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Archive for February, 2010

Cain must have slept pretty well last night based on the workout experience he had the previous day.  After one of our longer walks yesterday morning, I thought I’d take him in for a well-overdue bath and brushing at a local grooming shop.  It was time to clean him up and try to eliminate a growing odor from his matted winter coat.  I’ve given him baths at home in the past, but he’s clearly not a fan.  Our last episode left our bathroom walls, mirrors and ceiling spattered with rinsewater shaken from his coat and sent him dashing around the rest of the house trying to dry himself on any carpet, rug or bed he could find.  My wife was not pleased – and I was drenched and beaten.

So this time, I outsourced the work to professional groomers that I found on Facebook (yes, even pet grooming has hit social media).  Three-and-a-half hours later, the deed was done and I went to pick up a clean but completed exhausted husky who had obviously treated his groomer to 15-rounds of big time dog-wrestling.  Based on the bill I received, I think I was the biggest loser of the match. 

The growth of social media in the past couple years has been astounding.  In the US, there were 142 million unique visitors to social media sites in December 2009, with each visitor spending 143% more time on social media vs December 2008.  As a result, the retail industry is expected to increase their social media marketing budgets by 79% in 2010.  Likewise, publishing and media will be up 63%, manufacturing and packaged goods up 53%, travel & leisure up 52% and education and healthcare up 43%. 

Overall, businesses are increasing their spending on digitial marketing and social media by an average of 17% this year, much of it at the expense of traditional media (TV, print and radio).  Pepsi launched it’s $20 million “Refresh Project” on Facebook, opting to not publicize this community-based campaign via Super Bowl TV ads, where Pepsi had spent $33 million last year.   Ford Motor Company, the only automotive firm not receiving a federal bailout, is spending 25% of their marketing budget this year on social media, compared to an average of 9% for the rest of their industry. 

Why is this shift occuring?  It’s because social media is where their customers are; it’s where businesses are now getting the greatest return on their marketing investment; and it’s where they can have more direct “conversations” with their customers about their products and services. 

If you haven’t seen it before, the “Social Media Revolution” video below provides an excellent basis for understanding this trend.  Social media is clearly not just a fad – it has quickly become a most effective vehicle for growing business and improving our products and services everywhere.

Social Media Revolution – video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhPgUcjGQAw&feature=channel

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Clearly they weren’t kidding about the 5 to 7 inches of snow expected overnight and throughout today.  My initial plan was to wait it out, leave the snowblower in the shed until late this afternoon when most of the dumping was done.  Blow it all at once, I figured – my 12-year-old snowblower (or is it 20?) can still handle 6 inches without too much stress.  Why double the effort by doing it now and then again later?  Satisfied with this approach, I at least convinced myself to prepare the snowblower by gassing it up and moving it to the garage for a more strategic frontal attack. 

By the time I reached the shed, I was covered in snow, standing in at least 8 inches of wet, snowman-caliber building material and coming to the realization that if I don’t clear it now, the snowblower will be spitting, coughing and likely dying on me during any later attempt. 

Two hours later, the snow is falling harder than ever, the driveway is lined with 20 inch banks – and Cain wants to go for a walk.  Wet all over from snow and sweat, I grab his leash and my iPod and we trudge our way through the neighborhood, channeling our steps through the few quickly disappearing tire tracks in the snow.  Ironically, the first song I hear on the iPod is Suzy Bogguss’s 1992 hit song, “Drive South“.  Great advice, I figured.  Although I don’t think I’ve even make it out of the subdivision today.

Making the final turn back toward home, my next door neighbor and his son-in-law are armed with shovels and trying to keep pace with the storm.  In the middle of their driveway sits the saddest excuse for a snowblower I’ve ever seen; an obviously crippled mass of green metal, with a scarred and tattered plastic snow-throwing chute held together by spaghetti strands of grey duct tape and ribbons of bell wire.  I could only shake my head at him.  After we shared a chuckle over that, I walked Cain home and returned next door with my own snowblower to finish the job.  Only wish I would have remembered to take my camera with me to capture the green spaghetti machine for posterity.  I think my neighbor would be insulted or at least embarrassed if I went back again to take a picture, so you’ll have to visualize it yourself.

