It’s Not Always Who You Know

Who You Know_NBLDiscussing subject-matter experts today – employees we’ll rely on to bring the knowledge to new business process design for a change project – and a familiar set of names pings around the office.

This is a good thing because subject-matter experts, or SMEs, who are already actively involved can jump right in and share their wisdom.

But, it can also be a not-so-great thing when we go with who we know and forget to consider a broader and more fully representative swath of experts. Why do we default to our familiars?

We think it will take too much time to get newcomers up to speed. Harder to admit: We don’t know stakeholders well enough.

Here’s the thing: Taking the time, during this early project stage, is always worth the effort:

  • It ensures we’re not missing key details.
  • It provides greater credibility for the project when more areas of the business are represented.
  • It saves us endless amounts of time in later stages, trying to create awareness and gain traction and support.
  • It builds a sense of ownership, which breeds natural ambassadors for the project.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

Bottom line: Get to know as wide a group of stakeholders as possible, and you’ll have a built-in group of supporters who’ll do more than cheerlead – they’ll make sure you succeed.

A Little Serendipity with Your Reading

Night FilmMy hometown library posted this serendipitous game for readers:

  • Grab the book you’re currently reading
  • Turn to page 52
  • Share the 5th sentence in the comments

I’m currently reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Here’s the sentence, which I kinda love:

“Tea doesn’t make a dent in the man.”

What are you reading these days? And what’s happening on page 52?

Where It’s At with Location-based Apps

FourSquareWe’re at the point in the digital age where we make choices almost every day about how much personal stuff to share online.

Some struggle with this. We’re told by news media that Gen X doesn’t sweat it at all. I have several Baby Boomer pals and slightly younger friends who’re engaged in an internal wrestling match with themselves right now. They know the world has changed, and they’ve adapted to being online for work, but they can’t quite make the leap to placing life details out there – whether it’s joining Facebook or posting career history on LinkedIn.

I’ve been there myself. When I joined Twitter in 2011, I did so under a pseudonym. I considered it my “training wheel” Twitter account. And I resisted Facebook – long and hard. But I get it now. Being on Facebook, reading and interacting with messages and photos that friends have posted, and having folks respond to my posts…well, it takes using Facebook to feel comfortable with it.

Same thing all over again for location-based platforms, like Foursquare. Geolocation tools are typically apps you download to your phone and permission to <gulp!> access your exact current location.

Freaky, right? I mean, who needs a phone stalking you? Your own phone. One that you’ve allowed to stalk you.

A lot of women have said a big “No, thanks” to this kind of online interaction. When the makers of location-based apps survey potential users, the No. 1 obstacle to adoption is privacy.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Foursquare

Most of my close friends would be appalled to know I use Foursquare given my stance on privacy. Nevertheless, I’ve somehow become a Foursquare addict. How did this happen?

While I would never push anyone to use an online app or service that made them uncomfortable, here are a few thoughts from a relatively new user:

Just a Small Circle of Friends – The thing I didn’t understand about an app like Foursquare is that it’s a lot like Facebook. In other words, I have some choice about who I’m connected with and thus who sees when I check in at an event, restaurant or work. So far, I’m only sharing this information with 10 friends, far fewer than on Facebook or in my Google+ circles.

The Wider World – That said, when I check in somewhere – or score a mayorship – Foursquare does share that information more widely than my chosen friends. When I tap the Check-in tag, the app shows me how many other Foursquare users have checked in at the same location today, and I may even see their avatars (their photos and names). So, if a stranger wanted to find me, it’s not impossible. This makes it incumbent on me to be careful about the types of places I check in – always public, never at home – and to do so only when I’m comfortable sharing. It’d be highly unlikely you’d be singled out at an airport or concert check-in, where there are crowds of people. On the other hand, I get my mail at a retail mailbox service, and I never check in there.

The same is true when the app makes me “mayor” at a favorite restaurant – Foursquare shows me who I’ve ousted as mayor. Likewise, when I lose a mayorship, the app tells me who’s nabbed the office from me (and informs that person that I’m the one he or she has ousted).

