Exploring online community possibilities for business

It’s been a lot of fun learning about social media this last year. I was the last to every party at every turn. First, there was My Space, then Facebook and now Twitter … and blogging.

Each time I didn’t see the point, then I tried it, then I liked it, then the quick check-ins turned to into hours of trying new things, chatting and engaging new people. It was right in line with who I am offline. It came naturally.

Social media is interesting and immediately gratifying … until now. Blogging has not been as fun! It’s been downright painstaking.

I think about a blog entry on Monday. Then, no topic is good enough. Then I find a topic by Wednesday, but what do I say about it? A Google search tells me there is nothing new to say about anything. By Friday, the cycle repeats itself with still no draft.

Eventually, when I have a topic and an angle, I sit at the computer agonizingly reading each paragraph before creating a new paragraph. I have to stop and tell myself, blogging IS fun, as I grit my teeth. YOU ARE NOT WRITING AN ARTICLE FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES here.

Blogging is fun, light, warm-up writing about something you care about if it’s not something you get paid to do. No pressure.

I think back to summers past, having my children write about something they like for writing practice. The goal was always to write about what they like, quickly put out a draft; and then spend a little time cleaning it up. I wanted them to enjoy writing, and here I am pouring over 500 words like my career depends on it. When, really, the only thing at stake is my ego.

I often have to say during these times, “stop taking yourself so seriously.” There are people who write much betters and others who would make you say, Oh my. Clear your mind, be who you are, and leave it up to the world to decide where you fit in (today). Where you fit today will be different that where you fit tomorrow or next year, so good or bad, it will change. RELAX.

Maybe you are an award-winning writer, maybe a decent one, or you have an eye for a good story. Everyone fits somewhere. Sadly, we are too busy sometimes trying to fit in the wrong place to see the perfect fit for us. It’s smart to look for the right fit, not the place you hear a crowd cheering. If you are true to yourself, you likely will be satisfied, crowd or not.

My 10-minute affirmation has no first draft editing; no deep thought; or research. But it does have a message — to challenge your writing by simply writing and putting it “out there.”

Every one of us has something to say. Don’t die with it all still inside you as you wait for perfection.

I love to win.

Often, I set goals beyond what I think I can achieve; and find that I will work well beyond what’s comfortable just for a gold star.

Recently I caught myself with the wrong attitude (more than once) and as a result, I gave less than the 100 percent it takes to win. I was more concerned about personality preference than progress.

**Wrong focus is harmful to growth and success.**

The challenge is that you can’t be successful without working well with people on all levels of the success spectrum. And the spectrum isn’t yours to dictate where people fall. If you spend your time judging who is worth of grace then you are losing time from getting really good.

I had to remember three things:

  • You have a path, a vision and a destiny. No one can take that from you but YOU. One person will help you reach goals. Another one will distract you from your work. Still another may start out in one group but end in another. You mind the work and let the rest take care of itself.
  • Don’t base your actions on the actions of others. You help yourself stay focused when you question YOUR actions, question YOUR motives. You are accountable to your conscience. Someone else’s bad actions is no excuse for yours.
  • Teams are eclectic. Successful people are consistent performers regardless of their team. The goal to win doesn’t change.

Public note to self: Put personal feelings aside, focus on giving and WIN.

Experts say if you simply commit 30 minutes a day toward practice, you get better.

I want to be a better writer. I don’t know if that means I write for 30 minutes a day, but I do know I have to practice, let go of my ego, and find my voice. I have written for a long time, but I haven’t always wanted to be a good writer.

When I was 18, I was a photojournalist.

When I was 28, I was a business owner, I had to write to convince customers to buy and convince bankers to invest.

Now I am … older. I work in public relations, and I like my writing. But it is StiLL a painful process.

The difference is I enjoy it.

Writing became fun when I realized that although I’m not T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Hemingway, I have a voice.

I went to a writing workshop recently and the expert said if you want to write better, you have to write. And edit, ruthlessly. He edited my writing submissions. I hadn’t seen that much red ink in a long time, by the way. But wait, what did I expect? It was a writing workshop. Why did I expect to hear how well I wrote. If I wrote so well, why was I at a writing workshop?

I want to be a great writer!

There are three things that challenge this goal to have compelling writing and all three are inside me, and maybe inside of you too.

1. The decision to write.

I write at work. I write press releases, social media copy, feature articles, and one day I hope to write and submit OP-Eds, but that’s my job. I had to think about what I enjoy most when I am not working; and what my angle is on my hobbies and interests. I narrowed down subjects to social media, running, and the drive to succeed. The next step is to figure out how to add structure to writing about what I love.

