July 2010

Ah, the Internet. The great equalizer. The medium designed to reach more people in less time to expand your brand. I’ve been hooked on the Internet since it was first made available to the masses at home. I’d spend hours on end trying to find as many sites and as much information as I could. Remember those AOL days with the message boards and chats? Remember when social networks first started popping up (and no, I don’t mean Myspace and Facebook). It was the early 90’s when I really took an interest in the Internet and all it could do to help me grow my business and make a few friends along the way.

Fast forward today. There is text messaging, tweeting, status updates, tweet ups meet ups, and so on and so on. We’ve become an instant message kind of society. It’s all about shooting out quick sound bites telling people what you like, don’t like, what you’re mad at and thrilled about. We can leak breaking news, update on critical situations, find out business news or even what Grandma made in pottery class. We can make “friends” with millions of people online. That’s what Facebook and the like sell to us every day. We are on overload! But one thing is sorely missing. You see, in this ever growing, real time, microwave, too much information society. Real communication.

But what do you mean lack of real communication? You just said we can tweet, update and post what’s happening right now. And I have over 5000 friends who I communicate with every day” you might be saying to yourself. Bullshit I say. I love the fact that we can communicate with millions of people at any time, and if our branding and messaging is on point, we might even be able to get some two way dialog going. But there is no way that you are “connected” to 50,000 and realistically having healthy, productive conversations with each and every one of them every single day. I have long since defended the notion that you can have a big network and still cultivate it without looking like some spamming moron. I even achieved it at one point myself. But then the numbers grew and my time got more and more scarce, and I was not able to keep up my consistent “keep in touch” networking.

What happened? Same thing that always happens when you get a few people who claim to be “gurus” at something, package lessons, then sell people on the idea that they can teach them how to become social networking gurus. The space got over saturated, everyone’s messaging became carbon copies of one another, spammers gained control and people started losing interest in hearing from new people for fear that they were going to be sold to pitched to or solicited in some way. The recruiting gurus told companies that social media was the key to recruiting top talent but then didn’t give them the right information to do it correctly. Job seekers thought it was the in thing to blast emails and resumes to recruiters (regardless of their specialty) because they were told by an irresponsible guru that all recruiters are using social media to recruit and they better jump on the bandwagon quick. Celebrities (and internet celebrities) use it to talk about themselves, what they’re doing, where they will be appearing, who they’re hanging out with. How many do you actually see chatting it up with the masses? Not many. It’s all about “me, me, me” with them. Social media and social networking has become a way to blast self important messages and marketing spiels to the masses. Any way you slice it, the ‘social’ aspect is fast becoming extinct.

I have had more than a few prominent people (celebrities, business leaders, “internet” rock stars and prominent personalities) follow, friend or subscribe to be my “friend”. Many of them verified too. No, I won’t name names. I’m pretty sure you can go on any of my social networking profiles and check (the ones that are public anyway), plus they know who they are. I was sincerely flattered because I mistakenly thought that they were interested in what I had to say or in getting to know me. I would connect or follow them back only to get an automated message from them thanking me for following them now go check out something they wrote, created, released, etc. I would send a private note saying that I appreciated the follow but I was more interested in getting to know them and build a REAL networking relationship. NO RESPONSE. My guess is that they are only on there to build their popularity.

You see, I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I join a social network, group or whatever, I expect to be social. You know, interacting with others, having two way conversations, and eventually taking the relationship offline. But nooooooo. The massive popularity of social media tools, social networking sites and social marketing have lead to a cheapening of the experience. I cringe every time I hear someone say “social media is a free cheap way to get your message out and capture the eyes and ears of millions of potential customers”. WRONG! Those millions are not meant to be your customer. A smart business person knows that a targeted audience brings much more success. And I won’t even get into how the recruiters out there are using it the absolute WRONG way. I’m tired of being blasted with marketing messages, squeeze pages and links.

Well I’ve had enough, but rather than just bitch about it or try to convince people how to use these tools and mediums the way I want them to, I came up with a solution. Well, I wouldn’t call it a solution as much as a challenge. A few weeks ago, I came up with Operation Social Outreach. Here’s the gist: Every day (or maybe every week if your schedule is like mines) you pick 5 people from your “network” that you really don’t know. You reach out to them and invite them to a quick 5-10 minute phone conversation to get to know one another. Email is not good enough. You want to put a voice with the name. If you’re local, try taking it to the next step and meet for coffee or something. But here’s the kicker. The people you reach out to can’t be people you already know of even communicate with periodically. The goal is to get to know the people you connect with.

