Active participation

Active participation

I made a mistake this morning – or perhaps I was just lazy.  The Sussex branch of the IoD (Institute of Directors) were holding a breakfast meeting on the subject of “Company Pensions – a millstone round your neck or a milestone to a better future”, which I attended.  My consulting company may be micro in size but like all other companies it will be covered by the automatic enrolment legislation.  So I thought I had better find out more before my staging date of 1st April 2017.

The presenter was Alan Salamon, a pension and investment expert, and I went along to hear him speak.  What I forgot to do was think about how to get the best out of the networking opportunities before, after and even during the meeting.  The value mostly comes from what you learn from others and can share with them, rather than any direct pitch.  For me, it takes an effort to socialise easily with those I do not know, so I should have prepared myself mentally to make the most out of each conversation, finding out about other people, their roles and operations, their current business challenges and views.

It was a reminder to me that you always need to work out how to be an active participant at all meetings, to think about what you can put in as well as what you can get back, to try to build conversations and communications that might grow in the future.  Next time I should put aside a short period of time to prepare to put more in and get more out.

I’m not human enough for Instagram

I’m not human enough for Instagram

I have given up on Instagram.

This morning I wanted to try it out – it might be fun and it might be useful for marketing.  At least I thought I ought to know about it.

So I tried to set it up on my Samsung Galaxy II phone.  No problem installing but then I tried to register using my Facebook login and reached the point where you are asked if Instagram can message all your friends.  I changed this for private messaging to begin with (until I knew what I and Instagram were doing).  But this just led to an error message about an unknown page. Has nobody tried the privacy option before?

How do you report or sort out bugs in apps?  I have no idea, so switched to the Instagram website on my desktop and tried the “Forgot Password” option since I was having trouble with the Facebook login.

Before sending me an email, Instagram asked to use a Captcha to prove I was human.  Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 goes to get the Captcha right but this one I tried 8 times without success.  Also I tried the audio version but it was so fuzzy I was unable to make it out.

So I gave up with Instagram.

Apparently I am not human enough for them.

Digital OAPs

The maximum age for a true digital native is probably 30 – someone who grew up with a mobile phone that they used to communicate with their friends, with online social networks for sharing, with widely available e-commerce for purchase..  If digital natives want to find out a fact they use Google search, Wikipedia or ask questions on social media and are hardly aware of offline methods.


But while those of us from previous generations did not grow up with this technology, most of us have come to accept it and use it as the best tool for many personal and business activities.  Some may be reluctant but there are many older people, including silver surfers, who have embraced it enthusiastically as a way to enrich and simplify their lives, from being able to see and talk to remote family over Skype to automating their small business accounts.

So are the digital natives really a breed apart?  Until recently, I was not convinced and felt that there were already ncreasing numbers of OAPs equally at home in the new world of technology.  I liked to think of them as digital OAPs.  But a couple of articles that I read last week made me think again.

Firstly, John Naughton’s article in The Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jun/15/nsa-covert-surveillance-trap) in which he talked about the NSA and their PRISM program and concluded that however much people might be horrified by the way PRISM is collecting so much personal data, they could not envisage stopping using the main internet services that provide the information to the NSA, particularly if they were under 25. 

The other article, by Brian Halligan, was on the culture of HubSpot, the firm he co-founded (http://www.businessinsider.com/hubspot-ceo-brian-halligan-on-company-culture-2013-6). He talks about the different values of younger employees – how they want to buy into the goals of their companies and value transparency in their organisations. This attitude towards work ties in with the freedom with which digital natives are willing to share so much of their life online even though it becomes visible to so many people.

So maybe digital OAPs (as well as those slightly younger, like myself) can be as good technically in using the new technology.  But do we have the attitude of relying on it entirely that the digital natives have?

If we are like those learning a foreign language compared to native speakers of that language, then while we have to work very hard to speak it fluently, once we master it we may also be able to see its strengths and weaknesses in context.

Who owns the online community?

The biggest online communities are businesses that tap into people’s general or specific interests and offer great value to users and contributors.  In today’s world they often do not charge any money for the use of their services, instead making money from selling adverts on their sites or from services sold to premium users or to companies providing add-ons.  Think of Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn for example.

Looking at these communities today, it is hard to think of a future without them, but they face constant pressures not to go the way of previous stars such as MySpace (now growing again slowly), AOL and SecondLife.  For example, Facebook experiences considerable pressure from younger rivals as it tries to maintain growth and the amount of time users spending on the site as noted in this CNBC report on Facebook growth from May 2013; while it is growing fast in emerging markets, there are signs of a loss of interest by users in established markets such as the USA and UK.

These pressures highlight the fact that the communities depend on their users who are free to go elsewhere if something new grabs their attention (for example Tumblr or Pinterest), if the site annoys them (e.g. not addressing privacy concerns) or just if they grow bored with the activity on the site.

Are there ways to combat this and create longer-lasting online communities?

One possibility would be to involve the community itself much more in running and setting the direction for the site.  Could the community actually co-own the service?  A real sense of ownership would increase loyalty and should also ensure that the site develops in ways that the community wants.  But if the online site was run as a business, this would inevitably create tension between the profit-motive of the company running the service and the demands of users.

There are two other drawbacks to the idea of community involvement or co-ownership.  Firstly, most users do not want to get involved.  They want a service, one that is useful and is used by their friends but do not want to spend time or effort on working out how it should be run; if it stops meeting their needs, then they will just go elsewhere.  Secondly, the active members who would be willing to participate in setting direction are not necessarily representative of the majority, let alone new users whom the business might want to attract.

All of these drawbacks can be overcome, in my opinion, (after all, two of them exist in democratic governments) by adhering to three principles

  • clarity on the aims of the community and how both the company running it and the users will benefit
  • balance of benefits between operator and users with limits on both sides
  • realistic controls that meet the long-term objectives and concerns of the users while allowing the business to operate commercially from day-to-day

I am working on building these principles into a new community for the travel industry.  By focusing on a specific part of the travel industry, the community should also cater to a long-term interest that will help the community to survive (as long as it is well-run).  I will share my plans in more detail in future posts.

Maybe you have any experience of building or even just participating in communities that have long-term success in maintaining user commitment or enthusiasm?  If so, it would be great to hear your experiences.

Motivation and output

Motivation and output

Motivation to drive useful and creative output has been a focus for me at the start of this year.  The new year is always a time for setting goals and refocusing on the important tasks to be achieved.  But goal setting is useless unless there is a plan for achieving the goals.  The plan must be realistic and this involves reviewing past successes and failures and understanding what drove you to success and what hindered you when you failed.  For many people, myself included, a key element is ensuring that you are really motivated to achieve your goals; the motivation needs to be more than just words and should be tightly tied into your emotional needs (what makes you tick).

“Making lots of money” or “being successful” are too woolly as motivators.  Spell out what you are going to do with the money or how exactly will you be successful e.g. ensure my family’s financial security, buy a Ferrari, go on holiday of a lifetime, prove to everyone (and myself) that I can do it, be ranked the best in my department.

At the January meeting of the Mayfield Business Forum that I help organise, we discussed plans for 2013, how to set them, how to make sure they are realistic and how to keep on track in achieving them.  One of the very good ideas that came out of the meeting was that of putting your goals somewhere you could see them on a regular basis and so be reminded of what you were working for.  Ian Parker,  for example, had his goals on his mobile phone which provided a constant reminder.

Since the meeting I have created a screen saver on my PC consisting of two screens, one with two key goals and one with two key behaviours that I need to improve.  This has proved very useful since the screen saver is there when I have been away from my desk for a while. or when I have been interrupted by a conversation, and focuses me back on the essentials.   However, the effect is starting to wear off because it is always the same words and the same background that appear and the mind tends to switch off when seeing something so familiar.  I know I will have to refresh the words and image, the “story” I am sending to my brain.

All this made me very interested yesterday to read McKinsey‘s article on “Increasing the ‘meaning quotient’ of work”.  It highlights how people can be highly productive when at work but this usually only happens rarely.  It depends on the right environment in terms of

  • knowing what to do and having the skills to do it  – the IQ element
  • being supported to do it and having the soft skills (communication, empathy etc) – the EQ element
  • but also the concept of MQ, the Meaning Quotient, which is how to ensure that you, or your  staff and colleagues, feel that the task is worth doing

You need to read the whole article for all the insights this gives and I would encourage you to do so.  But one key thing the article highlights is the story that you tell (yourself and others) about the tasks in hand that make them meaningful and motivate you.

Different reasons will motivate ourselves and other people, and these may change over time and need to be refreshed.  But creating a rich story that we believe in is a key element of motivation, of working productively and so of reaching our goals.

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Such a thing as a free lunch

Such a thing as a free lunch

They say that there is no such thing as a free lunch but I disagree.  I have more than once been invited to a briefing where the lunch was free, and remember an IBM seminar in particular where I gained useful information as well as enjoying free sandwiches and drinks.

But these are trivial examples.  The more important examples come in the availability of open source software.

This week I was sent a mail detailing all the great new features in WordPress 3.4. I use WordPress for a number of websites that I have created for myself and for my clients – for example, theaibs.tv for the Association for International Broadcasting and movingmarketing.biz for my own video marketing project.  I use it for free and take advantage of great features and they keep on delivering more.  Thank you very much Matt Mullenweg and others.

Since this post is created on blogger.com., I should also thank Google for their continual updates of this and their other properties, of which I take advantage.

Of course, most software companies do not offer the services out of the goodness of their hearts – they want to make money on the service somehow.  This is often by advertising or offering freemium services (entry level for free, pro versions that cost).  But many ask for subscriptions but leave it entirely up to the user to donate what they think is appropriate.   Lots of users, myself included, respond with voluntary payments.

Being offered a good product or service for free accompanied by a low-key request for donations, builds loyalty just as free lunches make you feel grateful.  We should all examine what we can offer for free that maybe just builds reputation and kudos.   If you have a passion and something to offer, it may be a healthy option to make it a giveaway – healthy for you and ultimately healthy for your business.