Building, sustaining and growing Lava Row has been the most rewarding challenge of my life. Along the way I’ve met an unforgettable cast of characters, and I have been so fortunate to work with talented employees and do meaningful work for smart clients.
One of those clients, Hy-Vee, expressed interest in expanding their digital team and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I can’t wait to join them on October 7.
Onward and upward!
Social media marketing has become formulaic, automated, bland and misaligned from business goals. Brands are wasting their time tweeting about holidays and condescendingly reminding us to eat our vegetables.
This is drawing 7/100 of my #100sketches project. Hey, I’ve been at this a whole week! You can also follow along on flickr.
Virtual assistants (remote workers who help manage your email, sales pipelines, meetings, etc.) likely provide some value to people who are legitimately busy. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a lot of bragging about virtual assistants by individuals who just can’t get enough of telling everyone on the Internet how overwhelmed and overworked they are.
“I’m just so buried,” they tell you. “I can’t even get to all my emails at the end of the day,” they say.
“But I’ve got this great new virtual assistant who really helps me manage my time and you should check it out too,” their auto-generated tweet says, followed by an affiliate marketing link that tracks any resulting purchases and kicks them back a check for $2.99 at the end of the month.
My issue with the Inbox Zero and productivity hack movements are the bragging rights that come with them. Having an empty inbox, gaming work to become more efficient, and outsourcing your mundane tasks should result in zen, focus and peace of mind – not a Twitter-fueled pissing match about who’s the busiest.
In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration will implement regulations for the usage of commercial drones in our airspace. That means lots of flying, autonomous robots carrying out tasks once reserved for humans: crop dusting, aerial search and rescue, paparazzi photography, delivery of packages and maybe even pizzas.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicles International predicts that the drone economy will create 100,000 jobs and have an economic footprint of $82 billion by 2025. A human getting paid an hourly wage to deliver a pizza to your doorstep in a gasoline-powered automobile is going to seem archaic, inefficient and unsustainable pretty fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if Domino’s is building a fleet of branded delivery UAVs right now.
Father’s Day is approaching (June 16, to be exact) and that means social media brand managers will have tweets queued up on their content calendars scripted something like this:
Brand: Happy #FathersDay to all the dads out there! What are you doing to celebrate the day?
Of all the various manifestations of marketing that exist (97.8% of which are awful to begin with) this is absolutely the most awful and it needs to stop.
It’s lazy. Marketers are now drunk on the fact that they can inject themselves into the broader conversation du jour on Twitter with bland holiday-related statements like the one above, then check the social media box for the day. Done! Social media strategy achieved.
It’s formulaic. This follows a classic social media content formula that is already overused: make a statement then ask for engagement. Formulas are easily detected by human B.S. radars and they will be ignored.
It’s not connected to any business goal. If a form of marketing doesn’t align with a specific business goal or opportunity, then what’s the point of doing it? Especially on a platform where posts have a shelf life of only a few hours. With no strategic direction behind them, these tweets are a waste of time, a waste of data, and can easily be filed away in the happy horse shit, sunshine and lollipops folder. “Joining the conversation” isn’t a strategy.
I’m asking marketers to do better. Below is a fantastic example from State Farm that mentions Veterans Day but does so much more.
It connects Veterans Day back to a core piece of the State Farm brand: Their agents. It supplements the post with rich media, in this case a video of an agent describing how his military service impacts his leadership style. By doing this, they’ve created timely, relevant content that perfectly aligns with broader communication goals.
Now go celebrate Father’s Day. But give your audience something extra before you post about it.
The Red Lobster family offers our deepest condolences, heartfelt thoughts & prayers to those affected by the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT—
Red Lobster (@redlobster) December 14, 2012
Marketing and communication professionals aren’t trained to be silent.
Today’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, is proof of why they need to learn restraint. Here we have yet another horrific event that prompted legions of brand managers to chime in with offers of condolences through their company-sanctioned Twitter accounts.
The sentiment behind tweeting condolences is kind and decent. It’s the rubber stamp, check-the-box application that bothers me.
In 2001, I was working as a web designer at an advertising agency. After September 11th, dozens of clients emailed me requests to add tiny animated GIFs of the American flag to their website as a show of support for the victims. I couldn’t turn down any of these requests and hope to keep my job, but each time I received one, I cringed. Not because I hate Americans and support terrorism, but because I knew these animated GIFs were lazy, half-assed attempts at sympathy that accomplished nothing long-term. The GIFs were non-tangible, noticed by no one, and unceremoniously washed away six months later during the next design refresh.
Tweeted condolences fall into that same category. Digital platitudes. Going through the motions in 140 characters or less.
Lisa Grimm has a smart, prescriptive post up today about how brands should behave on social media during a tragedy. Going silent, she notes, is an acceptable and effective option.
I would also challenge companies to answer two questions before punching lukewarm sentiment into the Twitter Machine: Is the company/brand connected to the community affected by tragedy? Has the company donated money, services, food, supplies, or supported the victims in any way? If the answer is yes to either (or both) of the above, then there’s a story worth sharing.
If the answer is no to both, then your tweet becomes generic white noise and data waste. I recommend embracing silence as a show of respect. Your messaging, in this moment, is irrelevant.
