Doug Haslam

Gischeleman: "To Create With the Mind"

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A Few Thoughts After Four Years of Working From Home

After four years of (mostly) working from home, I thought I had done it enough to add my thoughts to the pile of home office advice. Rather than playing off and parroting advice we have all been hearing for years, I thought I would simply write down what worked for me and what didn’t, bust a myth or two, and perhaps hear from some other folks’ experiences in the comments.

The Experts Are Right

You need a routine in a home office. No distractions, no housework, no TV. When I started working, I was working. Laundry, dishes et al can wait – with reasonable exceptions (if my son had a game that evening being home meant I could get his uniform in the wash if I had to).

Part of that routine is setting a space; I have an office in the home, which creates a boundary and a place to be away from other noise and distractions in the house. When I started working from home I thought that with a laptop I would work from wherever was comfortable. That proved to be only a part-time indulgence, particularly in the summer when I might work in the backyard on a sunny, quiet day.

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I did not set up a single-purpose office, though, so I often had office -mates (my wife working, or my son doing his homework at the family desktop computer).

One piece of flexibility I took advantage of sometimes was that I could work from coffee shops. If I needed to get out of the house or wanted to be closer to the school for an afternoon carpool, I would spend some time and use the new surroundings to refresh my mind. Camping out at a coffee shop all day? No thanks. I found I risked being obnoxious, even slightly creepy, and totally annoying if I had to take a phone call there. The coffee shop office has its limits, but the change of scenery or simply cutting down some travel time for later errands made it worth it.

Productivity is a Wash

I did have the frequent opportunity to work in an office over the last four years as well. When I did, I noticed that productivity was no better or worse at either location. What was different was how I felt about the productivity gaps. In the solitude of a home office, it meant forcing myself to get up and take a walk rather than stare at a screen and not get anything done. Some days, I felt as if I had spent hours not getting something done when the real time “wasted” was never anywhere near that.

At the “proper” office, it meant getting up and talking to colleagues, possibly disrupting their work flow as well – or having that done to me in turn. Was I more productive in one setting or the other? I don’t think so. The socialization took up as much time, maybe more, than the occasional breaks a solo worker needs.

On/Off Switch (The Experts Are Right II)

One skill I had to acquire early on was being able to change from “work” mode to  “home” mode while not changing buildings – or sometimes, rooms. I found that while in the past I would tote around my laptop at night – because if I was not at the office then it wasn’t work (right?) – working from home I needed a fresh break and would put the computer away completely in the evening. That rule (it wasn’t a rule, really) softened with time, but only after I got comfortable compartmentalizing “work” and “home” mindsets.

Flexibility: Some

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The main gain in flexibility working from home had to do with the lack of a commute. This meant I could start work early some days, or go to the gym later than I otherwise might (no more 5:45 dates with the elliptical machine); on the other end, it guaranteed I could make earlydinners or school pickups and events. I took advantage of this found time frequently, no question about it. Working from an office again will mean readjusting again and managing time and commitments like everyone else does.

I also have a cat. Cats rule as office mates.

I Wore Pants

No, I did not work naked. Or in my pajamas. I did wear shorts on hot summer days, where I tend not to dress like that in the office. Getting dressed is part of the routine mentioned above. While I did have the flexibility to wear whatever I wanted, it is important to inject a little civility into my demeanor.

Mind you, I’m not saying I never broke that rule.

One strange thing I did notice, however, had to do with footwear. A few weeks into my first summer, I noticed my feet were calloused in ways that I had never noticed. It turns out the culprits were sandals; never in my life had I worn sandals, but I had just bought a pair for summer wear.  I started wearing them every day around the house, much more than I might have anticipated (I never said “getting dressed” for telework meant strictly confirming to business casual).

Aside from dressing up, managing remote teams was another adjustment; however, remote teams are now much more common, and I don’t consider my remote communications skills to be unique to the home office, certainly not anymore.

Overall…

…working from home required some adjustments, but for the most part I don’t consider it radically different than working in an office. As I get back to a daily office grind soon, I may have some different feelings; we’ll see.

Those of you who work from home or do both – what is your take?

