Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Own Personal "Religion"

“The unexamined life is not a life worth living for a human being.”

~ Socrates, in Plato’s Apology

I believe we are pattern-seeking creatures (we see patterns even when they don’t exist) and from these patterns we construct meaning because we are driven to make sense of the world and our place in it. But what if life exists outside of our patterns, outside of meaning. Inspired by learning more about Dr. George Vaillant’s adaptations I created my own personal “religion” which is a blend of humor, altruism, Buddhism, intelligence, and trust (haBit).

There is a difference between joy and happiness. I believe that having the capacity to experience joy becomes a valuable talent particularly in old age. When you are dying and racked with pain, it is hard to be happy all the time, but joy, wonder, curiosity, and humooor remain. Old age can become a creative, joyful way to play when you learn not to take everything so seriously. Rather than strive for continual happiness, I think we should learn to appreciate and savor fleeting, serendipitous moments of joy. 

The steadfast belief that my life has meaning and purpose staves off depression. That is why I rarely feel depressed. Through the unconscious and conscious workings of my flexible mind I can frame everything that happens to me within a lesson that is rich in meaning. Learning brings me joy even when the lesson is painful. I realize there is another way of looking at things. I have a brilliant friend named George, who is a renowned biophysicist at the University of California in Berkeley. Meeting George for dinner is always a treat because he is such a delightful and intellectually stimulating companion. His world view is shaped by the skillful interweaving of his wise humor and vast intellect. That is why humor and intelligence are part of my new “religion.”

I feel the happiest when I am with people who know how to make me laugh. During the first half of my life, my seriousness bordered on moroseness, but as I’ve gotten older, I have learned how to lighten up and not take life so seriously. Yes, the world needs to be saved and that is why altruism and Buddhism will always play an important role in my life, but there are also other important facets of life I wish to explore such as passion, romance and love. 

I believe the intellect must be actively engaged in the quest for knowledge. I tend to downplay the value of faith because what we accept as the truth must be objective and evidence-based. Even though I am not a scientist, I admire the scientific approach to life. By performing scientifically valid experiments on individuals (human and non-human agents) as well as natural phenomena, scientists can construct knowledge to formulate an objective view of the truth.

Trust is as important as the truth. People who trust life tend to be happier (having trust that in the end everything will work out for the best). I hope my new haBit will bring more joy into my life! 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gap Year


It's official. My 17-year-old son, Daniel, decided to take a gap year because he doesn't think he's ready to attend college in the fall. For the past several weeks, I have gone through a whirlwind of spiraling emotions, and you can see anxiety etched all over my face (in the form of bassett hound bags under my eyes and prominent pimples that feel like pebbles stuck to my skin). My biggest fear is that Daniel's gap year will stretch into gap years and he may decide not to attend college at all. If his intelligence was below average, I wouldn't be as concerned, but Daniel is a gifted young man who scored over 2100 on the SAT without studying and he has an I.Q. of 123 (the I.Q. of the average college student is 115). Unfortunately, he only has a GPA of 3.4 because he didn't bother to take any AP (Advanced Placement) classes and he didn't take school that seriously.  

Daniel's plan is to take classes and try to find a job during his gap year. He wants to use his gap year to explore possible career paths, earn some money, and visit colleges outside of California. He expressed an interest in graphic design and art so we enrolled him in a Photoshop class that meets on Tuesdays and a drawing class that meets on Fridays. He also said he prefers to find a job rather than an internship because he wants to earn some money. We told him that if he decides to attend a private or out-of-state college, any money he earns must go towards paying for his tuition. If he attends a college in California, half of the money he earns must go towards paying for his tuition. Daniel plans to apply for part-time jobs at Safeway, Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, CVS, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Office Max. Once he turns 18 at the end of June, he can apply for a job at Big Five Sporting Goods.


When I was in high school, I worked at my father's Chinese restaurant every day after school ended, and used the money I earned to pay for my tuition at Indiana University. I also had several part-time jobs while I was in college to help pay for my college expenses and took out a student loan. My parents are wealthy, but they didn't want to pay for the college education of their daughters. So my sister and I both worked part-time while we were in college and took out student loans. My parents paid for my brother's undergraduate and graduate school education so he didn't have to find a part-time job while he was in college and he didn't have to take out any student loans. 


