Social business: dead, alive and kicking, or business as usual?

For the past few years, ‘social business’ has gotten a lot of attention from a number of people. Very enthousiastic people. For various reasons, not everyone shared their enthousiasm. Social business has been declared dead a couple of times, probably because the innovators’ initiative didn’t seem to get a lot of tangible results very soon.

social business concept

A few recent articles point out different aspects – and views – of the drive towards social business. Continue reading

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Stuck like glue: how knowledge powers business relationships

How does knowledge affect business relationships? It’s a matter Ross Dawson has written a whole book about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on knowledge in business relationships and related matters like advising (internal) clients, or even friends for that matter.

What do you bring to the table in your (business) relationships?

Knowledge needs food to grow

Tree of knowledge? Image HikingArtist.com

  • Knowledge. By this I mean your personal set of experiences. Not just your education, because your peers share much the same background.
  • Time – which may seem in short supply so you’d rather spend it on activities that add value than on stuff that really isn’t that important but “management say they want it so go do it”.
  • Social skills (if I’m being presumptuous please let me know).

It makes sense to invest your time in building a good relationship with your (potential) clients and allies. Apart from your subject matter expertise (SME), focus on extending the knowledge you have about your client:

  1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.
  2. Listen even more carefully to what’s not being said.
  3. Ask away.
  4. Keep asking.
  5. Be open about the way you work (from the start), and
  6. ask for structural feedback to help finetune your actions. When you plan your activities for a client, include a continuous feedback loop from and to your client. If that’s not possible, plan regular feedback moments.

Focusing on the interaction, on the knowledge you and your client need from each other and produce as a result of your conversations, steers you away from ‘just’ delivering your service or product.

What does this advisory role demand from you?

The interaction with your clients demands that you take the conscious decision and then muster the patience to get genuinely involved. Getting involved also means sharing knowledge, and that may lead to the following situation:

  • If you’re a veteran in your branche, you may have grown used to skipping steps. It’s been so long since you wondered why you do what you do in this specific way. But to the non-expert there is no “obviously”. There is no obvious reason for doing anything. Or for doing it in this way. So add all the steps your client needs.
  • Having someone ask you questions and giving you feedback may well point you toward things you had overseen! Listening to your clients’ questions may well teach you a lot about yourself as well as about your client. Once you’ve learned anything you need to review what you thought you knew. Improve, tweak. Review. Learn, and unlearn! Knowledge building will guide you and your client by showing you should stop doing one thing and start doing the other.

How does knowledge power your business relationships?

By getting involved and being open about your methods you will:

  1. learn a lot about your client. You’ll understand better than anyone else what makes them tick. What worries them. What stumps them.
  2. build trust. Your client gets a genuine sense of what you know, how you think, who you are as a professional and as a person.
  3. get feedback from your client about details in their particular situation that might affect the results of your efforts.
  4. have a chance to review your own business
  5. improve your own skills as an advisor
  6. accumulate heaps of richly detailed cases you can use as examples with other clients.

There’s just one thing to watch out for. And that is getting too comfortable knowing what you know about your clients. Knowledge needs to be fed regularly if you’re to reap its fruits. Neglect your knowledge and it will lose its connection with reality. Your reality. And your clients’ reality. If you find that your attitude stands in the way of really listening to your clients – if it prevents you from being a good advisor, tell yourself to stop being a [fill in appropriate noun here].

And two (this point occurred to me thanks to this picture): remember to harvest the fruits of your labor. The point of knowledge is not having it – but using it.

Read more:

How would you describe the relationship you have with your (business) connections? Leave your thoughts about knowledge, business, clients and relationships (and possibly about glue and apples) in a comment – I will reply to anything non-spammy 😉

New knowledge: how to breathe creativity into your business

How do you instill creativity in places where it seems to be lacking big time? In an earlier post I mentioned that an investor’s mindset seems to chase away innovation. But what invites creative thinking? What sets us off on the hunt for new knowledge?

Why knowledge acquisition and the creative process grind to a halt

Firstly let’s add a bit of detail to my earlier thoughts about why inventors leave a company (after an IPO). Money seems to have an oddly familiar impact if you’re a business owner: it burns in your pockets, leading to buying decisions based on affluence. You have the money. This fact severely reduces your need to employ creative brains. If you choose your resources based on their availability, you can either put in creative thinking and the time you need to realize your ideas, or you can chuck in a bag of money at any given moment to buy the results of other people’s efforts.

