The way people approach decisions is fascinating. Not all decisions are created equal of course; there are those that require immediate action or opportunity will be lost, while others are best decided after careful consideration and research. The weight of each type of decision varies, as do the repercussions for acting quickly or being too slow.
In business, the majority of people tend to flip-flop the decision process. Sometimes easy questions or calls to action come about, and usually they can be handled simply by giving it a little thought and making a decision. However, most people tend to slow these down by moving the decision to be made to a larger group…emails are drafted, many people are CCd and doubt is dispersed in many forms, including questions like “what do you think we should do?” and the single-word pass-off, “thoughts?” Unfortunately, making mountains out of mole holes is commonplace in today’s business world.
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.
Since I just wrote about two different tech events happening in LA this week, on Wednesday and one Thursday, I thought a primer on how to not only survive but succeed at these would be good. There really are some simple things you can do to prepare yourself to hang out with hundreds of geeks to make the most of your time and theirs.
- Bring plenty of business cards. I know, business cards are so old fashioned, just simple ink printer on paper. Remember paper? It’s what we used to use before PDFs. You may think that when you meet somebody new you’ll transfer info via mobile phone or some geeky Star Trek mind meld, but no…the best way is still with a business card. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a group of 3 or 4 people, and after we introduce ourselves and chat for a bit the group naturally dissolves and moves around the room. Always be ready to hand somebody your business card, and ask for theirs. It’s the best way to keep track of who you meet, and frankly, you never know who you may end up wanting to do business with later.
- Bring a pen, preferably a fine tipped Sharpie. Pens are the archaic partner of paper. I use a pen to make notes on business cards that I get from people, and to scribble things to others that I give my business card to. I recommend a Sharpie because sometimes people have glossy cards, and sometimes other pens just don’t work. Sharpies rock my world.
- Bring gum or mints. I know you think your breath smells great, but after a couple of Gimlets and the free stuffed mushrooms, I assure you that it does not. I’m a fan of Wintergreen Altoids myself.
- When you meet somebody, listen to their name. You do it, I do it, we all do it…you meet somebody and 10 seconds after they introduce themselves you cannot remember their name. That is just downright embarrassing. I think this happens mostly because people you are thinking about what the other person is thinking of you when you meet…you focus more on your name and introduction than theirs. Stop it. I’ll tell you what they’ll think when you forget their name in three heartbeats…they will think you are a schmuck. So, forget about yourself and really focus on them for the few seconds that i takes for them to say their name.
- Don’t drink too much. If you are there to make some future business connections, trust me…you’re not going to get the account when the potential client sees you on Flickr doing keg stands and wearing a lamp shade. If you want to be the life of the party, you may want to excuse yourself early and head down the road to a local hangout.
- Have your elevator pitch ready. That isn’t to say that you have to sell something, but you should be able to tell somebody else what it is you do, or want to do, in less than 30 seconds. Ideally if you can get this down to less than 15 seconds you are more likely to have a better conversation.
- Mingle. I’ve been to events where I simply didn’t feel like being there. I was by myself and it seemed like everybody else was with a group of their best friends. This is rarely the case, there are plenty of people looking to connect with others. So, be approachable and come out of the corner. I’m guessing you have some great things to share. If all else fails, come find me and say hi, I’m always happy to talk. I’m the bald, ugly guy that’s hiding in the corner. ;)
- Don’t belittle the host or any of the sponsors. I say this because I’ve heard it done. You never know who you are talking to or who is listening. Hey, it’s their party, if you don’t like it…leave.
- Have fun! This should probably be the first thing on the list because it’s the most important. Even though you are at a tech event to listen to speakers, find out about new technology and network with other geeks you should make sure you have fun. Honestly, the fact that we get to play with gizmos and stuff on the internet all day long…that’s fun! The events should be fun too, so don’t be so serious. Lighten up and have a good time.
I had a couple more thoughts, but as I like to buck trends I didn’t want to make this a top 10 list. I’m no Chris Brogan, but I’ve been to my fair share of tech meetups. So…I hope to meet you at a tech gathering in Los Angeles or San Francisco soon. If you really want to get my attention, send me an @ message on Twitter, you know I’ll see it right away and we’ll connect for real.
Whenever I get into a conversation with somebody about social media and how it relates to their company, two objections typically come up (assuming the company isn’t already involved with social media). People say these things in a number of ways, but really it all boils down to just two issues.
“Social Media doesn’t apply to us“. Oh really? That’s like saying the economy doesn’t apply to you because you aren’t a banker. Just because you don’t deal with online media and networks on a day to day basis, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t involved. I remember being in conversation in the early and mid 1990s with people that were pretty sure that “this internet thing” was just a fad. It was going to be a place where people could play games and waste time by sending messages back and forth. While both those things are certainly true and prevelant, it would be challenging to find somebody these days that doesn’t think that the internet is so much more. In the same way, social media isn’t just a fad. When MySpace started making it onto the evening news, companies and individuals alike poo-pooed social media as a fad, or something that “just the kids did”. Today it is so much more. If you and your brand (your company, your music, your writings, your thoughts) aren’t participating in the social media forum, you are already behind.
“We need to control the message, so we can’t get involved“. This is a statement based on fear, and some of it probably righteously so. Companies (particularly non-profits) are paralyzed by the fact that there may actually be a multi-way conversation about a product, service or idea. In a closed room, dozens of PR and Marketing gurus gathered for weeks on end to come up with the message that was going to be broadcast regarding Product X and they don’t want to mess with that. What if somebody doesn’t like Product X? Certainly we don’t want others to know about it! We cannot build a place where people talk about our company and we have no control over the conversation. I’ve got news for you, Mr. CEO…they already are talking about you, you just aren’t involved. This is akin to burying your head in the sand. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? Wrong.
This blog is going to explore the community that is happening all over the world, and we’re going to talk about how you can get involved. There are some companies that do an amazing job at participating, reacting and guiding (companies like Dell and Ford) but unfortunately there are too many more that don’t.
Stay tuned, this is going to be fun.