The Pervasiveness of Sharing

In an age where everything is shared online via social media, there is an opportunity in NOT sharing. Or rather, in sharing selectively, with a small group.

Dan Blank
Going viral” is what everyone seems to dream of, which means there is an opportunity in embracing intimacy. That showing one person, or a selected group, that you care, is a way to stand out, while everyone else is focusing only on the masses.

I was listening to an interview with Damon Albarn about his headline gig at the 2009 Glastonbury Festival. He actually contacted the BBC to see if they WOULDN’T broadcast and record it. Even though he was playing to well more than 100,000 people, he wanted to have a moment that would be experienced ONLY by the people there, living in the moment. That, we are somehow robbed of private moments, or group experience, of living in the moment.

His colleague Jamie Hewitt added that when you watch a performance at a show like that, the instant the band comes on, thousands of little blue screens pop up – cell phone cameras held aloft my fans.

Even in the moment they waited for, as they are experiencing what will one day be scared memories, people are overwhelmed with the concern of CAPTURING the moment. Of storing it, filing it and sharing it for later experience. That people are so concerned with saving the memory, that they don’t actually experience the moment.

How is this not merely an observation, but an opportunity?

Many of us work in niche markets – and your businesses can be profitable and growing without needing everyone on the planet to buy from you. Sure, it’s nice to dream about having the kind of success that J.K. Rowling did, or that Jeff Bezos did, or that Steve Jobs did, but is it worth betting your entire future on the .0000000001% chance that it could happen to you?

What’s wrong with merely being profitable? With merely being adored by your niche market? With a growth rate of 20% each year, instead of 700%?

When you limit who you share things to, you create exclusivity. You enable shared experience. Why is it we feel a closer connection to those who went to the same elementary school we did – or the same fraternity – or who worked at a certain company or in the military? Shared experience.

When you focus on only a select group, it increases the chance of individualized attention, and shows that you care about THEM, not just ANYONE who is giving you money or attention.

This is the power of connection – of companionship and relationships. When you create a line between insiders, and outsiders, it polarizes things. And sure, that can be used in a negative way, but it can also be used in positive ways.

I love how the web has opened up the world. But consider opportunities around closed groups, about the value of boundaries, and how we can connect in meaningful ways when things aren’t “going viral.”

Let me know if I can help you in building your business & career: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

The Fallacy of “Going Viral”

Many individuals and businesses approach the web and social media with the hopes of ‘going viral.’ What this means is that they hope for a sudden and huge amount of attention to something they release – be it a company, product, blog post, video, Tweet, etc.

They hope to build in a day, what it takes even the most successful – YEARS – to do. Sure, it happens, but today I want to chat about why going viral is not the best strategy for moving your career or business forward.

I have talked to so many young people over the years who desperately want to be a famous singer, musician, or band, so I want to use the music industry as an example here. They are convinced that if the right person sees their talent, that they will be signed to a label, and then if the world sees their talent, they will be adored and famous.

Some writers feel this way too, that if they could just get an agent or publisher to stop for a moment and recognize their talent, that it would lead to a book deal, and instant success.

But it doesn’t work that way, at least not 99% of the time. Here are a few examples from the music world:

  • One of my all-time favorite bands is Blur – they were HUGE in the 1990’s in England, and experienced a fair amount of success in the US. Awhile back I heard an interview with their bassist Alex James, as he reflected on their success, surprised at how much work it took to get known, and then once they were famous, how much work it took just to stay on top. Constant interviews, radio spots, gigs, and appearances. They had to struggle in the beginning, and he felt that it never got much easier. It was always WAY more effort than he would have expected for the simplest step forward.
  • Lady GaGa: “We’re supposed to be tired. I don’t know who told everyone otherwise, but you make a record and you tour. That’s how you build a career.”
  • Another favorite band – The Swell Season – took a similar approach. The band won an Academy Award for a song they wrote for the film Once. Singer Glen Hansard has said that the award merely gave them an opportunity to convince people of the value of their work. Their success was not ‘done’ when they won an Academy Award. They have been touring the world for the past two years, playing show after show, trying to convince people of their value. The award alone did not establish their future, it simply gave them an opportunity to try to do so.
  • I was listening to a radio broadcast from this year’s Glastonbury Festival, and they interviewed Jesca Hoop, one of the performers. She said that last year she played one of the smaller stages in the tents, and there were two people in the audience: her manager and (I think) her manager’s friend. Then, when the manager & friend came ‘backstage,’ she was playing to no one. This year, she played again, and had an audience. It makes you think – after such a poor experience last year – it’s somewhat amazing she showed up. But that’s what you do to build your career. You keep showing up.