In addition to taking classes and working, we expect Daniel to perform some volunteer work during his gap year. When he was ten years old, he used to volunteer with me every Sunday morning as a cat socializer at Pets Unlimited in San Francisco because he likes cats, but when he started middle school and was introduced to computer and video games, he decided he no longer wanted to volunteer with me every weekend. However, he has agreed to participate in the San Francisco AIDS Walk with me this year. 

We told Daniel that he will need to come up with a list of colleges he wants to visit during the summer. He told us he wasn't really excited about any of the colleges we visited last year.  He felt that they were too large for him and he's not sure if he wants to attend college in California. He's also worried about whether or not he'll be able to handle the tremendous academic and social demands of college. A friend's son found a college he fell in love with on the East Coast, but I wonder if there is a college out there that would be a good fit for Daniel. 

When I lived in Hawaii, I met a 17-year-old woman whose parents were both in jail. Fortunately, she became good friends with an older single woman who eventually adopted her. In Hawaii, there is a special program designed to help at-risk youth in underserved populations. Through this program, this young woman learned the skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond. After school, she received tutoring and leadership training. In our local community, she blossomed and became a leader among her peers. Shortly after I met her I found out that she had just received a full scholarship to University of Colorado in Boulder. There is no doubt in my mind that this woman will lead a successful and fulfilling life. 


I wish there was a program like this for Daniel. He needs something that will light a fire in his belly. He understands the importance of a college degree in terms of lifetime income and success, but his fears are holding him back. What do you do when fear overcomes your desire to succeed? When I was his age, I couldn't wait to go away for college and I knew I was ready because I have always been motivated to succeed. My college years were definitely among the best years of my life. Ever since I was a child, I loved to learn and I still do. That is why I returned to graduate school several years ago to earn a Master's degree in Marketing. 

If Daniel's life was a movie, I can fast forward it and see all kinds of challenges ahead of him because of his fears. If your life was a movie and you were able to rewrite some of the roles you played, would you have done anything differently? Like most people, there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, but in the end, I believe life unfolds according to the most important lessons you need to learn.  


What worries me the most about Daniel is whether or not he'll be able to overcome his fear of college. I'm afraid that by the time Daniel reaches my age, he'll look back and regret all the mistakes he made when he was much younger, but by then, it might be too late for him to start over. In America, there really isn't a place for gifted underachievers like Daniel. If you're a parent, are you struggling with a child who is a gifted underachiever?


After giving a great deal of thought to Daniel's situation, I realized that once Daniel turns 18 at the end of June, he is legally an adult and I have to relinquish control over his decisions. While I will always want the best for him, if that is not what he wants, then I need to give him the freedom to experience the important lessons he needs to learn in life. 


When I was a sophomore in college, I switched my major from biology to English and my parents disowned me for a year. It was one of the loneliest years of my life, but fortunately, I had a strong network of friends in college who gave me the emotional support I needed to succeed. Next year, Daniel might decide not to attend college, but I would never disown for making that decision. He has to forge his own path through life and if he chooses a path that is diametrically different from mine, I need to be okay with that. I need to love him for who he is and not condition my love based on the decisions he chooses in life. As parents, we always want what we think is best for our child, but if our child chooses something we would not have chosen, we need to find a way to make peace with their decisions. This has not been an easy lesson for me to accept, but for the sake of my relationship with my son, this is one of the greatest gifts I can give him -- the gift of unconditional love. 



Monday, December 2, 2013

Lost in Translation

One of my favorite movies was "Lost in Translation," starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. The story works on many different levels as it explores multiple levels of lost translations between a man and a woman from two different generations as they explore the foreign landscape of Tokyo together. 

In the highly regulated financial services world where I work, there are also multiple levels of lost translations that take place between clients and financial advisors as well as financial advisors and the firms they work for. Throw in a basket of complex financial instruments and you create numerous opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication. 


What remedy can solve many of these challenges? In a nutshell, it's simplicity. Albert Einstein once said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler." During one of my regular visits to the public library, I found an intriguing book entitled, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity by Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn. In our modern information age, most of us complain about information overload, but I think the real culprit is not just the volume of information we face every day, but the complexity of the information that bombards us. Here are some examples from Siegel and Etzkorn that you might find shocking:

  • In 1980, the typical credit card contract was about a page and a half long. Today it is thirty-one pages." 
  • If you're a homeowner, how well do you understand your homeowners' insurance policy ? A 2007 National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) survey revealed that one-third to one-half of insurance policyholders were misinformed about what perils are covered and how much they might receive if they made a claim."
  • Marquis Dunson died in 2002 after his parents gave the one-year-old Infants' Tylenol for three days to treat his cold symptoms. In the subsequent lawsuit, which resulted in a $5 million award, the plaintiffs argued that the warning labels and directions on the Infants' Tylenol label did not make clear that an overdose of acetaminophen, Tylenol's active ingredient, could lead to liver failure.
  • The United States was founded and governed for over two centuries on the basis of a document that is six pages long. That is 0.1 percent of the length of the current income tax code, which currently runs fourteen thousand pages. 
According to Siegel and Etzkorn, "complexity is costing us money, undermining government and business, and putting our health and even our lives at risk." As a consumer, I think it's time for us to fight complexity instead of complacently accepting it as a fact of life. And the best way to defeat complexity is by demanding simplicity from the companies that serve us. For example, I own a Samsung smartphone. I understand the icons that appear in color on my home screen. But the icon on the bottom left of my phone is not intuitive. It looks like part of a document because it's rectangular in shape with two horizontal lines embedded inside it. When I press on this icon, it pulls up six different options: Add, Wallpaper, Search, Notification, Edit page, and Settings. For a brand new Smartphone user, I would recommend using a different icon instead of the rectangular one. Why not just use the word, "options" or OPT for short? 

On my MacBook Air, on the bottom left-hand corner of my keyboard, are four keys that appear to be similar to each other in terms of function: fn, control, option, and command.  Instead of using descriptive words to describe these keys, I think a pictorial icon would be more understandable. How can a new Apple user remember which key to use in order to perform certain commands such as copying and pasting? The problem with many technology applications and devices is that these instruments are designed by geeks for other geeks to use. That is why I think it's important for design teams to introduce prototype products to real consumers before the initial product launch. A consumer might buy something he doesn't understand, but if you want to turn this consumer into a raving fan, create a product that is so simple that even his ninety-year-old grandmother can understand how to use it. 

Simplicity also plays an important role in how well we communicate. Technology has created greater attention deficit among children and adults. In today's information-saturated world, if you want to get your message across, say more using fewer words. Ernest Hemingway is famous for his brevity. Here is his most famous six-word story: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn." Using only six words, the story's message is clear. Nothing more needs to be said. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Being Better is Overrated


Explaining your differences as ‘better’ than others seems logical. However, it’s not always effective. For instance, if someone asks you why s/he should do business with you as opposed to the firm across the street – you begin to give them the ‘betters.’ You may not say it by using the word ‘better,’ but it sounds like you will have:
  • Better communication
  • Better customer service
  • Better products
The problem with inferring ‘better’ is that the consumer doesn’t believe it. We don’t believe that something will actually be better! Imagine going to the grocery store and heading down the laundry detergent aisle. If you see a jug of Tide detergent with a big “NEW AND IMPROVED” on it – do you immediately buy it because you are sure that now, finally, your clothes will get cleaner? No, of course not! We don’t actually believe it will be that much better. And, it’s risky buying a different laundry detergent (certainly not as risky as switching financial advisors).

What we need is to be different. If we can, we need to share what is truly unique about what we do – not compare ourselves to others. So, what is unique about you? I would say there is one thing unique about your firm and it’s the people inside. These people can’t be found somewhere else. And, 80 percent of the reason someone chooses your firm is because of you – not your products. In fact, they may not even know specifically which products they want until long after they say yes to doing business with you. Are you talking about what’s most unique about your firm?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Beware of Time Wasters!


