Friday, December 23, 2011

Lessons in Leadership

I spent the last year serving as president of the Public Relations Society of America’s Colorado Chapter.  With nearly 500 members, PRSA Colorado is a strong organization focused on providing professional development and networking opportunities for the local public relations community. Leading this organization has been a great opportunity for me to grow both personally and professionally. 

On my desk right now I see at least three books with the word “leadership” in the title and while these have all been valuable resource for me, there is nothing like “on the job” training.  Here are some of my lessons learned from the past year:

Surround Yourself With Good People
There is no way to be a good leader all by your self. You need strong, smart, and reliable people to lead an organization.  I was fortunate to have a board of directors and committee chairs made up of top-notch PR professionals who were committed to making our organization the best it could be.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
It is too easy to fall into the trap of “it is quicker if I just do it myself.” You need to empower other people for their own benefit and so that you don’t get so bogged down that you can’t focus on being a good leader.

Be Passionate
Passion is a hard quality to fake. You must be passionate about being a leader and passionate about the organization you are leading. Without it, your role as a leader will feel like work and you will resent the time you devote to it.

Face Challenges Head On
No matter how much you plan ahead and manage deadlines there will be challenges. Don’t be afraid to stand up and take on a challenge. While it might not be fun, the quicker you step up and take control, the quicker you can move on.

Be Flexible
You may start out with a strategic plan outlining how you want the organization to operate and what you want to accomplish.  The reality is that things will never go according to plan. There will be challenges and opportunities that you did not plan for and you need to be flexible enough to change direction or reorient to keep everything moving smoothly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Netflix

I first heard of Netflix back in 2001 when a client of mine from Silicon Valley mentioned that his wife worked there. He explained to me that Netflix was a company that allowed consumers to order movies online and have them delivered right to their mailbox.  I was intrigued and shortly after that time, I became a member. For many years, I  have loved Netflix for its convenience and great customer service.

A few years ago we started using the company’s streaming service and began depending on that more than the mail for our movies and TV series. Being in the tech industry, I had heard about the trend towards streaming and IPTV for years and as a consumer was beginning to see this become a reality.

Netflix was one of those media darlings, rising up from the ranks of start-ups to become a publicly-traded company with millions in revenue. The company enjoyed great success and brand appeal until they made a classic communications mistake. They significantly underestimated their customers’ reaction to a price increase and division of the company into two entities.

Since making this announcement, Netflix has lost 800,000 customers and its stock price has taken a nose dive.  While Netflix has since reversed its decision to split the companies, only time will tell whether this company can rise above this and win back the hearts and trust of its customers.

So many companies fall into the trap of making business decisions without considering the implications on their brand or without caring about how they will affect their reputation.  Sure, they might be good for their bottom line in the short term, but over time this kind of backlash does far greater damage.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Download: TechCrunch Disrupt Fall 2011

I’m always amazed to see all of the innovation and creativity abuzz at shows like TechCrunch Disrupt. I didn’t have a chance to view all of this year’s presentations online yet, but thought I would go ahead and share the highlights on a few of my favorites:

Farmigo has created an online community that connects farmers directly with consumers.  They describe their vision as “creating a more sustainable food chain.”

People can search and find farms in their local community where they can purchase fresh produce and bypass the wholesaler and supermarket.  It is kind of like shopping at the local farmer’s market without being limited to Sundays between 12:00 – 2:00 pm.

There is a huge movement for farm to table food and locally-grown produce, so Farmigo is smart to capitalize on this trend and make it easier for consumers. Food subscriptions and group buying help them offer lower prices on produce similar to what you would find at the grocery store.

Farmigo currently has over 1500 active locations in 20 different states. I was pleased to see several locations in my own community. I love that Farmigo is making it easier for consumers to buy locally and get fresh produce.  I am planning to try it myself.

The founders of Shaker describe it as a platform for social experience or “hanging out online much like you do in real life.”  For the first few minutes of their demo, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this reminded me of Second Life. (More on that in a minute.)

The founders emphasized how Shaker allows people to have more meaningful experiences online beyond posts and comments.

So here’s how it works.  You create a virtual room – the one in the demo was a bar. You interact with real people in real time. The “people” in the room are cartoon characters with a bubble above their heads that contains their photo. You can walk around the room and interact with different people, join conversations, etc. You can also buy someone a drink although it is really a virtual drink so not as much fun as the real thing.

One of the first questions from the judges was how this was different from SecondLife. They said it is similar except you are actually yourself. I never participated in SecondLife, but this seems like a more interactive version of it.  They are essentially trying to emulate the in-person experience online.

I like how Shaker takes social networks and online communication one step farther. It creates a new level of interaction that did not exist before.  It will never replace physically being there in person, but it is one step closer to the next best thing. 

Bitcasa offers “infinite storage” for consumers giving them access to all of their data from anywhere and at anytime. You no longer need to store files on your desktop or copy files from one computer to another. 

With all of the videos, photos and other large data files, there has been a big surge in the consumer storage market. Bitcasa is obviously looking to fulfill this need.

It seems everything is moving to the cloud these days and cloud storage has been a big movement in the business world.  Yet security is the number one barrier when it comes to cloud storage adoption. 

So, naturally, I had an issue when the founder said it was 100 percent safe.  I am sure they’ve got the proper security infrastructure in place and back up data centers, redundant networks, etc. but I’ve been in the tech industry too long to believe this claim. There is no fail-safe when it comes to technology. 

That aside, I think Bitcasa is worth a try. The service costs $10 per month for infinite storage and there is also a “freemium” version available. However, right now, during their beta period, it is free to everyone. You can visit their website at to sign up.

Any company with the word “cake” in its name is certain to grab my attention.  Unfortunately they haven’t invented a healthy cake, but their innovation is impressive nonetheless. 

Cake Health is aggregator of health information records. They describe themselves as “the best free way to manage all of your health care expenses.” I believe they are addressing a huge problem that many of us can relate to – making sense of your health care bills and records.

It is currently compatible with several top insurance companies allowing over 150 million people to utilize the service.  It helps consumers make sense of all of their health care paper work, such as explanation of benefits, bills and non-bills. You send them the paperwork and it automatically organizes, categorizes and prioritizes it.  It includes automatic reminders for prescriptions, benefits you may have forgotten about and information on preventative care.

Cake Health also has an iPhone app (doesn’t everyone these days?) and bill synchronization is included. 

While they did ensure that your private information was secure and would not be shared, I think a lot of consumers may be reluctant to use the service due to a fear of sharing their private health records.

Anything that simplifies the healthcare paper work is a winner in my mind. It makes the process a piece of cake, which I’m sure is where the name came from. (Now I’m hungry!)

TechCrunch Disrupt is one of my favorite demo competitions and I’m so glad they share the presentations via video for those of us who cannot attend in person.  It’s always fun to learn about new emerging technologies and follow their journey after the show.

Anyone else attend TechCrunch Disrupt this week either physically or virtually? Who are your favorites?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Right Time and The Right Place

I was reading this Mashable article today, Top of the Flops: 10 Tech Products Ahead of Their Time, and found it fascinating how many products on the market today had promising predecessors that were just not ready for prime time.

It reminded me of a former prospective client I met several years ago.

In 2004, I was working at a local public relations firm in Denver and we had a new business prospect in our office. He was a successful entrepreneur who had this idea to make a mini computer – one that is small, lightweight and portable. He actually had a prototype that he showed us which measured about 6 inches x 10 inches in size.

Little did I know at the time that I was holding a piece of the future in my hands. The problem was that the market wasn’t ready for a product like this. 

Now remember this was before the explosion of smart phones and tablets and all of the wonderful applications that comes with them. You couldn’t connect to the Internet or download mobile applications on this mini computer. It was essentially an alternative to a laptop but with a lot less functionality.

