Monday, March 23, 2015

How Twitter Chats Can Build Topical Understanding and Community #GenerationSilos

In 2009, when I got the idea that online customer service via Twitter would be the future (and an idea for a book), I wanted community input. I found a like minded individual, Jeffrey Kingman, to join me in a #custserv (customer service) chat.

The #custserv chat was a success and has been running on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET for over five years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of participants have joined in the chat. Each sharing opinions that have helped form the practices in customer service today.

When I postulated another idea, I was inspired by the large amount of social media engagement surrounding the generations. It seems that Millennials, Baby Boomers and GenX-ers all have their own hashtags; I was culpable too, as I had written a chapter about marketing to the generations in my customer service book.

But what bothered me about the current conversation was that the hashtags and the tweets generally served to promote differences, versus the commonalities, of those of us making our way in the 21st century.

Last November, I participated in the launch of IBM Verse with 31 other social business influencers. (IBM Verse is a powerful new email and collaboration tool guided by analytics). During that event, we brainstormed the future of work and the role that different generations played, that conversation inspired this chat.

#GenerationSilos was born

I was lucky enough to team up with @IBMSocialBiz for the #GenerationSilos chat and with Jason Eng as co-host. With Jason as my wingman, I was assured the chat would be balanced and would cover varying points of view.

The chat was scheduled for Wednesday, March 18. I fully forgot that the entire social media world would be at SXSW and that the day prior was St. Patrick's Day. We had a lot of promoting to do. Launching a new hashtag means a lot of work and we didn't have much time. Twitter promotion began on the 15th, the Sunday prior, and a framing post went on my blog on Monday the 16th. The theme was "Are we creating silos between generations? Are millennials the future of work? Tune in to find out!"

When you plan an online chat, be sure you have a list of questions that cover the topic, ten are good for a one-hour chat. Planned questions enable the moderators to keep participants on topic. Without questions, a crowd will often splinter into individual sub-discussions.  We prepared questions that opened discussion on the topic, the trend to siloing the generations.

The chat was held on CrowdChat, a platform that enhances the conversation, allowing comments to share on Twitter, automatically with the #GenerationSilos hashtag. Comments longer than 140 characters are posted truncated on Twitter with a link back to the chat platform. It is very efficient.

Five minutes prior to the chat, I watched the chat page and there was three of us in the room, Jason, IBMSocialBiz and me. I wondered if anyone would even show up. By 6pm PT a crowd began to fill in. We welcomed the community and the questions began.

By 6:37 pm, the chat was trending worldwide on Twitter and the conversation was interactive and eye opening. The two top questions in the chat were
  • Millennials say they have challenged the status quo. Does this differ from the mantra "Don't trust anyone over 30"?
  • What are the biggest myths you hear about millennials?
You can visit the transcript and find the answers here on CrowdChat. We ended up with 3,227 views, a reach of 23.6M and a total of 484 posts.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to share their ideas. It proved that Twitter chats can really be a place where ideas are exchanged and solutions can be found.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Focus on People, Not Generations, to Achieve Transformation in Culture

Ariana Gradow of CrowdChat and I on TheCube at IBMInterconnect #NewWayToWork - two generations working together!

When generations collide; silos are built. Has anything good ever come from a silo mentality? Let’s define silos to be clear:
silo: isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others
In business a silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture. Silos between people proliferate discrimination, isolation, a lack of team play and cooperation. In the workplace, this attitude is just as destructive to synergy and progress.

Today, silos are being built between people in the 21st century, brick by brick, by both ends of the demographic spectrum. The Internet abounds with posts vehemently pitting one generation against the other; written in words that border on hate-speak. Name-calling has become an obsession. Why take responsibility for anything when we can blame our difficulties on someone else?

Millennials have been called lazy, selfish, entitled, rude; .Boomers were called radicals, dirty hippies and slackers. The disparity between the generations goes back as far as around the 4th Century BC, when Socrates denounced the young generation “Children are now tyrants.”