I’ve already started this and so have a few others and I have to tell you, people were shocked and pleasantly surprised. It was totally unexpected and very much appreciated. I’m that chick who is going to put her money where her mouth is. I have tons of followers, friends, listeners, connections and readers. But I want to cultivate relationships. I don’t care about marketing messages. I don’t care about having high numbers of followers. I don’t care about being label a social media rock star. I want to get to know the people who are taking an interest in what I have to say. Who knows, they may have ideas and points of view that I want to know about.

I really love that Fast Company has launched the Influence Project. I would love to know if I’ve been crucial in influencing people around the world. But it’s not really ‘social’ enough for me and I can only influence so much by words on a screen. I want social interation. So starting this week, I want everyone to sign up for the challenge. I’ve put together a tracker sheet you can download and use or edit as you see fit. Here are the rules:

· Go to Operation Social Outreach and sign up for an account to post.

· Go in and introduce yourself and tell us about your objective for participating.

· And then each week, come back and report on your progress.

That’s it. You choose whether you want to reach out to 5 new people each day or 5 each week. If the people you reach out to don’t want to communicate with you, it’s time to delete them and move on. They clearly serve no purpose. So why give them the numbers by staying connected? And don’t go looking people up and then connecting with the purposes of reaching your 5. The idea is to get to know the people you are connected to first, then you’ll have good social networking habits in place going forward as you get to connect with more people. This project will be ongoing until December 31, 2010. At that time, we will see just how connected people have become. We will have a special prize for the top 5 connectors (with verification of course). Details to come soon.

I hope that through this project everyone who participates has a chance to really get to know and grow their networks. Are you ready for the challenge? Happy Social Networking everyone!

Til next time,

Adrienne Graham


What We Can Learn (Good or Bad) From LeBron James?

*Disclaimer* I do not hate LeBron James. I’m a Knicks fan…and proud of it!

OK so unless you’ve been living under a rock or just not that into sports, you would know by now that the flamboyant self professed King, LeBron James, has opted to leave his hometown Cleveland for sunny skies in Miami. *cue Will Smith’s ‘Welcome to Miami’ song* Yes, LeBron has joined the Heat. Boy are the people in Cleveland HOT. I can’t say that I blame them for feeling betrayed. But they’ll get over it. This morning I was watching CNBC and they talked about Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s rather scathing, public open letter he wrote and released immediately after LeBron made his announcement. So much is running through my mind. From a business angle, I think this entire story has been a circus and one big ego stroking session for LeBron. My own son spent 30 some odd days counting down the momentous occasion of LeBron choosing where he wanted to go.

Where do I begin. Let’s start with Dan Gilbert and get him out of the way. As the owner of a team I think he has shown a complete lack of class and has publicly set his city and team up for failure. Mr. Gilbert blasted LeBron for making his own FREE WILL decision to move on. The Cavs have not delivered on a championship. That equates to there being no growth on the job. They didn’t make their best efforts to build a solid well oiled machine by bringing in talent (real talent) to complement LeBron. Yes, they’ve gotten as far as an Eastern Championship, but where’s the ring? So how can anyone in their right mind blame LeBron for wanting to move on to find better opportunities? Who wants to stay with a losing team? If he was in a corporate position, I’d say seven years would have been way to long to hang in there with a lackluster company. Then he goes on to GUARANTEE the Cavs will win the championship without LeBron and before he ever gets a chance to. Hah ! Way to be real mature. You have just set your city and team up for a fail of massive proportions. If they couldn’t get it done with LeBron , what makes you think they’ll get it done now? Mr. Gilbert, you are a sore loser, poor boss and even worse “project manager”. NEXT.

On to LeBron. Wow, so much I can say here. But for the sake of time I’ll narrow it to the highlights (good and bad). LeBron, or as you proclaimed yourself King James, I say brilliant move. You have shown not just the sports world, but the business world just how to leverage a strong brand. I’m quite impressed. Not impressed with your court skills, but majorly impressed with your business skills. You have got to be the smartest business man in the NBA and I hope up and coming players take a page out of LeBronomics 101. You have positioned yourself as a valuable employee, commodity if you will that had the world sweating, anticipating, and praying on where you would land. You called your own shots, set your own terms and made great use of your free agency. A lot of times players (and employees) allow themselves to be the company, be the brand and representation so that you cannot separate the business from the person. But you made sure to differentiate your brand and stand away from the team. I’ve always said I would much rather be a contractor/freelancer than a fully engaged employee. There’s a certain freedom you have. You can get in, get the job done, dazzle and impress then move on to the next project. And that’s what you did. Right or wrong, you made the best decision for your brand, your earning potential and your shot at excellence (and a ring). Bravo for you.

