It’s time we brought personal back to personal branding

androidify Ari

I was recently asked to keynote and kickoff an upcoming public relations conference by talking about digital and political branding. As I was preparing my presentation, it occurred to me that transparency and authenticity are what should be at the heart of any such branding. We need to be more about personal interaction and less about brand promotion when we’re talking about a person, be that a politician or a CEO. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.

That’s no surprise though, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. When doing presentations during the past few years, I have promoted the need to consider your “personal brand” when you are participating in social media activities. I made people think about how branding is no longer just a corporate reference. Each and every one of us, I would say, is our own brand and we are personally responsible for it.

I still believe that responsibility for our actions, online and off, is paramount to a strong character. But it is transparency and authenticity that make us human and more powerful in terms of branding than anything a corporation can muster.

The avatar at the top of this post is what I now use on Twitter. It’s not a picture of me, clearly, so is it contradictory to my argument that we need to keep things more personal? I don’t think so — I actually think it tells you more about me than a standard head shot would. Take another look at it and figure out what it tells you about me. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you…

Here’s what you can learn about me from that avatar:

  • I prefer Android phones and I like ball caps — according to my wife I own more than any person needs.
  • I am a Google Glass Explorer.
  • I enjoy  am addicted to  desperately need coffee.
  • My favorite outfits involve cargo pants and hooded sweatshirts.
  • And you’ll see me walking around town on my lunch hour in bright white and black Chuck Taylors instead of dress shoes, which I gladly leave in my office.

There is an old saying about something being more valuable than simply the sum of its parts. That is especially true for businesses. Because businesses, no matter how small or large, are made up of people. And each of those individuals — from the CEO to the front-line worker — is what makes up a corporate brand. Each of their strengths and weaknesses, each of their valuable assets and their thorny flaws is a component.

But that goes for individuals, too. For years, public relations professionals have pushed to get business leaders and politicians involved in social media. But there is being involved, and then there is being involved. It’s high time PR pros kicked their clients and bosses in the rear and told them to either get with the program or stop trying. Yes, there may be missteps along the way, but if they are made by a person and not a “brand,” the public and media would – I believe – be more generally forgiving. minion

Besides, the world of social media and mainstream media attention is so fleeting and spastic that even if you screw up, someone else will end up screwing up at least as badly if not worse within a short amount of time. Social media is the electronic enabler of the attention deficit disorder the mainstream media has become seriously afflicted with during the past decade.

So get out there and take a chance on being yourself. Encourage your bosses to be a person first and a title second.

I used to work for former Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger who understood the importance of being transparent on social media but didn’t always have the time to do the posts himself. At first, I posted on his behalf, noting that it was me and not the Speaker. But as time went on, when Jase saw how much more intense the interaction was when he posted directly, he started to do more of it. He made the time because it was important. By the way, “intense” didn’t always translate to “positive,” but that didn’t matter.

One of the best interactions I ever had on Twitter was with a person who contacted me because they hated what I said and what my boss at the time was doing. And yet, by sharing our opinions honestly with each other, the two of us end up parting ways still disagreeing but appreciating the dialogue. We often debated issues after that, and always civilly — albeit sometimes with snark, which was acceptable since we both did it. We were able to have those conversations because the first one wasn’t populated with me spouting off talking points like some machine. Instead, I talked like a human being.

One thing that has not changed over the years is my insistence on being real. When people who have interacted with me only via social media eventually meet me in person, there shouldn’t be any surprises. I am who I am whether I’m standing in the same room with you or tweeting at you from thousands of miles away.

Unnamed image (2)One of my current bosses is the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. He’s a powerful leader to say the least. But, especially in terms of his personal brand, he’s a husband, a father and a runner. Unnamed image (5)Our official office Twitter account is somewhat reflective of his style but his personal account is where he really shines. Because on that account, he’s just a guy living his life, running marathons, doing what dads and husbands do — oh and he also happens to be a lieutenant governor.

We are all people. Yes, I have a personal brand that I care about, but I care more about the “personal” part of that. Which is why, for example, I never use an auto-reply for my Twitter account. If I follow someone and within seconds receive a “Thanks for following me! Please check out this YouTube video/website/great product!!” my first inclination is to just as quickly unfollow them. I am on social media to share information in a social way, not be shouted at by an automated bot.

So let’s put the social back in social media. And put the personal back in personal branding. By doing that, we just might put the human back into humanity.

Cheers!

^aba

Ari B. Adler with Glass

Advertisements

It’s time to redefine the redefining of friends

golden retriever puppiesNearly four years ago, in February of 2011, I wrote a blog post about social networking and redefining the word “friend.” Since then, that post has consistently been near the top of my stats page for number of views. I just read it again and while the basic premise is still sound, some of what I talk about doing there has changed for me. The staying power of that post seems to show how much people are still struggling with social networking vs. interacting with people in real life. So I thought it was time to update the post with how I handle accounts now.

As I said back then, you don’t have to follow my lead. I don’t believe in social media rules but rather best practices. There are some people who are better at it than others, not because they are gurus or follow a strict code, but more because they have found a way to exist online that works for them and the people with whom they interact.

In 2011, my four main social networks were Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. In four years, how I handle my interactions on those accounts has changed a bit, and I no longer use Foursquare after their disastrous break up into Foursquare and Swarm. That move by the developers led me and many others to abandon them as quickly as they had abandoned the core function and attraction of their original app.

Instead, I find myself spending more time on a network that didn’t even exist in early 2011: Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but some things have changed, and I’ll go into those after I talk about G+.

Google HQGoogle Plus (+AriAdler)

Anyone who interacts with me regularly knows I’m a big fan of Google products. I like they way they are integrated in an effort to make my life simpler through interconnected apps. Some folks like to malign Google Plus as “the Facebook killer that failed.” But here’s the problem with that statement: G+ was never intended to kill Facebook. It is a very different network. I’m on there multiple times every day, either sharing information in my own posts, sharing what others have posted, or visiting one of the many communities I have joined that bring together aficionados of just about anything you can be interested in talking about. I use G+ as the main repository for photos that I shoot, which is now done entirely via my Android phone or my Google Glass (and backed up automatically). And I will follow anyone who seems interesting and doesn’t seem to be a spammer. Their system of Circles that allows me to categorize people and decide who receives all or just some of the posts I share is easier for me to use than Facebook’s system, but that may be a personal preference. Circles also are integrated with Google Contacts and the network is integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar and other Google apps. It’s a way to keep my finger on the pulse of the universe while traveling aboard the Starship Google.

I find I interact with people who have shared interests more than anyone else. Most of my family and friends aren’t using G+ because many of them didn’t see the need to check it out once they settled in on Facebook. I don’t think many of them know what they’re missing, but I’m not one to judge. You should find the network you like, you understand and can work within well. Then enjoy yourself and don’t worry about what others are doing or telling you to do.

— Followers in 2011: 0 —

— Followers today: 1,330 (plus 1.1 million views of my profile pages) — Following today: 3,513

facebook hqFacebook

Back in 2011, I was much more open about becoming “friends” with people. I used to accept invitations from just about everyone and then kept them sorted by lists. I don’t do any of that anymore. Instead, I’m more cautious about who I allow to become a “friend.” I purged a lot of people from my account. I still have “friends” who aren’t friends and so I’m always aware of what I’m saying and sharing, as everyone should be on every Internet-connected system.

I find that I spend more time interacting with family on Facebook than any other social network, with coworkers and people I went to high school with a close second and third. As I mentioned earlier, many of them were on Facebook first and haven’t found a compelling reason to keep up two different types of accounts.

I do find Facebook’s systems frustrating and have honestly spent most of my time on there only because of work needs, then while I’m there I take up shared conversations with friends and family. I visit it, generally, only twice a day but could easily abandon Facebook faster than any other network I use. For some reason, I find Facebook to be a bigger useless time-suck than Google Plus. That’s not to say G+ won’t have you spending a lot of time online that you should be spending doing other things, but when I’m done that time spent just feels more useful on Google+ than on Facebook. Tip: If you haven’t figured out how to turn off auto-play videos on Facebook, go do it now. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back. It will change your life.

— Friends in 2011: 800 —

— Friends today: 904, but different people make up that list now. — 

twitter hqTwitter (@aribadler)

Things haven’t changed a lot in terms of how I use Twitter. I have a lot more followers than I did in 2011 and am following a lot more accounts. Back then I noted it was a free-for-all, a “hodgepodge,” even. That remains true today. It’s an eclectic group that I interact with on Twitter, and I tend to interact with brands and companies more there than anywhere else online. I am on there multiple times per day and it has become the number one place that I schedule posts with news or interesting links via my Hootsuite account. (Google Plus’ API doesn’t allow scheduling things through Hootsuite for personal pages yet, but there are times when I’ll share things on Twitter and won’t share them anywhere else even when I can. I’m not sure the API change will alter that pattern.)

One thing that has changed significantly is how much Twitter has affected my professional life. Many journalists use Twitter now to break news or report on events. I have interacted with more journalists about and for news stories on Twitter in the past year than I probably did in the previous three. That type of interaction is expanding exponentially and I suspect it will continue to for a while.

— Followers in 2011: 4,339 — Following in 2011: 3,876 —

— Followers today: 7,502 — Following today: 8,220 — 

linkedin hqLinkedIn (Ari B. Adler)

I used to think of LinkedIn as “the Rolodex of social networking,” and I think it still is to some extent. I have more business-related and professional interactions on LinkedIn than anywhere else, and what I share there via posts reflects that. I’m on it a few times each week as notifications come in from people who want to connect with me. I don’t use it to its full potential, I’m sure, but it’s just not something I find compelling enough to spend time on. I find its interface clunky and counter-intuitive. Still, the connections you might have on LinkedIn could prove invaluable for a career some day, so I still recommend you check it out if you haven’t. Just remember that sometimes people want to connect with you not because of who you are but because of whom you know. Be careful not to be used as nothing more than a connection to someone else. Even heeding my warning, of course, I still tend to be pretty loose with my requirements for connecting. If I can find a shred of a reason to accept your connection request, I’ll do it.

— Connections in 2011: 500 — Connections today: 1,825 —

I’d be interested in hearing how your use of social media has changed over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that I was jumping on Twitter to figure out what the heck it was all about, because a younger professional in my office was making waves with it and I wasn’t about to get swamped and left behind. Now, it has become so much more routine to be on social media. And yet, years later, it’s still one of the most misunderstood, misused and undervalued opportunities for spreading a message than anything I’ve seen in my many years as a communications professional. I’m still learning and plan to do so for years to come. I would urge you to do the same, “friend.”

 kitten best friends

Chrome books it to the cloud and never looks back

Acer Chromebook 11.6I recently purchased an Acer 11.6-inch Chromebook computer as what I thought was going to be a part-time device to help me speed through a lot of the web-based work and social media activities I do. Little did I know a few weeks ago that I would be reaching for it more than anything else. I’m writing this post on it now, although honestly, I’ve written blog posts on a mobile phone before, so basically the best device you can use for writing is the one you have available when inspiration strikes. 🙂

I had thought about such a purchase recently as the job I have was ending and, with it, my access to an iPad. Also, my MacBook from 2009 has been showing its age. So I started thinking about what device to get next that wasn’t a laptop (because I wanted better portability, despite how 2014 that sounds), and I didn’t want to spend a small fortune like I would to get my own personal iPad.

To each his own, that’s what I generally say when people ask me about “the best device for doing x.” I’ve used Apple and Android phones, Kindles, Kindle Fires, iPads, PCs, Macs and, now, a Chromebook. I’ve also used the major devices available for streaming video and music content, but those should be in a separate blog post all their own (coming soon).

I also was recently contacted by SingleHop, a private cloud-hosting company, about sharing my experiences with cloud computing. Full disclosure: I was not compensated in any way to mention them, other than their providing the cloud computer graphic posted at the end of this post for reference. It was just a nicely worded email that asked me to write something and, sometimes, niceness and professionalism pay off.

So, anyway…cloud computing has become a big part of my life and it’s only getting bigger, as I suspect it will for many people. Chromebooks are nearly as powerful as many laptops now. Think about your computer use for a minute. Many things that you do are actually being done on the Internet, not on your local hard drive. Think about the social media activities, photo editing and storage, file storage and — if you’re a Google Drive user instead of a Microsoft slave — your writing, spreadsheets and presentations. All of that is done via your browser instead of your computer’s operating system. In my case, the browser of choice is Google Chrome.

The folks at SingleHop sent me a list of questions to prompt some ideas for this blog post, but I thought they were more useful for me to tweak and let others use as a checklist for determining how much you actually do online:

  • Do you stream music or videos?

  • Do you coordinate with coworkers or associates to collaborate on documents and presentations?

  • Do you use social media, email or instant messaging to stay in touch with friends and family?

  • Do you use apps on your mobile phone or tablet that are synced across devices?

If you answer yes to most or all of those, you’re spending a lot of time in the computing cloud whether you knew it or not.

When I looked at my computer use, I realized at least 90 percent of my activities were on the Chrome browser, so it made a lot of sense for me to make Chrome my operating system, which is what happens when you run a Chromebook. With a solid state drive and no true operating system, a Chromebook starts almost instantly.

I can open and close the lid all day to take it from wake to sleep and back again in a couple blinks of an eye. There is no fan, so there’s no noise, and it’s incredibly lightweight. I can rotate the screen vertically and hold it sideways to read a magazine article or book with no fatigue. (Essentially, it’s like holding a lightweight hardcover book, with the screen on one side and the keyboard on the other. It works a lot better than it probably sounds.)

My books are almost entirely in the cloud now, as are my documents, my photos, my music, my movies and most everything else I interact with. The advantage is that I have them all available on whatever device I’m using at the moment, from laptop to Chromebook, from Kindle Fire to mobile phone. The downside, of course, is that if wireless goes down or the Internet goes dark for any reason, I lose the ability to stream things. I can, however, work with items I have stored for offline use — books, movies, music, documents — pretty much anything I have room to store on my Chromebook or an SD memory card. Even Google Drive is now built so that you can work on things offline and then let them update to the cloud later when you have an Internet connection.

Cloud computing and the epitome of such — Chromebooks — may not be for everyone. But the ease of use and access, plus the ability for others to interact with what you have in the cloud when invited is incredibly appealing to and useful for me. I’m certain the gang over at Single Hop would agree since that’s how they’re making a living.

I’m thrilled with my Chromebook purchase and the way it took me to the cloud and never looked back.

There is a lot I could have written about cloud computing, Chromebooks or my new Acer in particular, but I didn’t want this post to become exceedingly long. So if you have any questions about anything mentioned here, just post them in the comments section and I’ll reply with an answer for you ASAP.

Life_in_the_Cloud

Dear Facebook, it’s not you, it’s me — well, maybe it’s you

mischief managedI finally made a leap that I’ve contemplated for a long time — I no longer use Facebook as part of my daily routine. I haven’t abandoned it and I’m not out talking trash about Facebook on Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook for work as I need to be. But something in my over-saturated social media existence had to give.

The three key outlets I’m active on personally and professionally are Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook. One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that never in history have so many people had so many opportunities to express their opinions to so many others who don’t care to hear them.

I was really sick for about a week recently and my interaction on social media was quite limited, but I also found it liberating. I found that I was on Twitter periodically, Facebook next to never and Google Plus regularly, observing if not really feeling up to engaging.

I posted a “Gone for a Coke” profile picture at Facebook and probably won’t be there much at all anymore. Twitter has its usefulness, albeit limited due to its very nature. Twitter has always been more about shouting to be overheard at a party than having in-depth conversations.

I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it all, and if I need to focus my energy on some form of social media, it will be on Google Plus. I find that my Google Plus stream helps enrich my online experience and learning with more thoughtful posts and interesting links. Being fully integrated into the Google universe helps, too. I can do so much with Google, Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Plus from within one environment while I’m online or on my Android mobile phone that it’s a very streamlined and comfortable experience.trek g+

Facebook has just become too filled with drama, religious rants and political stabs. I also found it becoming too routine to wish someone happy birthday because Facebook told me to. I didn’t really reach out as a friend, I just tagged them as “a friend.” Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter are what we make of it, I understand that. If I’m not happy with my news stream on Facebook, I suppose I could change it. But Facebook’s algorithms control what I see a lot more than I do anyway, and maybe Facebook has just been getting it more wrong than usual lately.

I hate epiphany posts. I’m not declaring Facebook dead and I’m not saying only people on Google Plus are worth following. I’m just saying I’m going to be a lot more discerning with what I do and where I do it. For me, that’s Google Plus. I still use Facebook to message people who are primarily there in terms of their social media presence. And I’m notified when something on Facebook involves me, whether it’s a mention, a picture or whatever. So I am periodically on Facebook for personal use, but more like a few times a week rather than continually.

I don’t think I’ve really been missed on Facebook. Maybe that’s a function of my connections on there. It would be interesting to have an analysis done of my connections on Facebook vs. Google Plus vs. Twitter.

Recently, a company called Demographics Pro sent me a link to a free analysis of my Twitter account. They did it so I would blog about it or talk about their company on social media and get them some free publicity. (You’re welcome DP, I hope this helps.) According to their analysis:

@aribadler’s followers are comparatively mature (in their mid thirties), typically white/caucasians married with children and with very high income. The account has a notable audience concentration in Lansing, MI.

  • Professionally, @aribadler’s followers are employed as senior managers, journalists, authors/writers, consultants and teachers. The account ranks within the top 10% of all Twitter accounts in terms of density of sales/marketing managers.
  • In their spare time they particularly enjoy keeping pets, technology news, going to the theatre, comedy/humor and reading. @aribadler followers are charitably generous and particularly health conscious. Sports that stand out for this audience include hockey, baseball and cycling.
  • As consumers they are affluent and fashion conscious, with spending focused most strongly on home/family, hobbies and technology. 
  • On Twitter they tweet infrequently yet are relatively influential. 

I guess it’s interesting to see those stats, although I don’t really know what I can or should do about them, if anything.

What about you? Do you ever wonder about your connections? Do you care which ones might come or go? Do you think they would care if you left?

The Seven Ages of Man by William Mulready, 1838, illustrating the speech (via Wikipedia).

What’s the point of all of this anyway? Is social media just a modern-day version of a famous Shakespeare poem?

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

If you figure it out, send me a note — preferably on Google Plus.

Customer service and marketing: You Can’t Fix Stupid

ron whiteI am quite certain I’m not alone when shaking my head periodically over stupid marketing mistakes or frustrating customer service travails. Over the past few weeks, I have shaken my head so much though that I’m growing concerned about the impact on my brain from all that jarring movement.

The missteps have involved utility and cable companies, retail stores, a major bank, and a daily newspaper. And there isn’t any social media outreach or clever slogan that can replace simple research or focusing on good customer service instead of focusing on how to address complaints. In other words, stop staring so much at the trees and take a broader look at the forest you’re creating from time to time.

First, let’s talk about marketing miscues.

While watching the Olympics on TV the other night, an ad came on for WalMart, not a bastion of union love and Made in the USA pride for sure. The ad was about how much WalMart is pledging to support U.S-made products and the workers who manufacture them. Unfortunately, the marketing department at WalMart apparently doesn’t have too many classic rock fans on staff. If it did, they would have caught that the theme song they decided to run at full volume during the commercial was Working Man by Rush, which is an iconic Canadian band.

credit offerThen, just this weekend, I received an unsolicited email from one of my credit card companies offering a hassle-free, credit-check free increase in my credit line. I just needed to click the button linked in the email and I would be on my way. Spam! you say? Actually, I think it’s legitimate, but there’s no way to prove it. The most ridiculous part is that the bank has a Secure Messaging Center that allows you to correspond with the bank (and vice-versa) within their system once you’ve securely logged into your account. I have forwarded the email to the address the bank uses for customers to report phishing attempts so that they can either start working on this fraudulent scam or walk down to the marketing department and smack someone upside the head.

I also noticed this weekend that my local daily newspaper, the Lansing State Journal, ran yet another letter to the editor that was factually inaccurate. As a media relations professional, it has always frustrated me how much newspapers claim to pride themselves on truth and accuracy, and then fill their opinion pages with rubbish. I’m not lamenting opinion columns by newspaper staff or the public that might have a different take on an issue than I do. I’m talking about people printing absolute falsehoods because the newspaper fact-checks their news but lets opinion trample the truth. It makes it tough to believe the marketing pitches from a newspaper about how they can be a trusted source when they are printing things that can’t be trusted.

Perhaps all marketing departments should hang a poster in their offices of comedian Ron White and his great line, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Customer service is becoming a bit of an oxymoron in many companies, too, with a focus on outreach through social media to address concerns people have. Here’s a concern I have: your customer service is horrible and whitewashing it with public relations outreach after the fact isn’t going to save you.

A classic example of this is the cable company Comcast. For years now, @ComcastCares on Twitter and other outlets has been touted as a great example of social media customer service that is responsive and well-liked. Unfortunately, Comcast as a company is considered vile by many of its customers. Just say something on Facebook or Google Plus about Comcast and watch the hate mail pour in on your comment stream.

comcast googleI discovered HBO GO is available as a channel on my Roku streaming device. I was excited because it meant I could stop using Comcast’s menu system that is as complicated as the family trees on Game of Thrones. In a strange twist, I actually started watching Game of Thrones after receiving a free subscription to HBO from Comcast because they were trying to make up for a massive billing mistake on their part. Unfortunately, Comcast isn’t one of the cable companies that allows you to log in to HBO GO on Roku. When I lamented about this on Google Plus, I tagged Comcast and ComcastCares. Of course the main account ignored me but ComcastCares responded within minutes. It wasn’t a particularly good or useful response, but at least I knew someone had heard me.

A local municipal utility company in Lansing, Michigan also suffered a massive credibility crisis back in December when ice storms wiped out power lines and the electricity they provide to area residents, in some cases for more than a week. Information was hard to come by and what was being delivered was questionable in terms of accuracy. After a public outcry over the Lansing Board of Water and Light needing to do a better job, the utility’s response was to post an opening for a social media coordinator. Of course! That makes perfect sense. After all, when I’m frustrated with a utility because my pipes are about to burst and food is rotting in my refrigerator, what I really wish I had was some great outreach via Twitter. Or, maybe, I’d rather have my electricity restored. And perhaps the money spent on social media whitewash might be better spent on restoring power and making sure it stays on.

Some days, I don’t think some places even care enough to try anymore.

Take a local store in my town called Meijer. It’s a Michigan-based company so many friends and I have tried to look past problems it has because we want to support the home team. The biggest issue people complain about is growing frustration with a reliance on self-checkout lanes that have lackluster scanners and a cumbersome layout. Most people who lament about not shopping there anymore seem to cite that as reason number one for their decision. I have learned to shop there at night since their checkout system is a bit more tolerable with fewer customers trying to use it.

However, a recent trip there and responses to complaints I filed about my experience have forced me to join the flock of those seeking my groceries and home supplies elsewhere. It was shortly after 10 p.m. when I stopped in to buy a few things, the bulk of which were in the toiletries section. Ten o’clock in the evening is late but not very late and considering the store is open 24 hours, it seemed too early for entire sections to be shut down for cleaning. But, alas, I left empty-handed with not a single toiletry item in my bag. When I inquired at the “customer service” counter about that section of the store being entirely closed off to customers, they shrugged and told me sorry, there was nothing they could do. I reported my frustration with the situation and the response to corporate headquarters. They forwarded it to the store manager who emailed me to say he was sorry, but cleaning was necessary and had to be done some time. I agree, but as I mentioned the store is open 24 hours, so how about cleaning at 2 a.m., or only cleaning certain aisles at a time instead of shutting down an entire corner of your store!?

20140119_223614_881

Frank Eliason, the founder of ComcastCares and now Director of Global Social Media at Citi, recently wrote about social media and customer service on a LinkedIn post. It’s a great read and I recommend taking a look, but here’s the line that really stood out to me:

I have yet to find a more important job than Customer Service. It is sad that people feel it is beneath them, because some day businesses will realize how important it is to their own success (or failure).

Well said. After all, no matter how good your PR and marketing teams are, they will never overcome horrible customer service. Fix the customer service first instead of whitewashing it with cool tech tools. And take the fun stuff away from the marketing teams for a while so they can spend time on the front lines dealing with customers and their personal frustrations. Maybe then you’ll be able to market your product without it resulting in a violent shaking of heads.

UPDATE: I’ve written a follow-up post about replies I received from the various organizations.

How to get the most heat out of your Kindle Fire HD

I had the first generation Kindle Fire and have used the Kindle Fire HD 7 for a few months. Both served me well and the increase in speed and flexibility afforded by the HD version made the upgrade investment worthwhile. I’ve had a few friends and colleagues ask Kindle Fire HD 7me about the Fire and the “must-have” apps I would recommend, so I thought a blog post was in order.

I’m not going to discuss the Kindle vs. iPad vs. Nexus debate here; there are plenty of other places to find those rants online. It’s a debate that may never end because, like many tech issues, the answer often lies in your subjective view of the world. What works best for anyone given their wants and needs for a tablet and the budget they have available differs greatly. I will say that I leaned toward the Kindle initially because I’m deeply invested in the Amazon and Amazon Prime universe. The seamless integration of these services with a Kindle made it the right choice for me.

This post is about what to do with the Kindle Fire HD after you’ve moved past the decision and have the tablet in hand. Suggesting any apps are “must have” also is a sticky wicket, because that’s a very subjective list. Nevertheless, here are my favorites, so far, broken down by category. This is not the complete list of apps on my Fire. Also, note that a few require “sideloading,” which is an easy and safe undertaking. It is not the same thing as “rooting” your Fire. I’ve included a quick tutorial on sideloading at the end of this post. If I remember sideloading an app, I’ve noted that in the description. If it’s not noted, that means the app is available for download directly from the Amazon App Store, or I simply forgot that I sideloaded it! (Tech tip: Many of the apps listed here also work well on the first generation Kindle Fire.)

Internet

Amazon improved the built-in Silk browser with the HD version of the Fire, and its integration with Amazon’s online store makes it a good choice when you’re doing Amazon-centric web activities. But it still seems to lag a bit when compared to two other options you have and it won’t play Flash on websites that use it. I have Dolphin and Chrome installed on my KFHD. Both are available via sideloading. Dolphin has some neat features, including the ability to use gesture shortcuts to reach bookmarked sites. I’m a big fan of Google Chrome and use it on all of my devices. The biggest advantage is its speed and its ability to sync your bookmarks across all your devices. No matter what I’m using, I know I can open Chrome and find my bookmarks arranged the same way everywhere. (Tech tip: Some people find that turning off the “Accelerate page loading” option in Silk’s settings speeds up the browser. I found no noticeable difference and turned it back on.) (Tech tip: No matter what browser you use, sometimes links are hard to select on a small screen. Don’t forget about the pinch and zoom feature. Also, double-tapping on the screen zooms a page in. Just be careful not to hit a link while tapping. Double-tap again to zoom out.)

News

Because of my day job as a press secretary, I’m a bit of  a news junkie. My morning routine includes using apps from USA Today, AP, NPR and BBC News. To access my  Google Reader account, and more, I use Flipboard. I really like Flipboard’s ability to send news stories via email, post them to social media outlets, and share them to many other installed apps. (Tech tip: The screen layout and access to features sometimes changes on the news apps depending on whether your screen is in portrait or landscape mode. Be sure to turn the Fire and see which layout works best for you.)

I suppose weather falls under news, too. I use AccuWeather’s app. The Weather Channel app works well enough but I’ve gravitated toward AccuWeather more for its interface. The accuracy is comparable, so find the one you’re most comfortable with.

Productivity

Having access to files throughout the day regardless of where I am or what device I have handy has proven incredibly useful. So, I’ve started to use “the cloud” for a lot of my file storage. That means that Dropbox is front and center on my list of productivity apps. I believe it’s a sideloaded app. You also can download the Evernote app from Amazon. If you aren’t using Dropbox or Evernote yet, you’re missing out on two of the best online, cloud-based products out there today.

No matter how much I love being paperless these days, I still find the need to jot down the random thought or phone number on a sticky note. The ColorNote app is what I use to bring the concept of sticky notes to my Fire.

I also recommend downloading the free Calculator Plus app. It turns your Fire into a great calculator, taking advantage of all the screen real estate to offer up giant buttons and a list of current calculations.

While you probably don’t want to write a thesis on a tablet, there are times when being able to read, edit and even draft documents on your Fire is a handy thing. OfficeSuite is a great app for that. There is a free version but I grabbed the pay version when it was on sale and it is a valuable app to have around. (Tech tip: the Fire HD has Bluetooth capabilities. That means you can sync up a wireless keyboard if you tire of using the on-screen one. I’ve yet to find one I liked well enough or increased my typing speed enough that it was worth keeping though.)

The Fire HD has a front-facing camera that’s designed for use with Skype, but you can do still photos with it, too. The trouble is the built-in way to handle still photography is a bit clunky. That’s where an app like Photo Editor has proven useful from time to time.

If you’re a blogger in the WordPress ecosystem, the WordPress app is a useful addition to your Fire, as well.

As for email, which is the core of productivity for many of us, the Fire’s built-in mail program does a pretty job handling multiple accounts from multiple sources. I still have my office email on that app, but I found out I could sideload the Gmail app and I never looked back for that part of my email life.

Finally, think about downloading Skitch, a drawing app that is now brought to us by the good people at Evernote. The big advantage with using Skitch as your drawing and sketching app is its integration with Evernote.

Social Media

The Fire does a great job helping me keep up with the social media side of my life. You should have the Facebook and Twitter apps on your Fire; I have found both to be more useful than the computer versions. I also use Hootsuite as my social media aggregator and the Kindle Fire edition is well done. There is no app yet for Google+; I’m generally accessing it via my Dolphin browser. Make sure you connect your Google+ account to your Flipboard account — then you can compose posts through that app. (Tech tip: The Google+ .apk is available for download, but after I sideloaded it I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps, in time…which seems to be the story of the life of Google+ anyway.)

Entertainment

If you like movies and books, you’re going to love Amazon’s integrated system, especially if you’re a Prime member. And why not? Sure, it’s $80 a year, but besides streaming movies and TV shows, you can borrow one book a month instead of buying it and you get 2-day free shipping on a lot of products.

For other sources of TV, movies and music, the Roku app does a good job controlling your streaming player. Pandora’s app for the Fire is fantastic, too. A couple of apps that, combined, can help you find most of the radio stations and shows you might like to stream, are iHeart Radio and Tunein Radio. Both have free editions that work well; the paid version of Tunein Radio includes the ability to record what you’re listening to.

No matter how you get your movies, make sure it’s something you want to see before you stream or rent it by checking it out on the IMDB app for the Fire. It works very well.

Games

angry-birds-star-wars-review-0I’m not sure if there is any area more subjective than games. After all, one man’s relaxing fun is another man’s annoying waste of time, right? Still, I thought I ‘d share a couple of games that have entertained me and my teenage kids for a while. These include a few of the Angry Birds versions, especially Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars and Bad Piggies. For something a little more impressive for your high IQ friends, download the Scrabble app. You also might consider the Game of Life app if you want to bring family night games to the tablet instead of the table. (Tech tip: You can pinch and zoom on the Angry Birds screens to get a better view for aiming your weapons of fowl destruction.)

Reading

Of course it’s odd to talk about reading apps on an e-reader, but I do have one more suggestion that isn’t so much about the books but how to read them at night. With the Fire being a backlit reader, there are times that the screen is simply too bright to read with the lights off. (Those married folks among you will appreciate the need to read with the lights off as your spouse tries to sleep while you insist on “just finishing this chapter.”) A great solution to this problem is the ScreenDim app. It allows you to drop the screen’s brightness lower than the standard brightness setting does. You can save presets for quick access to different settings throughout the day, but I find that somewhat unnecessary. Plus, if it ‘s off, it’s not using your Fire’s computing power or battery. That’s why I usually just turn it on at night for bedtime book snacking. (Tech tip: You can try Auto Brightness on the Fire but it doesn’t seem to really keep up. I’ve found the same thing on my iPhone. That technology seems to lack true functionality on most devices. If you know the secret to making Auto Brightness work better, please share it with everyone in the comments section!)

Apps, Apps, Everywhere

There are many more apps available in all the categories listed above; I mentioned earlier that I was only highlighting some of my favorites. The list of all the apps on my Fire is too long to list in one blog post. Look for what you need and give it a try. If you don’t like it you can always delete it from your Fire. It’s no loss if it was a free app. If you shelled out a few bucks for an app and don’t like it, well, next time do what I do and research things thoroughly through the user reviews and outside sources on the Internet.

If you find some apps you consider a favorite, please share that information in the comments section. By working together, we’ll soon build an awesome compilation from many favorite lists.

Sideloading

You can sideload by downloading a file to your computer and then moving it to your Kindle via a USB cable. But it’s much simpler to sideload directly to your Kindle. To do so, download a file explorer app from the Amazon App Store. I use and recommend ES File Explorer. Once that’s installed, you need to head to your settings under “More,” then “Device.” Once there, change Allow Installation of Applications from the default of “off” to “on.” I tend to leave mine in the off position for security when I’m done sideloading, but that’s a personal preference. If you want to sideload an app, you then need to find the .apk file for it, which often is available at many sites online. After downloading the .apk file to your Kindle, you can find it in the Downloads folder by using ES File Explorer. Tapping on the file usually opens the installer and, voilà, you’re sideloading! (Tech tip: once you’ve installed the app, you don’t need the .apk file anymore. I move them to my Dropbox account so they’re quickly available if I need them, but they aren’t taking up space on my Fire.)

You’re more than a business card or a Twitter handle

Angela Minicuci

The ability to network online is more prevalent now than ever and we should all be taking advantage of the many opportunities provided by the countless free services available. Your chances for connecting with colleagues online — past, present and future — are growing and expanding.

In my “spare” time, I’m an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. Last semester, I had a former intern come in to talk to my class. She’s a great example of what a go-getter can accomplish at a young age. Angela Minicuci talked to my students about her college and professional career path. She delivered a fantastic message to the students about the importance of networking. It’s a message we all need to learn and then relearn from time to time.

Here are Angela’s tips, with some added thoughts from me:

  • Internships can give you experience that you can put in your portfolio and on your resume. (I would add that this goes both ways, because professionals who are supervising interns can learn a lot, too.)
  • Networking isn’t just shaking hands and exchanging business cards. Go to events, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and show people you can handle it. Establish a personal and professional relationship with them. (“It’s not personal, it’s just business” can be true, but being a person is important.)
  • You’re a real person, not just an email address. (I would urge all of you to forget that LinkedIn provides an auto-populated message when you try to connect with someone. Please personalize those notes!)
  • You’re always going to be a student. You always have to allow yourself to grow. (That’s part of why I made this blog post. If you stop learning, you stop growing and just become stagnant, both personally and professionally.)
  • Work hard, give to the community, network and be humble. (We all know people who work hard at their day jobs and then spend countless hours giving back to their profession and communities through volunteer work or donation of professional services. When you see these people going above and beyond the call of duty, give them a shout-out on a social network or take the time to stop and thank them personally. Volunteers don’t do their volunteering for recognition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like receiving it!)

All of Angela’s tips are great ones, whether you’re a student, a young professional or a seasoned pro. Learn, grow, share, rinse, repeat…you get the idea. Online or offline, with a personal notecard, a friendly e-mail or a shout-out on a social media site – get busy networking. The rewards are well worth the effort.

GM gets SM because it’s Social Media and SalesMen

Owly Images

Mary Henige, presenting to CMPRSA in East Lansing, Michigan

I heard a great presentation last week by Mary Henige, Director of Social Media & Digital Communications for General Motors, about what the car company is doing to use social media to its advantage, and to its customers’ advantage.

It’s natural for presentations like Mary’s to be uplifting and inspiring, because she only talked about the successes of various programs. I’m sure there are plenty of “Oh, if only we’d known,” or “Wow, that didn’t work!” types of stories to tell, too. It’s also understandable if companies aren’t eager to share their mishaps. Nevertheless, I’m certain that seeing practical applications brought to life was a great way to get the creative juices flowing for a lot of people at the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America meeting.

In addition to learning about some of the logistics of how GM handles social media, I also walked away with a few key points that we all need to remember:

  • The social media team at GM’s number one job is not to be on social media, or engage with customers or humanize the brand. Of course, all of those things are vitally important, but they also are all leading to one thing: making each employee a salesperson. After all, as Mary pointed out, a primary goal as an employee of General Motors should be to sell cars. No matter what your role within a company or an organization, you should have a single-minded purpose: impact sales or support your issue in a positive way. If what you’re doing isn’t accomplishing that, it’s time to rethink how you’re spending your time.
  • GM is expanding its “social assistance staff” numbers as well as the days and hours they are available to help customers. If I recall correctly, she said they’d be up to 17 employees soon and will be online from early morning to late at night Monday through Saturday, and from noon to the early nighttime hours of Sunday. As Mary said, “If that’s where people are, that’s where we need to be.” They’ve also figured out something else at GM that many other companies haven’t yet. It’s not just about where the people are, it’s when the people are. Engaging with your customers or fans in the social media sphere is a nice touch. Since many people use social media more at home than at work, though, that means being available to engage on nights and weekends.
  • The number of active users on your Facebook page is a better measure than how many “likes” you have. Mary commented that engaged users aren’t people who just showed up to get a coupon. Think about how many company pages you like on Facebook or how many brands you’re following on Twitter. Evaluate that list honestly and I bet you’ll find that you were initially drawn to those pages because there was something used to entice you. The bigger question is, when was the last time you actually looked at that brand’s Facebook page or interacted with it on Twitter? My bet is that it has been awhile. That means that neither you nor the brand are getting anything out of the relationship. And relationships that are allowed to wither soon die and fall off the vine.
  • In addition to being the front line of humanizing the brand, Mary said the social web employees act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine when a crisis occurs, “because we hear about it first.” Humanizing the brand, engaging with customers, improving relationships — these common buzz phrases are all important to a brand’s presence on social media. But one of the most valuable tools you can provide your bosses is being a listening post. By spotting a crisis as it starts to unfold, you just might prevent it from being more than a minor problem that could have been a crisis if not caught early on. People are talking about your brand, your company, your organization and your product. Just because you aren’t listening to them doesn’t mean they don’t want you to hear them. As Mary pointed out, even those people who are complaining about you publicly can still be saved because you can engage with them and maybe turn them around. “It’s the people who don’t talk about you at all that are indifferent,” she said.
General Motors certainly seems like a brand that “gets it” when it comes to dealing with customers and potential customers on the social web. So go search them out — there is a social presence for GM, its brands and its individual vehicles all over the social media spectrum. And if you have any trouble finding what you’re looking for, just start talking about it publicly and they’ll find you. After all, they are eager to humanize the brand, engage with you — and sell you a car.

Betting on social media

Here’s a story I wrote for Ragan.com about the use of social media by a casino in Battle Creek, Michigan —

How a Michigan casino bet big on social media—and won

Firekeepers wooed its early detractors in greater Battle Creek, and it has built an online following, especially on Facebook.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: September 14, 2011

Before the first patron could ever try to hit a jackpot on a slot machine at the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., Jeff LaFrance and his team were betting on social media for the win.

“We saw a growing trend in social media, and in January 2009 we started a Facebook page. Before the doors were opened, we had 75,000 Red Hot Rewards club members registered,” says LaFrance, marketing manager for Firekeepers.

LaFrance says the casino built up its club membership before it opened in August 2009 through online registration, driven through its website and social media.

“That built integrity for us and a solid online presence,” LaFrance says. “They know what to expect from us, they know they can trust us online—which can be difficult.”

LaFrance, one of the first 10 people hired at Firekeepers, holds a computer science degree from the University of Michigan and started as a graphic designer at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. He says getting pulled into the online interaction provided through corporate websites and social media is an ideal situation for him.

LaFrance says that although the website is the casino’s main online presence, it also uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“They’re all linked off our home page, and every other page on our website,” LaFrance says. “Overall, social media is a fantastic success story for us. It’s given us another opportunity to reach our guests and have a pulse on what is going on with our customers.”

When Firekeepers was proposed, there was a bit of an uproar in the city of 52,000 in southwest Michigan, with people worried about what its presence would mean for the community. In the two years since it opened, however, the mood seems to have changed, and the casino has become more widely accepted. Could online outreach have played a role?

Social media “can almost be used as an online focus group in some ways,” LaFrance says. “We can post questions to see what people like and what they don’t like.”

Firekeepers sometimes asks the community at large for input about an upcoming promotion or sale; other times people offer unsolicited feedback.

“People love expressing their opinions. Keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience allows you to react more quickly than ever before.”

With more than 57,500 fans on Facebook—and the total has grown every week—Firekeepers has plenty of feedback available.

“We had a big burst in the beginning once we opened, and then it trailed off for a bit. But then we invested more time, energy and content into the Facebook page, and our fan base has been steadily growing over the past six months at almost 4,000 to 5,000 per month,” LaFrance says.

Despite having a much smaller footprint in real life, Firekeepers has more Facebook fans than much larger casinos, including Hard Rock, Circus Circus and Excalibur in Las Vegas.

“For a casino in Battle Creek, Mich., to be ahead of casinos in Vegas is pretty amazing,” LaFrance says. “The key is to not use social media as a platform for you to sell everything about you. It’s meant to be social; it’s not meant to be just about you and your products.

“People will start to tune out, and you lose value in your posts. Find something interesting about your business, and engage with people.”

LaFrance says he often gets a lot more comments on the casino’s Facebook page when it posts questions completely unrelated to the casino or gaming. For example, last season it asked about the big football game between intrastate archrivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

“We had a few hundred comments on it. You have to give visitors a fresh way to look at you,” he says. “That gives you an identity and gives your business a stronger social presence.”

Having an open page where everyone can participate means Firekeepers hears from folks who didn’t walk away big winners. That’s to be expected, but it’s the customer service concerns that really get the team’s attention.

“Part of social media is that everybody has a voice,” LaFrance says. “We’re in the casino industry, and, unfortunately, people do lose money. With complaints about service, we reach out and address the situation and get those customers back.”

LaFrance says that positive or negative, most comments remain on the wall for all to see and for the casino to address. Vulgar language and any mentions of violence are deleted.

The communications and marketing team of six at Firekeepers also maintains Twitter and YouTube accounts, but neither has seen the success of the Facebook page. LaFrance says that’s more likely because the general casino customer demographic skews older, and older folks favor Facebook over the other social networks.

The biggest reason to be involved in social media, after all, is to connect to your customers. So, you need to be where they are.

“If you’re not spending time there, you’re missing opportunities to touch your audience,” LaFrance says. “Social media is one of biggest growth areas online and should be a tool in your toolbox. In terms of dollars spent, the monetary value isn’t there, but the importance is. We treat everything equally.”

So it’s not about spending money, but what about the time involved? LaFrance takes care of most of the social media interaction for the casino himself, and it doesn’t have to be a huge time drain, he says.

“There’s not an army of people here, but you don’t need that if you can plan things out efficiently,” LaFrance says. “Invest in creating content, and then reuse what you’re creating.”

For example, video ads for promotions and events that run on in-casino TVs will then get new life on the casino’s YouTube account and are linked on its Facebook page.

“It exposes more people to the work you’ve already done,” LaFrance says. “The reality is that social media doesn’t take that much time. You don’t have to spend 24 hours working. For me, I monitor social media all the time—after meetings at work or when I’m at home. Often, I can just check in on my phone. One of the great things is how mobile social media is. That helps you get an opportunity to address any situation and to react quickly.”

So far, Firekeepers has found a way to win with social media, and the casino doesn’t plan to stop betting on the technology anytime soon.

“We’re always researching things, keeping an eye on what’s developing in the market,” LaFrance says. “Facebook is consistently coming out with new features. The joy of social media is it never really ends. There’s always an opportunity for growth and to continue engaging.”

Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”