In this post, I'm skipping past Gen X because the most populous cohorts today are the baby boomer and the millennial. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964-and they represent 23.7% of the population and most began to enter the workforce in 1970. Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, represent 28.7% according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

No one is that special: Workplace culture and Technology

While browsing the web, I found this, “I watched in horror as my baby boomer boss pounded on the keyboard in an attempt to figure out the e-mail." Agreed, there are those who are not well-versed in technology, but horror?

Before we arm up for generational confrontation, consider the points below to see the commonalities between the generations. While millennials have been immersed in technology since they were in diapers, who do you think developed all the devices that changed the way we work? Not everyone else on the planet is a luddite. Lets take a look at the workplace and a few of the innovations that led to the digital revolution that changed the way we work together.

In the Workplace

It wasn't until the 1930s that electric typewriters appeared. Proportional spacing didn't appear until 1944, but the most radical innovation was the IBM Selectric Typewriter in 1961. The Selectric mechanism used internal mechanical binary coding and mechanical digital-to-analog converters. Disruptive? Yes. Thomas Watson Jr., who commissioned the development, also believed that design was just as important as innovation. He hired the top mid century designers of the day to develop at style guide, to portray a modernistic motif. Having an IBM Selectric in an office was the ultimate cool factor; it eventually captured 75% of the typewriter market.

The Inbox

When boomers worked in an office, if they wanted to speak to a colleague, they’d call them or walk over to their desk ...and talk. If the person wasn't there they’d leave a little note on their desk. 

If you wanted to share a document, you’d have to put it in an “Inter-Office envelope”, address it (it could be reused multiple times) and put it in your Outbox. The outbox would be picked up once or twice a day by someone from the mailroom and delivered to the recipients Inbox. Archaic, isn't it?

I thought the last use of an interoffice envelope was in 2008 when Steve Jobs slipped a Macbook Air into one at MacWorld. I was wrong, when I posted on Twitter, asking for a picture of one of these envelopes I got tons of responses . Can you imagine an office using today’s email and these relics? Duplication in communication processes is more rampant than ever.

Digital revolution?

The digital revolution in media consumption could not have occurred without the introduction of television. In the pre-TV era, people got their news in newspapers, but “real-time” (changed twice weekly) images were shared on the big screen, in theaters via seven minute newsreels shown between movies. The disruption to real time media came in the 1960s when television became commonplace in American households and began to mold public opinion.
"The digital revolution is a digression, and television — the real video revolution that began in the 1950s — continues on." - The Hollywood Reporter

There are those who say television is dead, but it is “the screen” that carries its work in the digital age. What is your tablet but an alternative for consuming media? All forms of information appear, from fiction to news via a multitude of devices including OTT (over-the-top) content delivered through IP packets to “the screen.” As Stephen King so aptly put it, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Work/Life Balance

Did the millennial generation invent the desire for work/life balance? Ask anyone from prior generations and I think you will find that having more personal time was something all human beings aspired to have. Previously there was no option for "me" time in the workplace. So before we condemn, consider that there were no sabbaticals and allotted vacation time rarely exceeded 10 working days. Just like today, very few people were able to enjoy this time off. When employees had children, mothers were lucky to be able to combine sick days and vacation to spend time with their new babies. Fathers were expected to be at work and pass out cigars

Boomer Cultural Deceptions

Boomers were exploited by the media with a broken promise of “the American Dream.” To achieve this dream, both parents had to go to work and the images seen on television of mom staying at home as a housewife and dad being the breadwinner went out the door. They became unwilling workaholics in order to achieve the dream and were sold up the river by marketers and banks with promises of easy credit and long term repayment.

As parents of older children (and caregivers to parents) today, they now carry higher expenses than their predecessors longer into life, thereby causing them to attempt to stay in the workplace longer. There is no way to find the “golden years” they were promised. Social Security (which they paid into their entire working lives) can’t be expected to maintain a status quo.

Millennial Educational Debt

A top ranked betrayal that millennials feel is mounting college debt. They face not only debt, but a depressed economy with unemployment rates that, in 2010, reached as high as 9.6%. The dream of graduating and getting a high paying job disappeared, so many left universities without attaining a degree.