An important facet of social intelligence is having good awareness of time, which is related to, but not the same thing as time management skills. It's easy to spot someone with poor awareness of time. My ex-husband's cousin owns a modern art gallery and can talk for hours about modern art -- whether you want to learn about it or not. Before the Do Not Call list was implemented, I used to receive dozens of phone calls from robotic telemarketers who felt compelled to recite their entire sales pitch verbatim even though I was ready to hang up the phone after the first five minutes. I know a few people who think it's important to give you a very detailed prologue to the issue they're discussing instead of getting straight to the point. These people are time wasters. Of course, we all become time wasters every once in a while, but in order to improve your social intelligence, you need to develop better awareness of time. Good awareness of time requires focus, concern for others, and an activated internal clock.

Earlier this year, I hosted a 401(k) breakfast seminar with three other speakers. The day before the seminar, I instructed each speaker to talk for no more than 30 minutes in order to allow 20 minutes for Q & A. Unfortunately, the first two speakers ran long on their allotted time. I approached the third speaker and asked him if there was any way he could get the meeting back on time. Much to my surprise, he did his 30 minute presentation in 15 minutes without ever looking at his watch. It was, by the way, the highest rated presentation of the day. How is that possible?

Whether in a meeting, on the phone, or in delivery of a presentation, there are some key points to not only stay on time, but deliver compelling information.

1.    Determine what is the most important information. Then get to the point quickly.
2.    Be prepared. Know how long it should take you to describe certain elements of your business, products, or services. Practice, practice, practice.
3.    Time yourself. If you find yourself "going long" in meetings -- and even if you think you are always right on time -- check your watch. When you start talking during a business meeting, look at the time. Then check back when you're done. How much of the meeting did your conversation occupy? Was your percentage of the meeting justified with what you talked about?


In the business world, time is critical. It is one of our most precious commodities. Our business and lives could be different if we simply had more time. So, don't let time wasters get away with stealing your time!

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Increase Your Prospecting Performance

Yesterday, I arrived in New York for Morgan Stanley's week-long Performance Session 2 (PS 2) training. In order to qualify for PS 2, Financial Advisors must be in top first, second or third tier in terms of production during the first six months. I knew I would qualify for the training because I'm ranked in the first tier (top 20%) of my training class. One of my friends at Morgan Stanley completed her PS 2 training last month, and she shared with me the agenda from the program. While I wish there was more emphasis given to product knowledge and capital markets, I plan to view this week's training as a valuable learning opportunity, and I hope to come away from the experience with some new ideas about the business and myself. 

I know that a great deal of the training this week will be spent on prospecting. I believe prospecting is important even if you're not in sales. As with everything else, a successful prospecting campaign requires developing a strategy or plan of attack. Whether you're prospecting for new clients, a new job, or even a future spouse, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What kind of person (or company) do you prefer to interact with?
  2. What do you bring to the table? What is your competitive advantage or key differentiator? In other words, why should a person (or company) want to interact or do business with you? What makes you so special and unique? 
  3. Evaluate people or companies you have had successful interactions with in the past. What were some of the key qualities of this person or company? It's also important to analyze your past failures when it comes to prospecting. How can you change or tweak your approach in order to achieve a more successful outcome?  
  4. How many prospects do you need to have in your pipeline in order to achieve a successful outcome? If you don't have enough prospects in your pipeline, your odds of success are very low. Conversely, if you have too many prospects in your pipeline, you will have a hard time following up with each one of them in a meaningful way. However, it's far better to have too many prospects in your pipeline than too few.
  5. Are there people you know who could introduce you to the type of person or company you want to meet? Spread the word among everyone you know. Use social media to your advantage. For example, LinkedIn is a great way to build your network of professional connections. 
  6. What is your plan of action? What will you do first, second, third, etc. in order to execute your prospecting plan? Be as specific as possible by including "dates to be completed by" in your plan.
  7. Ask a friend to help you role play an initial meeting with a potential prospect. 
  8. Consult with an expert who has been successful at reaching the type of prospects you're targeting. 
  9. Create a list of questions to ask your prospect in order to find out if there's a good fit between the two of you. Not all prospects are a good fit for who you are and what you're looking for.
  10. Figure out a way to successfully overcome objections. You might meet the perfect prospect, but chances are, you will need to convince that person why s/he should develop a relationship with you. Prepare yourself to receive some resistance and learn how to overcome it. 
 After I complete my PS 2 training, I'll share with you any new ideas I pick up on prospecting in a future blog posting. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 12, 2013