So, my thought was, would I really buy one of these? Would anyone? What would be the purpose? I remember thinking that it was a cool product but it seemed like a solution waiting for a problem.  We didn’t end up taking them on as a client, but this was definitely a product ahead of its time.

Fast forward seven years and iPads, and a variety of other tablets, are flying off the shelves. The world has changed so much and we are now a more mobile society. We’ve gotten used to having information at our fingertips anytime, anyplace and the technology has evolved to the point that makes this all possible.

Having worked with so many brilliant entrepreneurs in my career, I’ve learned that the best ones are risk takers, those with visions way beyond most of our own short-sighted comprehension.  The man who came into our office that day knew his mini computer was the wave of the future, it just took the market a few years to catch up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mobile Payments on the Rise, But Growth is Slowing Down

What are the two things you never leave your house without days? Probably your smart phone and your wallet. Wouldn’t it be nice if the two were one and you could pay for all of your purchases from your mobile device?

That is certainly where the mobile payments industry is headed but a recent Gartner report indicates that despite the rise in mobile payments, growth has slowed.  According to the report, mobile payment users will hit 141.1 million in 2011, a 38.2% increase from 2010. 

New technologies such as near field communications (NFC) and quick response (QR) codes are promising to facilitate the adoption of mobile payments by making it easy for consumers to tap a terminal or scan a barcode to make a payment. Google is getting in on the game with its new mobile payment service, Google Wallet which is expected to launch later this summer.

Over the past several years, I’ve worked with clients that are developing new technologies in the mobile payments space. There is no lack of innovation in this market, but the lack of standardization is making it hard for any one solution to make it mainstream. In addition, security and privacy remain big barriers to adoption by many consumers. 

There are a lot of players in this market and it seems like more mobile payment startups are launching every week. There is no question that mobile payments are the way of the future. But, until all of the players in the mobile payment ecosystem can play nice and set up an infrastructure that guarantees the security and privacy of users, cash and credit will remain king.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Download from Explore & Engage, Part Two


Shortly after Brian Solis “blew our minds” with his theories on social media engagement, Jason Falls took the stage.  Jason has led a national advertising agency’s interactive and social media efforts and has consulted with a wide variety of brands.

His blog, Social Media Explorer, offers insights, opinion and learning around the world of social media marketing, online communications, conversational marketing, digital marketing, public relations, community building and branding.

Jason began with some tips on what you should know before you get started:

  • Know your audience
  • Have goals
  • Build a content strategy
  • Choose the right tools
  • Implement and activate

He then dove in to an overview of the various social media tools available for measuring and monitoring influence. Here’s a list of some of the tools he mentioned:

Social CRM Solutions
Sendible, Reportive, Xobni, SproutSocial, Jitter Jam, Surveys

Free Social Media Monitoring Tools
Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Social Mention, People Browsr, IceRocket, uberVu, Board Tracker

Paid Monitoring
Alterian SM2, Lithium, Radian6, Sysomos, Trackur, Visible Technologies

Online Market Research
Spiral16, ConsumerBase, Listen Logic, Crimson Hexagon, Collective Intellect, Motive Quest, Neilsen Online, Cymfony

Influencer Tools
Alltop, Listorious, Twitalyzer, Klout, mBlast, BlogDash, Traackr

I’ve used several of these tools, but there were many that I was not familiar with and am planning to research over the next few weeks. I’ll share my experiences with them as I do.

Unfortunately I had to leave before hearing the rest of Jason’s presentation and the Q&A which followed, but I walked away with a new perspective on social media.

Overall, Social: IRL did a great job with Explore & Engage. The event lived up to its name and provided an in-depth look at the current social media landscape along with strategic approaches to engagement.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Download from Explore & Engage, Part One

I was fortunate to attend Social IRL’s Explore & Engage event with Brian Solis and Jason Falls earlier this week.  There was so much information shared that it was literally hard to keep up and for that reason, I’m splitting this blog into two parts.