The truth, albeit somewhat time delayed, is that despite debt, the ROI of a degree can be high. A 2015 report from PayScale, reveals the ROI of the various majors and the costs involved. In short, assuming one completes four years and gets a degree, a university educated man can expect to earn as much as 70% more than one without a degree; in 1972 that number was only 22%. An interactive chart including degrees can be found at The Economist, here.

If you're looking to make a decision on which colleges give you the most for your money, visit CollegeRaptor for an interactive, free analysis.

We are all victims of politics and societal influences. No generation ever set out to deliberately screw another. Boomers are just as scared of the future as are Millennials, if not more.Suicide among Baby Boomers is one of the leading causes of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Today’s technology and culture represents the building blocks placed by past generations. We have more in common than you think. And as we all move through the circle of life, future generations will blame the previous for their life issues. We need to be more flexible. each generation brings new tools to the box. So why not take this moment to take the high road, and work together for a better future and a productive workplace.

Please join me on Twitter for a #GenerationSilios chat on Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm PDT. Details here

Monday, January 12, 2015

CES 2015: Technologies That Caught My Eye

I have attended almost every  CES since the early 2000s. I've seen new technologies launched and many drowned out by the excitement ginned up on the latest televisions and wearables. Here are some notable examples of technology that stood out from the crowd:

ReWalk Robotics Personal Exoskeleton 

This revolutionary technology will have life changing impact on so many. It helps paraplegics regain the ability to walk. The FDA cleared the company’s ReWalk Personal System for use at home and in the community.
ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) to stand upright and walk. ReWalk, the only exoskeleton with FDA clearance via clinical studies and extensive performance testing for personal use, is now available throughout the United States.
While attending the ShowStoppers Media preview, I took the video below.

Spin Master Meccanoid G15 KS building kit

Ever since I saw the movie, Short Circuit, I wanted a Johnny 5 robot of my own. It seems that I am a bit closer to my goal. At the Show Stoppers event I met a charming robot from Meccano, and with their kit I can build and program my own pal. Ever have an Erector set? (Erector is the brand for Meccano in the United States). The Meccanoid robot can recognize pre-programmed user-recorded Voice Commands and can be controlled by an Android or iPhone app. 

Toshiba's Communication Android Robot

This definitely takes the prize for the strangest (creepy?) technology. This Android is promoted to be the next big thing in customer service, health care and even as companions. Forgive me if I am not as enthusiastic as the other reporters and reviewers. The goal is to "achieve real heart-warming communication with human-like facial expression." Anybody else see Disney's Hall of the Presidents? Sigh. Read the Toshiba Press Release.

Lenovo VIBE Xtension Selfie Flash 

The end to unflattering selfies. The Selfie flash plugs into the phone's audio port and uses 8 LEDs to illuminate (not flash at) your face. This way you can get the perfect selfie every time. The price is only $29, but Lenovo has (currently) no plans to sell this cutting edge product in the United States. Let's hope they take pity on the selfie fans in the US!

Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Digital Camera 

Polaroid is back, and in a big way, utilizing Zero Ink Printing technology, They understand social media and their new Socialmatic camera is a fully operating touchscreen Android 4.4 Kit Kat system with GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. The front facing camera is 14 MP  and the rear 2 MP. You can share your pictures online and through its built in printer, instantly print 2" x 3" hard copy for your friends. 

Also, the 2" x 3" picture of me at the top of this post is being printed from the new Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer which connects to mobile devices via Bluetooth or NFC.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Reinvent an Ecommerce Business in Less Than 90 Days

When I first started my mentorship with Pitney Bowes Smallbiz Mentorship Contest winner Julie Wiley, I knew it would be a challenge. Here was a woman with years of entrepreneurial experience moving from a full-time job to a home-based, online business.

Julie had been profitably selling on eBay since 2002 on the side, so a jump to a full ecommerce business was not a big stretch. When deciding about her business plan in 2008, she wanted to select a theme that was fairly recession proof. She reasoned that people were always getting married so she named her eBay store I Do Bridal and Gifts.
She also wanted her business to be unique in the marketplace so she widened her product offerings. Tapping her creative side, she began making varied custom items – such as canvas wall décor, glassware and creative bachelorette favors. These items not only build her bottom line, but require less inventory investment. Smart move.
Thinking further into the bridal idea, Julie came upon the thought that remarriage is almost as popular as first-time marriages, so she felt that second-time brides might enjoy a place of their own. She named her new website Second I Do’s.  Despite doing all that seemed right, she was struggling to turn a profit.
We dug in, and together we addressed many of the issues that face small businesses. Here’s what we changed:
  • Mobile–izing the Website. The first thing I did was to check the Second I Do’s website. Although it was chock full of great merchandise, the layout was dated. Although the host told Julie her site was optimized for mobile. It clearly was not. We negotiated for a new template, but the template that was offered up was incredibly basic (but could be seen on mobile). After checking the latest from different providers, we selected a professional Shopify ecommerce website which offered contemporary templates and excellent mobile conversion. This also cut down Julie’s monthly expenses. The new version of the website will be live on Shopify by December 1st.
  • Getting Centered. They are numerous popular ecommerce portals and Julie was trying hard to do a good job on many of them. It’s a lot of work to keep up to date on changes and relisting and listing the same merchandise on many sites. We looked at her monthly sales on each platform and evaluated the ROI. We narrowed her alternative selling platforms to the ones which performed best: eBayEtsy and Artfire.
  • Sharpening Keywords and SEO. When you have a lot of merchandise up for sale online, the mere act of listing many items makes it easy to let item titles get stale. I went over about a hundred of Julie’s eBay items and made suggestions on new titles based on keywords. In ecommerce, keywords are king. They are the SEO for your items for sale. I recommended she be sure to use words that fully describe the items and fill the entire permissible title space. We also went through and freshened up listing descriptions to answer any question a prospective customer might have.
We visited Google Analytics and checked visits, time on site, average pages viewed and bounce rates (how many people leave your site without visiting other pages). We discussed the factors that needed to be improved. Moving her main site to Shopify, with its open layout, should handily increase sales.
  • Cash Flow. Many ecommerce businesses get weighed down in inventory. Unless the inventory is evergreen (and fashion rarely is), it’s time to slash prices and move merchandise. We also looked at monthly costs related to websites, subscriptions and payment providers and compared these to current options. We managed to pare down her monthly output significantly by using many of the lower priced and often free services.
For example, there was a paid store app on the Second I Do’s Facebook page, so we switched from that to Auction Items from eSoftie, a free solution that allowed Julie to send her eBay items to a Facebook store. Setup was simple and took only a few minutes for the entire inventory to populate.
  • Social Media Marketing. We went over the best practices that I lay out in my book Social Media Commerce For Dummies and gave her tips on how to better engage and build a community of customers.
Julie had a nominal presence on most of the social sites. Since social media seems to be everywhere these days, we examined the demographics and decided in which sites Julie would put the most effort – and agreed to focus only on those.  We also set up Google Alerts so she could monitor mentions of her brand and industry on the web and take best advantage of sales opportunities (as well as to derive content for sharing).
Setting up a social media plan can take a while and generally done after the ecommerce platforms are mostly complete. So it might be a while before Julie’s Twitter feed ramps up. I suggested Julie use Buffer to better organize the timing, so as not to send out tweets and posts in rapid fire fashion, leaving room for responding and connecting.
In the three months I worked with Julie, we covered more than I can possibly list here (I can’t give away all her secrets)! In doing so, I was reminded that mentoring is a two-way street; a partnership. When mentoring, you always gain a new point of view on many things. A recent post of Julie’s on Facebook signaled to me that we’d been successful:
“I have never been so busy working from home. Part of it is due to my mentor, Marsha Collier who has given me many “tools” I can use to become a better ecommerce business. Unfortunately, with the new tools comes time spent learning and utilizing them and when you are trying to sell to generate income, it can seem like these tools take away from your selling. I am learning that in order to be successful at selling, I need to have the proper foundation laid. Thanks, Marsha. I know next year my business will be positioned so much better for success!”
Thank you Julie. It was a great experience for me as well!
This article originally appeared on the Pitney Bowes blog