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My New Year’s Resolutions: Five things I resolve not to do in 2009

As I thought about my resolutions for the new year, the garden variety goals came to mind: exercise more, eat better, spend more quality time with the kids, etc. But, there are a few others I’ve been kicking around that don’t involve taking action. In fact, these five goals actually require a little different approach:

* I promise not to be “that guy”Shannon Paul really put it best. As I continue to explore and engage in new social media tools online, I hope to build relationships within my preferred networks, be human (and hopefully, inspire a few laughs along the way), and promote others whenever possible. Not too tough, really.

* I won’t have an intimate relationship with my Twitter account. Sometimes it seems we’re all a little too close to our online activities. This was most evident to me over the long holiday weekend. Instead of spending quality time with the people that matter most to us, I noticed a number of folks active on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks online. Of course, I was out there, too (after all, how did I know the others were online?), so I’m just as guilty. But that’s where my resolution comes in. Using Twitter, Facebook and other tools to develop relationships is great, but I also plan to get out of the house more and meet up with the great PR/marketing/communications minds in the Twin Cities in 2009, too. Nothing replaces good, old-fashioned face time.

* I won’t do someting just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This one applies not only to my professional life but my personal life. For example, I’m currently researching a way to listen to my music library throughout our home. Originally, I thought about the traditional approach and buying a new portable Bose Sounddock. But as I thought about it, what I really want is access to my expansive music collection in virtually every room of the house, without having to lug around the sounddock. I need a “wired” house–not a sounddock or a run-of-the-mill receiver and speakers. I’m guessing this is going to mean a fairly expensive trip to Best Buy in my near future. For business, this means not falling into the trap of taking the easy way out. I plan to challenge the status quo and never stop thinking of innovative solutions to my organization’s communications challenges.

* I promise not to talk too much. Another goal with multiple applications. I need to be a better listener with my clients, my wife, my kids, my friends and my extended family in 2009. Why? Because good listeners are better friends, better dads, better husbands and better communicators. David Mullen seems to agree. Organizations should also make this a priority–listen more intently to your customers next year. Whether it’s online through tools like Twitter or blogs or face-to-face through focus groups or personal one-on-one conversations, companies can learn a lot from their customers. Just ask Dell, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines.

* I will not go back to school. Ok that’s an odd thing to say, right? Yeah, well I don’t have an extra 15K lying around to pursue my MBA right now. Hey, you try it with two kids and 24K in annual daycare bills. What I will do, however, is passionately continue to learn. I hope to spend at least one hour online each night listening on Twitter, commenting on blogs I follow, developing my own blog content and discovering new tools. I plan to stay engaged in my local PRSA chapter as a board member where I’ve learned so much from so many smart people the last seven-plus years. And I plan to read feverishly. Books on my short list include Groundswell and Naked Conversations.

Those are my goals for 2009. What about you? What do you resolve not to do in the new year?

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How are you cultivating your leadership skills?

It occurred to me the other day–at most companies (with one notable exception) I’ve worked with over the years, managers have been promoted more based on technical ability than leadership qualities.

Shouldn’t those two characteristics be flipped?

Yes, we need our managers to be proficient at their craft–whether it’s writing, welding or producing widgets. But, more importantly, don’t we need them to be leaders that are driving our organization’s strategies and furthering our vision? Don’t we need them to have critical change management skills that are so vital in an economy and climate like the one we’re experiencing right now? Don’t we need them to be leaders who can build high-performing teams and bring people together–not folks who polarize and enjoy alone time in their offices?

In reality, we need them to be all these things and more, which is why management positions are so challenging. There are so many demands on your time–prioritization and organization are at a premium. Plus, there’s the whole other element of employee retention. Want to keep and develop your top talent? Better make sure employees respect and enjoy working with their manager. After all, what’s the saying, “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” Powerful.

One of our roles as communicators is to help managers foster their leadership abilities when it comes to change management, team building and communications skills. But, as we’re helping them become better leaders through our insightful counsel, what can we do to improve our own leadership skills?

* Take a couple leadership classes. I’m not saying stop pursuing your advanced degree in your specialized field–I’m just saying consider taking a course to better prepare you for the people management side of your position. If you really think about it, how much of your day is spent building consensus, persuading and navigating relationships? Take that side of the job seriously–your employees do.

* Learn from leaders past and present. Pick a leader–whether it’s one within your company or Barack Obama. Present day or years ago. Doesn’t matter. Just select someone you respect–and a leader with a style you’d like to mimic. Maybe it’s your CEO. Maybe it’s FDR. Whatever the case, start studying this leader and their traits–how do they communicate? how do they present to groups/teams? how to they learn from their mistakes?

* Read at least three books on leadership this year. Start with Lincoln. And you won’t struggle to find books about the man’s renowned leadership abilities. Find a more contemporary version, too. And learn. Get a few different perspectives to help you get a better handle on your own leadership style.

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We need online medicine–NOW!

