Building Relationships and Networking: It works.

Building Relationships (2)

Building Relationships and Networking Works

by Rob Zaleski
Originally published on LinkedIn

Let me tell you a story. A story about how simply building relationships with people and taking the opportunity to network without expectation of return can lead to huge things.

It all started with Mark Schaefer’s blog, Businesses {grow}. As an avid blog reader, I did what most people do: I’d leave my commentary on the blog and add feedback on other people’s comments, share the posts when I felt it appropriate, and tried to be part of the blogging community (as a blogger myself). In February 2013, Mark ran an email contest surrounding his upcoming book release with Stanford Smith, Born to Blog. These two authors were among my favorite bloggers, so I felt compelled to at least try and win the book. I sent the email laying out why I’d love a free copy of the book, and shared my interest in the topic.

To my surprise, I received a personal response from Mark that very day. This led to an exchange in which we ended up discussing SXSW, because I live in Austin and SXSW was just around the corner, and that perhaps we’d run into each other while he was in town. I figured the exchange would end there.

About a week later, again to my surprise, I received another email from Mark, inviting me to join him and a group of friends and visitors for dinner and drinks while he was in town for SXSW. After completely geeking out for a few minutes, I responded that I’d love to meet them.

When I got to the restaurant later that week, I met Mark in person for the first time, as well as Stephanie Wonderlin and Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, among others. We had a blast, and it was an interesting night full of marketing and social media talk. We all started following each other on all the important social sites (as you do), and went our separate ways. I figured it would be a one time thing and that would be that, but I was thrilled to have taken Mark up on his offer.

Mark W. Schaefer at SXSW

I was obviously pumped to meet this guy.

I kept up with everyone online because I genuinely enjoyed talking to them, and great conversations continued throughout the year (you should check out Stephanie’s GoPro capture of her wedding). Now, fast forward to the next year; Mark announces that he’ll be speaking at SXSW 2014 on the topic that had recently become very hot: Content Shock. I congratulated him and told him he’d have to let me know how the talk went, as I couldn’t afford a SXSW ticket this year. Being the generous guy he is, Mark reached out to me via email to let me know that he received a free day pass as a speaker, and asked if I’d like to use it so I could attend his talk. Who could say no to such an offer? I attended, and the talk was fascinating. If you haven’t seen Mark speak, I highly recommend it.

Being a fellow marketing professional and friend of Mark’s, Kerry O’Shea Gorgone was there too. Afterward, we got to talking, and Kerry invited me to hang out with her and a few others as they hit up some other discussions and the trade show floor. I originally planned to hit a bunch of other separate talks alone, but I decided to forego my initial plan and hang out with some cool kids instead. I had a complete blast, and was able to meet even more people because of that decision. Again, I figured it would end there (I still wasn’t getting the hint).

A few weeks later, I received a Facebook message from Kerry. She told me that a position had opened up at MarketingProfs (where she does the Marketing Smarts podcast and Professional Development seminars) and that she immediately thought of me for it. She asked me if I’d like her to put me in contact with the proper person. As a fan of MarketingProfs and their vast resources for content marketers and social media managers, I knew that simply interviewing with the people there would be a huge networking opportunity (I wasn’t actively looking for a new job at all), so I took the chance and said yes. What followed was the most fun series of interviews I’ve ever had, including a fantastic conversation with Ann Handley. Being that MarketingProfs has always been an information source I’ve personally gone to as a Content Marketer, the entire time I figured they would never hire me. Surely, they wouldn’t hire me. Maybe they’ll hire me. They might just hire me. They offered me the position.

To sum it up, two years worth of making real connections with people turned into a huge opportunity. I wasn’t trying to get anything out of Mark or Kerry. I genuinely respected both of them and simply enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) having conversations with them, both personal and about marketing. So take those chances, utilize those opportunities to get to know people by being personable. At minimum, you’ll make great friends. At most, it may alter your course.

What Grand Budapest Hotel Taught Me About Blogging

I just got home from watching Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. I loved it. It was everything I wanted it to be: quirky yet familiar characters (with delightful cameos), magical use of color, symmetry and music to paint a beautiful picture, and a story just absurd enough to still maintain some believability while making me laugh out loud. In short—unabashedly and unapologetically Wes Anderson. As I left the theatre, I began to think about what I love about Mr. Anderson’s movies, and it struck me. In your blog, you should be unapologetically and unabashedly you, too.

