Execution Trumps Strategy at What's Next DC

Execution trumps strategy, according to Rachel Tipograph, social media director for the Gap. She was a very wise speaker on the “how” of actually getting things done in large organizations. Creating meaningful experiences online is more important than endless rounds of strategy and planning. As I listened to her speak at What’s Next DC, I watched heads bobbing in agreement around the room.

Execution > Strategy. Which is how I feel about conferences devoted to social media. How can you develop the perfect social media strategy in an ever-changing environment, especially when success is determined by the audience? It’s better to dive in, create something, and see what works.

I was at What’s Next DC thanks to my own bit of execution – I made a pithy comment on the importance of storytelling on GovLoop and won a free ticket to this conference on digital marketing. Continue reading “Execution Trumps Strategy at What's Next DC”

Don't Outsource Social Media to Interns

I’m old enough to remember the early days of the web. Back then (not too long ago, the 1990s), organizations didn’t take this online medium seriously. The web site paled in importance to the newsletter or magazine, at least according the leaders of the time. After all, who reads things on a computer? The Internet was a place for nerds and geeks, for them to discuss Star Trek trivia and learn arcane HTML codes.

If you ran a company or a nonprofit, you really didn’t need a web site, or so people believed. And if you wanted a web site, you could have your nephew build it. He could make something flashy and “cool” like MySpace.

I see the same attitude today toward social media. Why should an organization invest in Facebook or Twitter? Let the interns handle it…

But would you trust an intern to be the voice of your organization? That’s the point I made in a recent article in AOL Government. If you accept the fact that social media is important (and you should, because that’s where the audience is), then why would you hand over these communication efforts to those who know the least about your company? Do you trust college kids to spread your message, respond to questions and interact with potential customers? Do they know the hot-button issues within your company? The language that you use with customers? Your customer service standards and policies? The things that they’re *not* supposed to talk about?

And what happens when the interns leave? They take all that hard-won knowledge about your organization with them, as well as valuable expertise in social media. And they may take the Twitter account as well.

Social media is too important to be left to a transient workforce. Companies and organizations should take a deliberate approach to this dynamic new tool. The keys to the social media kingdom shouldn’t be in the hands of someone who just walked in the door.

Your voice online should be controlled by someone who both knows your company and is familiar with the culture of the web and social media. Look around – you probably have someone already with the requisite experience and interest. They’re probably doing something perceived as more important. But what’s more important than representing your brand in a medium that reaches millions?

We Are All Content Marketers Now

Content marketing is defined as:

the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases.

We’re all in the marketing biz now, defined by the content that’s available about us online. Whether it’s a post about World of Warcraft in a gaming forum, a Facebook complaint about teenagers at the mall, or a well-sourced article in a scholarly journal, our identities are a function of the web. We may be very different people in real life, but for potential employers, customers, friends or romantic partners, first impressions are formed by what pops up during a Google search.

Unless you’re living off the grid in some Nevada desert, this information, this shadow-version of your self exists in cyberspace. Details about your life are posted online (like that you finished in 122nd place in the local fun run), without you probably even being aware of it.

You could rage against this loss of identity or you could do something about it. Content marketing is doing something about it. Instead of just being a viewer of content, start actively creating it. Register a site in your own name. Create a blog. Tweet, comment on stories and contribute to online forums.

But do so consciously. Be aware that you’re shaping your personal brand online. Think about the searches that people will be doing in the future and how you want to appear in them. Don’t let other people define you – use content marketing to shape your image online.

Boom and Bust Published in SPLIT

split logoMy short story Boom and Bust has been published in the online literary journal SPLIT. Boom and Bust is a satire, told from the perspective of a self-deluded marketing consultant. Obsessed by money and status, my narrator represents all that’s wrong with America these days. In my story, he’s helping an evil CEO escape the wrath of shareholders.

SPLIT is a new online magazine designed to showcase emerging talent in the art of storytelling. “Spill” is the theme of the second issue of the magazine. SPLIT features poetry, photography, a novel excerpt and even a short film.

Boom and Bust is part of a novel that I’ve been working on. Check out the further adventures of my consulting friend in the short story, Don’t Mess Up My Block.

Lessons from the Fire – Part Two

Fans and a large dehumidifier cope with some water damage on my floor.

So, late one afternoon, my building caught fire. My apartment was fine; other people weren’t so lucky. This is part two of lessons learned. Check out part one for my initial thoughts on having a backup plan and other realizations.

Stuff Matters!

It would be nice if I had a zen-like approach to material possessions. I think I lead a fairly minimalist life but when I couldn’t get back into the building, all I thought about was my stuff. I knew the fire didn’t reach my apartment but I was worried about water damage. I pictured water pouring down on my brand new MacBook Pro and soaking the pillow-top mattress that I like so much. Plus, books, photos, art, letters from friends, keepsakes, personal items, clothes and everything else.

I’m glad that I have renters’ insurance (that’s really a must) but so much of the analog stuff that really matters is irreplaceable. Continue reading “Lessons from the Fire – Part Two”

Lessons from the Fire – Part One

So, late one afternoon, my building caught fire. My apartment was fine; other people weren’t so lucky. This is part one of lessons learned. Check out part two for my thoughts on the importance of communication after the fire.

I got the call around 6:30 PM.

“Oh, Joe, I think your building is on fire.”

It was a friend of mine, John Hanshaw, who lives nearby. He could see my apartment building and said that it was surrounded by fire engines.

I really didn’t believe him at first. DC sends out fire trucks for everything. They roll not just for fires, but for medical calls as well. This is because the ambulances are unreliable and sometimes can’t find the right address. The thinking is that the local fire company knows the neighborhood better.

But this makes the city a “land of sirens”, with fire trucks constantly racing down streets, sirens blaring. After a while, the commotion becomes so much background noise. Continue reading “Lessons from the Fire – Part One”

DCWEEK Fires Up Techies

fire dancer at DCWEEK

What do fire dancers have to do with technology?  Attendees at the opening night party of DC Week had a chance to find out.  Digital Capital Week (DCWEEK) is a 10 day festival in Washington, DC focused on technology, innovation and all things digital in our nation’s capital. DCWEEK takes place in venues throughout Washington and runs from June 11th to June 20th, 2010.  The mission of DCWEEK is to strengthen the capital region’s digital economy via a ten day series of events focused on creativity, technology, entrepreneurship, marketing, content creation and innovation.

The week began with a party in Blagden Alley that brought together the worlds of art and technology.  Web developers, social media experts, writers, transparency advocates, government geeks, photographers and venture capitalists were inspired by bands, video displays, free beer and women twirling flaming hula hoops.  Set in a historic downtown alley, the party was a casual and creative affair where you could meet some of the brightest minds in DC.

But that was just the start.  DCWEEK continued over the weekend with CityCamp, an “unconference” that brought together local government officials and technologists, with the aim of building a better District of Columbia.

All week long, this festival of innovation continues with workshops on gaming, accessibility, communications, media relations and much more.  And since it’s not your normal conference, DCWEEK also includes happy hours, tweetups, a “schmooze cruise”, a flash picnic on the Mall and even a social media comedy show.

DCWEEK demonstrates that tech doesn’t have to be boring.  After seeing someone twirl fire, how could you not be inspired to try something new?

DCWEEK Fires Up Techies

2009 Highlights


It’s the end of the year, and the end of a decade. What were my favorite projects of 2009? What did I have the most fun working on?

Murder in Ocean Hall

I can’t help myself, I like to write fiction. People have asked me how I could leave my job and then spend countless hours alone, in a coffee shop, writing a novel. I’ve offered advice on setting a schedule and being committed, but the truth is that writing a book is a huge sacrifice and something that you must really, really want to do. And something that you must enjoy doing more then anything else. Continue reading “2009 Highlights”

The Disintermediation Moment

With the advent of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader and the growing acceptance of e-books among readers and writers, it’s safe to say that we’ve reached what I’d call the Disintermediation Moment. This is the time when industries collapse, driven by changes in consumer behavior and expectations. Technology offers new solutions, eagerly adopted by ordinary people, but resisted by middlemen and gatekeepers who want to retain their status, control and income. Continue reading “The Disintermediation Moment”

The Internet Life of One Photo

A few weeks ago, I received the following email:

Hi Joe,

I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, to California last summer, and brought an unfinished painting of Papago Buttes along with me.  I looked around for a photograph to help me finish the painting, and I found one that seems to be attributed to you on Wikipedia.  The shot helped me enormously, and I ended up finishing the painting and giving it to a friend.

The more I learn about artwork and photography, the more I realize that asking permission before using a photo, even when referring to it for painting, is the right thing to do.  I just wanted to be in touch to apologize for failing to do this, and to offer to email you a photograph of my finished painting.  I think you’re a good photographer and you helped me by sharing your image online.


Robert Collins Continue reading “The Internet Life of One Photo”