You build your fan base one fan at a time (see Debbie Stier’s article on this.) You build your credibility one day at a time. Why is everyone so hung up on ‘going viral’ – what is wrong with a lifetime of growing, of connecting, of succeeding?

When people win the lottery, or a musician suddenly gets huge, or someone does ‘go viral’ – what happens? They are surrounded by people who seemingly adore them, but didn’t even know who they were a week ago. The world is seen through rose-colored glasses, as success was easy, and every new expense seems like an investment to help fortify this new lofty position.

Plenty of lottery winners end up broke, end up unhappy, and confused. Many zero-to-hero musicians become one-hit wonders, spending decades trying to recapture that very brief moment of success. They become trapped in that moment, a lounge act.

Likewise, the loyalty of a fan base built over time is stronger than sudden success. When you go viral, everyone becomes aware of you at the same moment, they are all fans with a loose connection. Easy to get, easy to lose.

One thing that has changed, is that many can build their credibility and fan base via the web. A musician or writer doesn’t have to leave the house to engage with new and existing fans.

Thanks!

-Dan

Social Media Turns Every Connection Into a ‘Warm Call’

Is social media working for you? Don’t be so quick to judge. How we measure success in social media is not about numbers, it’s about the quality of connections.

Again and again, I find examples that it’s not quantity that counts, but quality. Maybe you have been developing a Facebook Page, Tweeting several times a day, commenting in a forum, and trying to keep up with your blog. It’s hard work, no doubt, and sometimes a stagnant follower count can seem like you aren’t making any progress.

Dan Blank
But who are your followers? They aren’t just a number – some of those people actually exist, and love hearing from you. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I see someone who has 40,000 follower and think “Wow – what did they do to attract such an audience?”

But that is balanced by the many experiences I have where I am amazed at who is finding me online, be it my blog, Twitter feed, or newsletter. There have been several times where I approached someone I really respected and wanted to meet, only to find out that they already knew who I was because of my presence in social media.

It goes beyond being a conversation starter… it’s a relationship starter. Why? Because it just takes one person to reshape your life. If you engage in social media for personal reasons, it takes just one person to become an inspiring friend. If you engage in social media for more professional reasons, it takes just one person to catapult your career.

You know how sales people have ‘cold calls’ and ‘warm calls?’ Well, social media increases the number of warm calls in your life. It means that people are already familiar with who you are, and have established a foundation of trust before you ever say a word to each other.

So the question shouldn’t be “how many followers do I have?” but, “who am I connected to?” And then of course, “How can I help them?”

This is especially true when you consider how well suited social media is for niche markets. Likely, your potential audience isn’t hundreds of thousands of people to begin with. Likely, you are focused on one segment of one market. And even within that total population, there are some individuals in particular that you especially hope to connect with. Are those people already following you on Twitter? Have they read a blog post you wrote online? That follower count and page view number doesn’t indicate the quality of your connections.

It reminds me of the legendary story of the first ever Sex Pistols show. About 40 people showed up, and they mostly sat and stared at the stage. But within that tiny crowd were people who went on to form some of the biggest British bands of the 1980’s: Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall, and The Buzzcocks. It’s heralded as one of the most influential gigs ever.

Is that your Twitter feed? Your blog? Tiny, but influential?

Let me know if I can help: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Building Your Brand Online, One Smile at a Time…

Social media is not just changing how companies market themselves, but how they relate to their customers entirely. Customer relationship management is becoming a core part of how brands operate on the web, and companies such as Radian6 are offering some pretty neat (and expensive) tools for companies to track and connect with their customers online.

Dan Blank
What is interesting about this is that customer relationships via social media are less about marketing promotions, and more about being human. Brand reputations are being established and nurtured by connecting with their customers one person at a time. Businesses are being created one smile at a time. This is how loyalty is built, and the new norm for branding.

Some companies are getting accolades for simply letting customers know that they will do right by them.

We have come to expect less. We expect a complicated phone tree when we call ‘customer service,’ so much so that we are amazed when a human picks up the phone. We expect to be told that when a product breaks, it is somehow our fault, and are made to feel guilty that we didn’t buy extra insurance for it.

