Tag Archives: chrisbrogan

the inquirer

Photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

Chris Brogan posted today on the importance of building relationships with folks online before asking any favors of them, and it sort of pinged on some things I’ve been thinking about, too.

Here’s Chris’s post, The Distance of Your Ask.

His use of the word “ask” refers in his post, of course, to the favors we sometimes ask of each other, and especially the favors that we are hoping to obtain from people we know of online and WANT to meet, those whom we set out to have a relationship with, usually with some sort of self-serving end in mind.

You know, “networking.”

Sure, a lot of times I just want to meet someone so I can tell them I think they’re awesome, and that someone out there likes and admires their work.  It can be really hard to know that sometimes, and I know I always appreciate it when someone says similar things to me.

But sometimes I want to meet someone because I want to collaborate on them with a future project, and I hope they remember me and invite me, or will think to refer someone to me or my blog when a subject I write about comes up.

And sometimes I am approached by PR people, who want me to build awareness of their product.  Sometimes they try to build a relationship first, sometimes they don’t.  Mostly they don’t.

So what’s the way to build that vaunted “relationship” with someone, to create lines of reciprocity and trust?


I don’t mean ask in the sense that ask means “request,” but askin the sense that ask means “inquire.”

Yes, we all need to have a nice, short, pithy little elevator speech, just so we can locate ourselves helpfullly on the internal mind map of whomever we are speaking to.  But then we really need to stop with the declarative sentences that begin with “I” and start with the inquisitive sentences that start with those six little words journalists love so well:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How

Who was that you were just talking to? What are you working on now? Where did you eat lunch? When is your next product/book launch? Why are you wearing that button? How did you get to interview that guy last month?  Because that was great!

You get the idea.

I think we spend a lot of time worrying about what we are going to say about ourselves, what we should write in our press releases, what words will have more POP in our elevator speeches, when we might be better served by cooling it a little on ourselves and asking other folks about themselves.

If you’re like me, and a little nervous of making conversation with people you’ve just met (and especially those you have admired from afar), this method has the added bonus of making your end of the conversation much, much easier.

It’s this meaning of the word “ask” that I try to have emblazoned on the inside of my forehead when I’m in challenging social situations (read: all of them); this meaning of the word “ask” that I’d like to scrawl in black in on the palm of my hand when I get around new people.

So you might find that helpful too: Ask, before you Make An Ask.


put something down on it

Photo by flickr.com/slimdandy

Photo by flickr.com/slimdandy

Chris Penn reflected today on the future of podcasting, in response to something Chris Brogan wrote about the fragmentation of social media, and as a result, of its community and events.

Chris has been putting out a very professional, targeted, and (from what I can tell) successful podcast called The Financial Aid Podcast. In today’s post, he reflects on the really incredible time commitment necessary to really make a podcast work.

It takes a lot of time (and other resources) on a day-to-day basis to produce and promote a high caliber podcast like his. It also takes a serious, unflinching commitment of those resources over a long period of time to have a shot at any real, lasting success.

This is true for all social media projects, and it’s important to discuss the long haul very explicitly, with all your internal stakeholders, before getting started.

It is so important that everyone agrees at the outset what success will look like, how it will be measured, at what intervals you will be measuring your target metrics, and what weight you will assign to each interval over time.

Now is the time to find out whether or not key people expect to see thousands of active community members on your site within three months, or if you can agree on making a somewhat more gradual, sustainable growth curve your goal.

And get it in writing. Remember that staff turnover in nonprofits is incredibly rapid, and plan for each interval, if necessary, being evaluated by an entirely different IT team, different full-time staff, different executive director, different board of directors.

Ideally, you want to create a document that, if sealed in a time capsule and opened up by strangers, would spell out exactly what your goals, strategies, and tactics are going to be, and what responses you plan to put into effect if different benchmarks are met — or not.

It’s a technology plan, or even a social media plan, and it should be integrated, if at all possible, with your development plan and your communications plan. Write it up, get your board to sign off on it. Record it in the minutes.

Putting together this kind of an integrated plan requires a lot more time, it’s true, than just saying Let’s start a blog/podcast/facebook group and see where it takes us. But it can also offer much greater returns, and can give you two solid legs to stand on when times are tight and people start eying your budget as potential fat to be trimmed.