So, let’s start with Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group and author of Engage. I’ve read his earlier book “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” read his PR 2.0 blog and followed him on Twitter for the past several years. In some ways, I felt like I already knew him but it was cool to meet him in person. Plus, I received a copy of his newest book. “Engage,” and I can’t wait to read it.

Anyway, the title of Brian’s presentation was “Engage or Die” and he promised to make our heads explode by the end of the day.  He focused a lot on the purpose of social media and how we must approach it as an integral strategy rather than a daily tactic.

In his words, he distinguished between the social strategist who designs business experiences and the social marketer who executes social media. Hint: it is the social media strategist who moves up the ladder!

Here are some key takeaways/sound bites:

  • Social media must be an enabler for something

  • Business models are vanishing because of consumer behavior

  • Fast and easy is the beginning of the end of social media 1.0; you must have resonance – something that people find interesting and worth sharing

  • Context, not content, is king

  • You don't need to just market to influencers. You need to become one.

  • There is a great un-follow, un-like movement coming as consumers get frustrated with brands that don’t build relationships.

  • The future of business is defined through shared experiences.

  • K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Significant and Shareable.

  • Attention is new currency of marketing

Overall, the message was clear -- know your audience, be strategic, share interesting content and engage people.  It sounds simple, yet so many people are not approaching social media in this way and are therefore missing the mark.

If you missed this event, you can read some of the other highlights by searching the #socialirl hashtag.  Next week, I’ll post Part Two, where I’ll focus on Jason Falls’ presentation and the great social media tools and tips he shared with us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

QR Codes: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

I was first introduced to QR (quick response) codes about two years ago when one of my clients was getting involved with this new technology. At the time, they were in their infancy and many people hadn’t heard of them much less seen or used them.  However, since that time, they have exploded making their way onto everything from billboards to magazines and print ads. There was even a story earlier this year about a QR code on a wedding cake!

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can be scanned with smart phones to reveal more detailed information about a product or service.  The way it works is simple. If you own a smart phone with a camera, simply download a free scanner application such as NeoReader or ScanLife and then scan a QR code to access videos, websites, coupons, etc. 

There are many benefits to using QR codes, most notably their ability to bring the offline world online, resulting in increased customer interaction and loyalty. They are also easily measurable which is very important for marketing campaigns.

Many industries have embraced this new technology and are using them in some very creative ways.  I’ve seen them used in real estate, consumer packaged goods, retail, auto dealers, restaurants, and more.

Here are a few cool examples of QR codes in action:

Large retailers such as Best Buy, Sears, Target and Macy’s have integrated QR codes into their catalogues and print ads allowing consumers to obtain more information about the products featured and sometimes even purchase them with a quick scan of the code.

Automakers including Ford and Honda have used QR codes as part of a larger marketing campaign.  At the Internet Week show this week, Ford launched the “Ford Focus Hunt” which uses a new QR code each day of the week and each code corresponds to a badge highlighting different features of the 2012 Ford Focus.  Honda’s Civic Campaign is using QR codes as part of a larger social media campaign which launched last week.   

Real estate agents are putting QR codes on their For Sale signs to attract buyers and offer them more detailed information on house listings.

And, for wine lovers, wine makers are adding QR codes to their labels to provide more information about their products. For example, Dry Creek Vineyards recently used QR codes on wine labels to introduce its 2010 Fume Blanc. When scanned, consumers are taken to video explaining the vintage.

While QR codes have exploded over the last year, there is still some debate about whether or not they are just a fad or are here to stay. For now, I believe they are a powerful way to expand the reach of a company’s marketing efforts and if you are a marketer, I encourage you to experiment with QR codes in your upcoming campaigns.  

What do you think? Have you had any experience using QR codes in a campaign or have you scanned QR codes from your smart phone?  Please share your experience.