So customers put up walls, and look for ways to take advantage – a sale, a coupon, a discount store. But this is changing – we are reverting back to the idea that all businesses are small businesses.

When a brand makes us smile, we are almost shocked into sharing it with the world. So we share that news… with friends, co-workers, and the world. More and more, this happens on social media.

So we are seeing this work both ways – brands reaching out to customers, customers reaching out to their communities. For both sides, this is an opportunity, to be more human.

Do we have relationships with brands? Yes and no. We have relationships with people who represent those brands. These people represent ideas, ideals even, that the brand adheres to. Ideals that we adhere to. For some brands, this is meaningless. “Customer service” is written on the wall, but employees are judged by how quickly they can get a customer off the phone. Efficiency is the goal.

But other brands do try to represent ideals. What is happening is that – because of social media – ALL brands are feeling the pressure to move in this direction. To do right by their customers and what they believe in.

Are you a brand? No. And yes. It’s just a word. Your ‘brand’ is what you choose it to mean, if anything at all. For some, it represents what they believe in, or the value they offer others. As our personal and professional lives are both thrust online, having a ‘brand’ is a way to separate the two. It is also a simple tool to communicate who we are, what we believe and the value we share.

Let me know if I can help you build your brand online: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Why Caring is a Powerful Business Advantage

Olivier Blanchard penned one of the most incredible blog posts this week:

21 things my dog taught me about being a better man.

Dan BlankAfter having to putting his dog of 15 years to sleep, he shares lessons he’s learned from her about how to be human, and how those lessons can apply to business:

“Don’t ever forget that what makes a business truly great isn’t technology or design or a fancy logo. Those are expressions of something deeper. Something more visceral and powerful and true. What makes a business great, what makes it special, worthy of a connection, worthy of trust and loyalty, admiration and respect, even love, always starts with a beating heart, not a beeping cash register.”

“No company can ever be great unless it can tap into the very essence of what makes us want to connect with each other, and no executive or business manager or cashier can ever truly be great at their jobs unless they also tap into the very thing that makes genuine human connections possible.”

I’ve talked about this before – the idea that caring is a powerful business advantage, a quote I first heard from Scott Johnson.

Sometimes, those in big business try to justify that they can’t afford to slow down enough to care. Caring is hard to control and hard to scale. Caring is scary, especially enabling others to care. A company may issue rules to staff as to where and when they can ‘care,’ eg: when they can bend the rules to serve customers and solve problems in non-traditional ways. Lack of measurable ROI may stop these efforts before they start.

This is why social media is having success stories around things like ComcastCares. That they are seeking out customer problems, not hiding them behind phone trees, where they avoid even customers who are desperately seeking solutions. Companies tend to view customer service by the resources it took to deal with them (eg: lowering time spent on customer service calls), and not whether they put a smile on someone’s face. Tony Hsieh from Zappos focuses on this in his new book Delivering Happiness.

You care when you ask “Is everything okay.” You don’t care when you tell people to call customer service, that it’s someone else’s problem to deal with you.

This is why caring is such a competitive differentiator for your brand. Here are some ways to consider it:

Caring is Hard.
There are no business rules around it. It’s hard to create a system for. It is about giving up control. About trusting your employees – all of them – even the hourly workers.

Caring Makes You Smaller, in a Good Way.
When you care, you are more approachable. You go from being a faceless business to becoming a local business, regardless of your location. It makes you seem smaller, regardless of whether you are.

Caring is Not Just an Output, it is an Input.
Caring is not about talking, it’s about listening. Doing so allows your customers to break through. When you open yourself up, you understand that your business survives at the will of your community, not because you control them.

Caring is Sustainable, Trends Aren’t.
Twitter is not what you should focus on. How you can build a competency to care about customers through a service such as Twitter is what you should focus on. Caring works in good times and bad. It makes the dips less deep, and the peaks higher.

Caring is the Best Research Tool
It means you are always listening, always testing, always iterating. It means you are open to new ideas – to innovation. It means your company has a future because you understand that you don’t have all the answers, that you can’t control everything, that you need to constantly evolve.

Caring Builds a Legacy
What are you creating? What will you look back on in 10 years? Is the product or brand you are developing something that your child understands? Is it your legacy? The ‘thing’ you do is not always as important as ‘how’ you do it. People don’t care much about most shoe stores, but Zappos is a brand people care about. People don’t care about a lot of gadgets, but care a lot about those that Apple creates.

Let me know if I can help you integrate caring into your business: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan