• Sign up for Talking Points

    Need to stay on the bleeding edge of the PR and digital marketing industries? Sign up for Arik’s weekly e-newsletter

    Sign Up Now
    featured_p_img
  • Hire Arik to Speak

    Looking for a dynamic PR or marketing speaker for your upcoming event? Learn more about Arik’s speaking experience

    Get Started
    featured_p_img
  • Work With Me

    Got a digital marketing or PR project you need help with? Find out how Arik can help.

    Get Started
    featured_p_img

Stats prove we should actually be ENCOURAGING social media use at work–not blocking it

For years, we’ve been trying to answer the same question: Why are brands banning social media sites at work?

Believe me, it’s still happening.

Maybe not as much as it was 4-5 years ago, but there are still companies out there (I know a number in the Twin Cities area) who block employees from accessing social media sites at work. Heck, I’ve had clients on the marketing side who had to get special exemptions to visit YouTube and Facebook during the day.

Dog

You have to be kidding.

For the most part, most companies block social sites for two reasons:

  • It’s a drain on employee productivity, or
  • It’s a drain on IT resources (i.e., bandwidth)

However, a recent Pew Research Center study confirms what many of us have suspected the last number of years: Not only should companies refrain from blocking social media sites at work, they should be ENCOURAGING employees to use them to enhance performance.

Why? Just take a peek at a few of the nuggets from the survey:

  • 20 percent of respondents said they use social media at work to get information that helps them solve a problem
  • 17 percent said they use social media to strengthen relationships with colleagues at work
  • 17 percent said they use social media to learn about someone they work with
  • 12 percent said they use social media to ask work-related questions of people outside of their organization.
  • 12 percent said they use social media to ask work-related questions of people inside their organization.

Bottom line: Many people are using social media to enhance performance and solve problems at work.

I know, BIG surprise, right?

In fairness, the top two reasons employees used social media at work were to grab a “mental break” (34 percent) and to connect with family and friends (27 percent).

I’d say that’s a more than fair trade-off.

Sure, those top two reasons are what employers are chiefly concerned with–“wasted productivity”, they’d say.

But, didn’t employees get mental breaks and connect with family and friends on work time long before social media came around?

Look at the numbers again–20 percent of employees are using social media to solve problems at work. And that’s without most companies really encouraging employees to do that. Just think if organizations actually DID encourage social media use. What would the numbers look like THEN?

At the end of the day, this issue is all about culture. Right now, I have a feeling most company cultures still look and feel like this scenario: If you are “caught” using Facebook at work, you’re seen as someone who’s wasting time.

Am I right?

When instead, according to this data, there’s a decent chance you’re using Facebook to connect with an industry peer outside the organization to help you solve a real business problem.

Or, you’re skimming a coworker’s LinkedIn account to get to know them a bit better as you prepare for that project you’re about to work on together.

Or, connecting with a former colleague to identify a new agency partner, which will help contribute to that major creative project coming up.

All legitimate business reasons people use social media every day in a business setting. And, the stats back it up. And, keep in mind, we’re not talking about a study by some social media platform that benefits from working the numbers. We’re talking about a study from Pew!

So, maybe the challenge is this: Communicators–it may be time to circle back with leadership to revisit your social media policy (since you’re the one who probably created it!). If you’re one of the companies that’s still blocking social media sites, consider changing that philosophy. Consider the real business upsides to openings up those channels. Admit that you’re already losing productivity among employees–and that it’s not completely due to social media usage. Think about the possibilities. Don’t let fear run your business. It’s time to really think about the upsides of social from an employee performance point of view instead of always looking at the risks.

photo credit: nobody-knows-you-are-a-dog-on-the-internet-by-frits-ahlefeldt via photopin (license)

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.

Can I be a digital marketer AND a good parent?

Last Sunday, I read an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from a teacher in Minneapolis about the derisive force smartphones have become for our children.

As a parent to 8- and 11-year-old children, I can see it coming. If we didn’t put paramaters on screen time for our kids, they would be glued to those things 24/7. Heck, some of my 8-year-old’s friends already have full-time devices. They’re 8!

IMG_7920

So, with my parent hat on, I’m very concerned about how much time my two kids spend on smart phones and iPad-type devices.

Yet, as a digital marketer, it’s my job to convince people (including kids, depending on the client) to spend MORE time on digital devices.

That’s a bit of a conundrum.

I recently wrote about how I’ve changed my social media habits. TLDR: I’m ratcheting back MY screen time. And, I’m most likely not alone. Many among the early adopter crowd are doing the same. And, I would venture to guess it won’t be long until others follow suit.

Why? Because too much screen time isn’t helpful. Sure, it’s probably not *killing* us. But, too much screen time surely isn’t beneficial to my quality of life (the golf course is for me, actually, which is why I joined a local club this year for the first time in 12+ years).

Yet, as a digital marketer, it’s my job to attempt to reach people 24/7.

That’s a bit of a problem, isn’t it?

How do we deal with this issue?

I think it’s different for everyone.

And, it’s a bit of an ethical conundrum. Much like folks have challenges when rectifying working for a company like Philip Morris, which produces a product that’s been proven to cause cancer. Now, I know this is a bit different–the internet isn’t killing our kids. But, it is starting to impact their lives in negative ways (see Strib article above).

I’ve just been thinking about those two things more recently. In my role as a parent, I’ve been more focused on getting my kids to spend LESS time on devices.

In my role as a digital marketer, I’m pretty focused on reaching people on digital devices.

Now, am I going to quit my job as a digital marketer? Probably not. But, is this an issue we, as parents, are dealing with day-in and day-out? I think so.

I’d be curious to hear from other parents. Is this an issue you think about? Does it come up in your thought process when selecting jobs/clients? Or, am I completely over-reacting here?

Wouldn’t be the first time…

 

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.

How to start networking from the ground up

Last week, I wrote a post about the importance of networking outside the four walls of your company.

Like others, I maintain this is an essential and critical strategy to bolstering your career trajectory–and to help your current company in many different ways.

In the post, I wondered aloud why so many people ignore this advice. And instead, choose to stay put and rarely network, save the times when they need a network (i.e., losing a job).

Coffee shop

A few people made the point: Maybe some folks don’t know *how* to network.

A point I hadn’t really thought of.

But, it’s probably spot on.

Because most people do want to be the best employee they can be. And, they want to improve their career options.

So, it makes sense.

In light of that, I thought I’d take the time today to offer up my advice on this topic–HOW to network.

I don’t profess to be an expert networker–far from it, in fact. But, I do, essentially, get PAID to network. It makes a lot of business sense for me to know a TON of people. And, for those people to think good things about me, when they think of me.

So, if I had to start networking from the ground up, here’s what I’d do:

Organize regular coffee meetings

I’d take a five-step approach.

Step one: Take stock of your existing network

Everyone has a network. Friends. Family. People at church. People you play softball with. Others you camp with. Sit down and write down EVERYONE you know. Start a list. You’ll probably be surprised how many people are on it.

Step two: Start with your inner circle

Tick down this master list and put “stars” next to the people you would deem in your “inner circle.” Those people you trust the most. Those people you would confide in. Those people you would ask for advice. These are the people you’re going to ask to coffee first.

Step three: Think about your approach

My networking approach: Very casual. I want people to feel at ease with me. So, I ask a lot of questions at coffees. I don’t talk about myself, unless asked. And, I try to appear happy, laid back (yet motivated) and outgoing. I know that sounds kinda stiff and lame, but it pays to think about your approach to these meetings. Do you want to appear more formal, or take a more laid back approach? Are you going to take notes? Will you dress up? What about your appearance? All things to consider with your overall approach. Remember, these meet-ups will start to define people’s impressions and perceptions about you–make sure they start to think what you want them to think.

Step four: Preparation and follow-up

Next up–ask these inner circle folks to coffee. But, don’t just get together with them and “have coffee.” Treat it like a business meeting. Start by preparing. Find out what they’ve been up to lately–new job? Family news? Passion projects? Start a list of 3-5 business-related questions you can ask these folks. You don’t want to be too formal with your prep, but you want to be prepared. After the coffee, practice your follow-up. Send them a note, thanking them for their time. Throw in a couple links to stories or items you talked about in your meeting.

Step five: Ask for 2-3 introductions from your inner circle

Here’s where the “networking” piece really comes in. Ask your inner circle folks to introduce you to 2-3 additional folks from their networks who they think you might benefit in meeting. Might be someone in your industry. Might be someone completely outside your industry–but someone who might be interesting to meet for different reasons. Whatever the case, this is where things really take off. Let’s say you have just 5 people in your inner circle. If those five people refer you to 3 people each, that’s 15 new coffee meet-ups for you! And, keep in mind, these are “warm intros”–so you’ll have at least one point of commonality with the people you’ll be meeting up with (your common friend).