On the other hand, I have control over whether I share my Foursquare check-in further afield, with social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

Coupons, Discounts and Freebies, Oh My – This is what really got me hooked. I checked in at the Getty Museum one sunny Saturday – my very first use of Foursquare at the Getty – and was rewarded with a first-timer’s discount at the museum store, good just for that day. The discount was tasty enough that I bought a photography book I wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. Now I wonder why more stores and restaurants aren’t offering discounts, incentives and engagement opportunities for their Foursquare fans.

Same As It Ever Was – When I access Foursquare, it zeroes in on my location and shows me a list of possibilities in the immediate area. For a creature of habit like me, this at first seemed silly, but even I tire of my habitude – hard to believe, I know – and the chance to experience an undiscovered gem of a restaurant or art gallery is more and more appealing.

It’s Got Game – Leveling up – earning points (and scoring higher than your friends) and badges and mayorships – is, yup, totally dorky. But, it’s designed to entice you to interact more often with the app, and it works. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be plotting how to win back my mayorship of Hollywood landmark Pink’s Hot Dogs now that I’m working 9-to-5 for a client and can’t pop in for lunch whenever I want.

Know Your Privacy Settings – If privacy is your utmost concern with digital assets, I highly recommend that you learn how the location-targeting function on your phone works and check to ensure your settings are where you want them each time your provider pushes a network update to your handset.

The Dating Game – Don’t use location-based apps for online dating. Unless you’re looking for a Mr. Goodbar-type encounter, there’s enough risk of people disguising their identities and their true intentions online. Many dating geolocation apps are designed to pinpoint when matches are in your immediate area. You need to vet strangers you meet online carefully and never agree to an in-person meeting without a friend or group accompanying you for safety’s sake.

For those in Los Angeles, who want to learn more about location-based apps and their use in marketing and social media, join the Social Media Club of Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 23, for an enlightening panel discussion, starting at 6:30 p.m. More information and RSVP here.

Mom Bloggers Are Transforming Everything from Marketing to Families

Mom blogs are as diverse as the mothers who write them and the parents who read them. With 3.9 million moms blogging in the United States alone, women have been some of the savviest early adopters of the platform. And they’ve taken to social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, to further engage audiences and promote their blogs.

A sure sign of success, mom blogs have been courted by Madison Avenue (even though, “moms don’t put themselves into little demographic boxes the way that marketers do,” notes Elisa Camahort Page, COO at BlogHer. “They come from all walks of life.”) and they’ve even endured a short-lived backlash.

I wanted to explore the diversity of mom blogging and the experience of mom bloggers, so I talked with Camahort Page and two bloggers with very different approaches:

Ana Flores Spanglish Baby

Ana L. Flores, co-founder of the Spanglish Baby blog.

Ana L. Flores co-founded Spanglish Baby with her friend Roxana A. Soto after recognizing there were few online resources for parents who were passionate about raising bilingual and bicultural children. Since its launch in early 2009, Spanglish Baby, with its contributing experts, teachers and bloggers, has become a go-to online community for bilingual families (and not just the English- and Spanish-speaking ones). The blog has given birth to Flores’ and Soto’s first book, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America, which came out last fall.

Robin Kramer, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

Robin Kramer, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

Robin Kramer created her blog, the thoughtful, funny, touching Pink Dryer Lint, in 2010. With three daughters (and loads of laundry), she accumulates plenty of the stuff that gives her blog its title. By day, she teaches college public speaking and writing classes at Penn State University. She’s a first-time author, too. Then I Became a Mother was published in October by Byrne Publishing.

Elisa Camahort Page was especially helpful in framing the discussion of mom blogs. Camahort Page co-founded BlogHer in 2005, and it has grown into the largest community of women who blog, with 50 million unique visitors per month. BlogHer puts on the world’s largest conference for women in social media and hosts the BlogHer Publishing Network – 3,000+ blogs authored by women on every topic from politics to parenting.

Vickie: How would you describe the “State of the Mom-Blogosphere”?

Elisa Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

Elisa Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

Elisa: I think there is not one blogosphere, there are many. That’s the beauty of the blogosphere. For example, many of the moms who blog do so in relative obscurity, sharing their daily trials and joys, forming a tight-knit community with moms at similar stages, and more efficiently communicating with far-flung families.

