Where the Member Goes, So Follows the Community

May 11th, 2015 by dewprocess. No Comments »

spam

LinkedIn is not where we go to share family pics, Vine videos, or snopes-worthy rumors (unless someone has a Vine of Marissa Mayer replacing the whole Yahoo! senior executive team with members of her family, and definitive proof that nothing was doctored in post). LinkedIn is a business network, where we go to further our professional aspirations and relations. With this in mind, our actions on LinkedIn will inescapably reflect directly upon our brand proposition, both professional and personal.

So what’s with all the sales spam I keep getting from so many LinkedIn members? Do the senders not realize the damage they are doing to their brand value, not to mention that time they are wasting at my end?

I am not a fan of unsolicited emails from previously unknown parties. I admit to sending out one email missive at the end of each year to all my clients and business contacts, wishing them the best of the season, and good fortune in the year to come, and that’s about as far as I am prepared to go down the twisted path of Spamdom. My reasoning is not founded in knowledge borne of complex market studies, but rather the result of the icky feeling I get whenever I receive spam, and my own desire never to have my own brand associated with such negative feeling.

An unfortunately unsurprising number of LinkedIn accounts are fake accounts, created to front spam sales services that suffocate bona fide business members’ inboxes with a glut of irritating sales pitches, repeated ad nauseam by a rotating gallery of stock photo “bot babes”. The fact that these accounts almost always pretend to be attractive 20-something women is already insulting enough to the many enormously talented women on LinkedIn. I sincerely hope someone more qualified than I takes the time to examine and comment on why certain elements of our society still believe that predominantly young, seemingly vacuous, albeit attractive, women are the perfect sales tool. For my part, I’d like to restrict myself (for now) to the simple request that LinkedIn administrators take more proactive measures to pre-qualify the “real person” credentials of new registering members.

Fake accounts represent, however, only one side of the counterfeit currency that is Spam InMails. There remain a robust number of InMails that are sent by living breathing account reps who should know better.

I receive about 20 seemingly Spam InMails per day. Communications from existing contacts are addressed first, followed by correspondence from recognized or respected indirect contacts (2nd or 3rd degree contacts via individuals who I consider valid pre-qualifiers by dint of their own selective personality. I have a few contacts who accept LinkedIn connection requests from any and all accounts, in their ongoing quest to hit the mythical jackpot of “most LinkedIn contacts ever”. Their contacts and others with whom I’m not previously acquainted fall in to the “potential spammer” bucket.) Any InMail that begins with “I represent…” invariably ends up trashed without further thought, which leaves about 4 -6 daily InMails that may or may not have value to me. These I have to read, evaluate, and act upon – which means that as much as 10 minutes of my work day is spent managing LinkedIn Spam. That may not seem like much, but that represents more than an hour per week of repetitive clutter. I dutifully mark Spam InMails as spam, in the hope that LinkedIn staff are processing this feedback conscientiously. However, the health of communications within the LinkedIn community depends most on its members’ willingness to agree upon the nature of the community itself. If the majority of us see it as a virtual flea market where we can hawk our wares aggressively to as many members as possible, the value of this community will decline precipitously. We are all eager to make beneficial connections that will provide lasting professional value. I’ve yet to meet a LinkedIn member who joined in the hope that they would be sold “web development, expertise in Obj C (iPhone Apps), HTML/CSS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, NodeJS, and Database development, all at affordable prices!”. Every individual or brand that thinks such solicitations are providing valuable ROI to their brand is doing themselves and our community a disservice.

I am eager to learn from and share knowledge with other professionals, and I have benefited greatly from LinkedIn in the past. The benefits are becoming obfuscated by the burdens, and there may come a point where the mathematical equation tips irreversibly from benefit to cost.

As more and more sales spam inundates our inboxes, the responsible parties will be stocking the flames of a Pyrrhic victory. I and other members of the LinkedIn community will likely discontinue our memberships, and seek other platforms and channels on which to conduct our professional business. LinkedIn will have lost revenue, and unsubscribing members will have lost a previously valuable business ecosystem. More importantly, the spammers will have lost their targets. Nobody will have won.

Dear Spammers: If you are trying to secure new customers on LinkedIn, do so by demonstrating your value through knowledge sharing, not unsolicited sales pitches. Write a post about the relative merits of various database development toolsets; join a group and share your insights on the challenges faced by mobile application developers; give a little of your time and expertise. The returns may not be as immediate as the few bucks you might secure from the one in 10,000,000 who is willing to respond to your spam InMail, but they will be far longer lasting and exponentially lucrative.

