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Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 14Jun

    These days, social media has become a resource for sales and marketing; an essential tool in any marketing or media arsenal. Remember when, not so long ago, Facebook was banned from the workplace as a time waster? There are any number of companies that still block access to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media destinations because they don’t see these outlets as essential to employees’ jobs. They want them to stay productive, not chatting with friends online.

    digital-distractionAnd despite the many benefits that have been demonstrated about social media, they have a point. Todays’ work environment is incredibly disruptive. I hate to say it, but I am old enough to remember working in an office free of email and where the only disruption was an occasional phone call. I also recall those days as being much more productive, where I could focus on writing an article or editing a column without interruption. The age of instant communications has created a disruptive, multi-tasking approach to work, which is not the most productive.

    Not long ago I spotted an article on Mashable, “The 3 Pressing Questions Facing Social Media,” that talked about the disruptive nature of social media, and the fact it will only get worse.

    The conversation about social media in our society is shifting significantly. We’re no longer asking questions like, “Will people use social media?” or “Are sites like Facebook and Twitter simply trends that will soon lose steam?” After billions of tweets and 600 million people on Facebook, it’s settled: People want to share online. And with Facebook moving toward a $100 billion valuation, there is money to be made.

    The emerging conversation is not if we will be connected but is instead, “How can we effectively and productively connect?” Now that we can get constant updates on just about every aspect of our friends’ lives, how do we receive that which is relevant?

    I think the three questions are worth considering closely as we continue to forge ahead into the disruptive world of social media.

    1. Are We Being Driven to Distraction? Remaining continually connected means being continually distracted. I am sure you have experienced it – email interruptus or the Facebook vortex. You are in the middle of trying to construct a thought for a report, or a calculation for a spreadsheet and you hear that little “ding” or see that popup that someone has posted to your wall. Being the tribal creatures that we are, we drop everything to see who is knocking at our virtual door.

    People have forgotten how to turn off the data stream, just as they have forgotten to turn off their cell phones or unplug from the larger world. Many give the excuse that their bosses or their clients expect them to be “on call,” but the truth of the matter is we are all insecure in this new world of social media, and we are worried about missing an important factoid or an important connection that could lead to cyber rejection.

    The price of distraction is a decline in productivity. According to a survey cited in the Mashable article, social media is costing companies an average of $10,375 per year because we can’t learn to disconnect fast enough.

    The drive to stay connected is tapering off. For the first time, Facebook has seen a drop in traffic in the U.S. and Canada as people are starting to realize that social media does not require real-time consumption. But we are still struggling to find the right balance to get us back to productivity.

    2.  How are We To Filter the Stream? What to follow has become an important question. You want to sample the social media stream in a way that suits our informational needs. I cited a recent presentation by MoveOn board president Eli Pariser on how our web experience is already being filtered. We need to be wary of imposing our own filters so we get what we need from social media channels.

    Of course, we need to understand how the data is being filtered, and given the option to impose our own controls, or open the tap to unfiltered content so we can determine what we want to sample. It’s all about promoting transparency; a principle that is at the root of the creation of the Internet.

    3. How Do We Manage the Social Media Flood? The sheer volume of social media content has become overwhelming. Can you effectively follow more than 500 people on Twitter or LinkedIn? How many Facebook friends can you have and still maintain any kind of meaningful connection? When do we start hitting diminishing returns from social media because the sheer volume has become too great to manage? Like dipping your toe in the data stream, where you choose to sample the stream is going to be self-selecting, but the stream is rapidly becoming a flood, which will make it harder to choose the right location.

    And it’s just going to get worse. More traffic for the Web is on the horizon, and with it more social media traffic. So users will have to become more discriminating in their use of social media:

    Providing people more ways to share online is no longer the challenge. That was the old paradigm. A new paradigm of relevancy is emerging, which goes beyond the question of whether “to follow or not follow” or “to friend or not friend.” Companies need to see that their job is not to provide us data, or even keep us updated — it is to serve our needs.