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Wes Anderson has haters, believe that. There are people who detest the precocious nature of his characters, the quirky, dry nature of his scripts, and the very specific look that makes sure you know it’s a product of his creative mind. That doesn’t stop him from continuing on that trajectory though, and this fact has won him a fan base that will follow his every endeavor and a group of talented professionals that are thrilled to work with him again. He’s not afraid to be who he is, tell the stories he wants to tell, or be true to the nature of what he envisions. The same can be done on your blog. 

Have you ever written a post, be it for your job as a content marketer or social media specialist or whatever, that you just didn’t really feel sounded like it came from you? Have you ever written something that just felt forced? On the other hand, have you ever sat down at your computer, or with your notepad in the park, and just felt like you couldn’t stop writing? Like the words were just flowing out of your mind faster than you could type or write them? That’s the person you need to be. That’s the voice and mindset you need to follow. That’s the dream.

Now, that being said, some of you may be in the same boat I am. I have absolutely no idea who I want to be, what I want to do when I grow up (at 32, mind you), or what kind of content quite feels right for me to continually pursue. I do feel passionate about some of the things I write, but not as much so about other things. Marketing will do that to you sometimes. Regardless of how much you want to enjoy what you do, you still have to sell a product, an idea, or a service when you work in marketing. But I do enjoy my job, I can say that. When you’re writing for a company though, you have to maintain their voice, their personality; which is why I still go back to my own blog from time to time and write what’s on my mind and what really comes from me. 

I hope to be as confident and steadfast in my voice as Mr. Anderson. I’m not quite sure how to find exactly what I’m passionate about, but I’m making it my goal this year to work on figuring it out so I can chase it. What about you?

Have you found your passion? Are you following it? Are you like me and are still searching for it? Or have you found it, but are afraid to go get it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

Chase your dreams. I plan to. 

Now, go get your social on!

Google to allow Google+ emails

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Google recently made a couple changes to the ways Google+ users can contact each other. In a recent email sent from Google, they state “Ever wanted to email someone you know, but haven’t yet exchanged email addresses? Starting this week, when you’re composing a new email, Gmail will suggest your Google+ connections as recipients, even if you haven’t exchanged email addresses yet.”

Gmail to allow contacting people circled on Google+

Now, there are a couple points in the email that are a bit confusing. Though the email says it will suggest Google+ connections (as you can see in the bubble above), the function hasn’t started working for me. I tested a few letters of Google+ connections whom I’ve never emailed before just to see if it shows up, but it has not. Are you seeing the functionality yet?

There’s a troubling portion that I’m also not quite sure how to translate. See below.

Non-circled emails may head to your social tab in Gmail

As it stands right now, an email from a real person goes in my primary tab. Does the above mean that if a real person emails me, but isn’t in one of my Google+ circles, they will be relegated to the social tab? Will all first time emails from people go to the Social tab? I could see this making some people unhappy, especially if they don’t monitor their tabs consistently. The social tab, as described in the settings, is meant for “Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, gaming platforms, and other social websites.” Some people may not check it often, as it may simply be filled with updates from social networks. This could potentially get real emails lost in the pile.

You do have the option in your General Settings. There’s a new option that says Email via Google+ which allows you the options of Anyone on Google+, Circles, Extended Circles, No One. You can adjust according to your comfort level.

Have you seen the changes start happening yet in your inbox? Have you received an email from a Google+ contact you’ve never exchanged emails with before? Do you see high spam potential here?

Comment below and tell me what you think about it, or if you’ve seen any of the examples above.

Like this post? You might also enjoy this one!

Now go get your social on!

2014 Could be the year of Google+, and it might be rough

In late 2013, Google+ clenched the #2 spot for active users on social networks. The ghost town/Google employee jokes should finally start to subside. Now, I’ve been on Google+ since you had to get invited to it, but didn’t fully embrace it on the regular until last year. Jumping back in, I can honestly say that it felt like being a kid at a new school. There were established relationships, social mores, and groups of people that were either happy to help or eager to chastise.

bamboo wall with plants, 2014 The Year of Google+

Breaking through the social platform walls

With some of the recent changes Facebook has made to reach and Google’s increased leveraging of Google+ across all its properties, it’s a definite possibility that more brands will be making the shift to start checking out G+. It will not be an easy transition. So here are some things to remember for those starting out, and those already well established.