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Three Takeaways from Three Speakers: Social Media Club Boston on Viral Content

Social Media Club Boston held an excellent event* this past week at Northeastern University titled “The Myth, Money and Business Value of Viral Content.” The three presenters each brought his own unique take on the issue, and I had my own personal (if not unique) take from each one. Enough preamble, here are the themes:

Nothing’s New No More

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Ryan Cordell of Northeastern has been studying virality of content in the newspapers of the 19th century. Why is this interesting? It gives us a fresh look at the phenomenon of shared content through the habits of people in a different time, using the technology of the day. I won’t go into the details of his studies as it is easy to go down rat holes (after all we are talking about viral content), so please visit and peruse the site Cordell set up to show the results of his research.

What Cordell’s talk reinforced in me is that everything we – in the social media marketing space – hail as “new” or “revolutionary” is often a very old concept wrapped in a fresh coat of paint (or a new technology or medium). “Viral” content was not invented with YouTube, and it probably doesn’t start historically with the 19th century spread of newspapers either. We are always reinventing what we do – perhaps making it faster, using different memes (that’s not a new word either, so there). There is always something to learn about what we do now from what came before, even if it’s to discover that what we are having trouble learning now (why do people share, what makes something a sure-fire “viral” hit, etc.) was giving people fits back then as well.

By the way, an interesting side note is that Cordell is the man whose children started the “Dad will give us a puppy if we get a million likes” campaign on Facebook – remarkably, that was not part of his research but did end up being a great case study in viral accidents and how hard they are to replicate.

The Story of Viral Content is a Journal of Irreproducible Results**

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Rob Ciampa of Pixability takes great glee in destroying the myth of viral content. Many of us grumpy folks in the social media world pooh-pooh the notion of making a viral video, but Ciampa puts a practical argument behind such corrections. Of all the points he made about platforms, targeting and execution of videos, the one that really sticks is this: most viral video successes are one-offs. There is usually a second video, sure, but they tend to fail in becoming viral for various reasons (remember the second “Dollar Shave Club” video? Me neither).

So- after realizing we are not breaking new ground in creating sharable content, now we must remember that marketing fundamentals – and good content – are key to ensuring  that content is effective, rather than worrying about making a “viral sensation” as the primary driver.

Ongoing Success Trumps the One-Hit Wonder

12121891625_778e306dd9The final panelist, Matthew Wade of My Silent Bravery, performed a pair of his songs for us. This would be enough to cap the night by itself, but he also gave his thoughts on “viral” from the point of view of an artist trying to get noticed. I’ll distill his talk into this quote (paraphrased, so if I get it wrong I hope someone will correct me in comments):

“My approach is more of a long term goal. It’s really about trying to build your audience and your fanbase. You can have a million views but if you only have five subscribers, where is the built-in audience for your next video?”

 

*I can say it’s excellent without sounding like  bragging jackass because I am not currently on the SMC Boston board.

** But not the Journal of Irreproducible Results

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Pan-Mass Challenge 2013 Fundraising Review

The new calendar closed the book on my sixth year riding the Pan-Mass Challenge. First of all, one more big Thank You to everyone who supported my participation: those of you who donated money first of all, but anyone who lent moral support, helped me train, and even got me a ride home from the ferry (something I always manage to forget to arrange; it never fails).

I am officially signed up for the 2014 ride, and am looking forward to another year of training for this 2-day ride to fight cancer, and of raising money, 100% of which goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. While the ride is in August, it is never too soon to donate – the link to do so is: http://bit.ly/pmcdoug.

The past few years, I have used this space to analyze my fundraising efforts and compare them to prior years. As with any analysis, the numbers are not just numbers, but hint at a story; finding and telling that story is the real fun part.

First up is the final number: the total amount raised. After a peak in 2010, this year’s total went up for the first time since then. It was an unexpected and welcome upturn, made possible not by a broader reach, but by some more generous sponsors, as we shall see:

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Average donation size skyrocketed in 2013. While the median donation amount was the usual $50, the average donation exceeded $70 for the only the second time. What helped? Two factors: first, I had three $500 donations (plus  one matching donation), after having none last year. These were all from people who increased their donations from previous years. Depending on the reasons, I will not expect that to sustain, but it shows that some steady donors can unexpectedly change their amounts. Additionally, I had one other matching corporate donation in a smaller amount, also contributing to the totals.

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Total donations slipped below 2010 levels. As shown above, the increased average donation erased this as an overall factor, but I should note this as a potential concern. Should I try to broaden my reach to new people in 2014?

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One new thing from last year that I continued was my email campaign to previous donors. I used MailChimp.com to manage the mails this time, and once again did two mailings: one in March and one in June. With MailChimp, I was able to design a still simple, but slightly more attractive email using one of my ride photos. This may have helped make the mailing more effective; as shown below, my percentage of returning donors was far higher than in any other year (more than 75%).

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I will definitely continue my email campaign for the 2014 Pan-Mass Challenge, but I will not assume the increased average donation rate will hold, and will think of ways to broaden my reach for the next fundraising campaign.

Wish me luck! And, if you are so inclined, help fight cancer with the Pan-Mass Challenge at http://bit.ly/pmcdoug. – Thank you!

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The Future of Agencies: Thoughts on Social Media Breakfast 33

Full House at Social Media Breakfast 33

Full House at Social Media Breakfast 33

Last week, Social Media Breakfast Boston convened once again: this time at the office of Racepoint Group, for a discussion titled The Evolution of PR, Marketing and Digital – What’s Next for the Agency World?”

I had been giving a lot of thought to this question over the past year, so I was eager to hear the opinions of the panelists and the questions from the audience.

I decided to distill each panelist’s spiel to one word, with the commentary a mix of my opinion and what the panelists actually said:

Dan Carter, Racepoint GroupCONVERGENCE

Having recently folded the sister company Digital Influence Group into Racepoint, Dan speaks from experience, seeing a greater need for a unified set of varied offerings, rather than a different agency for each need. The drivers for this? From a business standpoint, it’s a function of where the budgeting authority is coming from. From a professional standpoint, I personally have seen the need to make sure we put the different aspects of services together, the better to serve clients and win different types of business.

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Seth Bloom, FleishmanHillardCONTEXT

Seth used the game of Twister to illustrate his point: a game spinner with all one color and one hand would make for a very boring game; if you have a single service offering, people know what you do, but are you able to adapt to the needs of a client, which are usually customized and certainly mutable? The ideal is not the typical Twister spinning arrow piece, but actually one with greater shades of colors; more choices of services to be able to offer for each unique agency/client relationship.

 

Eric Fulwiler, MullenDIVERSITY

Eric is actually the one who used the word “context,” but this is my blog post so I am assigning key words where they fit in how I interpreted the talk. Mullen’s presence on the panel was unique in that it is most readily identified as an advertising agency, rather than PR. Still, Eric’s citation of the need for social to sit within all communications disciplines rings true throughout the agencies represented: will social cease to be a separate practice? I see a trend in that direction, as the need for social media to support, rather than stand apart from, PR, advertising and marketing means that all agencies need to diversify their offerings in order to serve a more complete communications mandate: and professionals, while likely remaining specialists at some point in their careers, must be able to reach across the lines of paid,  earned and owned media more readily.

Christine Perkett, PerkettPR, Inc.FLEXIBILITY

Christine spoke from the point of view of a small agency; the need for flexibility becomes evident when an agency’s services do not solely serve their traditional constituents (e.g. the marketing department). We may be doing work for customer service, or even sales or HR. Being able to adapt core skills to serve new masters is key in this context (there’s that word again).

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The most interesting part of the Q&A to me was the discussion of talent. What skills does one need now? The answer, I think, lies in what I wrote above: that specialization is a way in to the industry, but the need to understand and be able to bring together the different strands of the communications mix becomes more and more important – to professionals, as well as the companies and agencies they work for (or start).

Is the PR agency world converging? Will it bring a collision with the ad and digital marketing agency world? What does it mean for careers and for the future (or even the existence) of current agencies? My only prediction for 2014 is that we will be asking these questions mare and more, especially if we are not answering them.

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Planning and Measurement Lacking in Social Media (Other Than That, Everything is Great)

A few months ago, I attended a pair of events in Boston: BlogWell, in which several large brands presented case studies; and the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) Symposium, an annual presentation of research studies focusing on social media and other new platforms. While there were several great ideas and lots of useful information disseminated at both events, I came away with two painful but enlightening truths: companies still do not put enough planning into their social media programs and campaigns; and fewer companies than you might think actually measure their efforts.

At the SNCR symposium, among the many enlightening presentations was one I always look forward to: the annual study of social media adoption among Inc 500 and Fortune 500 companies, conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes of UMass Dartmouth. While tool adoption is always fascinating (apparently, blogs are not “dead,” as the prevalence of blogs among both groups of companies has grown to its highest levels in the last several years. 34 percent of the Fortune 500 now have corporate blogs, a new high-water mark (see the embedded presentation, below).

What was more interesting, and potentially alarming, however, was that the number of companies (among the Inc. 500) that actively monitor social media decreased to 63 percent – a majority, but marking a steady decline from 70% two years prior. Additionally, respondents to the survey generally said that marketing departments are in charge of social media planning (which sounds logical), but it was apparent from the presentation that respondents may have been making a best guess, and weren’t themselves directly responsible for planning.

This last point suggests the possibility that there is a gap in planning; that companies know they should use social media and have established presences, but aren’t necessarily attaching this to an overall plan. How do marketers get buy-in for these ideas from management? The sexiness of social media as new platforms will wear off, and I would think that more planning will be needed if to continue programs and conduct more campaigns – why it is not required now is a bit bewildering.

The other end of the planning chain is measurement, which brings me to things I heard a few weeks earlier at the BlogWell event in Boston. This series of events specializes in presenting real case studies from brands. While I will not name the companies involved, I will share this: invariably, audience members asked about results and metrics from their social media programs and campaigns. More than once I heard a version of this reply: “We don’t measure.” I found that astonishing; how can a program be accountable if they don’t measure their efforts? How can they sell a continued program or a new campaign? It is clear from the audience that some sort of success metrics are expected, much more perhaps than in the past – after all, what is a case study without a happy ending?

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It is clear that part of this issue is that in some aspects companies treat social media as experimental, when in reality it can be, and often is, a seamlessly-integrated part of a holistic communications program. As with planning, it is hard to imagine a future in which social media programs get continued support without demonstrating their success against business goals.

I saw these as “painful truths” as I heard them (I hope the look on my face as I realized what I was hearing didn’t give too much away); however, what I really think is that they are opportunities. Companies need guidance in connecting their programs to business and marketing goals, both from the outset (planning) and the results (measurement). Either way you look at it, there is still plenty of work to do at both ends in order to ensure success and provide accountability.

Photo credit: Measurement A” by Ktow on Flickr

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Calling All Comics: Unfunny Social Media Marketers Need Your Help

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Every day, it seems, we see an example of a company, or an individual social media marketer, doing something dumb on the Internet.The cycle goes something like:

  • Brand or person says something dumb or offensive
  • Other social media addicts/professionals see it, point it out, act offended
  • Mainstream media picks it up
  • Social media professionals write “lessons learned” posts because, you know, they all know better than you and they miraculously had a break from all that billable work they do so they could write such an ingenious post telling the rest of us how it is and how it should be – oh, and because “Oreo
  • Someone gets fired, and brand or person either digs a deeper hole or disappears
  • True context of original offending remark is revealed and everyone takes a breath and backs off (HA! Had you there, didn’t I?)

I’m not going to write some sort of navel-gazing or preachy post dissecting the latest “offensive Tweet” scandal (the Justine Sacco Africa/AIDS thing), and what “social media marketing lessons” we can learn from it. That’s tired- and if it’s not tired, someone will do it better than I can before I hit “publish.”

So let’s step back a little and look at one of the main problems driving a lot of these contretemps, particularly this latest episode:

The problem is not that people are bad at marketing; they are bad at comedy. 

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It’s a popular sport to try to be clever to get attention (I am certainly guilty of that), but the ability to sense what is funny, clever, and most importantly, strikes the right tone, is frequently absent. Was Justine Sacco missing the mark with her “I’m going to Africa/Hope I don’t get AIDS/Haha I’m white” tweet? Most likely (notice I didn’t definitively say “no), and certainly it reflected poorly on her employer, even on a personal account (another topic for another post). Did GoGo, the in-flight wireless company, strike out by trying to joke about her inability to manage her disintegrating online reputation while in flight? Perhaps.

How can people and companies make these decisions? We’re marketers, PR pros, social media ninjagururockstars and companies, not performers!

Oops- we are performers. What a big stage we have. We should realize that. So who can help us with tone, timing, and just being good at banter and cleverness?

Professional comics.

Who gets away with saying outrageous things and still getting a laugh? Comics.

Who can put a punchline against a serious topic and still make the point? Comics.

Marketers should study comedy. Companies, agencies and trade shows should hire comics to teach workshops on being funny without killing your message and you brand.

Not everyone is naturally funny, but anyone should at least be able where they can draw the line of what not to say and when not to say it- and of after that, what they can actually get away with and be applauded for it.

So- be funny! But know how to do it first.

Isn’t breaking down the art of comedy into hundreds of words of prose entertaining? Let me know in comments.

Photo credits:

“I’m With Stupid” by delete08 on Flickr

“This is not funny” by zhouxuan12345678 on Flickr

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LinkedIn and the Context of Social Media Etiquette

When people kvetch about getting “Generic” connection requests on LinkedIn, I tend to roll my eyes -and not just because I roll my eyes a lot.

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The “generic” appearance of these invitations doesn’t bother me. The context of the invite is enough. If that context is lacking (I don’t know the person) or is inappropriate (I have reasons not to want to connect), then I ignore. If it’s a person I already know and want to connect with – the very basis for accepting such a connection – then I don’t care what the invitation says. It could say “Teddy bear Romulus keezer basketball spy” – or some other random nonsense – it really doesn’t matter.

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Perhaps LinkedIn will change the way we connect; I suggest removing the default “greeting” altogether, while keeping the option for a customized one. LinkedIn telling me “Bob” wants to connect is enough for me. If the request is warranted, I probably know why anyway.

Stop kvetching. There’s plenty to complain about out there (right?); I don’t think this is one of them.

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This is Why People Hate “Social Media Authors”

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Ok, first of all, the hyperbole of the post title is designed for attention. Perhaps my next post will be “This is Why People Hate Bloggers Who Write Hyperbolic Post Titles.” Moving on…

I will try to sidestep the – undoubtedly – hundreds of bloggers and other writers jumping on Randi Zuckerberg for using Veteran’s Day to hawk her book, with no clear connection to veterans in the book whatsoever. PR people and marketers like myself talk ourselves blue in the face about “newsjacking” gone wrong on a weekly basis.

I could also just jump in and attack “social media book authors,” when, in fact, I am impressed – indeed, at time envious – of those who can commit to getting something produced, even if it sits unread on their friends’ dusty bookshelves (I read every book I get, eventually….probably).

I will simply settle in on the sin of “overreach;” people assume that everyone is so excited about what they are doing, that they blast through the boundaries of appropriateness and logic to apply their own pride, their baby, their precious words – to something that makes no sense.

If people understand that what they are doing isn’t always the most important thing in the universe, they will make ore friends- even, to swipe a phrase, influence people.

So, no “PR Lessons from Randi Zuckerberg’s Horrifying Veteran’s Day Hijack:” no “Stop Signing Copies of Your Book in Random Bookstores as if it’s a Golden Ticket:” not even a “Stop Jumping on Everything People do Wrong in Social Media as if You are The Smartest Person on the Twitter.”

Just, think. Think about who actually cares and focus on those people. And move on.

Photo credit: “Horrified” by mirsasha, on Flickr

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Red Sox. World Series. #winning (Game 1)

Took a few photos from my seats and thought I would have fun with Google Plus’ automatic GIF maker

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A Few Thoughts on Live Blogging

Waiting for Blogwell to start (I was early)

Waiting for Blogwell to start (I was early)

In the near-decade since “live blogging” events has been a thing, there has been debate about its utility – those arguments tend to extend to attendees live-tweeting, leading to an audience with noses buried in phones. I have tended to agree it’s generally not a bad thing, depending on the context of the event (see my post about how TedX Cambridge created an “atmosphere of attention”).

Another side to this is those running the event recruiting (or hiring) people to blog  their events live, regardless of whether they encourage the audience to do so or not. At base, live blogging is simple: dispatches from the front, updated live, akin to the old teletype and telegraph updates from bygone media days.

I was asked to blog a few sessions at Blogwell in Boston today (Oct 22, 2013 – in fact, I am writing this as I wait for the event to begin). The setup is simple: just text updates on a standard blog post. In the face of more complex curation tools out there (like Storify), this is pretty bare-bones, but if I do a good job, the ideas I capture from listening (rather than trying to get photos and gather other observations) will make the posts focused, useful and accurate.

For myself, I am interested to see how this goes. I have done live social media for clients before, but somehow this feels a little bit more like a “reporter’s adventure.” We shall see..

(TO BE CONTINUED?)