As Penn writes,

There is far more yet to come, if you are willing to have the vision, commitment, and dedication to achieve long term success. If you’re not willing to make that commitment, that’s okay, but don’t expect the same results as the folks who are.

lingua franca

Flickr.com/jeremybrooksEver since I started writing this blog, I’ve thought about my role in social media in terms of some of my favorite metaphors, like Translator, Interpreter, and Ambassador.

As time has gone on, I have only become more convinced that this is what I’m really good at, that this is really what I have to offer.

I’m a translator, and, like most translators, I spend my time straddling two different worlds. Hopping from one sphere to another, listening for common themes and for different ways to tell each other’s stories.

Something Chris Brogan wrote in today’s newsletter clarified some of that for me, and extracted a lovely robin’s egg of clarity out of what had become a bit of a bird’s nest of twigs.

Chris wrote part of his newsletter this week on how to talk to the “senior team” about blogging and social media. This is a topic that I care about deeply.

YOU’VE come to accept that blogging and social media are cool. You believe that Facebook has business value, and that Twitter, used correctly, might be the greatest idea in the universe to build customer relationships. But how will you convince the powers that be of all this? Connect to their state of mind, their words, and to your existing practices. (Italics mine)

That’s the key, right there. Connect to their state of mind.

Why should any of us want to spend our precious time learning about accounting, and economics, and finance, and traditional marketing principles?  Isn’t all this new stuff much, much cooler?

So we can speak the language of the decision makers. Honestly. They don’t really have the time of day for us unless we do.

And it’s not enough to just toss around the occasional buzzword or acronym, like ROI or SCR or whatever else people are muttering this week. To get deep, heartfelt buy-in, you need to have a deep understanding of what makes businesses and large organizations RUN. And, perhaps more importantly, what sends them running the other way.

But wait, I work at a nonprofit, right? Things are so much softer and fuzzier in nonprofits, right?


Get this: instead of only having to convince one CEO of the value of social media, I have a team of — that’s right — THIRTY Board Members (most are VPs or CEOs in banking, insurance, education, finance, real estate, etc.) to win over, on every single newfangled idea of mine.

Thirty. Every single one of them operating from a business point of view. Every single one of them very good at what they do.

So, rather than spend my time and theirs trying to get them to see my side of the story, I’m going to invest some serious time trying to figure out theirs. Because it turns out that their way of seeing things is a lot more common, a lot more pervasive, and in fact holds a lot more water in this world, than mine.

As Chris points out,

Businesses WANT to be innovative, but that costs money, involves risk, and rarely pans out.

Businesses and business leaders aren’t deliberately setting out to be killjoys, after all. They would love to be a step ahead of the field, and to stand out in a positive way. But there’s always that real chance that they might stand out in a bad way as a result of your brilliant social media idea, and that tends to be really very off-putting. And can you blame them? Who really wants to be on the list?

What I love doing more than anything else is teaching. And by teaching I don’t mean that I get to stand up at the front of the room and tell you all what I think is true. It means doing tons of research, digesting it all, finding the patterns, and then talking to a community about it in a way that resonates with THEM.

If I don’t speak your language — and understand your culture in a deep, meaningful way — then I’ve got a pretty slim chance of success.

I already know how I think. It’s how YOU think that interests me.

be who you are, and then some

My organization hosted an event this last weekend, with about 150 people — artists, business leaders, community leaders, etc. — in attendance. In the days leading up to the reception, several people called me to ask me what the dress code for the event was.

Now, things are pretty casual on Cape Cod, as a rule. Even fancy events don’t get that fancy. It’s just too much of a beach-and-leisure culture.

But many of the folks asking the question were artists who were being honored or featured in some way, and so my answer to them was “dress like an artist.”

And then they asked me what that meant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal branding, both because we just finished leading a class on this (and other) PR-related topics at work, and also because some of my favorite people have been writing about personal brand management lately, too.

A lot of folks get turned off by the idea that they should have a personal brand — that this all sounds way too market-y and salesman-y, especially for artists and other creative types.

Fact is, you have a personal brand. The only question is whether or not you’re aware, and are doing anything actively to manage it.

Your personal brand is nothing more or less than how you present yourself. This means in person, in writing, on the phone, online, at the grocery store when you don’t think anyone is looking — anytime you’re visible, you’re creating an impression.

Does this mean you have to always be “on?”

No, not as long as your personal brand is in alignment with who you actually are.