99U Conference

At the 2013 99U Conference in New York City, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director, Columbia University Motivation Science Center, spoke about motivation. Here are some excerpts from her talk:

Upon reading story after story about geniuses, prodigies, and other successful people, Heidi Halvorson found herself noticing that people in the U.S. tend to attribute failure and success not to controllable factors such as work ethic, but rather to innate ability or talent.
  • Do you have a "Be Good" mentality or a "Get Better" mentality? First, there is the "Be Good" mindset: trying to prove yourself and validate your skills to look better (or smarter) than those around you. Alternatively, a person with a "Get Better" mindset focuses on constant improvement -- instead of focusing on perfection they focus on performing better than previous efforts, which gives them room to fail, learn, and grow. In study after study, Halvorson found that a Get Better mentality improved chances of success and happiness.
  • Don't visualize success. Visualize the steps you will take to make success happen. When you encounter challenges with a Be Good mindset, anxiety and depression set in and start to affect performance. Your skills and your intelligence can feel compromised and/or threatened. When faced with similar challenges, a Get Better allows you to focus on improving or refining your efforts -- as well as the external processes -- rather than feeling like your intrinsic skills or intelligence are at stake.
Back in 2000, I came across the concept of "kaizen," which is an approach to one’s personal or social life that focuses on continuous improvement. It's so easy to sit back and tell yourself, "I'll never be as successful as Steve Jobs because I'm not as talented as he is." But the truth is, Steve Jobs worked incredibly hard in order to become successful and he also had some failures along the way -- the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, the Apple III, the Powermac g4 cube. It took Jack Dorsey years of experimentation before he finally launched the Web site which ultimately became Twitter. And Howard Schultz failed at his first attempt at creating a communal coffee experience. In 1986, when his first store opened in Seattle, there was non-stop opera music, menus in Italian, and no chairs. Schultz admits he had to make many mistakes to discover what would become the Starbucks we know today. 

Currently, I work as a Financial Advisor for Morgan Stanley. Of course, there are people in my office who seem to be "natural born" salespeople, but not every successful advisor falls into that category. There are plenty of advisors in my firm who have managed to succeed simply by working harder than everyone else. Hard work doesn't necessarily mean you will become successful in financial sales, but it will greatly increase your chances of achieving success. 

All through my life, I have focused on getting better and better no matter what endeavor I pursue. Whether it's trying to earn good grades in school or a promotion at work, I have noticed that the harder I work, the more successful I become. For example, when I was in high school, I tried out for the tennis team and was placed in the #18 slot, the last slot on the team. I felt really embarrassed about being the lowest girl on the totem pole, so I spent the next several months practicing tennis. I practiced so much I developed calluses on my right hand. But all my hard work paid off. After a few weeks, I moved my way up from the #18 position to #9. A few months later, I eventually landed in the #4 position on the varsity tennis team, which is where I remained until I graduated from high school. I didn't set out with the goal of becoming the #1 person on the team. My goal was simply to work as hard as I could so I could become a better player and see where that took me. If I had set a goal of becoming the #1 player on the team, I would have felt really discouraged by failing to reach that goal. And discouragement is the enemy of motivation. 

Another trap that many of us fall into is visualizing success instead of visualizing the steps it takes to succeed. Let's face it. It's much more fun to fantasize about what it feels like to be successful -- the fancy mansion, the luxury sports car, the five-star vacations, etc. But fantasizing about the desired end result before you have achieved it doesn't give you the roadmap you need to succeed. I believe that is why so many people play the lottery. They fantasize about what they will do with all the money they might win because visualizing other things you can do to end up with a lot of money isn't as much fun. 

In addition to Halvorson's recommendations, I think it's also important to remain true to your personal brand if your goal is long-term success. Let's take searching for a job as an example. Most of us have some idea of what our dream job is. But then when we discover our dream job, we feel discouraged when we realize we don't meet the minimum qualifications. But think about the person who eventually wins your dream job offer. That person was not born with all those qualifications. He or she had to work at a number of different jobs in order to acquire those skills. You can do the same thing. Once you have your dream job in mind, write down all the skills your dream job requires. Identify skills or experiences you don't have yet. Then try to find jobs that will help you fill in those gaps. 