However, it is also the beauty of the blogosphere that if you’re interested in professionalizing and leveraging the time you spend on your blog to contribute to your household income, there is an avenue to do that too. We’ve certainly seen that explode over the last five years. Whether monetizing their blogs or not, though, self-expression and forming community are still huge drivers for moms online, along with seeking and sharing advice and recommendations that will make their lives easier.

Flores’ blog is one of several part-time jobs. Kramer’s provided her with “an opportunity to establish a loyal readership and a platform from which I could launch my first book.” Kramer has decided for now “to not participate in product reviews or advertising. I don’t feel as if it aligns with my blog’s mission. It might be rare among mom bloggers.” Flores says she’s “slowly but surely started opening my eyes to the fact that blogging is actually a career path and has become what I do with my life.”

Vickie: Did the two of you always want to be writers?

Ana: Roxana, my partner on the site, is a writer; she trained as a journalist. I never considered myself to be a writer. I worked for 15 years in TV production, always focused on the Hispanic market. But I think, the more you blog, the more you hone your craft and gain confidence. I hear that a lot from bloggers – they didn’t consider themselves writers before they started their blogs.

Robin: I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and I have a shelf that holds all of the journals that I’ve filled over the years. Blogging has been an extension of this love for writing.

Vickie: What did you want to do with your blog when you started out?

Robin: I launched Pink Dryer Lint when my youngest of three daughters was only a month old. Essentially, my goal was to reach out to other women who also were in the trenches of the early years of motherhood. It’s easy for moms to feel isolated. That isolation can breed an unspoken shame that we’re the only one who struggles with the day-to-day demands of parenthood.

Even though my initial readership was small, women started writing to me and thanking me for the humor, transparency and encouragement that my posts offered. My goal always has been to write for my readers. By that, I mean that although I write about the particulars of my life with my kids, I do so in a way that invites my readers to see their own lives. Good writing is relatable.

Ana: I took a leave of absence from work after I had my daughter, and that’s when I discovered blogging. I was searching the Internet and wasn’t finding any information that spoke to me as a Latina mom: Where can I find bilingual books? What are the lyrics to nursery rhymes and songs – we call them nanas – my mom sang to me in El Salvador? Should I be speaking to my daughter in Spanish? What came up were blogs. There was a whole community of women out there, and I got inspired by them and realized I could actually do this.

We decided that Spanglish Baby needed to be in English because we wanted to reach the widest audience. Our readers are mostly second- and third-generation – they weren’t taught Spanish, but they understand it, and now that they’re raising children, they feel the culture is part of their identity. Plus, raising a bilingual (or trilingual) child applies to any language combination. We always say: We write in culture.

Vickie: There’s an astounding amount of diversity among mom bloggers – from attachment parenting moms to moms of color, moms raising children with illnesses, older moms, etc. Do you think this diversity is reflected across the entire blogosphere or is it specific to mom blogging?

Elisa: The blogosphere in general displays more diversity than the entire online universe, at least according to Pew. So it’s not specific to moms. If you remember that “self-expression” is a number one motivation to blog, it’s not hard to understand why groups that may not see themselves accurately represented in mainstream media or pop culture would gravitate to a medium where they can speak for themselves.

Vickie: When you began, did you develop plans for editorial, advertising and how your readers would interact with the blog? 

Robin: Originally, I didn’t know whether I’d have many readers, much less any plans for how I would handle requests for advertising or product reviews. As my readership grew, however, I had to assess the purpose of my blog. I wrote the mission statement, and I use it as my litmus test to guide the content that I post.

My contact page expressly states that I don’t currently participate in reviews or advertising, yet I still receive requests daily asking me to promote products.

Ana: We spent six months planning Spanglish Baby in the middle of the recession. I decided not to go back to work; it was really bad timing. I had no money. All I had was time. I read Problogger. We set a date, which was Feb. 9, 2009, and we launched with all of the categories – The Culture of Food, Books & Libros, Cultural Travel, etc. – populated with two posts each, so people could see we were serious. And we had two experts on board already. We wanted people to see we were professional content creators even though it was a new medium for us.

I created our first media kit five months in, with a lot of research and statistics, like how many kids under the age of 5 are Hispanic.