2. The decision to let go of my ego.

First, I have to admit my name is Joyce and I have an ego. The confession is liberating. I don’t know how or when I got an ego, but I did. And it is NoT helpful. The reality is the road to good writing means looking hard at many pieces that don’t make me proud. What I publish may not be perfect, but it’s mine, it’s developing, and it begs criticism. The wish to be better should be greater than the fear of your hysterical laughter at my work.

3. The decision to find a voice.

God gave all of mankind a voice that some of us never use.  Use it! Our voice is what makes us uniquely us. It doesn’t have to be perfect or award-winning, just real.

and ReaL … really takes time.

This guy, the “bug” guy, recently got me to eat mealworms at the Science Festival in D.C. I only stopped by his table to see if there was really a guy crazy enough to encourage children to eat insects, and then I ate two before I left … To be fair, it didn’t taste that bad.

But I don’t even like bugs, interesting, yes, but just not my thing. I wasn’t wondering about protein amounts or calories. Nor was I curious about taste or texture.

1. I wanted to know why a man ate bugs

2. I wanted to know whether he ate regular food. That’s it! I’m out.

It just so happened the bug guy was very knowledgeable and passionate about his research. People connect with people

He asked me why I didn’t eat bugs. I said because they are nasty. He said, “Who told you that.” I said you find out when you are a child.

So the bug guy’s argument (oversimplified) is people don’t eat bugs because of group think. The distaste for bugs isn’t something they have considered and then decided was a bad choice. Eating bugs is something they don’t do because it’s not widely accepted.

I have conditioned myself not to eat bugs. I will not eat brains either, intestine or anything that is moving still on the fork. It’s just nasty to me. I’m not convinced if these foods became popular I would have any of it at a meal.

I have a strong opinion against eating bugs, this guy also had strong opinions. But he was interesting and we connected. In the end we had a very nice, non-confrontational talk about eating bugs, life choices and stopping wars.

I tried a couple of the bugs just before I left because it felt like the right thing to do.  Then I went back to my organization’s booth and told the story, which sparked five other people to go munch mealworms. Yum.

There were three takeaways:

1. When you believe in your vision others may get excited about your vision.

2. When you take time to listen to someone who you don’t agree with (not listening just to form your own argument) you can see different angles and different insight.

3. Try something outside of your comfort zone.

I was just doing my job this week when I realized it would mean an opportunity to quiz a superstar of network science, someone I cited and studied just a couple of years before.

I looked at his findings on how things are connected, but I found out he recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland about human dynamics and is working on the controllability of networks … among other things. Very interesting findings.

In the end, I got to speak to him – Albert-László Barabási (who wrote Linked – How everything is connected to everything else), Szymanski Boleslaw and Brian Uzzi who each research different aspects of social networks. It would not have mattered if I had to call them at 3 a.m., there was no chance I was missing this one!

There is some history here. In 2006, My grad school research topic took shape during my first semester with the very first lecture on community theory and formed from there. I never lost interest. I wanted very badly to produce a thesis around the idea that community theory in public relations should be re-looked and amended to show changes brought about by the Information Age. I wanted to look at how social sciences, corporations, and communications approached online community and how a multi-directional prospective could create a framework for best public relations practices for nontraditional community.

I never did the thesis I wanted to “defend.”

Instead, four years and 90 sources later I settled on a project presented to my peers … and finally a diploma.

Now here I am in an entirely different capacity as a public affairs specialist for the Army Research Laboratory able to spend a bit of time talking to iconic network science thought leaders, just doing my job. Other than reaffirming every assignment is worthy of enthusiasm, the experience also firmed up for me all the reasons I love my work. I meet amazing people and learn something new and substantive every day.

So the takeaways (there is nothing here you can’t find on the websites listed below):

Albert-László Barabási subscribes to the idea that if we can understand the components that make up a social network — the links, the communications, the structure — we can began to interpret this data. If we can interpret the data, we can intervene within the network. In a network there may be a hierarchy, but there is also an informal structure of who is trusted, where advice comes from and who the real leaders are. It is that informal structure that provides valuable clues that often go overlooked.

Szymanski Boleslaw has published work on the idea that if 10 percent of a population become committed to an opinion, it will prevail. Consider Jesus Christ, who performed miracles in front of thousands of people, but personally gave his message to 10 disciples, who in turn spread the gospel around the world. The same is true of Apple versus Windows. The latter reached for the masses. Apple took a more personal approach and grew to high esteem around the world because of its brand evangelists. New technology opens the door for human dynamics to be understood from an entirely new perspective. Finally, new technology not only offers new ways to communicate, it presents the ability to record and measure what is taking place — that is where the science takes off.