When and how does creativity leave your business?

San Matteo by Caravaggio

San Matteo by Caravaggio [Fragment
of image on Wikimedia Commons]

  • Following my instincts I’d say the first awkward moments arise when you find that your best ideas no longer lead to reactions like “that sounds great – go do it and let me know when you’ve got something”. Instead you get “that sounds interesting – is there anything out there we could use?” or “okay, draft some requirements we can use for our vendors”.
  • The absolute get-out-of-here-right-now trigger is when decisions for further development are made without consulting the company’s innovative minds. It makes sense to leave when no one cares enough about your opinion to ask for it before taking a major decision. The best (or most independently thinking) inventors will leave at this point.
  • The other inventors may choose to deliver what’s being asked for. However their ‘inventions’ are probably the products of ideas born from the minds of investors, market researchers, and the like. No wonder they don’t match the level of the ‘breakthrough inventions’ done by pioneering innovators!

What does this tell us about factors that’ll get innovation and general creative thinking into a team or company? It’s not just “leave them alone and great things’ll happen”.

Apple or IBM: two methods to bring creativity into your business

1. The survival method: be creative or else

To draw upon my own education, one of my teachers in art history argued that Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) would not have reached the peak of his own ingenuity if his patron had accepted some of the paintings he made. As an inventor you may well need someone who will warn you not to become complacent – push you out of your comfort zone – tell you they know you can “do better than that” and will not settle for anything but the best.

To me this is a part of the Steve Jobs approach – if engineers come up with new adaptations of old inventions you demand they think of something better. I can imagine this method does not go down well with people who are either independent thinkers themselves, or who aim for ‘okay’ solutions that lack a ‘wow’ factor. It’s a method that smells of survival basics (and can inspire real terror for that reason): either you come up with a solution that works, or you starve because all the animals run away. How’s that for a creative spark?

2. The cocreation method: the benefit of having different points of view

Another part of innovation at Apple which Jobs was probably good at, is the ‘naive outsider’ approach (I’m borrowing from a Forbes article on creativity in marketing here) – taking a fresh look at familiar things and asking the questions that experts overlook. But there’s a definite downside to having one person doing ‘creative quality control or CQC (I just made that up for the occasion).

If you’re into social or ‘open’ business like IBM you can get input from people outside your company and even your industry. If you have your creative process in full operation, this should give you plenty of alien points of view – forcing you to rethink what would otherwise pass for ‘obvious’ arguments.

Creative quality control: which method suits you?

In view of the possibilities offered by social media and the like, and the psychological effects of each individual method, my vote goes to the ‘many voices’ option of social business. But depending on the type of company your in and the goals you’ve set, another method may be more viable.

More reading:

How do you foster innovation in your organization? Let’s talk about new knowledge, “CQC”, creativity, business, and social media in the comments!

The content priority matrix – focus your blogging efforts

In my previous post I applied the Eisenhower priority matrix to companies/investors’ priorities. In this post I try to answer the question: how does the money issue affect the nature of (corporate) blogging? I also give away 6 tips for single-topic blogging and my thoughts about part-time business blogging.

The two sides of the content priority matrix for blogging

What is the main issue with blogging to make money in whatever way?

Content Priority Matrix for Blogging

Content priority matrix for professional bloggers

It could be this: the point of anything you do to influence other people is that there are two sides to the window (or priority matrix) you’re looking through.

Where there are bloggers looking out, you’ll find readers looking in. At least, I sure hope so.

Content priority matrix: focus for professional blogging

Professional bloggers, from their side of the ‘window’, would be interested in these aspects of potential blog topics:

  • Money generating topic – adjacent but non-commercial topics
  • Expertise – no expertise

As a full-time professional blogger you would invest most of your time on topics that let you share your expertise and that could yield money by addressing people’s urgent and important needs. If there were a related topic that could make considerably more money you’d spend some of your time extending your expertise in that direction. The other bits you’d leave out or use to add interest to your otherwise fact-ridden business blog.

The ‘expert-no money’ quadrant is also amply filled by personal blogs. ‘No money’ may in fact not be an accurate description, because showing yourself to be an expert at anything, including being consistently funny, may still end up in some kind of business or career opportunity!

What matters to business blog readers?