This afternoon, a beloved local coffee shop and meeting place (Mars Cafe) announced on Facebook that they’re shutting their doors on August 18.
To put this in context, Mars was a transformative force for the city of Des Moines. It championed – and became the heartbeat of – our creative and entrepreneurial classes. It was a triple shot of weird at the exact moment Des Moines needed to be roused from its sleepy complacency.
But my post isn’t going to be a flowery remembrance of Mars Cafe. My post is about letting things end.
After the announcement on Facebook, I watched the comments roll in. Emotions ranged from shock to grief to confusion.
“I feel like a part of me just died.”
The owner (Larry James Jr.) posted this reasoning for the closing:
…running a cafe is a full-time job. Apart from Mars, I’m an attorney with a growing practice and a wonderful young family. My career and kids require more time now, and so it is time to close the cafe.
Some commenters were asking why Larry couldn’t just sell the shop and let the brand live on. This is a natural response. So is having a heavy heart. Mars Cafe has given so much to the community over the years, and the community rightly feels a sense of ownership over the place. It can’t just go away. It’s ours.
Yes, Larry could easily sell the place and walk away. It would still be called Mars Cafe, but things would be slightly different. The DNA would slowly change over time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I suspect it played into the decision to not hand it off to someone else.
I believe there’s beauty in a good ending, and I respect individuals who recognize when it’s time to walk off the stage. Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbes, ended the comic strip at the peak of its popularity. Readers, fans and publishers were dismayed, but it was the right move. (Just look at how horrible Garfield is today.)
Larry built Mars Cafe the way he wanted. He deserves to turn off the lights in his own way, at a time and style of his choosing.
Corporate IT needs to be torn apart, blown up, re-imagined and rebuilt from scratch.
Today’s information technology departments are obsessed with restricting access to technology and telling you “don’t touch that.” They won’t let you access Google Docs, even though working on a centralized, collaborative document will make your team more efficient. They won’t let you transfer a large file via SendSpace, so you’ll need to burn that to a disc and spend at least $20.00 to overnight it via FedEx. They force thousands upon thousands of employees to muddle through what is certainly one of the inner rings of Hell: Internet Explorer 7. Simply put, IT has become ineffective, burdensome and downright crippling to corporations.
It’s not their fault. They were built this way. In the 90s, employees everywhere started becoming hyper-connected to the outside world via the Internet. This was deemed a risk. Solution: Build a department devoted to keeping viruses, evil-doers and digital riff-raff out.
IT became the corporate moat.
Tomorrow’s information technology departments will have a simple charter: Get the best technology into the hands of employees so they can do their jobs better. Instead of lurking in basements with no natural light and responding to support tickets, they’ll be proactive. They’ll train senior executives on the latest technology trends. They’ll ask team members what their needs are and respond quickly. They will be obsessed with keeping the corporation digitally fit and competent.
I completely understand the need for security, risk management and business continuity. But these can no longer be the responsibility of the IT department. Firing the detonation charges will take significant culture and personnel changes, but it can be done.
The IT staff of the future will be educators, enthusiasts and helpers. Not hall monitors and security guards.
Photo credit: Lelya Kuhn
This will be my seventh straight year attending South by Southwest Interactive. It’s important to stay alive mentally and physically during the conference. Here are a few ways to do that, based on what I’ve learned over the years.
Wear comfortable walking shoes
You’re going to walk everywhere: to hotels, parties, restaurants, and at least 163 loops through the Austin Convention Center, which is the size of a small city. Be good to your feet. I’m a fan of Sauconys.
Avoid your hometown crew
You’ll likely feel the urge to pal around with people you already know from back home. Resist this. Meet hundreds of new people instead. Divide, conquer, and report back to them later. You’ll see your local friends when you’re back home.
Don’t cave to elitism
Like every industry, the tech world has its share of pseudo-celebrities, primadonnas and toolbags with an inflated sense of worth. Don’t play their game. Don’t fawn over them. Don’t worry about what parties they’re at. If the line to a venue is too long, ditch it and find another one.
Replace one meal each day with a CLIF bar
I eat one of these each day for breakfast at SXSW. CLIF bars are packed with protein and will hold you over until lunch. Food expenses add up fast, and you can save $100-$120 by eating these instead.
Charge your immune system
You’re going to shake a lot of hands, swap a lot of germs, drink a lot of free drinks and ultimately get very little sleep. This is a recipe for an immune system crash on your way home (known as “South by Scurvy“.) Start boosting your immune system early and sustain it throughout the trip. Vitamin C has always worked well for me.
Prepare for phone death
Your smartphone battery will die quicker that you think. To keep it alive, invest in an external battery pack or snap-on case. I just picked up a Mophie Juice Pack Air for my iPhone.
Don’t live-tweet everything
Resist the urge to live-tweet every sentence from every panel and keynote. This will kill your phone (and you). Broadcast a few choice nuggets here and there, plus your own perspective. That’s enough.
There are an infinite number of parties and panels to attend. Unless you’ve figured out how to clone yourself, there’s no way you can take it all in. RSVP to as many parties as you want, triple-book your panels at austin2012.sched.org, then decide what you want to do at the last minute.
Don’t listen to “veterans” like myself
Find your own fun. Make your own path. Most of all, have a blast.
P.S. … Here are a few more tips for first-timers at sxsw.com/first_time