A friend of mine says of one of her favorite people that, no matter where you slice her, she’s the same through and through. It always makes me think of Neapolitan ice cream. No matter where you slice it, it’s always strawberry, vanilla, chocolate

Beyond this basic premise of Be Who You Are it’s just a matter of polishing yourself up a bit for public consumption.

For this polishing job, I lean on a second mantra: Be Who You Wish You Were.

I wish I were kinder, more thoughtful of others, more generous, less critical, and just generally nicer.

So I act as if I were.

I hope I am as responsible, helpful, and dependable as I like to think I am.

So I act as if I were.

What does it mean if I tell an artist to dress like an artist?

Be who you are. And then some.

(By the way, Chris Brogan really does have this one nailed as far as what a personal brand is, and why you should care. Please do read.)

why I am a blogger

I’m off to the Simmons Leadership Conference tomorrow, and I’m excited to meet some of the faculty in the Simmons MBA program, which hosts this annual conference. I’m particularly hoping that new faculty member Jill Avery will be around, since her teaching and research interests sound eerily similar to mine.

But before diving into bed to get some decent sleep before my 4:30 am wake-up call and 2-hour drive to Boston, I wanted to take a quick stab at answering Chris Brogan’s questions about my first steps in social media.

What were your first steps into social media?

Who were your early people you admired and followed?

How did you get started?

I started blogging in 2003, because I was working exclusively from home as a freelance book editor and had limited if any human contact on a daily basis.

I was lonely and desperately craved interaction.

I was reading the blogs of a few excellent people I had known in grad school, and those blogs led me to other blogs, and eventually I was reading and complaining to myself that those bloggers just weren’t posting nearly often enough, and I found myself writing long responses to their posts in the comments and one day somebody said why don’t you write your own posts and stop writing novels in my comments and I said OK.

Then one or two people found MY blog, and they started commenting, and became loyal readers, and this encouraged me tremendously. I kept writing, and reading, and commenting, and my circle grew ever wider.

I stopped editing books, and started helping others — especially artists and cultural organizations — learn how to get involved online, through blogs and social networks and other online forums. It’s work that I find more rewarding every single day. It’s a little embarrassing, almost, how much I love what I do.

I’m going to have to put off responding to the last two questions for tomorrow, after the conference, if I have any juice left, or Sunday, if I don’t.

Here are the questions:

If you were going to give advice to someone starting out, what would you tell them?

What will you do in the next few months with social media?

Of course I answer that question frequently on this blog, as that’s really the main question I am concerned with, how the beginner can get started, depending on their goals, needs, objectives, personality, time, skills, hair color, etc.

But what will I do in the next few months with social media?

THAT is a very interesting question indeed.

more blogs about buildings and food

Blahg Blahg Blahg

I gave a presentation on blogging — should you blog? why and how? — at Geek Girl Camp Cape Cod Thursday night. It was a first-time event, this Geek Girl Camp thing, and so it was hard to know quite what to expect.

I knew that it was sold out. There were 100 women and girls crammed into one conference room at the Heritage House Hotel in Hyannis.

Any event that succeeds in drawing over 100 women who are interested in technology, but consider themselves beginners, to an evening of speakers on a variety of wonky topics has to be deemed a success on some level.

The Digital Divide

Now, Cape Cod as a region is admittedly not the most technologically engaged.

As a region, the Cape is:

  • Home to a disproportionate number of seniors and retirees, compared with other parts of the US
  • Geographically cut off from the mainland, which is often more of a psychological barrier than a physical one
  • Composed of many diffuse neighborhoods, and few centralized downtowns
  • Dependent on a heavily seasonal economy, with a large population living at or near the poverty line

So the digital divide here runs wide and deep.

I do a lot of work with local artists in my line of work, helping them use technology, the internet, online communities, etc., to market themselves and their work, to make a greater portion of their income from their art, and to connect with and get support from other artists.

So I’m used to speaking about these issues to individuals and groups who are at least hesitant about technology, if not downright resistant.

That’s why it’s so useful to be tugged in the right direction on a regular basis by folks like Chris Brogan, who once again sounds the call in his newsletter to avoid talking about the technology in favor of talking about what it can do for people:

If you lead into the talk with words like “wiki” and “RSS” and “Twitter,” you might as well turn around and walk out. Business is about doing business, not learning new and amazing things.

It’s your job as the cool hunter to sift through it all, find the stuff that’s a good fit, and talk about how it applies to the way things are being done now.

Free and Easy

Talks about starting a blog (including mine) tend to include a song and dance about how it’s “free” and “easy.”