What writing is there on the window sill on the outside – the side of the readers of a business blog? You might learn more by taking a peek at the matrix I made for this post, in which I try to visualize the way we (sensible consumers that we are) prioritize our purchases 😉

  1. Relevant – not relevant (‘important’)
  2. Urgent – not urgent

If a blog post deals with a relevant topic, you’ll read it – note that this involves a decision to invest your time! Now, if I try to coax you towards signing up for more, I’ll have the greatest success if I’m not only spot on topic-wise, but if you’re also convinced that:

  • you need to know more
  • you need to buy this service or product urgently

You’ll find plenty of blogs out there that tell you how you should tackle the issues of being utterly relevant, building trust, and connecting. Crafting a sense of urgency is an absolute knack of some sales folk. You know, the ones who catch you viewing stuff like door locks and come up with a special offer only for today to “help you keep your precious family safe” from the big bad world outside if you’ll go for the Complete Burglar Alarm Set For Pros. Them.

If you don’t want to be pushy, remember not everyone responds well to the “buy now or miss out on a life-changing experience” approach. You can opt to be more subtle.

6 tips for single-topic blogging

“Stick to one topic and forget the rest” is the advice professional bloggers/content marketers give to others who want to make money blogging. To make a single-topic blog work, you need to:

  1. check every month which of your posts got top numbers in readers, subscriptions, and conversions.
  2. skip the rest and focus on the stuff that works
  3. keep experimenting by introducing the odd off-topic post and check the results
  4. plan ahead so you don’t run out of content juice
  5. haul in guest bloggers to take the strain off your blogging or to increase the frequency with which you post
  6. keep an eye on similar blogs for more ideas.

Part-time blogging

As a part time (business) blogger you might find yourself running into a serious writers’ block if you tried to stick to just one topic and write about it several times per week. The alternative is to blog once or twice a month. That’s often enough for blogs that are part of a business website. You’ll keep fresh and relevant content coming without it costing too much time and effort.

The main thing is that you think about your blog and make decisions. It’s fine if you change your mind later – just remember to make another informed decision rather than drifting into a blogging routine you never intended to develop. Especially in corporate blogging, focus is key.

If you run into unexpected topics on this blog, I hope you find them a pleasant surprise. Add your thoughts about content, priority, money – please share this post – I hope I’ve given you food for thought 😉

Your career on LinkedIn: 16 tips to look your best

For a long time, I saw LinkedIn as basically a big ol’ box of resumes and not much beyond that. That changed (somewhat). This post contains my tips for your LinkedIn profile to help you if:

  • you’re on LinkedIn, but you don’t have a clue what to do except add your resume and anyway, what exactly should you put in your profile anyway?
  • you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile in a year.
  • you’re not yet on LinkedIn but want to get started.
  • (If you’re active and happy on LinkedIn, this post by Jeff Haden on Inc.com gives you additional tips.)

I won’t tell you how to sign up. If they’ve made it too hard they deserve to go out of business. If that’s the case please let me know 😉

How does a complete, updated profile on LinkedIn help your career?

Your career on LinkedIn

First reason: LinkedIn comes up with job suggestions that are deemed relevant for someone with your set of skills and experience. Second: if you’re going to show up in search results you want to be found by the right recruiters. Third: once you’re found, you want to make a favorable or at least an accurate impression so people don’t offer you all the wrong jobs, or none at all.

Get your LinkedIn profile in shape using these 16 tips which I’ve grouped for your convenience:

LinkedIn profile basics

  1. Picture: professional looks are best, but anything which isn’t either downright unprofessional or 5 years old is acceptable, at least until you get something better. Dig out an online picture of you that’s more or less professional.
  2. Fill out your headline. This may contain your job title, or otherwise should contain one or two keywords which characterize what branche or task you’re interested in.
  3. Fill out your postal code, or that of the most relevant city for your profession if you don’t mind the commute or having to move. Your profile will mention a general area based on your information.
  4. Add some contact details. Decide which of them you want to show to your connections, and which you want to be publicly visible (in my case that’s at least my Twitter handle and this blog).

Job experience

  1. Summary: people use their summary in different ways – sometimes to describe what their current job entails, or to describe what they are like as a professional, or to describe the business they own. If you’re not sure, leave it for later.
  2. Use your resume and your description of your tasks and responsibilities. If you’re a student, or you’re in your first job, you may find your resume looking rather empty. Or if you’ve worked at company X for the past 18 years you may look like a boring person who would like to stay in your current job indefinitely. Compensate by describing separate tasks in light of:
    1. skills,
    2. professional attitude, and
    3. experience they demand from you or that you have acquired as a result. Don’t overdo it. If anyone calls your manager or mentor they should be able to confirm your story.
  3. Add team projects. Projects show up twice: underneath the job they’re connected to, plus in a separate projects section. Adding projects is also a great way to find out if there are people you might connect with on LinkedIn – after all, you worked with them at some point so you know them professionally. That is always the best (possibly the only good) reason to connect.
  4. For writing folk: add a separate section for your publications.

Skills and languages

  1. Skills: this part of your profile is just a list, but it makes you more visible (search results) and others can endorse you on those skills if they think you actually have them. Be specific, because you might get endorsed for knowing about “art”.
  2. When can you mention a language among your skills? If you teach it, if you’re a translator, or if you’ve spent over a year in a country speaking the language daily so you’re practically a native speaker – and you’d like to get a job that requires knowledge of this particular language because it sets you apart from the competition. Don’t forget to list it among your languages too.
  3. Languages: overview of all the languages you know. Add your proficiency level. Some people throw all their languages in with their skills which leads to my receiving endorsement messages like “Does Dave know about English?” 😉

Courses

  1. Independent coursework: this is where you list courses that are not tied to a study or a job. This section is important if you’re interested in a career switch or if you’re just someone who likes to keep up to date all round.
  2. Don’t add ALL of your courses though, unless it’s not that much of a list. If you’re looking for a specialized job, select courses that are relevant for that kind of job. If you’re not sure what kind of job you’d like, add a mix of job-focused courses and the courses you enjoyed the most.
  3. While you’re pondering your selection, ask yourself why you enjoyed specific courses.
    1. Was it the type of activity?
    2. The team work vs. having sole responsibility for the task?
    3. Was it the topic? Try to find out, because this is what you are about. Write it down as a start for your LinkedIn summary.

Volunteering & Causes

  1. Add any not-for-profit activities in this section. If you feel these activities don’t ‘count’ when you’re looking for a job, consider this:
    1. You have used and developed people skills, project skills, or your creativity.
    2. It shows what you value in life and can spice up a resume that seems a bit too single-mindedly careerdriven!
    3. If you’re in a very technical or specialistic job, this is also a great way to show you have other interests that require different skills and even a different mindset from what people might expect.
    4. You may get asked about your activities – which gives a nice informal flavor to an interview!
  2. For these reasons, describe your voluntary work just like any job or project. If you’ve done certain tasks for years, say so – it shows you can stick to a job even if you didn’t have one at the time.

I hope I’ve given you enough to get started until my next post (Wednesday). If you have any questions about your LinkedIn career – if I’ve left anything out which you need at this stage, leave me a comment to read and reply to!

How to start your career on LinkedIn

Last week I read a post about LinkedIn that got quite a few comments. One of them was “this is all very interesting but I’d like tips that will help me get started”. I recently updated my profile so I decided I’d think up some tips that might actually help rather than frustrate your career without your even noticing. Today’s post is the short-cut for hasty people – if you want to know more, read my next (Friday) post.

How to best invest your time and effort on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not where you’d start your social media ‘career’ today. Instead, you’re on Facebook or Twitter and at some point you’re told you need to be on LinkedIn for your career – or, at least, to make sure you don’t miss out on job opportunities because you’re not there.

My advice is to take the professional approach from day one. I have been on LinkedIn for over 4 years and all I can say is it probably pays to start even before you finish your education – in stead of switching careers 2 or 3 times beforehand, like I did 😉

Your career on LinkedIn: start here

Get your profile sorted first. To show you just how much this matters, I’ve written a separate post about it. If you want to get started today, but you don’t want to share your unfinished profile with the whole world just yet, sign up and then check out your settings – profile – Edit your public profile.

LinkedIn settings: Edit your public profile

In the next screen you can opt to share only the bits you’re happy about, or hide your profile altogether with this useful menu in the column on the right:

LinkedIn Profile Visibility

Here you can review your public profile and hide anything you feel is not up to scratch. If that leaves you with a minimalistic profile you know which parts you need to tackle at once.

Continue to work on the other parts and share those after extra thought and editing. After all it’s important information – based on this, a recruiter or a potential client may decide whether or not to contact you. They may check for your name elsewhere but let’s assume they’re human and therefore either too lazy or too busy.

Don’t forget to change your settings back when you’re done!