However, while I am impressed by the branding and marketing strategies, I’m less impressed by the grand standing, disloyalty, and disrespect. There is a thing called common courtesy and you could have told Dan Gilbert and the team privately that you would not be returning. Yeah, yeah I know it’s about the excitement and the mystery and I’m sure you had a blast. But from a business perspective, common courtesy goes a long way. The right thing to do would have been to let them know at least that you would not be returning home instead of letting them find out on TV. So I can see why Dan and the rest of Cleveland are pissed. Let’s move on to your arrogance. Yes, arrogance…not to be confused with confidence. I’ve seen it in Jordan, Kobe, Rodman, Shaq , etc. It’s not cute. You take it to another level. I can see if you had the ring to back it up, but you don’t. I don’t know if it’s because the public places so much emphasis on you or because you’ve become self important on your own. Either way, it’s not a way to be a TEAM player. It’s the perfect way to be the selfish player.

So how does all of this ranting fit into this blog? I’ll tell you. As a manager you have to respect your players. You should always be sure to give your top talent the support they need whether resources or other talent to complement their strengths. No one person is obligated to any company or team for the life of their career. While we all want to keep the best for ourselves, if we’re not creating the ideal work environment for them to thrive and produce, can we really be angry when they choose to go somewhere where they are more appreciated? No we can’t. If you lose an employee, you learn the lessons from the mistakes that were made and work on revamping what you have. You don’t throw a hissy fit and publicly deride someone for exercising their FREEDOM OF CHOICE. Look to your own blueprint for your company then make adjustments so you can begin to attract top talent and create ideal work environments that make them want to stay and be loyal. And most importantly, if you don’t have the talent don’t make statements or guarantees about delivering excellence when you know you won’t be able to deliver. Man (or woman up) and don’t be a baby about it. Learn and grow.

For the employee or “free agent”, you are absolutely supposed to have confidence in yourself. If you’ve spent your professional life building your skills, owning your craft, then hell yes, you deserve to be confident and self assured. But, you never burn bridges. I tell clients you always end things on a good note, even if you have no desire to ever return. Common courtesy and class are lost these days. If you know you’re not happy and want to leave, at least tell your boss. You don’t have to tell them where you’re going, but a heads up would help. Especially if you’re in a high profile position. Yes, the company that gets you are the lucky ones, but there will always be that thought in the back of their minds that you could bail on them too. It becomes a matter of trust. You don’t want to be known as flaky , unpredictable or worse, disloyal. You don’t want to have a relationship where they feel they need to always keep one eye on you at all times for fear of what you might do. Remember the saying “how you get them is how you lose them”? Keep that in mind. You can be and do anything you want, but always end your business relationships on good terms. No matter how your current business or job relationship is, don’t burn your bridges, ever.

As for branding yourself, I say we all should take a page from LeBron’s book. That man, love him or hate him, has done a hell of a job in branding himself. He has continuously improved his craft, aligned himself with the right people, paid attention to people smarter and richer than himself, and understands his worth. He understands the value he brings to the game, the sport, the world and he’s not afraid to continue to build it. He has done what was in his own best interest and used his business acumen to make sure he was looking out for his future. He wasn’t swayed by money or even “hometown loyalty” (or as I call it guilt). Did he overstay his welcome? Yes I think he did. Seven years is a long time in NBA years to dedicate your heart and soul to a team, a company only to not see tangible results. LeBron sought professional greatness and I am not mad at him for making the decision he did. He refused to allow anyone, any organization dictate where his career goes next. And I think we can all learn from that. He also leveraged the power of negotiation. He wanted what he wanted and was willing to take a pay cut (not that he’d notice!) to get it. If a company wants you bad enough, they’ll be willing to adhere to your terms. He went for what he wanted and didn’t let anything or anyone get in his way or in his head. You’ve got to admire that. More of us need to do that!

Good luck to you LeBron. I’m not a fan of your basketball game, but I am in awe of your business game. I hope it’s all you hope it to be. Dan Gilbert, Grow Up & Do Better!

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

OK, so everyone knows how gaga I am over social media and the act of social networking. It is a key component to my overall networking (and marketing) strategy. Being able to connect with more people in more places across the globe has allowed me to stay up on industry trends, challenge my opinions on certain issues, and educate myself (yes, you can be educated through social networking…who knew!?). I often like to tell people I’ve been social networking since before it had a name! I’ve been using social media since the primitive days (and before that too had a name). As an early adopter I’ve had the distinct advantage on many occasions to get the pure essence of many sites and tools before they became overrun by the masses. Back when people were leery yet excited about the potential of a new site and the opportunity to connect with some great people. The one thing that always sticks in my ass these days is the way people and businesses take a site or tool and “commonize” it (is that even a word?) for all purpose marketing and dare I say harassment. Social networking sites have become a way for people to tout how many “friends”  or followers they have. It has become a sport and even worse, bombarded by marketing messages.

