Is Social Media Killing Conversation?

My elementary school report cards were always filled with As and positive remarks. However, every single one of them also sported comments by the teachers such as “talks too much in class.” I know – this comes as a huge shock to many of you. I love people, and I like to talk. Embarking on my online social journey back in 1992 opened up so many new conversation avenues that I quickly became immersed in the discussions I was having. Everywhere I turned, new forums and communication avenues opened up before my eyes. I was in Heaven! There are millions of people out there to talk to and connect with! Eventually, though, I turned out just like you: I had branched out a little too much and could no longer keep up.

As a Community Manager, I pride myself on always being available to talk to others. I spend my working hours connecting people and sparking dialogue between them. However, a good friend pointed out to me earlier this morning that I have gotten into a rut of sorts on a personal level… I don’t have any conversations of my own. Oh sure, you’ll find me all over the place on Twitter. But I realized that I’m using that as a crutch and avoiding any real methods of talking to others.

I have long used mIRC to stay connected to IRC. Yes, I know it’s old school. However, you’d be surprised at how many fantastic chat rooms – and people – there are to be found on good networks. Chris Pirillo’s channel, for instance, sees no less than 200 people connected at all times. Part of my job is to manage that particular corner of the network, and I make sure to pop in and say hello to everyone as often as I can. Sadly, though, mIRC stays minimized and hidden in my tray 99% of the time I am at the computer.

Instant messaging clients are another way I used to spend time really conversing with others. For the past few months, though, I am always logged into Pidgin in “invisible” mode. I scoff that I don’t have the time to have people sending me messages throughout the day. It makes me sad to realize that I think I am so busy I no longer have the time to devote to my friends and family.

Raise your hand if you’re seeing yourself here. I am guilty as charged: I am using Twitter as a crutch, pretending that I am still having REAL conversations. There are many who will argue and claim that it is possible to do on Twitter. But I have the feeling that the majority of you are much like me: TweetDeck sits in my tray taunting me while messages float across the upper right hand corner of my screen. I can pause in my work, click the icon, type out ONE SENTENCE and then completely ignore it again. I don’t have to invest any real time – or myself – in order to have a “conversation.” I’m coming to understand how sad this really is.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I notice the same trends there. People log in, post a message on their Wall… and maybe say hello to a small handful of people on their own pages. Then they either log out or start playing the hottest new game on the site (apparently usually Farmville or Cityville, according to the requests I see all day long).

People like me sit behind a computer screen for more than eight hours a day working. When we’re not at the computer, our noses are often buried in our phones. After all… we have to stay connected, right?

The question is, though… are we TRULY connected? Is social media killing conversation in your world?


Gary Vaynerchuk Takes Over the World One Book at a Time

I happily call the blogosphere my home – and am proud to do so. I’ve had the chance to connect with so many amazing people during the four years I’ve worked with Chris Pirillo, had opportunities to participate in many cool events and managed to be blown away more than once due to things I’ve witnessed in this small world of ours. Nothing I have been a part of or seen has come close to what I watched Gary Vaynerchuk accomplish a few nights ago on Twitter.

My first introduction to Gary was when he visited Chris’ house in Seattle a while back. Gary took over the live stream and hilarity ensued. I was impressed with his enthusiasm and humor, so began following him on Twitter. I never truly interacted with him until my once-in-a-lifetime trip to New York City back in late October, 2010. I was fortunate to travel alongside Robert Scoble on a whirlwind tour, meeting with startups and interviewing fabulous people such as Nina Zagat. Robert spoke at New York XPO for Business, sharing the stage with none other than Gary Vaynerchuk. I was beyond stoked that I was finally going to meet this powerhouse, and I wasn’t disappointed. Gary was as open, friendly and genuine as I had suspected after following him so long.

His new book – The Thank You Economy – hasn’t even been released yet. When he realized last week how well the pre-sales were going, Gary decided it simply wasn’t enough. In true Vaynerchuk fashion, he set out to send his tome to the number ten spot on the sales list. He took to Twitter, pumping out messages to his followers, friends and fans at a frenetic pace. Within a matter of hours, Gary had surpassed his goal and hit number seven. That’s where he was when I finally gave up and went to get some sleep – I think I later read he went even higher than that.

