. If you have a grasp on what’s actually innovative in the here and now,  it’s hard to want to do things that are older just because three years later you finally figured out what you should have done three years ago.
  3. It’s not about you. If social is the “how” you’re using to get business results, it comes with its own set of rules. One of the most important rules is that you are not solving for the application you wish people would like if they all worked at your company, you’re solving for what they actually like. Based on actual behavior you can see and measure in the real world, not what you want it to be.
  4. Know how to build most things yourself. This is my personal opinion based on experience: if you can build even simple applications you will know more intimately how the internet works and what is most important. And you more than likely won’t make an ass of yourself when the time comes to work with real engineers.

What did I miss?