Brian Uzzi used a dataset that tracked the interaction of production leaders for 2,258  broadway performances to investigate team assembly mechanisms. The study revealed lessons about collaboration and team performance found in the arts that are relevant in the arts, science or in business. What Uzzi found was when team members are too familiar with one another, they stagnate. When collaborative teams don’t have any enough history together, they don’t challenge one another to full potential. Diversity in collaborative teams offer the most creative thinking and the best Broadway shows.

The Internet paves the way for highly diverse collaborative teams. Not only do people meet online who may have otherwise never connected; people tend to form networks with different criteria online than in face-to-face interaction, based on ideas and interests.

Social scientists have looked at networks for more than 100 years, but in the 21st century electronic connectivity has added a new road of endless possibilities for human network dynamics. The idea of what networks will look like 20 years from now as a result of electronic connectivity seems incredible based on the robust research!

For more information anything discussed here, visit Barabási at http://www.barabasilab.com/, Boleslaw at http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~szymansk/index.php or Uzzi at http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/faculty/uzzi/ftp/buwww.html.

If you are familiar with a few social media tools and are moving toward brand monitoring, this is written for you.

A great article to start is http://mashable.com/2010/08/02/successful-social-media-monitoring/

Go by the numbers provided, fill in what you know and move to the next step. This way you can count on a reliable framework before you get into any heavy lifting.

Once you basically know where you want to go with social media monitoring, visit a couple of sites to find free tools.

One place with a good list of free tools is: http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/10_free_social_media_monitoring_sites_you_should_t_42771. ASPX. All of the tools still work except Workstreamer. Another place with free and low-cost tools is http://www.socialbrite.org/2011/01/11/guide-to-free-social-media-monitoring-tools/.

There are many places to go for help, I listed the ones that gave me the most updated information, succinctly.

I found Google Reader allows me to easily mashup content from various sources. Twilert, Twazzup, Google Reader, and Social Mention were the most helpful. I also used all three of the search engine alerts – Google, Yahoo and Bing.

The feedback on the web says Yahoo! Pipes is a user-friendly way to aggregate the content you find in one place, but it hasn’t been easy for me … so far.

Take time to pick a few tools, get to know the functionality and have fun with it.

— Joyce

“Too Fat to Fly: Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines” is a case study that grabbed my attention because one of my former instructors was a faculty advisor to Rebecca Edgar, who was awarded second prize in the Arthur W. Page Society Case Study Competition for it just recently. I have also been a huge fan of the NutsAboutSouthwest blog and other Southwest efforts to embrace social media.

So it was interesting to see how the airlines handled Smith’s twitter fury after he was seated on a Southwest flight, then asked to leave because of his weight. Of course when the flight attendant singled Smith out just before takeoff, she couldn’t have known he was a writer, director and producer with 1.6 million Twitter followers, but really … it shouldn’t have mattered.

Six days after the ordeal it had received 3,043 blog mentions, 5,133 forum posts and 15,528 tweets. Southwest’s two blogs alone received more than 1700 comments each within a month of the incident. Southwest didn’t block negative posts. Studies showed that 36 percent of respondents supported the airline, 26 percent believed Southwest was guilty of poor customer service and 38 percent said they wouldn’t fly with Southwest again. While the feedback is not a direct indicator of how many people spoke negatively about Southwest or of how many people’s opinions were affected negatively by the news, numbers in excess of 25K unfavorable points of contact is a good indicator of a reputation crisis.

In a crisis, impact can almost always be measured by share price, the study said, but Southwest’s LUV identifier didn’t budge on the NYSE. No change in stock price was a relief I’m sure. However, the study points out that financial performance has little effect on how consumers feel about a company’s reputation. In terms of its golden customer satisfaction rankings Southwest saw a 2.5 percent drop in year over year rankings, the first drop for the company in 10 years … and during a year when other airlines rankings were rising.

The approach Southwest took in this case was to explain their actions and steps to correct their actions, and while 36 percent felt good that the airlines stood by its 25 year policy for the sake of “passenger comfort and safety.” I will join the 26 percent who think not only is allowing a passenger to board a plane, then standing in the aisle discussing their weight issue before removing them is unacceptable, I think taking two days to justify it publicly is too.

Lesson: From this case study I learned that in cases like this, the response should be, “We were wrong.” It doesn’t matter that we tried to contact the passenger, it doesn’t matter that we have had this policy for 25 years, what matters is that one of our customers says he was hurt as a result of how one of our employees implemented a company policy.

After the legal review … Our customers are our friends, and we need to work harder at making our friends feel welcome … Period!


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