What impresses me so much isn’t the fact that he was able to convince so many people to order the book in such a short time. Hell, I admit that I reserved a copy for myself. What won me over to the point of near adulation was his complete and utter passion for what he was doing… his belief in himself and his message. So many so-called, self-labeled social media experts claim to be the best. They will talk your ear off while touting themselves as the best thing that ever graced the Twitter site. Most of them have huge egos… they have to in order to claim to be an expert, right? The beautiful thing is that Gary IS an expert… even if he doesn’t realize it.

Gary didn’t stand there and tell us his book is the best thing ever written simply because he wrote it. He wasn’t trying to claim he knows more than anyone else, or can unlock the secrets of success a la Zuckerberg. He simply believed wholeheartedly in what he had created, and feels deeply that it can bring value to your business and your life. That type of true passion and dedication doesn’t come along every day. When was the last time you came in contact with someone who claimed to believe in what they’ve done – and actually meant it?

Gary – kudos my friend. Not only have you written what is sure to be a fantastic book, you have managed to convince this jaded old girl that people with integrity, intelligence and ingenuity still exist. Thank you!!!!

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Can HP’s New Reclining TouchSmart Change the World?

My beloved HP TouchSmart has been my primary computer for nearly two years now. I have put this sucker through its paces in that time, forcing it to do everything I need in a typical workday – video editing and processing, blogging and having a million browser tabs open at all times. Let’s not forget that I run a ton of (sometimes memory-hogging) applications every moment of my day as well, including OpenPandora, TweetDeck, Pidgin, mIRC and my email client. This machine has done me proud, and I have recommended it to a whole lot of people. The problem is, though, that I honestly never use the Touch functionality that this machine was designed for.

This baby sits upright on my desk. While I admit that it’s pretty cool to show off how easy it is to open, close and move things using a flick of my finger when friends visit, I use the mouse and keyboard 99.99% of the time. How the hell would I manage to actually blog all day long if I had to hold my arms out in front of me to type? How convenient would it be to have to reach up constantly and hope that the screen correctly picks up where my finger intended to go? I have long yearned for a touch-screen computer that somehow made it much easier for me to actually use. HP has tried to accommodate my dream with the introduction of their new “reclining” TouchSmart. However, I’m not so sure they’ve hit the mark.

This thing looks pretty damn sweet, eh? The screen isn’t any bigger than what I have now – on a two-year-old model. Sadly, we’re still stuck with 23″. The device reclines 60 degrees and tilts forward up to five degrees. That whole tilt and recline scheme is a huge plus, and one I’ve waited for. But as Michael Arrington pointed out, there are speakers at the bottom. Hello! Why would I want to rest my hands/wrists on the freaking speakers as I try to type on the virtual keyboard?

Sure, this new iteration comes pre-loaded with some nifty applications… but as usual, they aren’t necessarily the ones I would want. You’ll find Hulu, Twitter, Rhapsody and HP’s RecipeBox pre-installed for you. Gee, thanks. I’m a Pandora and Netflix user. Here we go with uninstalling a lot of bloat when the machine is booted up for the first time. Oh, right… that’s going to happen on every machine. How silly of me to forget. I digress…

I have to agree with Mike when he said that HP blew a pretty big chance with this one. Sure, I’d love to be able to recline the screen so that it’s easier to see and perhaps use. But the company had an opportunity to really make a difference… create a game-changer. This particular offering comes nowhere near that title, folks. Hopefully, they’ll come a little closer next time.

I’m in desperate need of a new machine, as the GPU in this one is dying. I’m literally saving up my pennies. However, the new HP TouchSmart 610 isn’t going to be the machine I plunk down my money on.

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Facebook is the Walmart of Social Media

I decided last night that Facebook is the Walmart of the social media world – and that’s actually a good thing. Walmart is considered to be the place to go for all of your “one stop shopping” needs. You can find anything and everything there, all at the lowest prices around. When I wander into my local store, I’m apt to find people dressed in designer clothes who drive a Mercedes. It’s not only “poor people” who shop at Walmart, despite what many of you out there try to believe. The chain is a veritable smorgasbord of people and things to do – choices to make – just like you will find on Facebook.

Let’s face it, y’all: Facebook is where it’s at these days. Deny it if you will. Claim under your breath that with the privacy issues Facebook could never survive. Laugh and snicker when I state loudly that Facebook will continue to grow and permeate even more of our online lives than it already does. Everyone AND their dog has a profile on there, whether you like it or not. In fact, I’m willing to wager at least 90% of the people who read this post have a Facebook profile, as well.

When you log in to the site, you are faced with so many things to do – so many choices – that it’s hard to know where to begin. Do you check your Inbox first to see who has sent you messages? Are you more inclined to skim through the news feed, figuring out who is doing what? Perhaps you simply have to check your crops before doing anything else. A person can spend an entire day on Facebook and still not run out of things to do. You never need to leave the site in order to fulfill every need and desire you may have when it comes to your daily dose of Internet… including photos and videos, news Pages and more.

Facebook is one-stop shopping for all of your social media needs!

Do you really even need another social media site? In theory – no. We are part of a crowd, though, and we’ll continue to flock to new sites as they crop up and are touted by others as being “hot.” We’ll keep on Tweeting and making connections on LinkedIn. But at the end of the day, we will head right back to Facebook where we can (and do!) find anything and everything we will ever want.

Thanks, Facebook, for making it simple. I may not agree with all of the changes you make. I may not like the “price” I have to pay (in the form of lack of easy privacy options) to use your service. But I will continue making your website my first choice for all of my social media needs.

I’m being asked why I chose Walmart instead of Target or any other “superstore.” The answer is simple: not everyone can afford to shop at Target or other high-end stores. You can find a MUCH larger variety of people at Walmart than anywhere else on Earth, I think, which is why I feel Facebook is more like them than any other retailer for my contrasting purposes.


How Could the Verizon iPhone be Viable?

I admit it: the main reason I am happy that the iPhone has finally been announced by Verizon is due to the simple fact that the constant rumors will now stop. Having my beloved iPhone available on Verizon does nothing for me. Like many of you, I’m locked into a contract, thanks to my desire to upgrade to the newest model this summer. In addition, I can honestly say that I have no gripes with the service I receive from AT&T. The only time I experienced issues was when I spent two days in New York City back in late October. Here in central Indiana, my reception has always been fantastic. I also happen to enjoy talking on the phone while doing other things with my handset… unlike what I could do on Verizon.

I cannot claim to have any new and incredible insight into the entire Verizon – AT&T debate. I simply know what’s inside my own head – and I have a feeling it matches up with the thoughts many of you are having, as well. I don’t begin to understand all of the hype surrounding the “big announcement.” So Verizon is going to sell the iPhone in a few weeks. So what? It’s not like we’re all going to rack up huge early termination fees to flock to a different company. Sure, Verizon is going to sell a lot of iPhones to their existing customers. I’m sure some people will actually pay the fees in order to switch (publicly and loudly, in certain cases). But there’s one huge problem that these people aren’t thinking about: the whole no talking and doing something else at the same time. Do you really want to have to interrupt what you’re working on in order to answer a call?

At what price do you decide a device or service isn’t going to work for you? In my mind, that point comes when I cannot do what it is I need to do – and can easily manage with someone else. Just last night I put a call on speakerphone and continued the conversation while checking the latest winter storm warnings. Had I not been with AT&T, my iPhone wouldn’t have been able to do that. Could I have waited? Well duh… but why should I HAVE to? Shouldn’t a smartphone be able to do those two things at once? If it can’t, it’s not very so smart now, is it?

We shouldn’t forget to take a look at the realities of how each service will perform. Sure, AT&T users have issues in some places here in the USA. Guess what? Verizon customers are likely going to experience those same pains once the network begins to rapidly expand. Anytime you have a bajillion users in one dense area trying to grab the tower signals all at once – chaos is going to ensue. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this can happen with any carrier.

Perhaps I’m just a doddering old fool who doesn’t understand then ins and outs of this announcement and the grand impact it will have on our society. Maybe I’m just set in my ways or too blonde to wrap my purty little head around the concept of change. Justify it any way you choose. The fact remains that I don’t see what the hell the fuss is all about.


How to Work At Home Successfully

Three and a half years ago, my dream of working from home came true. I had long envisioned a life in which I could work in my pajamas with a ponytail in my hair during any hours I choose. My schedule would somehow magically revolve around the needs of my family and home, allowing me more freedom than ever before. I would be SuperMom, making it on time to all of the various activities and appointments that teenagers require. All of my work would be done on time, and all of it would be of an above-average quality. Less than a week later, I learned the hard way that dreams come with a price. Working at home is not as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be, trust me.

While I do tend to work in pajamas and a messy ponytail most days, I admit that no other parts of my earlier visions were correct. After more than fifteen years spent in office settings, I also will now freely admit that it’s easier in many ways to have one of those 9-5 jobs I spent so much time griping about. You see, life happens – when you least expect it. Sure, you can pencil in times to work… time for appointments… times to cook, clean and do the laundry. What you cannot pencil in are the million other distractions that are going to come your way every moment of every day.

The kids simply want to see me. The princesses will come down at random times through the day for hugs and kisses, or to show off something new they’ve learned. They return to the upstairs and their Mommy (my daughter) after just a short period. However, I have to then dash off a Tweet or an email to family members to brag about the uber-awesome thing they just did or said. My other daughter – who is fifteen – wanders down every time some type of drama happens she must discuss immediately. Remember – she’s fifteen. There is always some type of drama going on.

The phone rings. The laundry piles up. There are too many dirty dishes. Someone gets hurt. Another person suddenly develops a fever/rash/cough that requires a doctor. Yet another person has forgotten some item they absolutely need at school right then and there (and yes – I’ve gone to the school in said pajama pants and ponytail, tyvm!). The granddaughters may bonk their noggins while running hell-bent through the house and need Nana’s special kisses. Oh crap, I forgot to start dinner!

Someone in the chat room needs to talk about whether their ban was legitimate or not. Three other people IM me to air their thoughts on some pressing matters. I search my favorite website for possible story leads, and end up reading twelve other articles simply because they interest me. Oh crud – that one links off to three sources that look promising! Another hour is lost while I check those stories and tidbits off, as well. Let’s not forget Twitter. I admit to being addicted, and having to shoot off at least ten to twenty of those every day. Thank god they were genius enough to limit me to only 140 characters, or I’d spend four times as much time on there.

Something in the house just broke – gotta call the landlady and get approval to call a repair person. Wait on hold forever and a day when I have to call the cable company to resolve an issue on my bill or ask why my upload speeds are once again throttled. Geeez, now I have a question for Chris about a video he recorded, so I have to track him down to see what he wants me to do with it. While I’m waiting, I forget that I could be writing something else – I ended up distracted answering the thirty unread messages in my email Inbox that don’t even have anything to DO with work.

Are you seeing a pattern here, folks? There are so many distractions every moment of every day when you work from home that it takes willpower of steel to somehow block it all out.

The beautiful thing, though, is that I choose to not block out a single moment. Every distraction proves that I am living life. Every interruption by the kids is another memory made and another moment I did not miss due to being away from home in an office somewhere. Hell no it’s not easy working at home, but I am blessed to be able to do so.

Guess what? I feel the need to stop writing now and go soak in a bubble bath for an hour. I’ll finish my work when my fingers and toes are properly wrinkled.


Mark Zuckerberg: Time Person of the Year – Why?

I love Facebook and the Zuck as much as the next person, honestly. I simply fail to understand why it is that Time Magazine has named him Person of the Year for 2010. The magazine backs up their choice by saying that: “For connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year.” My reaction was a raised eyebrow and an exclamation of “holy crap – seriously?”

Mark is certainly blossoming into a great CEO. His company is undoubtedly an important one, paving the way for the social media movement. He pisses us off, and he makes us love him. We alternately sing his praises on our blog pages and threaten a fate worse than death. We embrace many of the changes he forces down our throats at the same time we’re screaming at him about our privacy.

Do any of these things make him the “Man of the Year?” I honestly don’t believe so, no. In fact, I’m not happy with anyone on the top ten list. Lady Gaga? Really? What the hell has she done to influence the world? How has Steve Jobs managed to make this globe a better place? Please don’t tell me that my iPhone 4 or your Macbook Air is going to save the planet. I don’t want to hear it.

Why is there not a person such as my friend Mark Horvath on that list? He is literally changing the world – one story at a time. He travels all over the place, talking to those living on the streets (and sometimes in the sewers). He is giving a face to the invisible people of our world. By doing that, he’s making an actual difference.

I am well aware that Horvath isn’t the only one out there changing this little ball of gas for the better. There are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of amazing people out there. Why the hell don’t we see them winning an award such as this? Have we really become so illogical – our minds polluted against what’s real and necessary – that we would choose the creator of a social network as the most influential and important person in our world?


How To Keep Your Customers Happy

I originally wrote this post as a rant about a month ago, after having to deal with horrible customer service repeatedly – from one company. Re-reading this today, I realized how much of it rings true… companies need to actually be listening to their customers. Don’t patronize us. Don’t act like we are complete imbeciles. Just – make your product or service WORK. That’s all we ask… honest!

It takes an awful lot to frustrate me to the point of tears. I am a fairly calm person most of the time and you won’t often see my feathers ruffled. However, I have reached the point of no return. I even mentioned on Twitter that I needed a white flag to wave and was throwing in the proverbial towel. The point of no return has come and gone. Why the hell can people not LISTEN for once? If you are in charge of the response team for your product or service, stop patronizing me. Yes, I’m talking to you. If your junk doesn’t work, it’s not me – your customer – you should be blaming. When you cannot figure out what the hell is wrong, you don’t turn around and flippantly tell your client that it must be “something on your end.”

I’m not going to name names or point fingers. The service I am ticked off at doesn’t really matter because I’ve seen this happen too many times to count. I have been having issues with your service for more than a year now. I have tried using it on multiple computers, using every browser ever built and even from different locations (with different ISPs). Since the problem exists 99% of the time, I can pretty much guarantee it’s NOT ON MY END.

In the past year, I have spent a countless number of hours on the phone with your technicians and engineers, and an even larger number of hours buried in emails back and forth. I don’t get paid for the time I spend trying to make YOUR service work. In fact, I tend to lose pay since I’m not getting other things done that I could be invoicing for. Each time we publicly complain about your service (on Twitter or Facebook), your latest mouthpiece acts very concerned and attempts to help.

It doesn’t help, though, when you have zero records of ever having talked to us before. It doesn’t help me when you have an entirely new team in place since the last time. It doesn’t help me to have to waste my time telling you my browser of choice, operating system and computer specifications. This is NOT an issue due to my computer. How will it benefit anyone to dredge our way through the same old routine tests and useless information to get to the same point? At the end of the conference call with your engineers tomorrow, I am sure I will be once again told that since THEY cannot replicate the issue, there is nothing wrong. My screenshots, concise explanations and screen captures don’t convince you there is something wrong.

I want your service to work – period. There’s nothing more to it. You jump down our throats if we dare to state that what you do is not worth recommending to others, yet you cannot be bothered to take a serious interest in the needs of your customers. I don’t expect perfection or even spectacular and amazing things from you.

I just want your shit to work.

What are your thoughts? Are you sick and tired of companies who care nothing about supporting you beyond the point of sale? What’s your worst customer service horror story?

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Are You Truly Ready for Your Fifteen Minutes of Fame?

As I was typing out a reply to this very question over on the other Lockergnome site a few moments ago, I realized that the thoughts in my head might just make an excellent blog post. Until this point, I had never really thought through my life and attempted to decide if I had, indeed, already had my fifteen minutes of fame. As I pondered my way through my life, I realize that I sure as hell hope my fifteen minutes hasn’t gotten here just yet.

I’ve been lucky to have received some cool recognitions and to have done many awesome things. In college (I began college at age 29, worked full time, single mom), I maintained a perfect GPA, was President of our local chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for two years, Illinois Regional President for a year and won a Coca Cola National Scholars award/scholarship. I was also featured (one of only 7 students in the entire school) in the book published about student life and the school itself. You know – THE book – the one that the college sends to a million people, hoping they will attend.

I’ve had a couple of articles written about me for various reasons in print newspapers and published online. I’ve been recognized at conferences. I’ve been interviewed more times than I can count and have been a guest on more than a few podcasts and web shows. Heck, I’ve even met – and hung out with – several “famous” people.

While each of these things were humbling and exciting, I certainly would call none of them my fifteen minutes of fame. If I were to label any of those events as such, wouldn’t that mean I’m “done?” There’s nothing more to do, folks. I no longer have to work so hard. I shouldn’t bother to strive to do more – accomplish more – BE more, right? After all, my fifteen minutes has already come and gone.

I’m sorry, but there’s just no way I’m ready to call it quits. I have so many things that I want to accomplish. Any one of those things could one day turn into my moment if I work hard enough. I know without a doubt that I have the potential to achieve far more than I have in the past. I set goals with specific action plans, brainstorm often and push myself hard. When MY fifteen minutes get here, I want it to be for something I have truly worked for.

How about you – have you already had your moment of fame?


Why Should You Build Your Business on Social Media?

Raise your hand if you have a Twitter account. Keep it up high if you also have a profile on Facebook or MySpace. Can I find you on LinkedIn? Does your name appear on the hallowed pages of foursquare, YouTube, digg or Flickr? What about your work? Is your business on social media? Think about this for a moment. YOU likely have a carefully-cultivated and active social life online. Your friends, family and co-workers have these same accounts. Guess what, folks? Your customers – and those people you want to be your customers – are hanging out and checking in to all of these same sites. Why isn’t your business there with them yet?

To be completely frank, you are completely insane if you haven’t begun to put your business out there in social-land. I don’t know about you, but I do almost everything online now. If I need to buy something for my home, I research the various brands online before purchasing online. I rely on what others say far more than I do on whatever propaganda the company wants to spin on their own site. Past customers are going to tell the truth about whatever it is you’re selling. If your product or service is hot, the world is going to know. If you flat-out suck… we’re all going to know that, as well. People talk – a LOT – on social media sites. Word spreads like wildfire. Companies are literally made or broken all the time simply by what their target audience has to say about them.

This may make you leery, and more afraid to take that plunge. If you believe in what you’re doing, though, why aren’t you putting yourself out there? You obviously started that business or created that service for a reason, right? Isn’t your goal to sell something? How the heck will you ever DO that if you don’t let people know how to find you?

The most important tip I can give you is to never – EVER – treat your professional social media profiles as nothing more than link-bait. Don’t sit there and post links to your specials, sales or blog posts. People will not pay attention. You have to engage your community. Talk WITH them, not at them. If you’re running a special this week on tennis shoes, ask your audience what type of shoe they feel works best for them, followed by a simple link to your sale page. Asking a direct question will nearly guarantee conversation, feedback and clicks.

Personally, I hate the word “followers,” along with the term “fans.” I don’t want either of those things, thanks. I prefer to have friends – and you should, too. Even if you are trying to sell these people something, you really want to engage them as though they are a friend. Draw them in to your circle. Make them feel a part of whatever it is you are trying to do. Let them know their feedback and ideas are important. You are going to win a hell of a lot of loyalty this way, and your community will begin to grow.

Always keep in mind that building a community is NOT about connecting people to you. It’s all about connecting them to each other. Give them the tools and platforms that they need to collaborate and watch the magic unfold. We’ve all seen how one person can make a difference in the world. Can you imagine what can happen when a group of people come together under a common interest? They literally would have the power to change the world.

Shouldn’t your brand be right there cheering them on?

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