Vickie: What have been the biggest areas of interest for your readers? 

Robin: Regardless of the specific content of a post, readers respond to transparency and humor. Motherhood is challenging, but it’s also ripe with humor. When I write, I can be honest about the struggles while also drawing out the hilarity. There’s a lot of universal comedy in parenting. I want readers to laugh with understanding, realize they’re not alone, and leave Pink Dryer Lint feeling better than when they came.

Ana: We work with a panel of experts, which enables readers to send in questions. They get answered once a week, and they’re archived on the site. There’s so much information there. There are so many variables to families raising bilingual kids. Our readers appreciate finding an expert who’s gone through the same thing they’re going through.

Vickie: In light of the fact that “everything is out there forever” on the Internet, do you think privacy will become a big issue for mom bloggers and their families?

Elisa: Privacy and security are already issues for moms online, and it comes in several flavors. For example, many moms who blog begin evolving their blog content away from straight stories about parenting as their kids get older, because the kids become more aware of the blog, and the moms begin to feel these are their kids’ stories to tell, not just their own.

We see location-based apps being far less adopted by women because the creepy factor outweighs the benefits (thus far) offered by these apps. And let’s not ignore the fact that a lot of folks, not just moms, don’t really understand how they can control privacy settings on Facebook…and that’s not entirely by accident on Facebook’s part!

Ana: Our kids really enjoy being part of Spanglish Baby. We both use our kids’ names and pictures, but we also use common sense. Everything we share is in context to the topics we’re covering. We’ve never shared a story that would embarrass them. The moment that they tell us, Don’t blog about that, mom, we won’t.

Robin: My children are still young, but I’m highly aware that their stories will not always be mine to tell. I don’t think of my children as “content,” and I’m sensitive to not post anything that would be embarrassing or revealing.

Vickie: Which social media tools did you find the most helpful in promoting your blog when you started out? And how do you approach new platforms, like Pinterest?

Robin: Facebook was – and continues to be – the most helpful social media tool to promote Pink Dryer Lint. I also use Twitter (@PinkDryerLint) and Pinterest (robinkramer), especially in terms of pinning applicable posts to collaborative Pinterest Boards.

Admittedly, blogging is not a job for me, so I wasn’t focused on mastering new platforms when I began blogging. Still, I certainly have seen the benefits of creating a presence for my blog on sites such as Pinterest as a way to reach a broader audience.

Ana: Facebook and Twitter, all the way. Twitter (@spanglishbaby) helped us engage with other Latinos and other bloggers. So did commenting on other blogs.

I think it’s important to know your readers. For example, our readers are not flocking to Google+. I was one of the early adopters of Pinterest with a personal account, and I use Instagram for myself. My nature is to get an account as soon as I hear about it. But, I don’t have time to invest in social media tools the way I did when we started. It’s a huge investment of time, so I keep going back to Facebook and Twitter.

Vickie: Mom blogging has gone from “start-up” to professional in a half-decade. How do you see mom blogs evolving in the next five years?

Elisa: Yes, some mom bloggers have indeed professionalized. Some have not. And many get the best of both worlds. One of the reasons a lot of the moms in our BlogHer network enjoy working with us is that they get to focus on the writing and let us focus on the monetization. As long as they follow our pretty simple and aboveboard editorial guidelines, they’re free to tell the stories that matter most to them and their community.

The future is probably about expanding their ability to do so beyond their blog and its browser-based audience, but fortify how they can equally monetize their influence across social tools and when accessed on mobile devices. Right now, your blog is the one place you can control the content and control the monetization. But why does it have to be that way?

Vickie: What are the implications of the blogging platform enabling such a wide diversity of mom bloggers to engage with a much larger audience than they ever have been able to before?

Elisa: One of the hugest implications of blogging platforms, for all women, is that they give women a voice and a presence that had previously been a struggle to attain, and they give the rest of us a window into the daily lives of all people, not just big macro-events.

I wish my grandmother had blogged, escaping the Nazis in the 1940s. I wish my mom had blogged as part of the second-wave feminist movement in the ‘70s. Don’t you wish you had that window into the world of the women in your life?

