Archive for August, 2010

Kade Dworkin missed his calling. He should have been a TV or radio show host.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kade for his “meet my followers” series of podcasts in which he gets to know… well, some of his followers on Twitter. The premise is basically this: 140 characters at a time is not the best way to get to know someone. Talking to them live is still a more effective mode of communications.

Not a bad way to get some background info and trivia on me, what I do, and how I do it.

Background notes: We had to stop the interview for a few seconds due to a parrot brawl outside my office. Yes, parrots. Screeching. (True story.)

Click on the above image or here to listen to the interview. Oh, and I may have mentioned a few of you during the interview. Ahem.

*         *         *

One final note about my new Twitter avatar (see below): That’s not a moustache I’m sporting in that photo. It is just a day’s worth of stubble. The stache is more or less an optical illusion.

Now, to illustrate, this is a stache:

See the difference?

So, in closing… Tom Selleck: Moustache. Olivier Blanchard: No moustache.

Update: In case you want to play, below is the complete field guide to typestaches, courtesy of @iPrash and @surekhapillai.

Source: Torweeks.blogspot.com

Carry on.

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Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at Smartbrief and SocialFish’s final #Buzz2010 workshop of the summer.

Before I get to the presentation, why not get warmed up with…

Making Sense of Social Media R.O.I. (Smartbrief)

by Rob Birgfeld

The chatter around ROI seems to be as loud as ever. What would you attribute this to? Are we at a pivotal moment for business proving value for social media activities?

The chatter around social-media ROI is as strong as ever for two reasons: The first is simply because ROI [points to] one of the most important questions an organization can ask before green-lighting a social-media program: I could spend this budget somewhere else — Why should I spend it on social media? Before any other questions can be asked, you have to start with “why.”

The second is that most social-media “experts” seem incapable of… (more)


Does your Social Media Campaign Pass the F.R.Y. Test? (Smartbrief)

by Jesse Stanchak

“Money is money.”

That might sound like the simplest business lesson there is — the kind of thing most people understand before they even learn to read. But as  Olivier Blanchard noted at the Buzz2010 event (full disclosure: SmartBrief helped organize the event) it’s often the first business principle people ignore when they start talking about social media. Social-media gurus love to pretend that ROI stands for “return on involvement” or “return on innovation.” But it doesn’t. It’s return on investment — as in money.

Word of mouth is not money. Engagement is not money. Buzz is not money. Those things can all be gateways to money, but unless you can make the conversion, they’re all ultimately worthless. Only money is money.

Social media isn’t free. The time it takes to run a social-medial campaign diverts resources (time, talent, technology) from other activities. So it needs… (more)

and even the piece from Maddie Grant, over at Social Fish,

and the one from Maggie McGary.

Also check out the sort-of complete Twitter transcript of the event here.

Okay, so now, the presentation. The Social Media R.O.I. part starts on page 31, I think. Everything leading to that builds context. Not every slide will be clear without me narrating, but you should still be able to follow pretty easily.

The twist here is this: The presentation takes the Social Media R.O.I. narrative you have already seen and heard from me, and applies it to NFPs (not for profit organizations) and Associations.

Ah, so.

If the presentation doesn’t work with your browser, here is the link to the deck on slideshare.

I hope this helps. Feel free to share this with all your NFP friends and clients.

Disclosure: Social Fish and SmartBrief are clients – they hired me to speak at their event. I also sit on Smartbrief’s Social Media Advisory Board.

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Afghan "Shura" - Source: US Navy

A debater with thin skin is much like a soldier without composure: He isn’t much good to his craft, not to mention his cause.

I find myself debating a lot these days. Many of the topics revolve around business, brand management, crisis communications, Social Media, R.O.I. and marketing, while others touch on far more important ones like geostrategy, culture, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and Constitutional law. I believe debate to be a healthy pursuit – not simply an entertaining passtime – and engage in it with both delight and passion. I relish the opportunity to face off against another’s intellect and wit, especially when the act of debating an issue helps bring a discussion back from a place of hateful discord to one of mutual respect, if only for a few minutes.

It doesn’t mean both parties will agree or that one side will convert the other. I am not that naïve. All it means is that both parties will discuss the issue with respect towards each other. Debate is at its best an exercise in civility, at its worst an ugly, pointless brawl or shouting match.

The latter happens when emotions rather than reason get the best of someone involved.

Before you get to riled up, consider this that if debate is indeed a manner of combat (and it is,) it at least has the virtue of being bloodless. As such, it is a gentleman’s (and likewise a lady’s) sport. Losing an argument isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it may come with its share of benefits, not the least of which may be an education.

Now might be a good time to point out that debates are not about proving that one’s feelings about an issue should prevail. Debates are about arguing points, not feelings. “My feelings are more right than your feelings,” is an impossible argument. You might as well try to argue that your choice of a favorite color is better than someone else’s choice of their favorite color. It is completely pointless.

In every debate are two conjoined threads: One holds fast to reason while the other weaves itself into feelings and emotions. unless you want your exchange to degenerate into mindless hysterics, always focus on the former. While passion can – and should – drive a debate, it should never be the instrument of its discourse. Ever.

How this translates to this blog and exchanges I might have with you on Facebook, Twitter or even in the real world of face-to-face interactions is this: I will never tell you that your feelings about an issue are wrong. I may, however, tell you that your thinking around an issue is.

And then prove it to you.

When this happens, here’s how to best me: Prove me wrong. Not with feelings, not with arguments about feelings, and certainly not with anger, scorn, insults or threats. Best me with reason. If you make your argument, I will yield. (Gladly, in fact.) It happens regularly.

If you cannot make your argument, break off, give the topic of discussion more thought, do more research and try again when you’re better prepared.

Never will your feelings about an issue be enough to convince anyone of the validity of your position, especially if they revolve around anger. No emotion or personal belief, even if echoed by your peers, can ever justify the abdication of reason, especially in a debate. Show me your cool head. Show me the depth of your intellect. Show me the extent to which you have reflected upon an issue. Preparation here is key: Know what you are talking about. Know it from every possible angle. Consider all of the points of view, and recognize their every strength and weakness based on its own bias, not yours.

Only when you can see every angle can you consider yourself ready to enter into a debate – that is, a discussion about a topic with someone of the opposite viewpoint. Regarding this topic, here is something to consider: Spending most of your time both listening to a single viewpoint and discussing it with like-minded peers will not prepare you for a debate, the object of which is this: To prove the validity of your point in spite of your feelings, rather than by recruiting others to the emotion that secures your adherence to it.

A few tips on debating issues both online and offline:

1. Know the subject thoroughly. Not just your side of the issue, but all sides equally.

2. Trust both, but separate reason from emotion. The former is your ally. The latter is not.

3. Unless you live in a theocracy, morality and religion are subjective arguments, not objective arguments. Subjective arguments, while fascinating in certain social situations, have no place in reasonable debate.

(Update: Rick pointed out that I may be wrong about this in the comment section, and I see his point. Our discussion about context helps shed some light about this. I indeed failed to take into account the context of a debate when I suggested #3. He’s right.)

4. Respect your opponent even if s/he does not respect you. (Your professionalism, kindness and honor are yours. Their absence in an opponent has no bearing on your own.)

5. The moment either person involved loses their temper, the debate is over.

6. Thin skin and public debates do not mix.

7. Be aware that debating a point with an unreasonable person may be a complete waste of your time. Debating the virtues of civil rights legislation with a racist, for instance, may not be the most productive use of your time. Likewise, arguing ethics with a crook probably won’t get you anywhere. Just as worthy opponents make great sport, worthy opponents make great debates. Too one sided a contest typically yields disappointing results. Don’t waste your time on unworthy foes.

8. At least 1 out of 4 people who disagree with you may be utterly incapable of arguing a point objectively. See item 7 for further instructions.

9. If you represent a company or organization, heated debates may be ill-advised – especially when they touch on religion, sex and politics. If you are answerable to no one but yourself, no such limitations exist beyond those you impose on yourself. In either case, always remember item 4: The golden rule of public debates.

10. If you are bested, acknowledge it gracefully. If you win, thank your opponent for his/her gracious effort. All other outcomes are to be avoided whenever possible. Nothing is gained from the murder of civility, especially in matters of public debate.

One final note: Debate with heart, let outrage fuel your argument when it must, but keep your sense of humor close at hand. When all else fails, it may yet carry you through. The ability to laugh at yourself, at your own stumbles, at the witty barbs of your opponent when they deserve a nod, can be all the armor you need to compensate for any unwanted thinness of skin.

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No blog post today as I am in Washington DC for this summer’s final #Buzz2010 event. Here is the link: http://www.buzz2010.org/

The event takes place on the morning of the 18th, so if you read this before then, it probably isn’t too late to register. My predecessors this year were Groundswell author Charlene Li, nationally syndicated columnist Alexandra Levit, American Red Cross Social Media manager Wendy Harman, and Mark Story – adjunct professor of public relations at the University of Maryland and director of New Media at the S.E.C.

In other words, the smart kids went first.

I will speaking about… you know it: Social Media R.O.I., but this time with a twist. We’re taking the R.O.I. bit into the realm of non-profits, which should be interesting.

If there’s still time on the clock, find out the details here, and feel free to register.

See you in DC.

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I have a love-hate relationship with books.

I can go months without reading anything. All it takes is a couple of bad books in a row, and I’m off the long format sauce. But since the summer started, I’ve been on a roll. I wrote recently about my summer reading list… which started – ironically enough – with some books about Genghis Khan, then a series about Julius Caesar by the same author (Conn Iggulden). I kind of got into the Roman theme and continued with some stuff from Simon Scarrow (not exactly literature, but entertaining), William Napier (whose “Atilla: the Gathering of the Storm” is phenomenal) and Ben Kane (also solid stuff in “The Forgotten Legion.”)

I discovered Steven Pressfield pretty much by accident.

Here’s what happened: First, I bought myself a Nook. (An e-reader, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. Kind of like the Amazon Kindle, but prettier and cooler.) As soon as I did that, I kind of gave up “real” books, favoring instead their electronic versions. Next on my reading list was Ben Kane’s follow-up to “The forgotten Legion,” but it wasn’t available electronically yet. It seemed that I had read every book about Ancient Rome there was. Except one. I found it by accident in Cannes, while visiting my parents this June. I was looking for a book for the French Father’s Day, and walking through the FNAC’s translated books section (I looked for Iggulden, Kane or Napier but came up empty-handed) came upon “Tides of War,” which seemed pretty cool. I made a mental note. The author was Steven Pressfield, the guy who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance.

The second thing that happened, as I mentioned above, is that I ran out of books to read on my Nook. Kane’s latest wasn’t available yet. I had read all of Scarrow’s. Napier’s third Atilla isn’t due until the fall. I looked up Pressfield, aiming to buy Tides of War, but settled on Gates of Fire instead. I had seen it in a book store and was intrigued by his take on the Spartans’ stand at Thermopylae. Good choice. I was hooked from page one. I had no idea what the book really was. I expected an adventure novel… It was a hell of a lot more. Boys should read this book in high school. It should replace at least one Shakespeare title in college. It should also be required reading in business management schools and officer training programs, along with “The Virtues of War.”

Anyway. Needless to say, I was an instant fan. I devoured “Gates” and “Virtues.” I savored “The Afghan Campaign.” I am currently sucking the marrow out of “Last of The Amazons.” I still have several of his books to go: Tides of War, Killing Rommel, The Legend of Bagger Vance… but Mr. Steven Pressfield didn’t quite give me a chance to get to his non-fiction book on my own: “The War of Art.” I received it this morning, with a card and couple of friendly notes to boot.

I have absolutely no idea how Steven Pressfield knew that I was a fan. I mean, yes, I’ve mentioned him a few times this summer and recommended “Gates” and “Virtues.” I did. But who doesn’t? You can’t read these books and not be moved by them. You naturally want to share them with people. More importantly, I have no idea how Steven Pressfield knew that I even exist, or that it would matter to me a whole lot that he sent me this gift.

By the way, there is no business lesson hidden in this post. For once, I have no agenda. I just wanted to share this with you. You read my stuff. I read his. We’re all connected by passion, words and ideas. More than anything, I thought it was just cool as hell.

And perfect timing, as I am well into writing my first book, working on the skeletons of two more, and planning a half dozen after those. This, “The War of Art,” could make a difference in these endeavors. It’s almost uncanny that it arrived now and in this manner.

I sense the hand of the gods in this. Zeus himself may be behind it. 😀

All this to say that Steven Pressfield pretty much rocks. Not only is he a brilliant writer, he’s a class act as well. If you haven’t read any of his stuff yet, do. You won’t regret it.

His books

His blog

Thanks, Steven.

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In case you missed the Blanchardacus piece in the August issue of E’lite, click here.

Some background on this article  and –  more importantly – on its unusual concept for a photo shoot. Here’s how it happened.

About a year ago, some UK tech bloggers and other digitally-savvy professionals were contacted about a bold little photo project. The idea was to raise funds for Take Heart India, a charity focused on IT education projects for blind and disabled students in India. The method: A nude calendar. Kinduv. It was well done.

Check out the piece about it in The Guardian here.

Check out some of the images here.

Back in the US, some of us thought it was a fun idea. Not that I would drop trou for just any project – or ever – but hey, for a good cause, with the right talent behind the lens, and if enough of us did it, why not? Anyway, this was a topic of discussion among several of us, and it basically didn’t get very far. (As far as I know, such a calendar has yet to be produced.)

Somewhere along these discussions, someone asked me what kind of “setting” would suit me for such a shoot. (Surprisingly, no one thought to ask me what month I wanted to be, which to me seemed like a much better question.) I didn’t really know. I know this may come as a surprise, but I don’t really give nude tech calendar photoshoot themes a whole lot of thought. The scooter thing had already been done. So had the pensive couch pose. I was out of ideas. Me as Tarzan swinging from a vine made up of network cables? A little insane, especially since it would involve a chimp and a leopard loincloth, but okay, maybe. Another idea was – because I am an avid cyclist and triathlete – to shoot an homage to this Lance Armstrong photo shoot for Vanity Fair. That could be cool. The point being that once we started having fun with the notion, ideas proved to be anything but in short supply.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. One of the people who had been involved with the calendar conversations was E’lite Magazine’s very own Cd Vann. She asked if I would be open to doing a quick little profile feature on me for the magazine, and I promptly accepted. All we needed to iron out next was the topic of the piece, and how to shoot some photos for it. Getting good photos wasn’t the issue. I wanted to do something a little different.

Now, at this point, it might be good for me to back-track a little bit and give you some context beyond our conversations about the calendar. Two things happened in early 2010 that led to the idea behind both the focus of the piece and the concept of the shoot – aside from our conversations about the US version of the aforementioned calendar.

The first was this: At the time, I seemed to have acquired a reputation for not shying away from a heated debate both on my blog and on the twitternets. Not that I was a brawler or anything nor a hothead, but the occasional blog post did chaff certain sensibilities when it came to… well, purveyors of Social Media snake oil.

Okay, fine. To borrow Scott Monty’s own words, I sometimes “poked” at people until I got a reaction. My piece on ISMA chaffed (especially at the since defunct ISMA). My criticism of horrendous R.O.I. calculators and other bogus equations didn’t exactly jive with the “live and let live” attitude many among the Social Media Elite seemed to favor. The truth is that I didn’t really care if I ruffled a handful of feathers, as long as the feathers were in need of ruffling. I felt an obligation not only to myself but to the public at large to not only cast a light on very bad practices, but also explain what was wrong with them. Not everyone likes that. Comments on the blog triggered some heated debates, which continued on Twitter.

No blood was shed and I did my best to always remain cordial, but people with thin skin and little ground to stand on left these discussions bruised, sometimes a little battered. “Don’t mess with @thebrandbuilder” showed up once or twice in my feed. I don’t think that makes me combative. That isn’t the right word. But okay, yes, I liked the open forum. I liked the public debate. I enjoyed the sport of it, and not just because of the moral ground angle. I won’t deny that.

Now, about the same time, Starz (yes, the premium movie channel) launched a new series based on Spartacus, the legendary Thracian slave who rose up against Rome in the first Century BC and nearly brought the Republic to its knees. Spartacus was of course made famous by Kirk Douglas in the golden age of Cinemascope (Thank you Stanley Kubrick). This version of Spartacus’ life (essentially a prequel to the movie) was much more of an overcharged special-effects cliché-fest with visuals ripped right out of Zach Snyder’s big screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 (which told the story of the Spartans’ heroic stand at Thermopylae). Anyway. I started watching the show more out of boredom than anything, then out of curiosity, then habit… and then it actually got good. I became a fan and made no secret of it.

Sometime in the spring, someone started calling me Blanchardacus. Ian G. Lang, one of my friends on Twitter, amused by the idea, even created some pretty fly graphics with photoshop and some of Starz’ own promo graphics. Aside from being funny, it gave life to the idea that something could be done around the silliness of “Blanchardacus.”

When Cd Vann and I started discussing the piece for E’lite Magazine, I jokingly told her we could take the Blanchardacus idea and run with it. Remembering our discussions about the calendar and having been a weekly participant in my online conversations, she didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t a joke after all. We could actually do this, so… we did. The shoot was produced in South Carolina while E’lite’s editors combined three separate interviews into one, much of it Scott Stratten‘s handiwork. (You may know him on Twitter as @unmarketing – his superhero name.)

These are some of the shots E’lite Magazine played with for the piece. Some of them made it, others not:

Note the strange tattoo on my sword arm in the above image.

This is not a real tattoo. It’s just… a little hello to my friend Tyler at the Paper Street Soap Company.

You can pick up the trail here, if you dare.

Oh yeah. We shot this in full costume, fifty meters from a main road. Tourists were taking pictures of us.

What I learned from this photo shoot:

1. I’m no Andy Whitfield (who plays Spartacus in the series and looks a hell of a lot tougher, dirtier and cooler than I do):

2. Spray-on abs: Next time, they’re happening.

3. It was a lot of fun.

Check out the August issue of E’lite Magazine and the Blanchardacus piece here.

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