Time to dry out, get some lunch and prepare for Phase Two sometime before dark.  Assuming it stops snowing by then……

USA!  USA!  USA!   US Olympic Hockey Team beats Canada, 5-3, led by Michigan native and MSU grad Ryan Miller in goal.

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The Concept of Sharing

This weekend’s warmer temperatures and the growing temptation to Think Spring bring a quicker pace to the morning walks that Cain and I share.  One less layer of clothes, lighter shoes and streets clear of ice and snow tend to loosen the muscles a little easier and make us both feel a bit younger than our winter bodies actually are.  Our walks now are beginning the annual process of getting back into playing shape, kind of a “spring training” for cabin fever victims (and their dogs).  It’s a responsibility we both share, with Cain as my daily encouragement (to the point of harassment) to get moving, and me as the enabler to his never-ending search for treasures and new scents along our route.  Mutual contribution – mutual benefits.  Give and take.  Action and reaction.  Ying and Yang.  It’s how the world works – in relationships, in science, and in business.

Social media and the digital world offer a whole new dimension to this concept of sharing and mutual benefit.  With an instantaneous network for communication and a host of tools and applications to facilitate it, people are sharing information like never before.  Friends new and old are texting, “tweeting” and documenting their personal thoughts and lives through sites like Facebook and MySpace.  Career-minded professionals are profiling themselves on LinkedIn and Xing.com.  Bloggers are writing articles, offering opinions and creating new content that can be reused by others.  And businesses and news organizations are publishing their products and services through their own websites, while extending their reach through Twitter, Facebook and online public relations campaigns. 

So why are they sharing?  It’s the search for, or more importantly, the need for the response, that resulting reaction that has value.  The response that will help make a decision, build a relationship, form an opinion, or demonstrate interest in a person, product or service.  It’s the validation that what we share is important or meaningful to someone else, whether personally, professionally, or for the viability and growth of a business.  Sharing is our attempt to become relevant to the world.  A response to our sharing confirms that we are, while helping us improve to become even more relevant and important.  It drives our lives, our relationships and our businesses.

On a side note, it will be interesting this week to see how much sharing will actually occur and what reactions will be invoked when President Obama meets with our representatives this week to discuss healthcare.  Up to now, I’m not convinced the concept of sharing has worked in the ethereal world of politics.

Pitchers and catchers are now reporting for baseball’s Spring Training down south, so clearly spring is approaching.  So we’ll just overlook tomorrow’s forecast for another 8 inches of snow here.  Glad to see Detroit has signed Johnny Damon – hopefully he’ll have sufficient value to share with the Tigers this year!

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Temptations of Spring

This morning introduces one of those “temptation days” that occur each February or March in this part of the country.  Bright sunshine, reasonable and warming temperatures, melting snow and the beginning of a weekend.  It’s the lure of an early spring, a light in the tunnel that carries a feeling of optimism and freedom from the dog days of winter.  While we know it won’t last, Cain and I are energized for our walk and head out to the clear and dry pavement, trading in my boots for sneakers for the first time this year.

As an avid news junkie, I’ve noticed that there have been a number of fairly dramatic and diverse news stories hitting the digital and broadcast networks this past week.  It’s interesting and even emotionally draining to hear about and absorb so many different events and the feelings they stir during the course of a week, even in the course of a day.  But this week has been particularly wide-ranging and intense.  As a result, I offer my list of ten top stories of the week, categorized by key themes that seem to capture the range of emotions we feel when learning about them.  

Victory – 3 US Olympic athletes, led by injured Lindsey Vonn, win gold medals in Vancouver.  http://bit.ly/caCUGF 

Love – Cancer-free dad sees son in the Olympics.  http://bit.ly/bHO634

Inspiration – Owner of multi-million dollar company hands over business to employees. http://bit.ly/c07GIH  

Humor – Police capture escaped zebra in Atlanta.  http://bit.ly/cJklg5

Joy – 6 months late, couple wins Indiana lottery.  http://bit.ly/9OmxFH 

Stress – Toyota deals with recalls.  http://bit.ly/b4Egjq 

Remorse – Tiger Woods makes his apology.  http://bit.ly/c9lm6o 

Threat – Iran working on nuclear warhead.  http://bit.ly/drSBf4 

Tragedy – Man crashes plane into building.  http://bit.ly/bWrwAk 

Loss – ConocoPhillips exec dies in Alaska avalanche.  http://bit.ly/d0FzmM

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A Bridge For Everyone

It’s snowing this morning; a soft, windless snow that drifts slowly to the ground and sprinkles the hard-packed sheet of snow and ice on the road with a fresh coat of white.  Cain is fully energized and pulling harder than I ever remember on his leash to get to the streets.  He desperately wants to run, leaping up off the ground before the leash tightens and drops him back to earth, putting a pretty good strain on my left rotator cuff.  I tell him I’d run with him if I could, but the slippery conditions, my flat feet and my own lack of conditioning (can’t be age!) insist on a slower pace.

Despite their intelligence and playfulness, Siberian Huskies are pretty stubborn dogs.  They are difficult to train, as they seem to have problems distinguishing discipline from play time.  Our only real struggle with Cain has always been the fear of him getting loose in the neighborhood.  These temporarily liberating escapes for him inevitably turn out to be an exhausting and extremely frustrating adventure for me trying to lure him back.  He interprets my advances as a game of chase and he’s learned to be wisely suspicious of open hands holding lunch meat, hot dogs or whatever other treats I might find to tempt him closer.  Half the time he’s caught, it’s with the help of a brave neighbor who might get close enough to him to grab his harness (sometimes accompanied by a low growl).  The other times, I think Cain just feels sorry for me and gives himself up so we can play this game again next time. 

Fortunately, Cain has only been loose once since we brought him back from California.  Of course now that I’ve pointed that out, I’m sure his next escape will happen tomorrow.

Our two children are grown, married and moved out, living in Ohio and California respectively.  And all four are now bucking the current mass exodus from Michigan (due to the economy and automotive industry decline) and trying to return closer to home.  I’ve come to realize that so much more of their personal lives and careers are supported by (and to a degree, dependent upon) electronic media than what my wife and I have experienced.  The internet has brought the world to their fingertips, giving them immediate access to information and answers that we struggled for years ago.  They shop, find entertainment, “virtually” explore destinations, pay their bills, communicate with others, read books and articles, get the latest news – essentially run their daily lives – electronically.  Their careers are also highly reliant on these technologies; my daughter, son-in-law and daughter-in-law are in the retail industry, now being transformed through online sales; and my son is in computer animation and gaming, essentially a whole new industry driven by electronic and digital technology.

Empowered with easy access to so much information and incredible new capabilities to conduct personal and professional business, there is an interesting dichotomy occuring.  This growing autonomy is creating greater isolation of individuals.  Increased personal productivity is leading to smaller, more dispersed teams or loosely-connected individuals in the workforce.  Social lives and personal business are being managed more and more from home in the glow of a computer monitor.  As a result, people are beginning to feel isolated and detached, with fewer personal interactions and relationships than they’ve experienced in the past.

This is one trend that is drawing in social media to help.  The explosion of social media tools such as Facebook (now over 400 million users) and Twitter (45 million) reflect the need to bridge that autonomy/relationship gap by connecting and re-connecting friends, families, business associates and others.  Networks are being built; conversations are taking place; information is being shared – all at a much faster pace than have ever happened before. 

People need these connections and relationships.  Social media helps bring them closer, while also creating an incredible opportunity for businesses join in these conversations and build their own relationships with future digitally-empowered customers.

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It’s not uncommon to see white-tailed deer in our neighborhood, especially in the spring and fall when the weather is changing and nature stirs new birth and old mating habits.  During our walks in the winter months, Cain and I see plenty of deer tracks criss-crossing the snow on neighbors’ lawns before trailing off into the nearby woods.  There have been several mornings when I’ve risen before dawn to find does and fawns siphoning birdseed from the feeder we stock in front of our house.  Most mornings, Cain ignores the deer tracks during our walks, instead directing his nose on the scents of other dogs who’ve passed along the same route.  But this morning was a little different.