OK, I’ll admit, I have a vested interest in this topic as an employee of Fairview Health Services and as someone who needs to visit a physician soon (I may or may not have broken my pinkie earlier this week). That said, as health care providers, insurance companies and government entities look for ways to transform the health care system, I make this plea: Make it happen–faster!
Why? Quite simply, the “Facebook generation” will demand it. Heck, I’m demanding it. And if my local provider can’t figure it out soon, I’m going to Google for my health care needs (as soon as they figure it out, which I’m guessing should be any day now). Anyway, as always, I have a few ideas:
* Online chats with providers to address simple ailments. Similar to the MinuteClinic model, couldn’t we develop a model where you could chat online with a doc by IM about basic ailments–ear infections, colds, broken pinkies, etc. Just identify a few physicians on a rolling schedule who would be responsible for connecting with patients online all day. One doc could actually interact with multiple patients at once. Why not–it’s called multi-tasking, right? Not sure how we’d reimburse for care in this kind of model, but as has always been the case, industry would find a way.
* Health care Twitter feeds. Wouldn’t you sign up to follow a Twitter account that fed you useful health care facts and tips? Five ways to help reduce the duration of your child’s cold. Three tips to help you run more and suffer less from joint pain. You get the idea. The tweets could include a quick tip and “point” to a blog post for more information. Mayo Clinic (big surprise) is already doing this–kinda. Like that old public service statement, “the more you know…”
* Virtual visits with providers. We almost have the technology to pull this off now. Tools like Second Life are in relative infancy. When they mature, which is not as far off as you might think, this becomes a very real possibility. The other option–video conferencing. You could visit with your doctor through tools like Skype–look your doc in the eye, ask questions, show your doc a rash, etc. It could be fairly interactive using today’s technology with the promise of a whole new experience in the future using virtual tools.
What are your thoughts?

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Why you need to hire Curious George

I’m here to tell you that you need to hire Curious George.

No, not the actual monkey. But people like Curious George. Whether you’re building an agency or corporate communications department or rounding out your marketing team, you need more Curious George’s on your squad.


* Curious people are innovators and trailblazers. Don’t you want people like this on your team? People who constantly question the status quo and challenge decisions are more likely to help you improve processes, build better teams and drive results.

* Curious people are fast learners. In this climate of change, you need folks on your team who can learn new skills. Fast. When the winds of change shift within your organization, you need players who can move quickly and take on new roles and projects–work that often requires them to learn new skill sets at lightspeed.

* Curious people are early adopters. Think about Twitter. How many people do you know who use the tool? Would you consider them curious, by nature? Curious people have a desire–no, a need–to try new things and use new technologies before anyone else. These folks are not only adopting these new technologies faster than others, but they’re also learning how to implement those tools in the right situations–before anyone else.

* Curious people have great client service skills. Inquisitive people ask more questions–and that’s a valuable skill when dealing with clients. Asking questions and seeking additional information can help you identify needs, barriers and challenges when you’re putting together marketing and communications plans with clients.

* Curious people are strong team players. Think about the last really good conversation you had with a friend or colleague. They probably asked you a bunch of questions to start the discussion, right? Curious people use questions to start conversations and build relationships. After all, the more you learn about someone the closer you will feel to that person, right?

How many Curious George’s do you have on your team?

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Why your organization’s intranet should act, feel and function like your Web site

Quick question: Does your company’s intranet act, feel and function like your external Web site?

Unless you work for Best Buy or a handful of other Twin Cities companies, the likely answer is no. 
A litany of excuses exist–lack of resources, lack of commitment, lack of agreement between communications, IT and HR departments. Take your pick. Regardless, not having a progressive, more “social” intranet site is hurting your company–and your employee pride and engagement.
Employees expect company intranets to act, feel and function just like external Web sites. They want to be able to share and rank content. Share photos. And post comments to stories, articles and blog posts. All things they can do on the Web. 
And why shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t your company be communicating with your employees the same way you communicate with your customers? Isn’t that just as important, if not more? Don’t your employees serve as the front lines to your customers? Aren’t they your primary brand champions? 
Think about Facebook for a moment. You know a lot about your “friends” on Facebook, right? You know their birthdays, their interests, their hobbies, their kids names–and you’re able to view photos of all these folks and communicate with them in real time with a few simple clicks.
Now, think about your organization’s intranet–does it function the same way? 
You may not have this kind of functionality on your intranet right now–but your employees expect you to. And when you don’t, what do they do? They go on Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and Twitter each night to connect with friends, family and coworkers. 
So, what can you do–especially in this resource-constrained economy? Here are a few quick, easy and relatively affordable strategies:
* Give employees the ability to build their own profile–add photos, share interests and hobbies and update contact info. Basic information, but it will empower your employees and allow them to connect in ways you may have never thought of.
* Give employees the ability to rank content. The “folksonomy” approach. Think Amazon. By giving your employees the opportunity to rank articles, stories and videos on your intranet, you’ll be able to determine exactly what they’re interested in and tailor your approach in the future.
* Give employees the ability to connect with other employees–quickly and efficiently. This might mean providing IM, Yammer or video chat capabilities. The upside of this approach? You’ll take the heat off email–and who doesn’t want that with many folks receiving upwards of 200 emails a day? And in the process, you’ll improve employee productivity.
Implementing some of these basic first steps may not get you all the way to Web 2.0 status, but it will help you engage your internal stakeholders more effectively and connect them in new and different ways.

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