Coming from a recruiting background, I am all about the relationship. I’ve never been big on growing numbers for the privilege of boasting how popular I am. Call me crazy, but that’s never been my thing. I’m into organic growth and real relationships. Granted, I don’t know each and every person who follows or connects with me. But I am trying to make meaningful connections and get to know those people who find me interesting enough to follow and connect with. I’ve put my own quest to connect on hiatus because people are tired of getting invitations to connect. I can’t blame them. I get tired of trying to figure out the motives of those who try to connect. Are they genuinely interested in getting to know me? Do they want to connect and learn more about my expertise and possibly learn from me? Or do they just see someone who’s numbers are growing or who’s been on panels and in articles and want to connect to get a piece of that? Who knows these days. Especially when you get email after email saying “Hi I’d like to add you to my professional network on Linked In” without so much as a hint how they found you or why they want to connect. Well I say enough.

This week I decided I had enough and launched a new social networking project- Operation Social Outreach. No, it’s not an official name or or website or anything, I just like the sound of it. I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of connecting with people or accepting invitations to connect only to receive an automated response telling me to click a link, download a “gift” or check out a website. Or still getting those generic Linked In invites. People just don’t feel they need to take the time to introduce themselves. Would they come up to you at a conference and say “hey connect with me”? No, they wouldn’t. They would introduce themselves properly. So why don’t they feel the need to do it online? They wouldn’t walk up to you and say “you want to learn more about me, check out my website”. No, they would tell you a little about themselves. What the hell happened to common etiquette? A simple “thanks for connecting, tell me about yourself” or “thanks for the add, let’s connect via phone to get to know one another” goes a long way in building a relationship. So why aren’t people doing it? Well I have a couple of theories, but let me stick to three of my favorites.

Celebrities & so called Internet Celebrities have taken over.

Yes, you read me right. Every time something big gets going for the common folks, celebrities come on board. Now I’m not saying they aren’t entitled. But they take social networking to another level.  They set up accounts, gain tons of followers, then sit back and engage only with people they know personally. So they’ll have a couple of thousand (or in some cases millions) of followers and communicate with about 10. Well if you know them already, use the damn phone! A smart celebrity or public figure would tap into the power of social media to ENGAGE their public and build (or strengthen) their brand. As someone who is becoming more in the public eye, I use social networking as a means to engage in conversations, find out what my public wants to talk about, and educate by sharing my knowledge. I pay attention to what people say and want. And most importantly, I do my own communicating. Some of these celebrities hire people to communicate for them. Where’s the authenticity? And do I even need to talk about the Internet Celebrities?

Internet Marketers & “Gurus” told people it’s OK to blast their business services/products because it’s free or cheap and EVERYBODY is on it.

OK maybe it’s unfair to paint Internet Marketers with one broad stroke. But it seems like many of them are reading from the same manual when it comes to social media. There is nothing worse than being bombarded by marketing messages, especially when it’s intrusive.  I like to get to know about people, not their products or services, when I connect. Ease me into it. People buy from people they know and trust. If I just connect with you on Monday, what makes you think I’m going to buy from you on Tuesday? By immediately bombarding me with sales pitches and marketing messages, you’re showing me that I’m a lead, not someone you want to connect with. How do you expect me to take you seriously? So many of these people are so caught up on making a sale, they forget about the SOCIAL aspect of social networking. And besides, don’t you know that after a while, all of those messages all look alike. If you’re going to follow the Internet Marketing “Gurus” at least change up your style! A lot of those websites look exactly the same. Here’s a tip for you. If you even think I’m your “target market” get to know me and what my touch points are. Take the time to interact with me and learn how to work with me. I care more about relationships than I do making purchases.

People just don’t care. They’re joining because everyone else is doing it.

I’ve seen this in the recruiting world a lot. A site will pop up and a few early adopters will try it out. Then someone like clockwork will write a book or post or teach a class that positions them as the “expert” of this site. Then everyone and their momma will go running to the site because it’s the in thing to do. I find Facebook to be the latest victim of this. In the beginning, people avoided Facebook. They dismissed it as being something kids used. But somewhere along the line, business crossed over into the personal and we got what we have today. It’s talked about on television shows, mentioned in magazine articles, it’s even part of every day life in movies. So now everyone is on it. Some people don’t even know why they are on. Whatever the reason, people are using it to avoid having to network in real life or because everyone else is doing it. In my opinion, this cheapens the experience and goes against the intentions of networking.

Networking, especially online networking, is about relationship building. It’s not about selling or popularity contests or number padding. It’s about finding people who add value to your life in some way. It’s not supposed to be about egotistical, selfish motives. It’s supposed to be about engagement. If you’re not communicating or opening yourself up to connecting with people, then why are you wasting time and bandwidth? It’s not supposed to be about You. Networking is a team sport. If you’re not ready to embrace that, perhaps it’s not for you. So I’m calling out the fakes. Don’t waste people’s time. We don’t care about your self serving purposes. It’s all about making real connections.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham