Social Media

Building an Email List for Fun and World Domination

“Dad, I think that’s the guy from Shadow of Whales.” We were standing in line, waiting to get into the venue to see Catfish and the Bottlemen and Green Day. My daughter pointed over to a red haired guy holding a clipboard and walking alongside the line.

She had her phone out and was swiping through a year’s worth of photos before I could even ask, “Are you sure?” She pulled up a photo of him standing next to her from June 2016. We had seen Shadow of Whales open for Marinas Trench at a bar in Austin over a year ago. Neither of us had heard of them before, but after their set, the bass player wandered through the crowd talking to people and my daughter got a picture with him.

My daughter stopped him as he approached and asked, “Are you in a band?” Yes he was. “Is it Shadow of Whales?” Yes again. He was excited she’d recognized him a year later and introduced himself as Jeremy (@jeremyboyumsow). The three of us talked a bit, then he asked a small, but very important question.

*****

Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) was an early employee at both Facebook and Mint.com and is now an entrepreneur. He has founded a couple of companies focused on business promotion and growth.  On the side, he blogs, podcasts, and makes videos on entrepreneurship, marketing, business promotion, sales, etc.

Noah often advocates collecting emails to create a connection with customers and improve sales. I like to believe I have a pretty good understanding of business and after hearing and reading Noah’s ideas and advice, I thought I understood the business imperative behind email lists.

I didn’t.

*****

I am a huge fan of Ryan Holiday’s (@ryanholiday) books. All of them. Whether it’s about marketing, Stoic philosophy, or creating lasting art, Ryan packs about three lifetimes worth of wisdom into each book, yet makes the topics understandable, applicable, and practical.

He is also a voracious reader and has a monthly newsletter where he summarizes all the books he’s read lately. In a presentation at the launch of his latest book, he mentioned that he started this newsletter well before writing his first book as a way to collect email addresses and build a following. He figured people who like to read (i.e., potential customers) would find the newsletter valuable and once he’d published a book himself, he would have a way to directly reach his customers. His plan seems to have worked: over the years, he’s grown the list to 80,000+ subscribers, while becoming a best-selling author.

Again, I thought the idea was pretty cool, but only in an abstract way, not in a here’s-something-I-need-to-do way.

I was wrong.

*****

It’s easy to forget that bands are really small businesses. They sell products (music) and services (concerts) to their customers (fans). In the Revolver Magazine article The Youth Are Getting Restless, veteran metal vocalist Randall Blythe discusses how technology and competition have greatly reduced the barriers to entry and made it very difficult for new bands to get a foothold. (Sound like what’s going on in other any other industry? Maybe in every other industry?)

He makes the comment, “I encourage everyone to play music – it’s great fun and good for the soul – but I’m never going to lie and say your chances of actually making money from it are anything other than dismal.” In the age of file sharing and freemium streaming music services, bands today make almost no money from selling their music.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine having a business where your primary service or product is not – and never will be – your primary source of income. So, if music sales aren’t profitable, how do bands make money? Randall goes on discuss what he recently saw a few new bands doing right: “They all worked hard to gain new fans, which is how you sell merch, which is the key to making a living as a band today (honestly, that’s it – I am really just a glorified black T-shirt salesman.)”

There’s the formula: Gain new fans + sell t-shirts = $$

But how do you gain new fans? How do you build an audience?

*****

Jeremy asked, “Would you like to get our new EP in exchange for your email address?” My daughter enthusiastically agreed and he passed her the clipboard to add her name and email. We said goodbye and he continued working his way down the line.

In an era when music isn’t profitable but building a fan base and merchandise sales are, Jeremy was out in the hot Texas sun talking to everyone who would listen about his band’s music and trading their music for emails.

*****

I’m pretty far from anything resembling an expert in email marketing. My only qualification is enjoying the work of actual experts like Noah and Ryan. Even though I’ve heard them both discuss the importance and approaches to capturing email addresses as a way of building and selling to the customer base, I realize now that I only understood it at the intellectual level. I didn’t really get it before, not truly.

To really understand it I had to see it at the most real of levels. A guy and a clipboard with the hustle and initiative and dedication to approach strangers and build an email list one conversation at a time.

That’s what he’s willing to do to grow his business.

How about you?

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the three guaranteed new secrets of ancient best practices

Some days it’s all about the headlines isn’t it? A catchy, grabby declaration meant to attract eyeballs and wallets. There is so much content – so much content competing for your time and attention – that the headlines have become formulaic in their attempt to stand out.

“The”. We humans like to know there is definitive certainty. No wishy-washy possibilities or discussion here. This article is all about chiseled in stone absoluteness.

“Three”.  We also like definitive numbers. It tells us right up front that there is only a certain amount of info being discussed. Interestingly, the number is either single digit or a fairly high double-digit. Seven is fine, sixty-three is fine, fourteen just doesn’t work.

“Guaranteed”. Who doesn’t love a good guarantee. This is proof it works right? Um, sure. The most relevant legal definition from Law.com is: a promise to make a product good if it has some defect. Most often, if something you purchase doesn’t work, the guarantee would be for money-back, repair, or replacement. How much did you pay for the blog post? If it doesn’t work, how much recourse do you have? Yep, zilch. I guarantee it. A great, sounds good, but meaningless word.

“New”. Yep, none of those old ideas for me, thank you very much.  What? You mean I shouldn’t be a complete jackass as a manager if I want people to care about their jobs, I shouldn’t eat more than I burn off if I want to lose weight, and I shouldn’t drive like a teenage boy late for a first date if I want to save fuel? I know that already (even if I don’t do it, like, ever). No, tell me something new. And make it a…

“Secrets”. This goes right along with “new”. There will never be a blog post, article, or book titled, “Common Sense Stuff That Everyone Already Knows”. And the secrets must be either so hot off the press that the ink smears, or they better be…

“Ancient”. Yep, old. Been around for years and recently recovered from the mists of time. But not twenty years old, more like 200+. Bonus points if you connect it to a revered, yet mysterious people from: a) a long time ago; and/or b) far, far away. Tibetan monks, Peruvian priests, Spartan warriors. Tailored to the topic of course. “Leadership Secrets of the Viking Berserkers” would sell like water in the Sahara, but “Human Resource Secrets of the Druids” might not work so well.

“Best Practices”. This is the greatest term ever invented for selling ideas, because it looks buzzwordy, businessy, and authoritative, yet is essentially meaningless. It sounds like it means cutting edge, but it really means status quo. “Best practices” is more eye-catching than “currently fashionable ideas” or “the stuff we’re doing today that seems to work OK, but we’ll look back upon in fifteen years and face palm ourselves in sheer embarrassment.” Interestingly, these best practices can contradict other best practices in the same site or magazine and no one seems to notice or care.

The best part is the topic at hand doesn’t matter. Not a bit. It’s common across every professional, enthusiast, and tabloid subject I’ve seen. Unfortunately, using or not using these secret (ha!) headline best practices (ha!) is no guarantee (ha!) of quality. Some great articles use them and some don’t. Some horrendously vapid and vacant articles use them and some don’t.  But the trite articles trending through the interwebs? Definitely.

 

HR, you don’t need an app for that

For Christmas I asked/begged for a gps running watch and I absolutely love it. It looks good, is super easy to use, it tracks and records my runs, the display is customizable to show the info most important to me, it syncs to a website that syncs to my phone, and I’d highly recommend it to other runners.

BUT it’s an indulgence. It’s unnecessary. It’s a tool of convenience, but far from a requirement. It, and the entire infrastructure build around it (website, apps, etc.), can be replaced with a $6 stopwatch and a $1 notebook. Most importantly, IT DOESN’T RUN FOR ME. It enhances the habit I already have; it doesn’t instill new habits. (Anyone ever buy a time management app, PDA, software, or scheduler thinking it would make you effective with your time and discover that it, um, didn’t?)

Yesterday, I saw a  post on Forbes.com called 2014: The Year Social HR Matters. This piece has some good thoughts, but really got me thinking because there is a section that describes social data as enabling companies to rethink the performance review. To quote in small part:

“…some companies are going one-step further to create a new process focusing on having a “Check-In”. The software company Adobe now relies on managers controlling how often and in what form they provide feedback. The Check-In is an informal system of real-time feedback, which has no forms to fill out or submit to HR.

Instead, managers are trained in how to conduct a check-in and how to focus the conversation on key goals, objectives, development and strategies for improvement…”

I am 100% for this. Only… Only, it’s exactly what I thought managers were already supposed to be doing. Why do we need an app, software, or electronic gizmo to practice fundamentals of good management? Are companies really waiting for the technology to be in place before having actually conversations with their people? Could they not manage without big data? Like my watch, there may really cool ways of using social data to help us do what we’re already doing even better, but IT WON’T MANAGE FOR US.

The world seems rife with HR vendors trying to sell this dream, trying to convince us that the tools do the work instead of helping us do the work better. And that is a very key distinction. The hammer in my toolbox won’t build the house for me, but it will help me build the house faster and easier than without it. The performance management system won’t have the tough conversation with employees – at best it will make it easier for managers to have more conversations and provide more and better feedback. Applicant tracking software makes it easier for us to stay on top of things and provide a better candidate experience, but it doesn’t do it for us. We can gamify and automate employee recognition, but the most impactful employee recognition event I’ve seen cost a total of $20 and used nothing more sophisticated than a word processor and strapping tape.

My point is simply that the apps, software, etc. are (can be) great enhancements to what we are doing. But there is no point in waiting to purchase them to get started with providing better training to managers, better experience to candidates, better recognition, better HR, etc. etc.  There is a real danger to thinking that technology and data offers one size fits all silver bullet panacea that will magically and effortlessly solve all the problems.

With the right intention and approach these things can be done very low tech and still have meaningful impact and results. With the wrong intention and approach it’ll still suck despite all the technology and money we throw at it.

The watch is cool, but worthless if I don’t actually do the running.

it’s not about social media, but it is about HR

Social media and HR. Two great things I saw working together fabulously. Seriously. Everyone I consider a peer uses social media in some form. I’d met and shared ideas with great people around the world and could see an interconnected network of smart, passionate folks come together. With a couple of clicks I was interacting with rock stars of the field – people I’d otherwise have no access to – and over time it built into something more. Information and thoughts flowed from one end of the internet to the other.

And then I went outside my little happy world and saw that they don’t always to go together. I knew some didn’t get it, but I has shocked at how many don’t. I don’t mean at the corporate level of using social media to recruit. (Robin Schooling (@robinschooling) over at HR Schoolhouse did a great post on this recently. You should go read it.) I mean at the personal level of individuals in the field of HR using social media as a networking, communication, and information gathering tool. Whythehellnot?

At the Louisiana State SHRM conference in early April there was a ton of buzz about social media. Any session with “Social Media” in the title was well attended, there was a Social Media Street to answer anyone’s questions and a team of social media volunteers to tweet in real time about the sessions, and both the conference and the speakers had been heavily promoted on social media. I was thrilled for the chance to meet many people in person whom I only had met and only knew via the internet. In fact, I found out about the conference and ended up presenting largely thanks to social media. In my mind, there was this enormous social media connection running throughout.

And then… and then I realized that the only people discussing the conference on Twitter were the presenters and the social media team. I don’t recall one mention by participants. Maybe I missed it. In his session on “Building Social HR Leadership”, Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) did a quick poll of the participants. If I remember correctly, roughly two-thirds claimed to be on LinkedIn, a smaller number admitted to Facebook or Pinterest, and Twitter trailed in popularity.

Huh? I assumed conference goers were there to network, to learn about new happenings in the field, and to get ideas to take back to their jobs. All things I’ve found social media to be brilliant for. I’m not a power user or social media evangelist and I don’t think everyone needs to be on every form of social media. I’m just surprised that the adoption rate was so low, particularly given that those I consider to be thought leaders in the field are so active in social media.

There has probably always been a gap between those actively building relationships, sharing ideas, learning from each other, trying to advance the field etc. and those just showing up for another day’s work, but I get the sense that social media is rapidly (radically?) widening this gap.

It’s not really about social media because social media is just a tool, just a means to an end. It’s really about HR and the bigger question is: What are you doing to learn, share ideas, build relationships, and move the field forward?

 

 

fair warning

“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.” ~ Carl Jung

“Anybody who courts the mainstream deserves everything they get.” ~ Hugh MacLeod

inconceivable

pedalsHow many things completely inconceivable just 10 years ago, very expensive or difficult even five years back, are ho-hum (yawn) commonplace today?

I bought a new set of pedals for my mountain bike from the UK. A great set of pedals – a brand that’s hard to find in the US – at a competitive price, $10 shipping, eight business days later and they’re waiting for me in the mail.

A quick photo from my phone and I’ve shared my excitement with friends. An hour or two later and I’m interacting and discussing the pedals with people across timezones, countries, and continents. And I’m doing it essentially for free.

Count the inconceivable impossibilities in the two previous paragraphs. Not only is it hard to grasp all the advances that had to come together to make all of that possible, but it’s even more startling how quickly such an impossibilities became just another Thursday night.

 

Pedals? Who cares? What about work?

This kind of cross-continent coordination, collaboration, and communication is mundane in our private lives, but how much has work kept up?

  • How many policies do we have that are so out of date they might as well be written on papyrus scrolls?
  • How much energy is spent blocking technology and ensuring work gets done in a certain way vs embracing how work might be different?
  • If your job were invented today, would it look the way it does now? How different would your office/workspace be? What technology would you use if you could select it (what technology do you use to get things done in your personal life that you can’t use at work)? Who would you communicate with that you don’t now?
  • How different would recruiting, hiring, and onboarding employees be if we started from scratch today? How would HR workflow be different?
  • What policies would immediately be nuked and what would they be replaced with (if at all) if we were told reinvent the business?
  • How much of an advantage does the lack of legacy give a new business over an established one right now in terms of creating more efficient work?

What are the inconceivable things at work that are completely possible right now? What are we not doing because it was impossible five years ago, but would be cheap and easy to do today?

What thinks you?

 

sorry LinkedIn, I’m just not that special

There is a quirk to human nature where we want to fit in with everyone else and simultaneously stand out. We want to be just like everyone only more special so we find all sorts of ways of being better and validating our uniqueness.

As much of a rare and special purple unicorn snowflake I like to think I am, I know there are many others like me. Mathematically, if I’m in the top 1% in any category, there are roughly 70 million others on this planet who are at least as good. Heck, there are 3 million in the US alone.

Social media has done a great job of leveraging this psychological need: You have a new follower! (Can you believe it – someone likes me?!) Someone retweeted one of your tweets! (Holy cow, I must be special – they really like me and they think I’m a supergenius). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that someone else thinks that my thoughts might be useful – please keep following, retweeting, etc. – I’m just not convinced that it’s always an exclamation point kind of moment.

I, like many others, recently received notice from LinkedIn that my profile was in the top 10% of those visited. My thoughts rapidly went from Huh, that’s kind of cool to Are they sure? Really? to Man, they’re screwed if I’m top 10%.

Why are they screwed?

I don’t have that many connections. Not really, not at all. I’m pretty sure any mediocre sales person, recruiter, or social butterfly has more connections than me.

I’m not looking for a job so it’s not as if I’m doing anything to attract people to my profile.

No recruiters are calling me so it’s not like people are seeking me out.

Uhhhh, so if I have such little activity, why am I in the top 10%? AND if I’m top 10% where do all those poor folks who are trying to use LinkedIn to find work rate?

AND if I’m hitting the top 10% what meaning could this measure possibly have? What outcomes are happening as a result of my extraordinary accomplishment?

AND if I’m so unspecially special, where is LinkedIn making its money and who isn’t getting a return on their investment?

Oh wait!

Hang on, top 10% of 200 million users is 20 million. Yep, not that special.

What thinks you?

 


 

what should I call you?

Thanks to the marvels of social media,  I’ve “met” some really fantastic people in my field via the internet.  Yet, I often find myself searching for words to describe these relationships. These are people I’m connected to through mutual blog subscriptions, twitter follows, maybe even a LinkedIn connection. We’ve exchanged comments and ideas, seem to dig each other’s perspective and world views, yet have never actually met or even had a real conversation.

When I try to tell friends, family, or co-workers about these folks, I don’t have a good word to describe who they are. “Friend” in the traditional sense doesn’t seem to cover it – we don’t know each other that well. I tend to reserve that word for people I’ve known quite a while and I can count on to help me move furniture. “Acquaintance” is someone I know but don’t have a strong connection – I’m needing a word for people I seem to have a strong connection with yet haven’t really met. “Associate”? No. “Colleague”? Sort of, maybe, but not really, so, no. “Mutual Follower”? Sounds pretty cultish – no.

Anyone else facing this problem? What word makes the most sense?