Only use larger “networking” events as conduits to more coffee meet-ups

I’ve written about this before, but the infamous “networking event” is the most over-rated event ever. Think about the scene: 100 people on a rooftop in Uptown Minneapolis. Within an hour, most have had at least one drink. Many are talking to people they already know. Many conversations last 5 minutes or less. Does that sound like the kind of environment where you can really make an impression on someone? My approach to these events: Use them as a way to organize more one-on-one coffee meet-ups. Try to meet new people at these events at all costs. Don’t be afraid to stick out your hand and introduce yourself. After all, isn’t that why you’re there? It’s certainly why other people are there. Meet people. Get contact info. And follow up with those people you think were moderately interesting, and ask them to coffee.

Think about your “soft” networking events

Networking doesn’t have to just happen in a coffee shop or at industry events. It can happen at church. Or, camping. Or, on the boat. For me, my “soft” networking events happen in a few different venues: 1) On the golf course, 2) Camping, and 3) At sporting events. Golfing is a huge one for me. Think about the scene. I get 3-4 UNINTERRUPTED HOURS with an individual doing something I love doing (and hopefully, something they love doing, too). That’s actual networking gold. A close second would probably be sporting events. I attended numerous Minnesota Timberwolves games this year with many different people. Those were all opportunities for me to get to know these folks a bit better–in a scene that’s NOT the workplace. So, think about your soft networking opportunities. Could be volunteering at your kids school. Could be church-related activities. Could be working out. All represent an opportunity to meet new people in a different kind of setting.

Get creative and leverage scale

One thing I love to do is create my own networking opportunities–at scale. I’ve done it many times in the last seven years. A few years back, I tried organizing semi-regular happy hours where I’d invite 5-6 “inner circle” friends and ask them to bring a friend I didn’t know. Worked beautifully. I met new people. My friends met new people. And, we had a lot of fun along the way. More recently, I started a corporate communicator mastermind group here in Minneapolis. We get together every other month for a business meeting followed by dinner. What a great way to meet up with 10-12 of the smartest communicators in Minneapolis–while delivering tremendous value for them. I have another big idea in the works for this fall–but you’ll have to wait for more details on that one 🙂 Think about how you can get creative, once you’ve sharpened your networking powers. How can you create group environments to leverage scale and meet more than one person, while still keeping things fairly intimate.

That’s my advice. Hope it helps a bit. Any other tips you’d share?

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.

When relaunching a new web site actually IS news

By now, most of us have been in the following situation.

“We’re revamping our web site–this is big news! Shouldn’t we write up a news release and alert the media?”

“Yeah, I mean, we now have a more ‘mobile-friendly’ site–that’s news, right?”

“And we completely changed our navigation and added bigger, splashier photos, too!”

Strib Target

 

And what has our answer been (especially the last 5-6 years in this age of “what have you done for me in the last 3 seconds?”): Re-launching a new web site is NOT news. Not in this environment. Not anymore. Not really, ever.

Except, if you’re Target.

When you’re Target, and you’re one of the biggest companies in town, everything is news. Even when you relaunch a “mobile” web site.

Because that seems to be what Target did this weekend. My “proof”: The front page of Saturday’s Star Tribune business section (see above).

This is a little comical for a few reasons (with quotes right from the story):

  • “Target Corp. has long had different websites for smartphones, tablets and desktops. Now, it’s cut them down to just one site that can be viewed from any device.” Now, I’m no “web expert”, but isn’t that called “responsive design”? And, hasn’t that concept been around for like 4-5 years?
  • “For consumers, the most apparent changes are less text on the home-page and more pictures and a more visual experience.” Breaking news, folks. Customers respond to visuals!
  • “So many guests shop in different platforms. Having an experience that looks similar across those things is more intuitive. We know that’s what guests want.” Is that quote from 2013?

I don’t mean to rail on Target. And I’m not even saying this was the wrong thing to do. After all, when you’re Target, and you’re one of the biggest companies in town and you’re a huge employer in downtown Minneapolis, ANYTHING you do is news. Including launching a new web site. I don’t fault them for that at all (Note: the real story here is how Target is trying to make advancements on the tech side, an area of their business where they are really trying to focus at the moment and make up ground vs. the Amazons of the world).

But, I do think this is a continued cautionary tale for all other brands who have names that don’t start with “Target” or “Walmart” or “Amazon.” Despite the story here, re-launching a new web site ISN’T news. Very few people care about your new mobile app. No one even knows that you just adopted responsive design. It’s just not newsworthy (again, unless you’re one of the biggest companies in town).

Save your pitches folks.

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.

The not-so-hidden reason staying within the four walls of your company is a really bad idea

In a previous life, I spent my days working for a large health care organization based here in Minneapolis.

I had taken the job as a “step back”. As a way to get a better handle on my career, and survive those early years with my kids (young parents—you’ll relate).

But, one thing I found fascinating about this health care company and its marketing/communications function was this: Most people did seem to see any reason to network beyond its four walls.

Coffee Meetup

No one said that, in those certain terms. But, they didn’t have to. Their actions spoke much louder than words.

Very few people joined and participated in professional associations like PRSA and AMA.

Very few people had semi-regular coffee meet-ups with people outside our industry.

In fact, the only time I really saw people networking and grabbing coffee when was layoffs were imminent and people were fighting for their jobs.

I’ll give you another example locally: Target.

If you work in the Twin Cities, chances are you know someone who works at Target.

But, when was the last time you had a networking coffee with anyone from Target?

When was the last time you saw someone from Target at an industry event?

I’m not saying it never happens. All I’m saying is you don’t see as many people from Target attending industry events as you do from other organizations in town (they do most of their networking WITHIN Target).

It’s a common issue for folks at large corporations: They fail to network outside the four walls of their organization.

Why?

Lots of reasons.

1 – I have my “dream job” (or some form of it). Why do I even need to network?

2 – I’m too busy. I don’t have time to network.

3 – I know enough people—I don’t need to expand my network.

To those people, I would say: See you in the unemployment line (OK, I’m being dramatic–I couldn’t help myself).

Networking is the lifeblood of any successful PR and marketing professional. Who you know is every bit as important (and I would argue more so, in many cases) than what you know.

And it’s not all about jobs either. Networking is a critical component of professional development, too. You know, that whole “improving yourself” thing.

In fact, I would argue networking outside your organization’s four walls could be seen as a core requirement for all employees as a professional development strategy.

Think about the benefits to the organization:

1: More new ideas from outside the organizations. So many orgs suffer from a prevalent “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Networking with others gives you insight into how other industries and companies address common marketing challenges.

2: More access to talent. What’s the first thing any corporate team does when a new job comes open on its team? They ask “Who do we know that might be a fit?” Everyone pings their networks to see if they have a friend or colleague that might be interested. Wouldn’t it be helpful if you had a few people on your team that had expansive networks, in this case?

3: More access to vendors. See #2 above–except substitute “talent” for “vendors.” Exact same situation. Before you start interviewing agencies, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a few people weigh in on those agencies based on personal experience and their networks’ personal experiences?

Now, the jobs piece, which is more confounding to be honest.

Why people refuse (or ignore) to network outside the four walls of their company has always seemed a bit odd to me.

Here’s how I think about this:

When I worked on the corporate side, I took every job knowing full well we operate in an “at will” employment environment. That means: A company can hire and fire me whenever they like (essentially). And, I can leave whenever I want.

I knew that people (good people) get fired all the time. Sometimes through layoffs. Sometimes through reorgs. Sometimes by way of performance.

So, if that’s the case, I wanted to give myself the best chance to survive those (impending) layoffs (and if you think it’s weird I use “impending” go ask your friends how many of them have been laid off once in their careers. You’ll see a bunch of hands go up).

The best way to make sure you are inherently employable isn’t merely to “do a great job at work” (although that certainly is a component of it). It’s also means you have to have a solid, extended network.

Because, if you get laid off, what’s the first thing you’re doing? Calling on your network for help.

So, doesn’t it make sense to ensure you have a large network that is motivated to help you when you need that help?

This is exactly why when I was working on the corporate side, I made the extra effort to build and nurture my network. That meant organizing coffees before work. Attending industry events. Reaching out to folks on LinkedIn and Twitter.

All that paid off in a big way when I was looking for my next opportunity. I asked people in my network questions about starting a solo business. Asked others about social/digital opportunities in the local market. Asked yet others for help with connections.

And, for the most part, they all said “yes” and helped. Why? Because I had put in the time on the front end through coffees, industry events and other communications.

Yeah, networking is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time.

But you know what? It may also end up saving your career. Or, making it more lucrative. Or, extending it by 5-10 years.

Go forth people. Network. You’ll thank me later.

photo credit: End of the conversation…… via photopin (license)

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.