Tips to turn your profile into a career on LinkedIn

Try any or all of these actions. If you’re on LinkedIn but don’t have a clue how you should do any of it, just ask – I’ll write a post or two on individual actions I’ve listed here. My comments section below is open for business 😀

  1. Follow a couple of businesses you wouldn’t mind working for (as an employee or a business owner).
  2. Seek out recruiters who match your standards for social media usage. Some hide their networks from their connections, some don’t. Decide which kind you’re comfortable with.
  3. Connect with fellow students who basically face the same questions and consider teaming up to get the LinkedIn part of your lives up and running together.
  4. Find some active groups that are relevant to your professional interests. This way you keep up to date about your field of expertise, and these groups are shown on your profile (unless you hide them).
  5. Connect with a couple of teachers/professors. Criteria: depth/breadth of expertise, network, they teach your favorite topics, or you just get along with them well.

If you’re thinking of starting on LinkedIn and/or getting serious about your career, you’re welcome to share your thoughts – I promise to reply to any non-spammy comment 🙂

Incoming! Using a content ‘landing strip’ for your visitors

Anyone who tries to get marketing to ‘do’ social media is in danger of ending up in another tiny unit next to the established teams, like I mentioned in my previous post. The effect of ‘siloing’ – chopping up anything to do with customer/contact into ever tinier areas of specialization – is that you get people adding social media ‘on top of’ whatever content is produced by a different team, or probably several teams.

Providing a content ‘landing strip’ to your visitors

Content landing strip for your visitors

Perhaps you’ve found that there are considerably more people who visit your web page than actually click through to a specific piece of content you’d like them to view.

You may be looking at visitors who walk off after passing through layers of information that are not in sync with each other.

A perfect landing strip provides a consistent experience every step of the way toward a particular piece of content you want a certain type of visitor to view.

Compare the following situations.

Situation A: Content and distribution coming from isolated teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through doesn’t seem to be there: this page contains a general text about issues people in your business role encounter. There is a report on the page which the message also mentioned, but nothing on the page mentions the specific issue you are interested in.
  3. Now I’m sure there are people who are interested enough, and who know your company well enough to know that you deliver real value in your reports, to click through to the report.

This is no comfortable ‘landing strip’ for your visitors – this track is more fit for a bit of off-the-road experience!

Situation B: Content and distribution coming from collaborating teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through is the main topic on the page. The text gives you an example of the issue mentioned in the social media message you clicked on, and refers you to paragraph 3 in the report on that page.
  3. You decide to click through knowing more or less what you’ll find, and where to look for it.

Example number two gives you a consistent experience. It triggers your interest and doesn’t allow you to get ‘lost’.

Is a content landing strip necessary?

Some – perhaps most – customers are able to find their way to your most precious content regardless of what you do. Unless of course you make it too hard for them. My point is you are not the person who decides what is too much work to get at your content. That decision lies with your visitors.

My bit of amateur psychology:

  • Curiosity, and the optimistic hope that you may have something good to offer them, is a ‘happy’ state of mind triggered by your initial message.
  • If you throw up any kind of barrier that makes visitors to your website ‘work for their money’ some may leave. And they may not come back for a while.
  • Others will still click through but they’re in a different state of mind: searching, analysing which part of your report is the most relevant. For some, solving this problem is a reward in itself, but anyone who is pressed for time will expect more value for, well, ‘money’. You end up having to make your content better to counter the “So what?” attitude you’ve just created yourself!

How do you improve your visitors’ experience?

Creating your landing strip

Work your way from the inside out. Things to consider while designing your visitors’ experience:

  1. Who do you want to view your masterpiece? What do you offer them?
  2. If there are people with different needs out there, you need a bit of information on your website that addresses those precise needs. Two or three ‘bits’ if you’re talking about a major industry report that addresses issues that are relevant to people with different interests.
  3. A marketing guy will want to see different information than someone in customer service. You may point them towards the same section in your report – but you’ll invite them in different ways. You need to decide if you want to do all this on your website, or on a social platform.

Evaluate the result going from the outside in. Once you’re happy you have every step covered, walk a mile in your visitors’ shoes. My tips for this:

  • Take every step a visitor would take from your social media message down to your content masterpiece.
  • Act stupid while you do so.
  • Do this when you don’t have a lot of time, you’re tired and generally fed up to make sure you nag about anything that’s not perfect 🙂

That concludes my thoughts about a content landing strip to suit your visitors – leave a comment to add your thoughts on the topic and I promise to reply to anything non-spammy!