The opportunity killer in your hand

Twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t find a job in Massachusetts. A recession was squeezing businesses, nobody was hiring, and unemployment would be tripling in the next two years. I packed my dog and all my belongings into a small car and headed west.

After job-seeking stops in Syracuse, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago, I ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch in Minneapolis, MN. Before heading out to my 7th interview at Dayton Hudson Corporation (extra points if you know what that became), I walked my dog in my friend’s small neighborhood park. There, I met a woman who said her husband’s organization was looking for someone with communications skills. After one meeting, he hired me to manage communications for a new university department he was leading. That job kicked off a career in communications.

Fifteen years ago, I worked at an agency and shared my commute with another employee on a regular basis. We got to know each other as we talked about everything from his screaming children to how to make our company better. Making use of that car time and many hours of conversation, we built a business plan and started what became HB. We are still business partners today.

Three years ago, I flew to a business meeting on the West Coast, and sat next to the CFO of a sustainable food production business. Turns out we live near each other in rural Massachusetts, and I was surprised to learn that his business was headquartered nearby. He was surprised to find the head of an agency like HB living so close to him. Today, our companies are exploring ways to work together.

These results, and many others, stemmed from conversations. In two out of three instances, they were conversations with complete strangers that would never have happened if I:

  • had my head buried in a device when walking my dog;
  • used every airplane minute to work and catch up on media;
  • exchanged “work time” with my commuting buddy, where one of us would work wirelessly while the other drove.

Today, I’m surrounded by people whose faces reflect the glow of electronic absorption. I can’t even make eye contact. When I’m away from home, I sometimes eat at the hotel’s bar. The last time I did this, three men and one woman were also at the bar, each one glued to a smartphone. I pointed it out to a bartender, and he said, “If I weren’t talking to you, I’d be doing the same thing.” One of the smartphone users looked up, smiled for a moment, then looked back down. Some distant part of his brain heard me talking about the way people used to meet, learn from each other, find opportunities. But he turned back to an important email conversation, probably thinking that I was speaking a foreign language. If we had talked, we might have found common ground and ended up helping each other in some way. We would have certainly enjoyed the evening more.

How often do you sit in waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants, or bus, airplane and train seats where you completely ignore those around you? For what? To catch up on one more email only to chime in “I agree” to a message thread where you’re one of a dozen recipients? And for this, you kill the opportunities around you. In some cases, like the ones I described, these opportunities are worth thousands or millions of dollars. In other cases, they’re worth a shared moment, a laugh, a common thread that reminds you of your shared humanity.

Connecting to other people is a privilege, yielding moments of learning, absorbing stories, sharing perspectives. Such live connections offer the best opportunity to lead a richer existence, whether or not financial gain is involved.

Today, many of us use the devices to avoid connecting with others. We write email when we should call, text when we should talk. This means we’re becoming more task-oriented and losing much of the value that comes from human interaction. By hiding in our devices, we lose a level of humanity: our advice is more easily dismissed; our tone more easily misinterpreted; our value more easily forgotten; our people more easily fired.

Put down the device. Think. Write a letter. Think some more. Say hello to a stranger. And notice the flood of ideas, the opportunities and the good feelings. Next time you’re on an airplane, introduce yourself to the person next to you. You might find you know a few people in common. You might find reason to get to know each other more. You might find that connecting outside LinkedIn feels better and lasts longer than connecting inside LinkedIn.



Chuck Hester on LinkedIn for Media Relations: Fresh Ground #19

In this second part of a recording of Chuck Hester’s presentation on LinkedIn success secrets from Newcomm Forum 2010, Chuck shares some great tips on using LinkedIn for media relations, among other great tips. Chuck Hester is a LinkedIn power user with over 10,000 connections on the business networking site and the author of “Linking in to Pay it Forward: Changing the Value Proposition in Social Media.” He serves as director of communications at email marketing firm iContact.

Listen Now:

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Our opening music is “D.I.Y.” by A Band Called Quinn from the album “Sun Moon Stars” and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.

Chuck Hester on Being a LinkedIn Power User: Fresh Ground #18

Chuck Hester is a true LinkedIn power user, with over 10,000 connections on the business networking site. He is also the author of “Linking in to Pay it Forward: Changing the Value Proposition in Social Media” and director of communications at email marketing firm iContact. Fresh Ground Principal Todd Van Hoosear got a chance to listen in on — and record — Chuck’s presentation on LinkedIn success secrets at Newcomm Forum 2010. Here are excerpts from the first part of Chuck’s session, where he shares tips on getting started and connecting on LinkedIn.

Listen Now:

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Our opening music is “D.I.Y.” by A Band Called Quinn from the album “Sun Moon Stars” and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.

Define Yourself, LinkedIN

While in New York earlier this week Todd and I attended LinkedIN’s Connect09, which was essentially a sales pitch on their advertising products. Though, I must say, it was one of the most useful sales pitches I’d been to in a while.

Also, the eggs at the Le Parker Meridien were among the best I’ve had at a business breakfast (apparently I’m not alone in that opinion).

Besides the new features they were showing off around LinkedIN Groups as well as some of the advertising opportunities, what struck me most was who Steve Patrizi, vice president of advertising sales and operations, identified as LinkedIN’s competition.

He focused on BusinessWeek, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, pointing out how the LinkedIN audience is younger, wealthier and more engaged than audiences at any of the publications mentioned. It should be noted that Patrizi himself joined LinkedIN from the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, Facebook garnered barely a mention by the main presenters other than an amusing reference to LinkedIN interactions not being as fun as “Mafia Wars” but certainly more interesting. The only reference to the f-word by name came later during a panel on community management when one of the panelists joked that he just didn’t understand Facebook but was a LinkedIN “fanatic.”

This becomes even more fascinating when you consider that BusinessWeek let go some wonderful reporters yesterday. While journalism organizations have only their content to sell,

Bill Gates LinkedIN Profile Picutre

Bill Gates' LinkedIN Profile Picutre

LinkedIN has people. Or, as Director of Operations David Hahn joked, while showing a picture of Bill Gates, “We have a lot of rich people on LinkedIN and we’re bigger than Twitter. Our sales reps are around the room.”

From a PR perspective there is a lot to consider here. Afterall, we go where the people are, and if the people aren’t reading the main publications then we need to move on too.

But I also wonder if there is an opportunity for a LinkedIN (or any of its smaller business-focused competitors) to pick up the journalism mantle. While publications struggle to find ways to make money on journalism, wouldn’t it be interesting for LinkedIN to hire, say, Stephen Baker or Steve Wildstrom to do some original business reporting, only to add to the site’s appeal?

Stop, Look and Listen: Your Customers are Everywhere

“My customers aren’t on Twitter.”

I hear that a lot. And not just about Twitter, but replace “Twitter” with just about any social networking tool and you get the idea. However, these assumptions are pretty dangerous.

A jeans and workboots guy at a job site in Boston

Taking a break from working on the job.

Let’s look at general contractors and construction workers who build skyscrapers and state-of-the-art hospitals. You’re probably thinking that these folks aren’t checking their twitterfeed or reading blogs online, participating in webinars, let alone viewing video blogs on their iPhones.

Well, you’re wrong. Vico Software, which makes software for the construction industry, gets 17 percent of its Website  traffic from work it does on LinkedIn. That’s nearly as much as it gets from Google. This is, of course, thanks to the work of the marketing team who works hard to keep the Vico User Group vibrant and updated, but they also reach out to the 27,000 general contractors they communicate with regularly on LinkedIn.

The executive team and product managers blog regularly about current industry news items, trends, and best practices.  These blogs are shared on LinkedIn and new discussions start every day, leading to new connections. According to Holly Allison, VP of Marketing at Vico Software, “The LinkedIn Community is ripe with networking, opinions, and sharing what works.  Our target audience utilizes LinkedIn and other social media outlets on a daily basis in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.  And in this rough economy, every advantage counts.”

Vico also hosts a bi-weekly educational webinar called Fridays with Vico. Over the last 5 quarters more than 7000 people have viewed one of those webinars, either live or recorded, with 25 percent of those being new prospects, all generated from social media outreach such as LinkedIn, Twitter or a forum in which Vico participates. As far as leads go, those 7000 people turned into an average of 90 leads a month to each US sales representative.

All this outreach has  the industry talking, with partners telling Vico executives that they see Vico Software everywhere.

Let’s move on from construction workers to teachers.

Credit: Chicago 2016 Photos via Flickr

Credit: Chicago 2016 Photos via Flickr

Picture a public school teacher in your head. She is on her own in the classroom, maybe with an assistant, but facing a roomful of children. What if she has a question? What if she needs help, on the fly, with a lesson? What if a student asks a sensitive question and she just doesn’t know where to go with it?

Twitter to the rescue!

Thanks to Karen Miller of, I learned how teachers are reaching out to each other through Twitter. So if a teacher has a question or needs help, he simply picks up his mobile phone, sends out a Tweet and in minutes has an answer from a community of teachers around the country.

So, what if you’re a company, like, that has a business model focused on attracting teachers? Then you get involved in those teaching discussions, and that’s just what Miller and her team do. That work has led to a boost in traffic for the young company and increased use among students.

So before you dismiss any social media tool as being “irrelevant”  to your audience, take a listen. You may be surprised at what you find.

My ever-changing friendships

David Carr discussed Facebook in his weekly New York Times column this week and hit a few points that I have pondered.

First of all, yes, I am on Facebook. I explored it a few months ago as part of my ongoing research related to Hart-Boillot’s continued expansion of its digital offerings. Already on LinkedIn, I wanted to get a better sense of other social networking sites.

Although my group of Facebook friends is rather limited, it has fostered closer relationships with that group (including my high school-aged cousins, a new friend, and college acquaintances). In his article, Carr questions how blurred the line between your personal and work personas should be. Carr suggests that one should either be strategic in your posts or selective in your friending. Like Carr, I am neither, but must admit that I have not sought out work-related friends and have not received any such friend requests. Would I accept a friend invitation from a client or an editor? Absolutely. I enjoy knowing about their lives and would welcome them to join my online world.

On Facebook? Feel free to friend me. With a name like Perrin McCormick, I am pretty easy to find.