But the implications aren’t just for politics or history or society, there are huge implications for companies, too. Women no longer can only be marketed to. We have a voice, and we can use it to speak to brands. We can use it to share the real skinny on how products work or don’t work. We always had the power of the purse, but that power is so much more direct, impactful and scalable.

Finally, there are huge implications for the economy. I once heard Steve Westly (early eBay executive) speak about how proud he was that eBay had created a new livelihood for so many people. I feel the same way about being at the forefront of helping writers get paid for their work. BlogHer has paid out $17MM over the last three years to the women in our community. This has helped women get through the roughest economic era in most of our lifetimes. There is power in finding a new, flexible way to contribute to your household income.

Flores echoed Camahort Page’s comments when we discussed how Spanglish Baby works with brands, particularly around products that cater to bilingual families.

Ana: We were at the epicenter of this perfect storm of need for bilingual resources and the blogging explosion. So, I began consulting for companies, helping them work with Latina bloggers and helping bloggers understand relationships with brands. It motivated me to create Latina Bloggers Connect.

It’s great to see. We have a content partnership with Discovery, which has programs for children, and they’re translating some of our posts into Spanish on Discovery Familia. Disney enables a Spanish option on everything, including DVDs. Initially, PBS sent us books in English. We gently and politely reminded them that our audience is bilingual, and they went out and found the books in Spanish.

I’ve seen how empowering blogging is for any woman who starts a blog on her own and how empowering the medium is to inspire. I think that’s why mom blogging has become so powerful right now because, for moms at home, they feel productive, stay connected and bring income into their households.

Vickie: What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching a mom blog?

Robin: Pink Dryer Lint allows me to merge my greatest passions. I love to write. I love to encourage other women. I love being a mother. Blogging lets me blend these interests, and it supplied the impetus for me to publish my first book. That’s rewarding.

Plus, one day, if my daughters ever are interested in their childhoods, they’ll have plenty of material to sift through.

Ana: Crafting my own life. I’m starting to realize we are advocates, creating a movement. It’s empowering in a spiritual sense, reaffirming in me what I’m capable of doing, enabling me to set aside a lot of my fears.

5 Things to Consider before Handing Over the Keys to Your Social Media Accounts

Keys photo by Vickie BatesIn the few short years since brands took up social media, I’ve been handed the keys to any number of social accounts, and though the organizations were very different, the thing they had in common was that there was absolutely no introduction to the goals driving engagement in these channels.

Never mind that turning over accounts to people without a discussion of goals, audiences, strategy, tactics, voice and metrics (at the very least) is like handing your car keys to a teenager without asking whether they have a driver’s license.

As Michael Brito noted in the Mashable post “10 Twitter Best Practices for Brands,” it’s important to be flexible without being too restrictive when turning over keys to anyone – employees, contractors, interns. “Planning, training, coordination and integration with social tools is imperative,” Brito emphasizes.

One of the hallmarks of social media is its speed of delivery, but that should never be confused with a speedy hand-over of your accounts.

Here are 5 tips to consider when asking someone to manage your social media accounts:

1) Why are you doing social in the first place? Do you have time? If not, is that why you’re handing over the keys? Maybe what’s needed is an examination of your channels, timing and audiences. Which are you having the most success with? Where are the crickets chirping? Perhaps you need to narrow or refocus your social media presence more than you need someone new in the driver’s seat.

2) What experience does the person have and what do their social accounts look like? Are you bringing them on board for their voice and their followers? Or do you have a strategy in mind for how they will engage with your followers?

3) Discuss the following and ask for a mini-comms plan that includes:

  • goals and how they’ll be measured
  • strategy and tactics and a timetable for implementing
  • tone of voice
  • what’s worked and what hasn’t
  • expectations around engagement
  • how you want to grow followers
  • how to manage difficult situations and crises
  • back-up, off-hours support, vacation coverage
  • anything that’s unique to your accounts and audiences

4) Cover the tools you’re using – such as Hootsuite or Buffer – and don’t assume that using one makes someone an expert on another.

5) Finally, listen to what they have to say about their own social media practices and see if adding some of these new ideas to your own accounts results in positive engagement with your audiences.

