Where’d all the LinkedIn stuff go?

If you’re a regular reader of Content, you know I post about LinkedIn frequently. So why no LinkedIn posts lately? Well, I recently announced the launch of a new blog called The LinkedInstitute, which–as its name suggests–is devoted exclusively to LinkedIn stuff. Content will remain active with a broader focus on communication, marketing, and social media.

Thanks for reading!

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This month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column: Connections help determine the causes people will support

Connections help determine the causes people will support

In a blog post written late last year, nonprofit development and marketing expert Clare Axelrad said this about the changing face of fundraising: “According to a recent survey by Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication, 39 percent of Americans are motivated to get involved with causes that have affected someone they know, and 36 percent are motivated by it being an important cause to family and friends. These reasons for involvement far outweighed having time or money, or feeling an urgency to help people in need.”

To sum up Axelrad’s point in a phrase, in today’s interconnected world, “who” is more than “what.” The “importance” of a given cause — if such a thing can be judged objectively — matters much less than the people connected to the cause. Understanding this is not only critical to an organization’s successful use of social media. It’s critical to the overall success of the organization.

In my work with nonprofits, I’ve found that this shift isn’t always well understood. There’s still a sense that if people should care — again, in the subjective eye of the beholder — then they will care. Right or wrong, however, this simply isn’t the case. The truth is people care most only when those they are connected to care at all.

A good example of this is the Movember campaign, which is designed to raise awareness and funds for a variety of men’s health causes, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. Movember is built upon a simple premise: throughout November, men are encouraged to grow facial hair to demonstrate their support for the cause, and fundraising events help bring people together to celebrate these efforts, and, of course, show off those fancy new mustaches.

Movember has been criticized for being trivial and too broad in its focus, often by those who are somewhat bewildered by the campaign’s success. “It shouldn’t work,” they argue, “because it’s just not substantive!” While Movember’s shortcomings certainly merit some debate, it’s hard to argue with the campaign’s success: in just over a decade Movember has raised $174 million worldwide.

So, why has the Movember campaign succeeded? A few interrelated factors are especially important and suggest a similar path for other nonprofits:

• It harnesses the power of its supporters’ networks. Movember works because the campaign doesn’t rely on itself to spread the word. It’s all about understanding that the audience’s collective ability to tell the story far outweighs even the most successful organization’s ability to do so on its own.

• The audience is the star of the show. The people behind Movember understand that when you make people part of the story, it becomes their story, too. Pessimists might say this is because Movember’s supporters are narcissistic, but this distinction really doesn’t matter, however, if the goal is to elicit broad, enthusiastic support. When the audience is the center of attention, it will want to share the story over and over again.

• It’s visual. Movember gets its momentum primarily from photos, and in today’s communication environment, photos get more attention than words.

• The story is easy to share. The Movember campaign leverages social-media tools like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, taking the campaign to the audience and allowing for the sharing of photos and other content at a single click.

• It leverages the power of gamification. Movember also incorporates some competition, with “leaderboards” that show how much money is raised at different events and in communities around the world. Our natural desire to play — and win — makes it much more likely that raising money for Movember will be a top priority for those who get involved.

Nonprofits looking to succeed have two choices: They can deride campaigns like Movember and talk about why they shouldn’t work compared to “more serious” efforts like their own, or they can learn from them and adapt the campaign’s tactics to fit their audiences, missions and resources. In today’s environment, taking the latter course begins by understanding that who is more important than what — regardless of what we’d like to be true or how we think people should feel.

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This month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column: The five keys to dealing with social-media critics

Every month, I write a column for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly focused on a different social media topic. This month, I shared a few tips for responding to the critics you’ll inevitably encounter via social media.

The five keys to dealing with social-media critics

Let’s imagine you’re the key decision maker for a venture that’s been, from its very start, the subject of serious criticism. While you’d like to believe much of what’s being said is unfounded, some of the arguments being made against you are hard to refute and the problem isn’t going away.

One day, a respected blogger in your field with a national audience takes a shot at you, echoing some of the more biting comments made by others over the past few months. How would you respond?

A. Ignore it. After all, if you’re confident that your work has value, why expend energy on anything other than proving your critics wrong in the long run?

B. Create a constructive diversion. Create content of your own and focus on what makes your organization special, thereby giving your story a chance to be heard.

C. Attack. Confront the blogger directly with a response that denies the validity of everything he and others are saying (even the stuff that, if you’re being honest with yourself, has some merit).

Most of you probably picked A or B. After all, when the options are laid out as clearly as they are above, it’s a little easier to make the right decision. However, in the real world, when the choices are often clouded by pride, emotion and the ready availability of a “submit” button, it may be much harder to make the right decision for the long haul.

The scenario described above, in fact, isn’t fiction. While the names have been omitted to protect the not-so innocent, it’s drawn from the example of a leader of a local organization that has made the mistake of going on the attack not just once, but multiple times. Have others made the same mistake? Undoubtedly.

Nevertheless, has this person done irreparable harm to his organization? Without question. Firing off a heated response almost always results in a rebuttal from your critics and clicks and comments from the audience, which, in turn, makes it more likely those posts will rank high with the search engines — which, in turn, means more people, including your customers and prospects, will see it.

So how should you, as a leader in your organization, respond when a few arrows are shot your way? Here are a few tips:

1. Assess the size of the critic’s audience. There’s a phenomenon called the “Streisand effect,” wherein individuals and organizations call more attention to things they wish were kept quiet. If you make up half your critic’s audience, it may be best to do nothing.

2. Don’t take it personally. Easier said than done for sure, but still worth doing. Often, even when you think it’s about you, it’s not about you.

3. Think before responding. Take a deep breath, walk around the block or call a friend, but by all means, don’t act on your initial instinct.

4. Be objective and try to understand intent. It’s possible that some of the claims being made are legitimate — but you’ll only see that if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s also worth asking what is motivating your critics. It may be that they just want to provoke you, but don’t rush to that conclusion. It is equally as likely that they want to help you solve a real problem.

5. Make sure there’s more than one side to the argument. It’s bad enough when you have to read content that criticizes your organization, worse still when the world reads it. The best way to make the latter less likely is to have a sustainable strategy for creating content of your own. Doing so as a reaction to negative content won’t help as much as getting started now. The more good content you create, the less likely the bad stuff is to rise to the top of search engine results.

One more thing: There may be times when it is appropriate to engage your critics. However, first determine whether they are rational and treat virtual detractors like you would in the real world. If they swear and threaten bodily harm, they should be “thrown out” and not dealt with.

However, if they are reasonable in their approach, it may be worth having a conversation somewhere other than online or in a way that can be shared without your consent. (Don’t, that is, make the mistake of sending a “private” email message. It may not stay private for long.) Pick up the phone if possible — or better yet, meet in person — and seek common ground. Humans respond best to other human voices. It’s easy to criticize someone when you’re hiding beyond a keyboard, and easier still when your target stays in hiding, too.

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Quick Tip Tuesday: How to block a LinkedIn user

Late last month, LinkedIn announced a much-awaited feature: the ability to block other users. While blocking has long been standard on most social media sites, LinkedIn was one the few remaining holdout…until now.

So, how do you block a LinkedIn user? Start by going to his or her profile. If he or she is not a current connection, click on the down arrow to the right of the “Send [User] InMail” button (see below) and select “Block or report”:

Block or report 2

If the user is a current connection, choose the down arrow to the right of the “Send a message” button, and choose “Block or report.” You’ll be prompted with a dialog box that looks like this (I’ve omitted the user’s details, of course):

Block 2

Check the box to the left of “Block,” click on “Continue,” and follow the prompts from there.

It’s also important to consider why you might block someone. There are a few obvious examples, but I’m interested in your thoughts. What would prompt you to block someone instead of just hiding them, disconnecting from them, or never connecting with them in the first place? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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This month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column: Pew study reveals what’s new—and what isn’t—about social media use

Every month, my Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column focuses on a different social media topic. In Feb., I wrote about a study that reveals quite a bit about the current state of social media.

Study finds an increasingly crowded social-media landscape

There’s an old saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” While that phrase first became famous more than a century ago, it could apply to a lot of things these days — including social media. It’s easy to find numbers that support whatever argument you want to make, regardless of how counterintuitive or contradictory.

In this environment, however, there are still a few sources of unbiased, credible information. One is the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the Pew Research Center. Each year, the Pew Center publishes studies specifically designed to eliminate some of the confusion when it comes to understanding social media use in the United States.

One such study is the Pew Center’s annual “Social Media Update,” most recently released in December. Because of the reliability of the Pew data, the update provides an especially good gut check when considering how social media is changing, how it’s not changing and what that means for your business. Here are seven findings from the study that are particularly noteworthy:

1. Social-media use is now mainstream (but by no means universal). Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults (18-plus) who use the Internet — 73 percent, to be exact — use a social-media site of some kind. Even when you consider that 15 percent of U.S. adults aren’t online (as was shown in a previous Pew study), social media is now mainstream.

However, it’s important to not confuse “mainstream” with “universal.” Consider, for example, that research from A.C. Nielsen Co. shows that 99 percent of U.S. households have a TV. Social media is steadily approaching that level of penetration, but it’s not there yet.

2. Facebook still dominates. 71 percent of the respondents in the Pew study use Facebook. No other social-media network comes close: LinkedIn was second at 22 percent; Pinterest third at 21 percent; and Twitter fourth at 18 percent.

However, this is another case where claiming that “everyone” is on Facebook is a significant overstatement — especially when you dig down deeper into the data. Only 66 percent of U.S. adult males, for example, use Facebook.

3. Facebook is still attracting new users. How else do we know that not “everyone” is on Facebook? Well, it’s still attracting new users. Facebook’s 73-percent penetration rate in the 2013 study was an increase of 6 percent from 2012. So while there are some questions about Facebook’s long-term prospects, especially among younger U.S. residents, it’s still growing in the short-term.

4. More users are gravitating toward multiple social media platforms. Why, then, is there so much discussion about Facebook’s imminent demise? It’s a conversation worth following, but part of the buzz has been caused by the growth of social-media sites aside from Facebook. What’s really at play, however, isn’t an abandonment of Facebook in favor of other platforms. It’s more a matter of more people using multiple platforms. In the 2013 Pew study, 42 percent of online adults said they use two of more social networks compared to just 36 percent who said they use only one.

5. Younger adults and African Americans have disproportionately high usage rates on Twitter and Instagram. A key takeaway from the Pew study is that different social-media sites attract different audiences. For example, the percentage of young people and African Americans who use Twitter and Facebook is disproportionately high compared to other platforms.

6. LinkedIn has a disproportionately high population of older, wealthy, college-educated users. LinkedIn is another example of the need to better understand which platforms attract specific demographics. Not surprisingly, given its focus on adult professionals, LinkedIn is the only social-media site that is more likely to be used by an older audience than a younger one, netting 27 percent of online adults 30-49 and 24 percent of those 50-64, as opposed to just 15 percent of those 18-29.

LinkedIn also has far more college graduates than non-college graduates and is most popular among those in the highest income range ($75,000-plus) measured in the study.

7. Instagram is nearly as much of a daily habit as Facebook. Facebook is often compared to the daily newspaper: the first place we go for information about those in our network. If that’s true, it may be time to start referring to Instagram as a “daily magazine” of sorts. According to the Pew study, the portion of those who check Instagram daily — 57 percent — is close to the same number who visit Facebook each day — 63 percent.

It’s important to not get too carried away with these numbers. What matters most is what matters to your specific audience of customers and prospects. However, the Pew study is a good place to begin when you’re looking to make sense of what’s a reliable statistic and what’s just … well, a lie. Read the entire Pew “Social Media Update” study at PewInternet.org.

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Three keys to social-media success in 2014: this month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column

Every month, I write a column about social media for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. I kick off 2014 with a few tips for getting better results in the coming year.

“2014 Calendar” by Dan Moyle on Flickr

Three keys to social-media success in 2014

It’s a new year: time to instill better habits, establish new goals and look ahead to where you’d like to find yourself in 12 months. That makes it a great time to evaluate your business’s social-media efforts to ensure you invest your time wisely and get the results you’re looking for. With that in mind, here are three things to focus on as you plan for the coming year:

1. Have a strategy. Few organizations take the time to approach social media strategically. Instead of determining goals, considering the audience, and allocating resources toward the effort, they take a shotgun approach, dabbling in the use of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — to name just a few examples — without ever considering whether those tools are best suited to their needs and the needs of their audience.

Even if you have a well-established social media presence, it’s worth taking a few steps back to consider what you hope to accomplish and what strategies, tactics and platforms will get you there most effectively. The truth is, without a written social media strategy, it will be difficult to avoid knee-jerk reactions to things that, in the long run, don’t deserve much of your attention. A strategy is critical to keeping your efforts on track.

2. Integrate your social-media strategy with your larger marketing/communication strategy. As you develop your social-media strategy, be sure to align your efforts with your larger marketing and communication strategy. Doing so will allow you to leverage efficiencies and anticipate opportunities to position your brand in the right place at the right time.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your organization hosts a big event every year. You’re probably using traditional marketing and communication methods to get the message out, whether you have an exclusive invite list or the event is open to the public. You also have probably considered the importance of the event — whether it’s for fundraising, customer engagement or employee morale — before establishing a budget and determining what tactics you’ll use to make it successful.

In the same way, you’ll want to consider what role social media can play in supporting those traditional marketing and communication tactics. Use social media prior to the event to get the word out and thereby increase attendance. Post photos or videos to your social-media profiles during the event to generate interest from and improve the attendees’ experience. And share recollections from attendees after the event to turn them into advocates for your organization and get others thinking about what they missed — and why they should be part of the event next time.

This is just one example, but it underscores the way in which social media should be a part of, not apart from, your marketing and communication efforts.

3. Evaluate your team, and invest in training, if needed. Like anything else in your business, the success of your social media strategy is contingent upon the skills and abilities of the people doing the work. It’s worth considering, therefore, whether you’ve assigned social media to the right people — those who are reliable and who communicate well. (Remember, managing a business’s social media strategy is a serious responsibility; the person you put in the lead effectively holds the keys to your brand.)

It’s also worthwhile to evaluate whether you’ve put enough resources toward social media, or whether it’s time to up the ante — perhaps even looking outside your organization for support. Even if you have the right people in place, you’ll also want to think about whether your team needs training in order to keep up with the ever-changing social-media environment.

Many organizations think they can get by staffing social media with those who are self-taught. Many of those same organizations end up with less-than-stellar outcomes — or, worse yet, serious public-relations problems — when a staff member uses poor judgment. The cost associated with those issues far outweighs the cost of training your employees in best practices.

Don’t wait another year to refine your company’s approach to social media. Investing a little time up front is certain to pay off when the time comes to look back at 2014.

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Social media: It’s not just a young person’s game – my Dec. Business Weekly column

My December Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column focuses on one social media’s “dirty little secrets”: ageism. Thanks to Nancy McCammon-Hansen for lending her perspective to the conversation.

Social media: It’s not just a young person’s game

In 2012, the NextGen Journal published a piece titled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” As you might imagine, the response to the article was overwhelmingly negative, ranging from casual remarks about the folly of youth to calls for an apology from the author, Claire Sloane.

While there was little overt support for Sloane’s opinion, the controversy highlights a problem with social media that persists today — albeit just beneath the surface: ageism. Sloane is by no means unique in her claims that youth is a prerequisite to social-media success, but others are less vocal.

Nancy McCammon-Hansen, the marketing coordinator for Fort Wayne’s History Center and more than twice the age limit suggested by Sloane, has seen this firsthand. Despite being active on a variety of platforms both personally and on behalf of her organization, she believes her efforts are sometimes overshadowed by age — and she sees that perception as somewhat common. I recently spoke with Nancy to learn what she has experienced.

Juliano: I understand you recently had a conversation that implied some ageism — that social media is perceived as only being for the young, in other words. Can you share that comment and your response to it?

McCammon-Hansen: Actually, I’ve had that happen twice: once in April at the state convention of an organization to which I belong and this past month in a comment from a colleague.

Juliano: Have you heard comments like this before or do you know others who have been involved in similar conversations?

McCammon-Hansen: It really annoys me when I go to a meeting and someone makes the comment that, “We have to have some younger people to do that social-media stuff.” Just because I’m over 50 doesn’t mean that I’m over the hill.

Juliano: What’s your perception of this issue? Why do people see youth as an advantage when it comes to social media?

McCammon-Hansen: I think part of it is laziness on the part of some people who would prefer not to learn something new and the perception that “you can’t teach an old — and I use that word reservedly — dog new tricks.”

Juliano: Is there any truth to any of those claims? Are there advantages that come with having a young person manage your social-media strategy?

McCammon-Hansen: What’s really best is to have people with different perspectives involved in the effort. My officemate is a recent college graduate. I think her perspective and mine provide a combination of ideas that is exactly what any social-media program needs. And we both listen to other staff because we all have different social groups to which we belong and we need to appeal to a wide audience. If more than one person has ownership, I think it’s healthier for all involved.

Juliano: What do you think people need to know when it comes to this issue? Do you believe there is truly ageism in the social-media world, and is there a way to resolve that?

McCammon-Hansen: I think there is ageism in the world — and not just when it comes to social media. I don’t like it, but it’s there. However, it’s important to remember that a good team is comprised of people who use their talents to better the business, support one another, help one another and educate one another. You’re all in it together. Why not make the most of the situation and pool your collective talents and abilities rather than concentrating on one facet — and a small one, at that — of your work force?

Juliano: What would you say the next time someone implies that you have to be young to master social media?

McCammon-Hansen: Well — after I sighed loudly, because likely I would do that — I would try to tactfully point out that I manage four Facebook pages, plus my personal one, two Twitter accounts, my LinkedIn page and two blogs. I’d add that I’ve made it a point to learn about social media because that’s my job as someone who works in marketing and public relations. Learning about social media is no different than those of us who learned to type, on a typewriter, now using a computer. If you want to be an asset in the marketplace you keep up and a professional will make it a point to stay current.

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Beware the social-media snake-oil salesman: this month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column

You’ve heard of snake-oil salesmen: those mythical Old West characters who sold their unsuspecting audiences on potions they claimed would be a cure for every ill.

Today, the same type of scam is being perpetuated when it comes to social media. Some huckster knocks on your door and claims to have a panacea for all your marketing challenges. And for a price, he’ll provide you with what he claims is the secret to social media success.

You don’t want to buy what he’s selling, of course, but the challenge is distinguishing the social-media snake-oil salesmen from those who really are worth talking to. So how do you make that distinction?

Do they claim that social media is “easy” or “free”? Like anything else in business, using social media effectively takes real effort and real resources. It may not cost you anything in terms of dollars, but time spent to use it effectively will be time taken away from other things — and time is a nonrenewable resource. If someone touts social media as an “easy” or “free” way to market your business, then he or she is focused on the wrong things.

Do they encourage you to limit your use of social media? As inferred above, one of the biggest challenges your business will face in using social media effectively is giving it the right amount of time, without giving it too much time. If you’re talking to someone responsible, he or she will be as careful in recommending what you should leave out as he or she is in recommending what to include in your strategy.

Do they come to you with a predetermined list of social-media sites you should be using? Your company is unique. So is your industry, your goals, your audience and the resources you have to devote to social media (see above).

How, therefore, can anyone claim to know what social-media platforms you should be using before first investigating those points of difference? Those who come to you with a predetermined prescription have thought only about how they can make it easy for themselves, not how they can make it work for your business.

Do they encourage you to buy “likes” or followers? The quick-fix charlatan will promise you that — for just a little money — you can buy the appearance of popularity. Then he or she will tell you that other legitimate followers will join in, impressed by this manufactured mirage. It will seem like magic!

In the end, though, the only trick they have to offer is making your money disappear. The truth is, those who use sleight of hand only do so because they know no legitimate way to get results.

Do they have any real experience? Snake-oil salesmen use bluster to make up for a lack of substance. They may talk a good game, but you’ll want to look beyond what they say and ask for examples of what they do. If they can’t demonstrate experience in working with businesses like yours — and show outcomes — move on.

Do they understand the larger marketing and communication continuum? Social media needs to be integrated with your other marketing and communication strategies. If someone talks to you about social media without discussing its impact on your other efforts, or how it will be impacted by your other efforts, end the conversation.

Are they cheerleaders for social media, or cheerleaders for the success of your business? Those who talk about how much they love social media are missing the point. Social media isn’t inherently great — nor is it inherently evil. What matters is what it can do to make you — or your company — great. Don’t let someone’s affinity for social media cloud his or her judgment about what’s best for your business.

One more thing: as the use of social media by businesses becomes more sophisticated, it will become easier to rely on referrals from those you trust to point you toward reputable partners. Until then, however, trust your instincts. Just as it was in the Old West, when someone says anything that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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