LinkedIn is a community garden, and the output will be directly correlative to the seeds we sow, and how we care for the ground upon which we work.

Voltaire’s’ famous phrase “il faut cultiver notre jardin” does not translate into a justification for selfish greed, but rather recommends a life of horticultural quietism. I personally don’t subscribe to the “calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them”, but we would do well to focus less on exploiting situations to our personal advantage, consequences be damned. There exists a middle ground, where we may actively influence our collective good fortunes, and I still believe platforms such as LinkedIn offer such an opportunity. It falls to the combined efforts of LinkedIn feature developers, designers, and members to protect and enrich that opportunity. Failing that, the selfish opportunists will destroy both their own, and this platform’s value.

Everybody Knows Everything.

May 5th, 2015 by dewprocess. No Comments »

crowd

We often bemoan the presence of trolls and fools in the Comments sections of online articles, and in many instances our complaints are well-founded. However, the merit of the Comments section remains undervalued, IMHO.

Media blurbs seem increasingly limited in their scope of value, restricted by brand relationships (read “sponsor” pressure), or other considerations. Whether limitations and omissions are the result of strategic relationship imperatives, journalistic myopia, or a publication’s limited knowledge of the sector about which it is prognosticating, the result is sometimes of VERY limited worth, such that a reader will often wonder why they just wasted 10 minutes reading said piece. This only serves to damage the brand value of a publication. Print publications have historically been able to get away with this practice, as they did not have to worry unduly about corrections or the humiliation of their readers knowing far more than they did. This leads one to a place of opportunity, rather than threat.

A media publication can only know as much as its writer and researchers are able to dredge up in the time window allowed before posting of article. This scenario can never compete with the knowledge of the crowd. Take, for example, this well-intentioned, well-written, but woefully inadequate article by WIRED​ on offline navigation apps. Market leaders such as HERE+, Maps Me, and City Mapper are conspicuously absent, and one wonders what the article is trying to accomplish. A growing stream of reader comments points out the omissions, putting the article itself in increasingly unfavorable light. Where the opportunity lies is in the fact that had the author of said article framed the piece as an exploratory introduction to the topic (in this case “offline navigation apps and their value to travelers worldwide”), and not a “know-it-all” guide, we would have been privy to the power of media as an aggregator of crowd thought leadership.

Imagine if a tech news site were to intelligently frame the landscape of wearable computing with an article exploring the history thereof, leading in to an overview of a few of the most visible brands in the space (fitbit, Microsoft band, Apple watch, et al), and concluding with a crystal clear invitation to readers to continue the exploration by contributing their opinions on the relative merits of these and other heretofore unmentioned offerings, past, present and future. The merit of the particular piece would now wrap itself around not only the originally published single-voice report, but the myriad opinions proffered by readers. If the publication integrated Quora​-like upvote mechanisms, the most useful reader contributions would rise to the forefront, enriching the coverage, and invigorating further discussion. The result would be a work far more comprehensive, and thereby useful, than anything the lone author could ever have accomplished, and their inclusive and collaborative style would only serve to elevate their and the publication’s brand value.

If You Were to Draw a Tree, What Tree Would You Draw?

January 9th, 2015 by admin. No Comments »

So often we find ourselves working incredibly hard to “fit” in to a mold we believe might position us better for success. This mold has more often than not been formed for us by someone else, be it a predecessor in our life (whether professional or personal), or an “expert” who apparently knows us better than we know ourselves. It takes one or two (or more) turns around the carousel of one’s career to realize one has been riding the wrong horse, and it takes a good degree of humility, introspection, and courage to reconnect with that confluence of what we do well, what we enjoy doing, and what might remunerate us to the level we aspire.

Sometimes people spend their whole careers doing what they think they were “meant” to do, only to realize upon retirement that they have been unwittingly untrue to their inner potential. As adults, we grow all too easily afraid of pursuing those dreams we so readily embraced as children; conditioned by our teachers, peers, and others to toss aside those childish fantasies as the fragile baubles of youth, insufficient to withstand the rigors and challenges of “the real world”. But it is those visions we construct in our hearts and minds when young that we eventually come to discover were far more robust than we were led to believe, and far more in tune with our true potential.

The form which the realization of our dream takes is not as important as the fact that the vision has been honestly expressed. Nobody will convince me that a ballet dancer is a “better” aspiration than a dance teacher, aerobics instructor, or occupational therapist: they each share their passion, in their own special way, for the power of the human body and how it operates. An intelligent and aggressively pursued related career strategy is just as apt to be financially rewarding as any quest for a leading contract with a premier ballet company. In fact, probably more so (with apologies to any readers currently applying to ABT, Paris Opera, or the Royal Ballet!).