It’s National Library Week, April 14 – 20

PrintIt’s National Library Week, April 14 – 20, and this year’s theme is “Communities matter @ your library.”

The American Library Association (ALA) is celebrating the 55th National Library Week, which highlights the value of libraries, librarians and library workers.”

“Libraries today are more than repositories for books and other resources,” notes the ALA. “Often the heart of their communities, campuses or schools, libraries are deeply committed to the places where their patrons live, work and study. Libraries are trusted places where everyone in the community can gather to reconnect and reengage with each other to enrich and shape the community and address local issues.”

Here’s this year’s schedule of events for National Library Week:

National D.E.A.R. Day – National Drop Everything and Read Day – April 12 

Every year, D.E.A.R. takes place on April 12, to commemorate Beverly Cleary’s birthday. Cleary is the author of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which gives a shoutout to Drop Everything and Read. I love the idea that there’s a day dedicated to putting aside everything else and encouraging individuals to read and families to read together. D.E.A.R. Day is sponsored by the National Education Association, the PTA and the Association for Library Service to Children, among many others. Looking for an excuse to read? This is it!

National Library Workers Day – April 16

Today is all about recognizing those often-unsung heroes: your local library staff. Don’t forget to honor your friendly neighborhood librarian by visiting the NLWD website and using the Submit a Star feature!

National Bookmobile Day – April 17

Bookmobiles have made a difference in the lives of generations of people in far-flung communities, as well as the young and elderly. Honor the efforts of these dedicated library volunteers who work so hard to enrich lives through reading.

Celebrate Teen Literature Day – April 18

There’s a vibrant and burgeoning Young Adult books genre, and Teen Literature Day is just the opportunity to support libraries as the help connect teens with books, DVDs and digital resources to share the love of reading. Learn more at the Young Adult Library Services Association wiki.

A Motel By Any Other Name

You spend decades living down the movie. You endure the bad sequels. You shudder when a remake premieres at local cinemas (and breathe a sigh of relief when it bombs).

You never know when someone will throw out a joking reference to it that makes you cringe. Sometimes you preempt the jokes by making them yourself. Especially when inviting guests to stay at your home.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the shower, this happens…

Oh, no. Not again! (Video may be considered NSFW.)

Oh, no. Not again! (Video may be considered NSFW.)

Apparently, this prequel debuts March 18 on the A&E network. And, with that, there’s only one thing left to say: Hope it dies as swiftly as Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, in the original Hitchcock movie.

Audience Engagement, School Spirit Style

Purple versus Gold. Image by Vickie Bates.It’s such a small thing. Yet, when it comes to engaging your audience, it’s huge.

Did your alma mater have school colors? Did it divide the student body into Blues and Yellows or Reds and Greens? Were there points awarded all year for various activities – academic, athletic, volunteer work? Was there cause for celebration among fellow Greenies when your team won the end-of-year tally?

This type of thing was a big deal at my high school, culminating in Field Day – a full day of sporting competitions with the largest pool of points on the line.

So it baffles me why I should receive a request to donate to the annual fund accompanied by a photo of present-day students, grinning from ear to ear, like they’ve just emerged victorious from the traditional Field Day tug-of-war, adorned in Gold.

I was a Purple, you see.

It’s not like this should still matter some unmentionable number of decades later. And it doesn’t really. I’m long past reliving any high school athletic glory or Purple-Gold rivalry.

But engagement is all about speaking to your audience about what matters most to the audience. Not what matters to you or what’s convenient for you. How hard would it have been to line up four Purple kids and snap the exact same photo, then sort alums by school color, and send a customized appeal – Gold kids to Gold alums, Purple ones to Purples? With spreadsheets and mass email systems?

Easier than beating Golds at tug-of-war…

The Essential Guide to South by Southwest

SXSW 2013 sparks up March 8 – 17 with sessions on everything from indie film and music to emerging technologies. The full conference schedule is available here.

Here’s a basic guide to the emotional arc of SXSW attendees and how that’s reflected in their commentary on social media. (In April, simply substitute Coachella for SXSW and Tupac hologram for Twitter. Rinse. Repeat.)

SXSW Cycle of Hipness. Image copyright Vickie Bates.