Be patient

We’re going to see people doing the link dropping thing. Anyone reading this that’s considering Google+, know that it’s not a ‘link drop and forget it’ platform. We’re going to see people spamming communities. Facebook and LinkedIn groups have taught people to do this by letting them get away with it. Future Google+ friends: don’t do this, or you’ll pick up a poor reputation quickly. Read community guidelines. Each one typically lays out the rules of being a member, clearly on the community’s page. It’s going to take time to undo this mindset for new Google+ users. We’re bound to see those damned notifications for things that are irrelevant to us, because Google doesn’t do a great job of explaining what that function really means. New users, only click the ‘Notify via email’ box when posting if those people have opted in to get notifications from you. Otherwise, you’re spamming them.

Be a guide

I have Dustin W. Stout’s “The Anatomy of a perfect Google+ post” on standby for anyone I introduce to Google+. I feel like it gives them a definitive look into how to compose interesting posts and treat the platform properly, as well as just honestly engage with others. I also often share Michael Bennett’s complete guide to Google+ once people get their bearings about them (it can be a bit overwhelming because it’s an awesomely exhaustive list of useful information). I also have a circle of Google+ rockstars that I share with people to get them going in the right direction. Using these and other resources to help others understand the massive differences in this platform from others will help people enrich the community, rather than simply annoy others.

Create and cultivate relationships with new users.

I am a firm believer in the idea of Relationship Marketing (check out the awesome weekly Google Hangouts from Wade Harman that is all about this topic). Not only do I find this important for my own work, it’s important to teach that aspect to others. As an established user, you should create a communal bond with new people, and they’ll be a better Google+ user (and marketer) for it. New users should strive to make real connections, and will quickly learn how to properly use the platform and engage with others on Google+. Everyone wins, and social media is social again.

What other recommendations would you have for people getting started on Google+? If you’re a new user, what questions about the platform do you have? Leave your comments below.

Now go get your social on!

Apple’s New Holiday Ad Flips Your Expectations And Tugs The Old Heartstrings

robzaleski1:

This is what good advertising looks like. They even subtly plug multiple products without even having to try. Very worth watching.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Oh, brooding, teenage boy apparently dejected at holiday family gathering, I was you once. But unlike the character in Apple’s note-perfect holiday commercial embedded above, I was doing terrible things like texting with my friends about how lame everything was and playing Snake, not capturing sentimental moments shared with family to surprise them with later.

Apple may get flack from the Android camp for not opening up its platform enough and other grave sins related to things that mostly concern us super nerds, but Apple has a knack for consistently nailing the human aspect of technology, which is what’s on display with this commercial. I’m still willing to bet that in real life, that volta where everything’s revealed to be sweetness and good feeling is a rarified occurrence, but you still got me right in the feels, Apple.

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Welcome to the Bribery Economy

I  just signed up for an account on Empire Avenue because I heard it was a great networking site for people who blog. The things I found left me shocked.

Shady business and bribery

Empire Avenue, as you may have guessed from the name, is kind of like Wall Street. People buy ‘shares’ in you, investing in your worth, and you’re expected to do the same. People can offer large sums of ‘eaves’ (EA’s digital currency) if you perform certain tasks, such as retweeting a tweet, sharing a Google+ post, or following them on Instagram. That is where some of the perceived ‘networking’ comes from, as far as I can tell. More on that later. People seem to swear by the networking opportunities here, and that it can drive traffic to your various pages.

First off, the spam-style comments I was bombarded with right from the get go almost made me leave. This stuff was the likes of what you’d see in the spam folder of your blog.

“Welcome. LIKE MY PAGE. FOLLOW MY BLOG. DO THIS FOR ME. CLICK MY LINKS. MY. MY. ME. ME!!!” Well, so much for quality networking. How does that Inigo Montoya quote go? “You keep using that word, but I don’t think it means you think it means.”

I did come across some great people, who I was happy to invest in and comment back. They talked like humans. They used proper capitalization and punctuation. The seemed genuine. The EAbot must not have eaten their brains yet.

The real slap of disappointment came to me when I realized what was really going on. With these ‘missions’, people are pretty much bribing others to engage with them on social media and blogging sites. Not necessarily prospects, potential customers, or even people in your field of interest. People are heading in droves to ‘Like’, comment, +1 and share, retweet, etc. For digital, fake currency. Now. Does it spawn worthwhile conversation and new visits? Sure, but that’s not the point that bothered me.