Think of your career trajectory as a series of horizontal or vertical steps. Ideally, each subsequent job you land should give you new skills you can add to your resume and increase your chances of landing your dream job. Sometimes, it's important to make a lateral shift in your career path in order to add a new suite of skills to your resume. But whatever you do, don't accept any job out of desperation. Every job you accept should build on your existing set of skills. Think of yourself as a personal brand. For example, if you were a five-star restaurant, you wouldn't add fast food to your menu just because it seems profitable. The jobs on your resume need to fit your personal brand.

Motivation and success are important values in the American culture. What we need to recognize is that lasting success can only be achieved through proper motivation. If you adopt a Get Better mindset, visualize the steps you need to take in order to succeed, and remain true to your personal brand, chances are you will achieve the success you desire. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ozymandias


My 17-year-old son's favorite TV show is "Breaking Bad." By accident, I found this Breaking Bad promo on the Internet, and I was completely mesmerized by Bryan Cranston's reading of the poem, "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here are the words:


Ozymandias

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Source: Shelley's Poetry and Prose (1977)


Here is a creative exercise you can try. Continue the story of Shelley's "traveller" by describing other sights he or she might have seen in the "antique land." Here is what I came up with: 


And in the distance, there stands a crown

Clinging to a fragment of bone
The mighty voice that once invoked fear
Died alone without a moan
No threads remain of the royal gown
And yet his spirit is lurking here
In the silence that feels like death
I can almost hear his ghostly breath:
"Where are my people, where is my Queen?
What is this place, what is this scene?"
His words haunt me and fill me with dread
As I walk upon the bones of the dead
The thousands of men he slayed in his life
In order to steal another king's wife. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Social Media: The Basics Part 6 (Instagram and Pinterest)

Instagram is a photo sharing app with more than 27 million users. You can use Instagram for capturing event and office culture photos. You can also leverage the application to run contests and scavenger hunts. Before you begin snapping photos and engaging viewers, create a plan to help you create fans. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my target audience want to see?
  • How can I get them to engage with my photos?
  • What will get them talking about my company?
As you create your visual content, consider the following objectives:
  • Make it exclusive. Post images that can only be seen on Instagram.
  • Make it visually engaging. Instagram users are savvy, creative, and know a lackluster photo when they see one. Don't post a photo unless it has aesthetic appeal.
  • Make it personal. Viewers want to feel like they are part of something so provide an inside glimpse.
The Instagram hashtag is a powerful feature to engage your viewers. Hashtags act as keywords providing a way for people to find photos through a simple search. Hashtages are especially useful as you seek to establish your brand as an industry leader and get more followers. Implement hashtags that are unique to your brand and industry, as well as hashtags that are popular keywords. And remember to use hashtags on all of your posts. 

Pinterest is a virtual scrapbook or pinboard that allows users to share and organize visual imagery. A user can pin anything from around the web and other users can re-pin their images. Users organize their Pinterest pages by categorizing content on boards

For businesses, Pinterest can be a way to curate visual content like infographics, videos, company culture, and even blog posts. Pinterest can help promote creativity, but always make sure that your content is relative to your audience. Pinterest pages can also be used for a landing page for an email campaign, event, or presentation. The boards provide a unique way of organizing content to be visually appealing to your prospect. Make sure you are including a good content mix in your Pinterest boards. Followers will want to see a combination of business and culture content. When pinning, pin the most visually interesting aspect of what you are sharing, like a special banner, slide, or cover page to get the most engagement and to make your brand look like it belongs. Pinterest's search is mainly how people find you and your pins, and it is all about keywords. Load up relevant, popular keywords in the description of your pins. Just like any other social media platform,  Pinterest rewards those that bring fresh content. So while it's very easy to fill a board with re-pins, ultimately the fastest way to increase your followership is by pinning new and interesting items. 

So that wraps up my six-part Social Media series. I hope you found these tips useful. See you on the Net! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Social Media: The Basics Part 5 (Twitter)

Twitter is one of the 10 most popular sites on the Internet, and it is one of my favorite social media sites. You can think of Twitter as a microblogging site because you are limited to sending and receiving extremely short (no more than 140 characters long) text messages (called "tweets") to a pre-defined network of "followers." Twitter is not designed to facilitate an ongoing back-and-forth conversation. Being followed on Twitter is an incredibly strong signal of online affinity for you and your business. Your followers are indicating an active interest in your brand and are asking to hear more from you. On Twitter, it is easy to quickly compose Tweets and messages aimed at those interested in you or your company. Twitter is a useful tool for gathering high-level, up-to-the-minute updates on key news developments from experts who use the medium to share observations and perspectives. It is the fastest and most immediate social platform. 

Becoming someone's follower on Twitter accomplishes several goals:

  • You identify Twitter accounts that are relevant and interesting to you, your organization and your industry.
  • Receive the latest insights and updates. 
  • Increase your visibility on search engines. You let people know that you're on Twitter, and encourage them to follow you back.
  • Provide positive PR for you and your business. You associate yourself with a specific group of industry experts and thought leaders, and demonstrate your interest in the space.
  • Deepen relationships. Twitter is a great platform for engagement, so once you follow someone on Twitter you can work on starting a conversation.
Here are some tips for following:
  • Find people to follow by importing your contact databases using tools that Twitter provides. Then, broaden this action by following those that your followers are following.
  • Do a search for experts in the field who are tweeting. You can find people to follow on sites like Wefollow.com or Twibes.com. Twitter offers an integrated search function on each user's homepage that allows you to search all Tweets based on keywords, usernames or subject. Searches can also be performed at search.Twitter.com. 
  • The "Who to Follow" feature offered by Twitter can be a useful way to identify Twitter accounts that you wish to follow. 
  • Try to make sure to follow back relevant people and companies that are following you.
  • Twitter provides easy search functionality so that you can find people that are talking about your company and your industry. 
  • Read the tweets of those you follow and search for tweets on keywords relevant to your product or service. Twitter client applications such as TweetDeck, Hootsuite, and Seesmic are useful for organizing your Twitter feeds, managing multiple microblogging accounts, and post or scheduling posting from multiple users.
  • Create lists. By creating a list you can easily segment people who you are following. Users may look to organize those users they follow into lists based on background or interest, so that when they click to view a list, they will only see a stream of "tweets" from the users included in that list. For example, on my Twitter page, I have the following lists: social media, blogging, freelancing, finance, careers, behavioral economics, psychology, copywriting, neuroscience, and marketing. Anyone can subscribe to my Twitter lists and follow the same people I do. 
A Twitter chat is a public conversation on Twitter based around a unique hashtag. The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in tweets. It was created by Twitter as a way to categorize messages. The hashtag allows you to follow the discussion and easily participate in it. Most Twitter chats are usually recurring and on specific topics but some are also based around special events. Hosting a Twitter chat is an amazing way to engage with your fans and followers. In addition, this is a great way to better understand and grow your community and to promote your brand and business. Twitter users also have the ability to call out other users in their own tweets by using the @ symbol. When a username is proceeded by the @ symbol, it becomes a link to that Twitter profile. Including the @ symbol directly followed by a username is also called a "mention." 

Twitter is a fantastic platform to learn who your influencers are. Because Twitter is designed for quick exchanges of information and shares, you can start to keep track of who is re-tweeting your content and engaging in conversations. Remember to reach out to your top sharers to create relationships. They may be interested in doing a guest blog or allowing you to do a guest blog on their site. The more you engage directly with your top influencers, the more they will continue to promote your content. 

Do not use Twitter to only promote your company. If you never contribute to the conversations taking place, if you never offer something personal, fun or funny, you are missing the prime opportunity unique to Twitter. Twitter is about building relationships; it is about reciprocity. Engage and be engaged. Be a part of the flow of information. It's in your best interests to pay attention to what your customers and prospective customers are tweeting about and to respond accordingly.

Remember, your content should create value and ultimately, be helpful to your network. Retweeting material that will be helpful to your network is good, but writing your own informational material is even better. If your network benefits from something you tweet about, they will remember you and your business. According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta41 and the Content Marketing Institute, follow the 4-1-1 rule: For every one self-serving tweet, you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others. What's great about this approach is that it lets you engage in the conversation, build awareness, and keep in touch with your followers without coming across as pushy or too "me" focused. 

Next week, I'll cover Pinterest and Instagram. Stay tuned!