When of course it’s really neither.

Blogs take time, and your time is worth a lot. We only have a certain amount of hours in a day. If you spend a few hours blogging, that’s a few hours you didn’t spend on other parts of your job, or on your family, or on feeding the hungry, or sleeping or dancing or holding hands.

And writing isn’t “easy” for the majority of the population, either. It happens to be something I’m pretty happy doing, but that’s far from true for everybody.

I know that if someone went around talking about how solving simultaneous equations was free and easy, I’d want to smack them, hard.

So it’s really relative. And to people who remain skeptical, it is anything but self-evident that any of this is worth their time and the grief it might take them to learn it.

But at least ten of those women and girls assembled on Thursday night told me on their way out the door that their minds had been changed about the usefulness of blogs, and that they were going to start blogs that very night.

So we must be doing something right.

And maybe ten other people in that room heard my talk, and decided that nope, writing a blog right now wasn’t right for them.

And that’s a good result, too.

I’m less of an evangelist these days than an educator. Here’s what this thing is, here’s how it might help, and here’s why it might not.

Act accordingly.

What about you? Do you evangelize? Or do you do something else?


I took a week off from writing, for several very good reasons, and now I’m back.

Miss me?

Of course you didn’t.

One of the reasons I took a brief sabbatical was my reaction to this post by Chris Brogan on what it felt like to not have a blog for eight days.

In it, he talks about how losing this communications tool made him feel blind, deaf, and mute. He then wonders how this extends to companies who don’t blog — they lack this incredibly effective sounding board/community builder/line of communication, but they don’t know what they’re missing:

Should all companies blog? Not sure. But boy, I sure felt wrapped in gauze by NOT having some kind of sounding board back and forth.

That’s an interesting question, for exploring another time. You can be all bound up in the most pleasant, softest gauze, and not know how trammeled you are. Blah blah blah gilded cage blah. Anyway:

So I wanted to know how it felt to not blog for a week. I’ve been blogging since 2003, and I’ve always either been consistently blogging on my own site, or as a weekly columnist on other sites, so this would be the longest non-blogging spell in five years for me.

How did it feel?

When I was in middle school, I hated school. I was good at it, but I had few friends, I was terribly awkward, and my peer group was, shall we say, less than supportive of me in my struggles to navigate my early teen years.

In middle school, I sometimes skipped school altogether and spent the day in Provincetown. The outsider culture there, especially in the off-season, suited me fine.

I’d buy some Portuguese sweet bread at the Portuguese bakery on Commercial Street, some fudge at the fudge shop near Town Hall (these were the only two stores open during the winter in the mid-eighties), and sit on the wharf and enjoy the solitude.

Things changed dramatically for me in high school. I lost weight, and a lot of my awkwardness. I found friends. I not only did well academically, I thrived socially. I had, in short, a blast.

Suddenly, I hated missing school, because I felt like I was missing out on the unfolding drama of high school life. I felt like a missed day would mean I had missed out on all sorts of things that were happening, and I didn’t want to hear about them second-hand, I wanted to be there. I wanted to contribute.

That’s what it felt like to not blog for a week. Like I was missing out on the unfolding drama.

The worst of it is, life goes on without you.

So last night, as I reflected on my week of self-imposed silence, I wondered what it was that I was doing to actually contribute to this unfolding story. How, exactly, am I adding value? How can I add more?

Here’s what I decided:

One of the greatest strengths of this whole new media/social media world is that we each have a voice. It’s so open and democratic, and so easy to self-publish in so many different ways.

I often advise people to learn the culture of blogging and social networks before jumping in, but it’s also incredibly important to bring your own self, and not to mold yourself into what you think your online persona should be.

But it can be easy to assimilate too much, and to take on too much of the accent and mannerisms of those who came before and found success here.

What I want to do is be authentic first, last, and always. Because that’s how I (and you) can add value.

I’m a very quirky individual, with a meandering and non-linear path that brings me to this moment, at this keyboard.

Rather than try to hide those quirks, to fit into my projection of an idealized version of myself (which is, I believe, one definition of the word avatar), I’m going to embrace them more, expose them more, and explore them more.

It’s really defeating the purpose of this democratic, wide open space out here if I’m trying to be someone I’m not. Why bother? That’s so totally not why we’re here.

I’m not saying that I have been. Just that I’d better not, and that I’m sure I can do better.

I’m guessing that you’re quirky, too.

Nice to meet you.