I can’t recall who sent me the link to this video, so am sorry not to fairly tip my hat to them. That said, I think this is a fascinating piece, demonstrative not only of the impressive artistry of animators whose work we might otherwise blithely take for granted, but celebrating the unique and extraordinary talents and expression that lie within every artist, every creator…every person. These are but four people who have found a way to retain their individual vision, express it with unique eloquence, and meanwhile also apply that talent and commitment, sometimes with small compromises, to a larger whole that proves greater than the sum of each part they contribute.

If we could each pursue that goal within ourselves, we and the world we live in might be that much happier and fulfilled. To listen to and act upon the truth that lies within us, express it with integrity, and then find a place to marry it with other admirable and complementary talents…to balance our own personal integrity with the needs of a community …to recognize that the best collective result is ALWAYS attained when each individual voice is given the room to be fully heard…to find a way to celebrate and elevate the individual and the collective, at one and the same time…the best companies and communities achieve this union, and they do so by hiring and nurturing the best people.

Nicholas de Wolff Interviewed at Produced By Conference 2014

December 10th, 2014 by admin. No Comments »

International Relations – A Personal Undertaking

December 4th, 2014 by admin. No Comments »

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

(Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167)

When we are confronted with something or someone influential or disruptive, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect that person or thing to completely, immediately, and profoundly change us. There is much within each of us that is already great and wonderful, so why must we transform, when a tweak might suffice? Nobody can rightly expect another to become a rabid evangelist for post-impressionist art, just because they saw and enjoyed Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”; one isn’t bound to become a born-again Christian by dint of the fact that one reads a verse of the Bible, and admires its social logic, inconsistent as it might be. Shakespeare’s quote above applies on so many levels, not least of which being how the largely Christian West and mostly Islamic Middle East view one another. How are we to build and maintain truly sustainable and meaningful business relations if we don’t believe that we can relate to one another, on a personal level?

The world within which we live is much larger than the world in which we might be each choosing to live. It’s high time we embraced the opportunity to explore and recognize the shared truths that thrive behind the facade of the “other”.

Chinese philosopher Laozi once wrote “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Tao Te Ching, chapter 64). I wonder how many blessings we might extract from this journey of a million smiles…

Next time you travel abroad, assume that the similarities between you and your counterpart are greater than the differences, and work outward from that core position. You may be surprised to find that the result is more profitable for all concerned.

Adtendite a Perito – Beware of the Expert

October 23rd, 2014 by admin. No Comments »

I find it sadly fascinating how many consultants tout their credentials as nextgen connectors, supremely well-versed in the art of customer engagement and retention (by their own admission), and uniquely placed to counsel the rest of the business world on how to manage the relationship with our client and customer bases. My fascination stems not so much from the fact that there now seem to be more of these “experts” than there are scriptwriters in Hollywood, but from how unwilling these “gurus” are to include others in their “dialogue”. They publish prolifically, and have answers to every question posed, but god forbid someone else offer an insight or counterpoint. I follow many of these self-anointed “thought leaders” as many of my own partners and clients often ask me what I think of this speaker or that panelist (call me a glutton for punishment), and have regularly noted how they edit both the comment section and main body of their postings, to adapt to market changes as well as erase anything but adoring support and fawning interest. This is not engagement, it is Push marketing, a 20th century device that has limited appeal nowadays.

Three things may happen upon the publication of this post:

  1. Nobody reads it.
  2. Somebody reads it and leaves a favorable comment, useful link, or insightful addendum.
  3. Somebody reads it and leaves a less than favorable comment.

In the first scenario, which may well manifest, given the glut of opinion pieces on LinkedIn, Tumblr, and other online soapboxes (blogs such as this one included!), there is naught to do but soldier on.

In the second scenario, I will append a grateful thanks for their kind attention and contribution and, if relevant, add additional remarks of my own to keep the conversation going.

In the last scenario, it would be my obligation to remove the comment ONLY if said comment is downright rude or offensive, or completely irrelevant to the discussion. If the last of these was the case, I would give the individual the courtesy of a note explaining my action and the reasons therefor. If, however, the comment was simply a counterpoint to my observations, and respectfully put, I would welcome and respond to it. After all, isn’t that what engagement is all about?

So, to all you gurus, experts, and thought leaders out there in LinkedInLand, Tumblrtown, and Blogburgh: if you are among those who “trim” your postings and comment sections like a textual topiary bush, please stop. You do yourselves and your readers a disservice. Censorship should only be ever exercised with extreme caution, and only when no other option exists.

Happy Holidays from ATAS

December 12th, 2013 by admin. No Comments »

Today (or a little while from now) it’s drones delivering your books…

December 2nd, 2013 by admin. No Comments »

It Really Is This Simple.

November 21st, 2013 by admin. No Comments »

Best. Gift. Ever.

September 18th, 2013 by admin. 2 Comments »

The Giving Gene

Most of us practice some form of charitable giving, at varying points in our lives. Very few of us, however, truly “indulge” in the pursuit of philanthropy. Good reasons abound:

  • Perhaps the means or the opportunities are simply not there. The economy is still shaky and, despite all the media stories celebrating declines in unemployment, we all know so many friends and family members who are desperately hoping for a job soon. Without a regular source of income, the idea of charitable giving is a difficult one to entertain.
  • Perhaps your order of priorities is consciously self-centered: your parents ingrained in you the belief that a good citizen has a social responsibility to not be a burden on the State. Welfare checks and unemployment benefits are marks of shame and failure to some, and financial freedom is the first priority, before one may explore the options for giving back.
  • Perhaps you simply believe in maximizing the value of your contributions: you did something to earn your money, and you want to be sure that you get the best ROI (or ROC – Return On Contribution – in this case). You’re not expecting VIP tickets to the Superbowl, but you want a clear indication that your contribution has been well spent. Something more concrete than a set of sticky address labels or a tote bag.

It is not difficult to find individuals whose actions manage to convincingly support one or more of the above positions. After years of hard-working wealth accumulation, the likes of Bill Gates, Marc Benioff, Charles Feeney, and Paul Allen have gained a new perspective on the world we all share, and finally see clearly what so few of us feel empowered to acknowledge and act upon: our individual lifestyles are affected, in one way or the other, by the circumstances of ALL those who breathe the same air we breathe, and drink the same water we drink. Ignoring or avoiding the plight or pain of others, simply because they are strangers, not only fails to elevate their circumstances, but also lowers our own standard of living, however imperceptibly sometimes. The mega rich sometimes have within them, or in their partners or spouses, the personality characteristics to ignite this late-blooming awareness, such that it springboards a philanthropic activism most of us would love to pursue, if only we were that well-off. Then again, many arguments that justify delayed philanthropy are just as easily undermined: there are those who have had access to extensive financial resources from an early age, and have subsequently dedicated their lives – and a measure of those resources – in service to society. We cannot all be Margaret Cargills or Juliette Gordon Lows, though. What are the rest of us to do – those without inherited millions, early stock options, trust funds, or family names that guarantee stock holdings beyond the wildest imaginings of the other 99%? Is it really advisable to give only when one has the discretion to do so, without the potential for negatively impacting one’s own circumstances? Is there a rationale for giving when one’s contribution may well pose a burden on one’s own circumstances? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Margaret Cargill and Juliette Gordon Low

The Power of a Little

There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars out there, waiting to be donated or, as I prefer to say, “activated”: small collections of cash,  the loss of which would have little impact on their donors, but the aggregate of which would have massive impact on beneficiaries. That $10 bill in your cousin’s pocket is itching to go to the right cause. Those pennies, nickels, and dimes in the jar by your kitchen door add up to $30 worth of dormant donations. Kids making pocket money would be thrilled to learn the concept of “Save/Spend/Share”, if only we might learn it first. There are three principle obstacles standing in the way of Common Folk Philanthropy, and each one is surmountable: lack of knowledge, lack of inspiration, and lack of empowerment.

As I mentioned above, many of us are hesitant to donate our hard-earned funds, when we know little about how those funds will actually be put to use. What percentage goes to fair operating expenses (core costs such as salaries, real estate, and development), and what goes to the actual programs of the recipient charity? News stories abound wherein unscrupulous “charities” hide avarice beyond anyone’s reasonable imaginings. What if your target beneficiary is not an organization, but an individual or family in your neighborhood about whom you know little, but who obviously would benefit from some community support? Perhaps you have some discretionary funds, but little to no time to explore and research potential recipients.

Let’s begin with the most straightforward of these challenges: how to evaluate the relative merits of charitable organizations. Charity Navigator is currently one of the most valuable resources for individuals and organizations seeking to make charitable donations: serving the philanthropic community for more than 10 years, the site aims to (in their own words) “…guide intelligent giving. By guiding intelligent giving, we aim to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace, in which givers and the charities they support work in tandem to overcome our nation’s and the world’s most persistent challenges”.

There are a number of resources – online and off – which one can tap in to and leverage, when researching potential beneficiaries of one’s generosity. A few examples:

  • Passionate about education and eager to help at a grass roots level? Check out Donors Choose for a healthy roll call of opportunities.
  • Want to help heal the world, but need some guidance as to which areas are in most immediate need, and which organizations might offer the best solution? Over the past ten years or so, Global Giving has helped nearly 340,000 donors contribute more than $90M dollars to small grassroots initiatives.
  • If you have a bunch of friends who share your desire to give, why not take a page out of the Book Club model, and create a “Giving Circle”, such as the Washington Women’s Foundation, the Teen Impact Fund, or the Giving Circle of Hope. The collective research and giving capabilities will empower you and your circle to maximize the impact of your donations.

Lighting the Fire

Information is crucial, as is inspiration. The latter is thankfully in ample supply. A simple web search or two will turn up hundreds of names and case studies in realistic philanthropy: individuals such as Curtis Monks, or Thomas Cannon.

Study the case of someone such as Hilda Back, and inspiration will follow:

Or perhaps Chen Shu-chu, the vegetable stall owner in Taiwan, will hit the mark for you:

These people, and many more besides, take small steps to make a big difference. These steps must sometimes be deliberate, though sometimes they happen quite “in the moment”. A few days ago, I was invited to a small fundraiser for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. The hosts couldn’t have been nicer, and took the time to tell me the story of how they were walking in honor of a friend and colleague who had recently got Cancer. The fact that one of them had committed to selling his professional artwork, with all proceeds going to the charity, inspired me to buy two pieces (see end of article). The prize I won later in the raffle was something I knew another attendee would appreciate far more than I, so I took great pleasure in auctioning it off. The charity got a quick extra bundle of cash, which was great. That I looked quite silly while driving up the bids was just a bonus for my wife and daughter, who were watching and giggling.

The opportunity presented itself for me and my family to give within our means, and to make it count. I was given the information I needed to get a clear sense of where our money was going, and the return on my contribution was not only commercially tangible in the form of the artwork I had secured, but multiplied by the happy opportunity I had received to further enlarge their coffers, at no additional cost to myself. I came away feeling I got way more than I had given. This sense of empowerment and reward is an important one in today’s new paradigm of social giving. It is why many of the beneficiaries of crowd-giving aren’t even charities. Grassroots donors do not always need a commercial return on their contribution, but some sense of reward or recognition is increasingly required. Today’s emerging philanthropists are not content with simply signing a check to the Red Cross or United Way. They want to be empowered as active participants in the process, whether at the head-end transaction moment, or at the tail-end moment when the gift goes into service. How much one gives is a completely personal decision: one person’s gauge of what they can “afford” is always markedly different from another’s.  I don’t believe it is so important to focus on how much is being given, though. The paradigm shifts when the mentality changes, and it is encouraging to see how more and more people are getting involved the act of giving, regardless of its manifestation. It may be the conventional financial contribution to a charitable organization, or perhaps a loan to help empower entrepreneurs eager to lift themselves out of poverty (www.kiva.org). Perhaps you have a skill (app-development, web dev, marketing…) that will improve the visibility of an NPO. Maybe your interest is in improving the health and welfare of your own community…

The Changing Nature of Giving

When the line between charitable giving and investment is being blurred by ventures such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, who’s to say that supporting that local business venture is not as socially philanthropic an undertaking as donating to that far-off water well project? Both initiatives are designed to support and bolster community, albeit in quite different ways. The selling point is no longer simply the emotional appeal of the proposed beneficiary, or the 501-c3 status of the recipient organization, but rather the connective tissue that will bind the donor to that recipient. Today it needs to be more direct, more engaging, more reciprocal. Today’s grassroots donor wants their contribution to be a social undertaking. Unfortunately, many charitable organizations still fear the move in to social engagement, and are failing to take advantage of the enormous potential of the new paradigms in grass roots support. If you represent a worthy cause, charitable or not, grass roots fundraising is a powerful resource, and the social engagement platforms and channels available to you are numerous and diverse. Now is the time to act. If you are an individual, wishing to become more engaged in modest philanthropy, many of those same platforms and channels are designed to support your impulse to give, offering tools to inform, inspire, and empower you – as an active participant in your giving community, local or global. No excuses, only opportunities. This is the best time to be involved in positive impact initiatives, and you are the architect and captain of your participation.

(These are the two pieces I purchased: part of the fundraising exhibition entitled “The Wall Street Project“.)

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