Without Distribution, Talent is Just a Hobby

It’s new-music Friday, so I’m listening to some new releases that are highlighted. So far, nothing is really that great. I personally know some hometown musicians that make these new-release artists sound like amateurs; like chumps. So why is that my talented musician friends can’t pay their bills, but these questionably-talented musicians are played every 20th song on SiriusXMs “top hits” channel? Because without an audience, their talent is just a hobby. This goes for everybody, not just musicians.

I know a lot of really talented coders, designers, artists, actors, photographers, video editors, accountants and other amazingly skilled, passionate people that can never seem to get out of the starting blocks. Why is that? It’s because the world isn’t fair. If the world was fair, then talented, good-hearted people would be making a lot of money doing what they love. But they’re not. They’re holding on and hoping, but hope isn’t always good enough.

Hope is important to keep your spirits high and to keep you moving, but it alone isn’t enough to help you pay your bills.

I work for some really big brands. I’ve put together full advertising campaigns for some of the largest companies in the world (so far, 6 in the top 50 on this list of The World’s Biggest Public Companies) and I’m sure I’ll keep adding to it.  Can I do this work because I’m talented? Honestly, yes.  But…are there people that are insanely more talented than me that could do this work? Yes. Are they doing it? No.

Why is that?

It’s because I put in the time to meet the right people and they didn’t. It’s because I took the time to work for another company that was already doing work with really big brands so that I could learn how big brands operate and they didn’t. It’s because I looked for ways to augment my talent with skills that would help me help others do their jobs better, and you guessed it…they didn’t.

I’m not saying that I’m more talented than everybody (I’m not) and I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else (I’m definitely not)…but I am saying that I’m not “lucky” to be doing what I’m doing. I worked hard for it, and sometimes (often times) that meant doing work that I didn’t want to do so that I could learn my craft and meet more people. It also meant spending a lot of time…years, in fact…learning from others so that I could be successful.  You see, you can be the most talented person on the planet with a particular skill, but if nobody knows about it, nobody will ever pay you for it.  Maybe you don’t want to be paid, maybe you want to do your art/skill for the sake of simply doing it. If that is the case, I applaud you, but it really is just a hobby.  If you want to take what you know and love, and what you are good at, and make a career out of it, you need to find a distribution channel.  Work for somebody else, go to networking events (nobody else who attends them likes them either, so at least you’ll be in good company) and write posts for your blog even though you may only have a couple of readers (hi mom).

Success doesn’t come overnight, and rarely is luck involved.

If you’re good at something and think you can make a living by doing it, then start thinking of what success looks like in 5 or 6 years, then work backwards to today. Reverse-engineer your distribution network until it’s to it is something that you can start doing right now…then do it. Build your network, build your distribution. You aren’t going to experience success this year, and probably not next year. Maybe the year after that you’ll see some movement, and the year after that you’ll be feeling good about things. Think about the long game, but start today. Otherwise, you’ve just got yourself a nice hobby.


4 Unusual Interview Questions That Reveal A Lot

Not too long ago, I received a LinkedIn message from somebody that I know on Twitter but haven’t met face-to-face.  It was short and to the point, and asked me simply, “if you were interviewing an account executive, what’s the most important question you’d ask?” This person was planning on relocating, and was doing some research about what to expect in interviews by asking different sources. I was honored that I was asked, and I took some time to reflect on the many, many interviews I have done over the years.

There are plenty of questions that should be asked of an interviewee regarding work history and capabilities, but some of my favorite topics have helped me to understand their personality and character nuances better than boilerplate questions.  Below are the four questions I shared with him, and a short explanation of why I ask them. I hope you find this useful in your next interview, no matter which side of the desk you are sitting on.

  1. “What kind of music do you listen to?” –  Seems like a strange question, right? I’m less concerned with the type they reply with, and more interested that that can nail down an answer. I find wishy-washy people to get uncomfortable with this question. I think they get in their own head too much and wonder what I’ll say if they reply with a type that I don’t like. If this is the case, they try to tell me that they like all kinds, but will never nail down a genre or artist. In my experience, people who answer this way will never give me honest feedback when we are brainstorming idea or creative…they are too concerned with having an unpopular opinion. Although I don’t want to work with contrarians, I do want to work with people that can thoughtfully express honest opinions, even if they aren’t the most popular. I think we all know that everybody loves music, and they usually have pretty strong opinions about it. Those that can quickly tell me a genre or artist they like are usually good in group meetings and strategic plannings.
  2. “What do you do for fun on the weekends?” – If they tell me something work related, this is a big red flag for me. Really, you like to work on the weekends for fun? I don’t, and I don’t want you blowing up my phone all weekend long while I’m trying to decompress a little.
  3. “How do you deal with unresponsive clients?” – This is a big one. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer, but it helps me to understand their temperament. Are they hot heads? Are they too relaxed? Do they get frustrated easily? I want to have them ask me questions in return like “how long have they been unresponsive?” “does the client prefer email, text or phone conversations?” This shows that they are thinking about how to communicate in a way the client prefers, not trying to force the client to communicate in a way they prefer. One of our best clients actually communicates with me via Twitter DM, so that’s how I reach out to them as well.
  4. “What is your biggest pet peeve in the workplace?” – Another one with no right or wrong answer, but it helps me to understand their temperament for coworkers. If it’s something small like “people chewing gum too loudly” then I’m guessing this person is going to be a real pain in the ass to work with. This questions stumps a lot of people. I think they think I’m asking more than I really am. They don’t want to appear neurotic, but also when you ask people about their annoyances, they cannot help but talk about them. It’s a good reflection of character and maturity.

When interviewing potential candidates, I prefer an even mix of questions that help reveal work ability as well as personality.  Working with somebody that is good at their job is very important, but working with somebody that is a good cultural and personality fit is even more important.  You shouldn’t have to compromise one for the other, but in my experience, a person can be trained to make up for skills they lack, but a bad personality cannot be changed…at least not by their employer or coworkers.

* Image Credit: I’m not sure who owns this photo, but it can be found at various download sites.  Although it doesn’t directly have anything to do with interviewing, it gives the sense of adventure and taking a risk, something that you should feel when applying for a new job. I love this picture.

Facebook’s Race To 0% Organic Reach (And Why We Should Embrace It)

Facebook’s organic reach for pages is plummeting, and I for one cannot wait for it to be 0%.

For the last couple of years, I’ve read a lot of long stories and short tweets about Facebook’s organic reach for Pages dropping. There was early speculation that posts by a Page “didn’t reach everybody”, which of course was true. Not too long after that, brand managers were upset because their content was suddenly being seen by less than 50% of their total fans. Late in 2013, several reports showed that organic reach had dipped to under 20%, and as of last week we are seeing studies and hearing rumors that it will drop to 1-3%.

I will say it again: I am quite anxious for the total organic reach to bottom out at 0%.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed the free ride as much as anybody. For years, Singley + Mackie has been able to create rich content for our clients that we syndicated on Facebook and other channels. When we would post something on behalf of the brands we work for, quite a few fans of the page would be able to see it, and hopefully would engage or share in some meaningful way. But times have changed, you need to accept that the free ride is over, and rightfully so.

Let me ask you a string of rhetorical questions. How many television ads are free to the company that wants to air them? How about radio spots? Magazine and newspaper ads? Billboards? The fact is, marketing your brand costs money. If you want to be seen or heard, you need to pay for it. Why then are people complaining about this regarding Facebook? Is it because it used to be free?

Facebook is now a publicly traded company. With that comes the reality that they have to make money, and even when they have made a lot of it, they have to make more. That’s how public companies work.  It should come as no surprise then that organic reach has dropped, and I now view the 1-3% organic reach as a bonus. If I bought a block of television advertising and the channel gave me 3% bonus airtime for free, I would be thrilled. This is my new attitude regarding Facebook pages; I am happy with any organic reach at all, because it really is just a bonus.

notificationsIf we can all accept this new reality of Facebook marketing, then we can quit holding out for free, magical, viral things to happen; because they are not going to happen.  The new rule of Facebook marketing is that brands will have to put some budget behind their efforts if they want them to be seen. Consumers still have the option to get notifications (they can scroll down on the Like button and check this feature so they don’t miss a single post), but as a brand manager you cannot rely on that happening.

My advice to brand managers and agencies is this: start having the budget talks now, so when it is time to allocate for paid and earned media, all of the time and effort you have put into Facebook marketing to date is not lost.  A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your Facebook paid media budget is at least 1x your budget for content creation or application development budgets. Facebook would recommend that the paid media budget is at least 4x and often times big brands will allocate budgets of 10x or more.

Let’s quit complaining about how Facebook used to be, and start accepting how it actually is. Facebook is now a paid channel, just like everything else in marketing.

A parting thought: Twitter went public late last year. I wonder what conversation we’ll be having about its organic reach at this time next year…

The first tweet I sent that contained a reply and a link. Everything changed after that.

The Return of Blogging

With the exception of a couple of videos that I liked, I haven’t posted anything of substance on this blog since February 28, 2011…almost 2.5 years ago. As somebody who has consistently blogged since 2000, a lot of people asked me why I tapered off and then stopped altogether.  The answer is fairly simply, really: there were other outlets that proved to be a better use of my time, and in which I saw greater reward.

To me, marketing has always been about finding opportunities to stand out from the other person or company. It’s about being found among too many choices. It’s about getting somebody’s attention so that you can (hopefully) deliver something of value to them. Several years ago, blogging had become such an over-saturated way of conveying messages that people stopped paying attention as much.  More so than anything, Twitter changed communication for me. Five years ago, I found communication through Twitter to be far more effective, and delivering my message (or those of clients) was best done there. The picture at the top of this post is the first tweet I ever sent out that contained a username and a link to content…and I’ve hardly looked back since.

Now, halfway through 2013, Twitter has a lot of noise. Not just Twitter, but also Facebook and the other popular social networks. Brands have moved in and spent insane amounts of money to put ads on your sidebars and into your timelines (I know this because I have helped many of them to do so).  I still love Twitter, but social media has become one hell of an echo chamber, and I don’t feel it is the most effective way to stand out with a message.

I believe in cyclical behavior. Although technology will continue to expand and amaze us, I think that human behavior behaves more like a pendulum than a growth-chart that always goes up and to the right.  I think the pendulum is swinging back, and though I don’t think Facebook and Twitter are going anyway but up, I think that blogging will make a nice resurgence over the next 18 months as a truly viable way to grow, engage and convert audiences to your message/product/cause.  Because of all of this, I believe that blogging is swinging back to being a good use of my time, and that I will start to see a greater reward from it than a few years ago.

As a CEO, I get to experience a lot…both successes and failure. I’m excited to share the things I have learned, and continue to learn, with you.

And so we shall see if this prediction of a blogging resurgence comes true.  It’s not a risky position for me to take, nor a wild prognostication to bet on, as blogging has never really gone away, it’s just adapted to the market.  No, something crazy would be predicting the use of direct-mail pieces as an effective way to reach your audience. Guess what? I actually do believe that is starting to have some truth in it, but that is another post for another time.

Creating A Time Budget

Time Flies!You can tell your friends that you aren’t doing as well as you could with your business because you don’t have as much money as your competitor.  That may be true.

You can convince yourself that the reason you’re not the best in your industry is because you don’t have as many employees as the other guys. That may be true also.

You can even try to explain to those around you that if you had gone to this school or that, or if you had only acted upon your gut way back when, you would be ahead of the game right now. Again, this might be accurate.

The one thing you cannot hide behind, however, is lack of hours in the day.  You are given the same as everybody else.  In this area, nobody can out pace you or buy more than you, we all work with the same 24 hour clock.  It’s what you do with that time that is important.  I’m telling you this because it’s something I have to remind myself of almost every single day…I am bombarded by emails, phone calls, content calendars, sweepstakes rules, legal department hurdles, Facebook advertising optimization and a hundred other things every day.  When you add to it the fact that I actually like spending time with my family at home (yes, all four kids), I realize that it would be very easy each and every day to complain that I don’t have enough time.

That’s a ridiculous complaint, however.  I do have enough time, I have just as much as you do, and my competitors have just as much as all of us.  Instead of praying for a 28 hour day, it’s time to accept the fact that we all need to work with 24 hours; so more isn’t the answers, but efficiency and prioritization are.  It may be time for you to make a  “time budget”.

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How To Always Lose To Your Competitor

I’m writing this at Starbucks, but I wish I was writing in the little coffee shop just across the street. However, I can’t because they lost me (and others) just a couple of hours ago. Let me explain.

This morning  the power in my neighborhood went out, and I got a report that it wouldn’t be restored until later in the afternoon.  This took away my internet and my ability to drive anywhere (car is in a garage that requires power, and thank you for the suggestions of a manual override but unfortunately it’s not an option in this case) which really leaves me stuck, as my job is to create and oversee online social media campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.  I live in a beautiful neighborhood, and one of the things that makes it beautiful is the lack of businesses.  I have two coffee shops that have wifi and good tea, practically across the street from each other, 2 miles away from my house.  I put on my backpack and started the hike.

One of the coffee shops is a locally owned and operated cafe, the other is Starbucks.  I try to support small businesses whenever possible, and though it was a bit more inconvenient, I trekked to the local cafe.

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What You Need Is Right In Front of You

social media helps you find what customers want

Sometimes what you need to help you make decisions is right in front of you, you just don't want to see it.

You Just Can’t See It. Or you don’t want to see it.

Over the roughly two decades that I’ve been involved with business, either as an entrepreneur, an executive director or a social media strategist, I’ve heard the same frustration voiced over and over again, in almost every market I’ve worked in.  After hours, weeks or sometimes months of seemingly endless meetings, late-night war room strategy sessions and presentation after presentation of focus group reports, eventually the people in charge of making the decisions for the direction of an organization bury their face in their hands and declare in frustration and defeat, “if only we knew what everybody wanted from us, we could just give it to them“.

This has applied to product development, marketing campaigns, service implementation…anything and everything a company (for profit or not) could possibly put together to offer a group of people.  “If only we could find out what our customers want…

Studies are ordered.  Thousands of dollars…or millions…are spent on consultants and burned up in labor hours.  When the senior management team meets to discuss, debate and dissect the data, 20% of the organization’s labor dollars are being paid out for each hour they cannot figure out what their audience wants.  At some point or another, late into the night, one of the people around the tables feels the frustration of a seemingly insurmountable task.  They want to be home with their family, they want to get back to the work they were hired to do instead of trying to figure out puzzles…they want to solve the mystery of how to move forward.  But how? And then the idea is presented:

We should try social media. I know we already have a Facebook and Twitter page, but instead of just posting something once a week, why don’t we ask the people that follow us what they want, and then listen to them? Also, why don’t we pay for a monitoring service so we know what people are saying about us and even our competitors? People are already telling us what they want, we just need to listen, reply and implement”

The silence only last for a moment, before a chorus of “we will lose control of the message” and “we can’t create a forum for negative comments” starts. The boss makes an expression that is a combination of fear and patronization and simply says, “that’s too risky, we’re not doing it” before starting a discussion about when the best time to meet again will be to tackle this impossible chore.

Sometimes what you need is right in front of you, you just can’t see it…or worse yet, you don’t want to see it.

If You Want To Succeed You Cannot Be Afraid To Fail

Matt Singley at the 2010 Nautica Malibu Triathlon

I managed to put a smile on my face before the 2010 Nautica Malibu Triathlon, but on the inside I was truly scared about what was ahead.

“There is no failure except in no longer trying. “

~ Elbert Hubbard

Failure and success…the two really do go hand in hand.

In business, innovation rarely comes without taking risks. Risks rarely are taken if the thought of failure is too great an obstacle. Failure as an obstacle is usually the result of being told, either directly or indirectly, that to fail is to be weak, to be threatened, to be insecure.

I say that you cannot truly succeed if this is the environment that you exist in.

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Working With Influencers and Enthusiasts For Your Brand

As somebody that develops strategy for large corporate brands, I often work with different types of brand advocates in various social media channels.  A common tactic of many marketers and PR professionals is to try to go after “influencers” to get them to talk about their product.  Sometimes these influencers are individuals, sometimes they are communities, but a common denominator is that they have substantial audience sizes. The typical way of approaching these people or groups is to ship them a sample of your product and include a note that says something like, “Hope you enjoy this, please blog about it”.  I think this is a good shotgun approach to communities, it’s a good step up from a press release and it gets your product information out to a lot of people very quickly.  For individuals, I think we have to look at a more measured and personal approach.

Influencers and Enthusiasts in Social MediaTo truly be effective in social media with influencers, I think you need to build a relationship, not ship a press package. You also have to recognize and understand the different groups that exist in social media, so you know how to develop and target brand programs and exposure.  In case you fear that I’m starting to sound a little too professional and polished in this approach, I submit for your approval a hand drawn diagram in the picture to the left.  Fancy, isn’t it? I put this beauty up on our office white board this morning while talking through the concept with a client.

Before we discuss what to do with these various groups, let’s start by defining them.

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6 Things You Need To Know About Running A Social Media Program: Yourself

This is part 6 of 6 in the series “6 Things You Need to Know About Running A Social Media Program”. You can read part 1 “The Client” here, it has a full introduction. Part 2 “The Product” is here, part 3 “Your Audiences” is here ,part 4 “The Channels” is here and part 5 “Other Professionals” is here.

I’ve created this list of “things you must know” mostly based upon very positive experiences I’ve had, but also from negative ones…things that I’ve either experienced myself or seen others do.  This isn’t a tactical post, I think I write plenty of those.  Instead, this is my advice to those that are going to lend their expertise to others, and hopefully by checking these off you will avoid some common mistakes that often result in unmet expectations, from one side or the other…or both.

Know Yourself

I bet you weren’t expecting that one, were you? Let me explain what I mean by this: simply put, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and you need to know your work flow and financial needs; this is especially true if you are consulting. Since most of us actually do know our strengths and weaknesses, maybe a better way to word this is be honest with yourself.  I saw a quote online recently that really rang true with me. Unfortunately I haven’t always followed it.

Work for full price or work for free, but don’t work for cheap.

As I applied that to many situations in the past that I have had to deal with, I see how true this is.  I could probably write an entire series of posts about why this is so important, but for now I’ll just let you ponder it and apply it to your own situation. In knowing yourself, you need to be honest with what your needs (or those of your organization) are, because sometimes…no matter how much you need the work…it’s better to say no to a project.  

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