    Which offers some new opportunities for marketers. As we continue to feed our corners of the social media stream with content that is relevant for our microcosm of the social media macroverse, we will be able to start appealing to a niche following of more loyal and more relevant connections. It’s going to become more about quality rather than quantity, and the conversations will become more focused as we become more discriminating. As a result, social media will give us the capacity to connect more quickly and efficiently to people who matter to us, and the timewasting will become less of a factor in the social media equitation.

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  • 29Mar

    peanut-butter

    Forrest Gump believes that life is like a box of chocolates, and I see consulting as like a jar of peanut butter. Some people like their smooth and some like it chunky (my preference) but the challenge is not to spread yourself too thin.

    Consultants face an ongoing challenge in terms of work balance. You should be spending about 20 percent of your time on new business development, and the other 80 percent of the time on keeping your current clients happy. But when that 20 percent of effort yields multiple projects simultaneously, then you need to be prepared to step up and deliver advice and services that have value; deliver the chunky stuff so you don’t have to spread the creamy peanut butter too thin.

    Granted, having more work than you can handle is a good problem to have, sort of, but it can backfire if you don’t manage the work appropriately. If you overpromise and under deliver, it will affect your professional reputation, and probably cost you a lot of current business. If you overcommit and then work yourself too hard to get the job done, which leads to second-rate service and ultimately burnout.

    So how do you spread yourself appropriately to make sure you are optimizing both time and money? Here are a few strategies I have used in the past:

    Set up a monthly work calendar. I recommend to all my clients to establish a “scope of work” for each month, outlining objectives and tasks to be completed. As part of this exercise, you should establish your own time estimates to assess how much time you need to allocate. Granted, priorities will change during the course of the month, which means as you add new tasks you take other tasks off the agenda. This exercise is not only about creating a roadmap for yourself as to what you can reasonably achieve during the month, but it’s also about setting expectations for the client.

    Touch every client every day. It’s so easy to focus on projects that are interesting or that have seemingly more urgent deadlines. Therein lies a common consulting trap – oiling the squeaky wheel. If you only pay attention to the clients and projects that are demanding your attention, those other tasks that support the less demanding clients will fall by the wayside. If you touch every client every day with some communication, task, or even checking in on work in process, you can stay on top of your client work.

    Keep track of your efforts. I like to bill on a retainer since this makes budgeting simpler for the clients and eliminates billing surprises. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep track of your work. I keep timesheets for all my clients, retained or not, to determine whether my time budgeting is on target and to determine if one client is demanding too much of my time. If you keep track of where your time goes, it is easier to identify where the problems are emerging in time management so you can either reset expectations or realign your hours.

    Get help when you need it. When the floodgates open and new business comes pouring in, I know many consultants turn away business based on their availability. A better strategy is to take on the projects and enlist partners to help. I have operated a “virtual” agency model for years and for larger projects can bring in one of my peers to help with the day-to-day tasks. You can scale if you have help and assume a project management role, assuming you can continue to maintain the quality of the work.

    Know when to say no. There are times when a giant project might land in your lap that is tempting and lucrative. You need to ask yourself a few leading questions before you accept the contract. Will it jeopardize your other work? Will you be able to continue to build your business while you handle this mongo project? What about when the project is completed; will you still have enough work? I find that putting all your eggs in a single client basket can be fraught with risk.

    Get rid of the dead wood. If you have new work coming in the front door, consider kicking the dead wood out the back door. There are always some clients that you will never satisfy or that aren’t a good fit. Either your work styles don’t align, expectations aren’t set properly, or you just don’t have the right tools to deliver what they need. If, like a bad job, the client isn’t a good fit or they are too demanding, taking on new business gives you an opportunity to clean house.

    Follow the money. As part of your housekeeping, take a look at some of your less lucrative clients and determine if new business opportunities give you a chance to renegotiate or change the terms of your contract. Even fun contracts can prove to be a loss leader in terms of time and energy. New, more lucrative contracts will give you a chance to change or end a less profitable client relationship without risk.

    Successful consulting is a a continuous balancing act. Knowing when to streamline your operation and how to balance dueling priorities is the key to consulting success. So keep it crunchy and don’t spread yourself too thin.

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