Just as we were finishing our walk, Cain stopped firmly in front of our house and immediately buried his head under a peppering of deer tracks in the snow.  He dug deep, until half his body was covered by the foot-deep snowpile.  He then began squirming, rubbing the sides of his head against the ground, one side then the other, as if he was caught up in some kind of nuzzling frenzy.  Maybe something in the deer scent had finally triggered him, or maybe he was suddenly overcome by an terrible itch to his head that the snow seemed to relieve.  Whatever the reason, a minute later he was back on his feet, ready to finish our walk and find his bowl for a cool drink of water.

Yesterday my wife and I took a short trip to visit our new “grand-nephew”  (our nephew’s son) for the first time.  Now that our expanding family has added a new generation (including our own grandson), it’s interesting to see how family news and updates are communicated these days. 

Since personal visits are increasingly rare due to schedules, travel distance, costs and other coordination difficulties, more and more family members have embraced technology and social media tools to keep in touch.  What started with email and cellular text messages have evolved to more effective media.  Facebook has become the generally accepted home for our current photos, status updates, conversation starters and venting of daily frustrations.  Video calls via Live Messenger or Skype are increasingly being used to nurture personal connections and bring us closer together when geography gets in the way.  While they can’t fully replace the warmth and comfort of in-person visits, these “traditional” uses of social media tools (if something still so relatively new can be considered “traditional”)  are becoming ever more relevant and necessary to support our family network. 

And it’s happening everywhere for families, friends, schoolmates, alumni, professional colleagues, fans – and increasingly for businesses (at least those that are paying attention!).  Our society is moving to electronic communications platforms to foster and extend their relationships, to talk about what they like and don’t like, what they need and where they are going.  They (we) are setting trends, sharing experiences about products and services and re-defining how they live and work.  This is real-time, unfiltered market research – a digital view of the marketplace for any smart business person to understand and capitalize on.   And this traditional use of social media is rapidly evolving into something even more dynamic and powerful that will change how we do business forever. 

Happy Valentine’s Day to my wife, our kids, our grandson and all of our extended family.  Traditions like this holiday remind us of the importance to hold onto each other (even if it is through a “virtual” social media hug!).

Even the “Best Songs” heard on my iPod this morning keep my traditions alive (true classics!).

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Kairos

As Cain and I take to the plowed but still snow-covered streets this morning, it has become apparent that we’ve been officially engulfed by the “dog days” of winter.  While the traditional hot and humid dog days of summer are far ahead, these winter days share the similar traits of a repetitive stretch of relatively consistent weather, a mostly uneventful period ideal for developing or cementing new routines, and a perfect time for planning changes in direction and pursuing new opportunities in the months ahead.

A couple of posts ago (see Archives), I mentioned the word “kairos” and the need to make the most of this concept.  I stumbled onto this ancient Greek word (pronounced KY-ross or KY-russ) recently and have adopted it as part of my business name and an integral part of my thinking going forward.  Kairos signifies “opportunity” and represents a key moment in time when, with the appropriate action taken, major success can be achieved.  It has been said that kairotic moments can alter destiny.  At the same time, letting these moments pass without taking any action can be highly regrettable.  It’s all about making the right steps at the right time.

For the ancient Greeks, Kairos was also the god of opportunity, the youngest child of Zeus.  He was depicted with wings on his feet, signifying his swiftness and fleeting presence, while he displayed a youthful beauty that never receded.  Kairos also had a flowing lock of hair from his forehead only, indicating that he was easy to catch as he approaches, but impossible to do so once he had passed.  

Kairos - Greek god of Opportunity

With all of the chaos in our country today, the economic meltdown, the loss of jobs, and the subsequent toll on individuals and businesses, it’s easy to lose sight of what promise may lie ahead.  Robert F. Kennedy once said, “All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don’t.  And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.” 

Clearly, each of us have great opportunities ahead.  It’s up to us to embrace our kairos and take the right action at these opportune moments.

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