I look to others in the industry for inspiration, guidance, perhaps some best practices. I feel like I’ve been fed lies. Social media posts that I see that are super successful, blog posts that get tons of comments and shares, so many predicated on bribery. Here I am, thinking I’ve been failing at blogging because I’m not getting tons of engagement, just some, when it turns out I’m apparently just not bribing people. How much engagement would those other folks’ blog posts and updates have seen without bribery? Would the mighty be not quite so mighty? Am I not as much of a blogging failure as I thought, but just comparing myself to impossibly stacked odds? I’m not sure whether to be inspired by this, or completely crushed by a system of underground engagement trading.

Will I still participate? Damn yea. I want a piece of this seedy underbelly of engagement pie. Now that I know how the game is being played. However, THIS guy below. No. Companies just got fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for fake reviews. Buddy, you’re doing it wrong.

Paying for reviews is never cool

Are you a devout user of Empire Avenue? Am I completely wrong in the way I’m viewing this? Tell me in the comments below. Do so, and I’ll give you ONE MILLION DIGITAL HIGH FIVES! They’re worth it. You can spend them high fiving EVERYONE ON THE INTERNETZ!

And I’m done.

People Just Doing Twitter Right

Robzie Social

We often get caught up on the “How You Need to do blah blah blah” and the “100 Things You’re Doing Wrong” or “Biggest Social Media Fails of the Week” type posts. Eh, it’s the internet. We thrive on the wrongdoings of others. I’d like to take a moment, though, to spotlight some people that I think are just doing things damn right.

Joel and the team at Buffer

ImageNot only are these guys super quick to apologize and address any concerns you bring up, they always give off the feeling that they’re genuinely good people. For example, I recently posted a tweet, simultaneously hailing their success with the recent update, while also lamenting that I was seeing posts in LinkedIn groups beginning with RT. My concern was that people weren’t editing posts to properly reflect each platform Buffer posts to, and that Buffer would get a bad rep for helping create spam in groups. I quickly received a response from the @Buffer handle, signed off by Carolyn, their Chief Happiness Office (love that they do that, I’ve also seen other folks chime in with that account, too.). Moments later, Joel Gascoigne, Founder and CEO of Buffer also reached out to me to discuss how we they could improve the product. With over 20k followers, he’s still jumping into conversations, and graciously listening to people in order to make the product better for their customers. Not too shabby. Over a million users and the CEO is still involved hands-on, startup style. Does that make me happier that I use their product? You bet it does. I also recommend checking out their blog for lots of great information, if you haven’t already.

Warby Parker

WarbyParkerI just recently had my first experience with Warby Parker when I was informed that they let you have pairs of glasses sent to your home to try on. The magical revelation blew my mind (I haven’t replaced my glasses in 10 years, ok?).  I’d often peruse the selection at my optometrist when getting my contact prescription, but never really found anything I liked. This, though. This was awesome. When my glasses arrived, I was geeked. I tried them all on (and was glad I did, because some came out very different looking than the “upload your photo” option online), and followed WP’s instructions. They actually encourage you to post a photo online to get your friends to vote. It doesn’t stop there, though. Since I tagged them on Twitter, they jumped right on the conversation. More than that, they took the time to narrow down the pairs I ordered and gave me a vote of their own. That’s really taking customer service to the next level, with a side of flattery to sweeten the deal. I’m typically a supporter of small, local optometrists, but this kind service definitely has me eyeing this new pair of frames from Warby Parker.

Coolhaus ATX

CoolhausThese guys are just so much fun to talk to, and their style is a perfect fit for Austin. First off, I discovered their ice cream sammie goodness a few months after I moved to Austin. We didn’t have such glorious food truckage where I lived previously. I must say, it was love at first bite. Unique ice cream flavors wedged between two large, fresh-baked cookies, wrapped in an edible wrapper. It doesn’t get much better than that. When you tweet about it to @CoolhausATX, they’re on it to ask what you had and if you loved it. If you mention a craving, they’re quick to tell you that they’d love to see you stop by, wherever they happen to be. If you follow them on Twitter, they even offer an ever changing #HAUSpwrd to get yourself $1 off. The sandwiches are $5, but they’re a welcome cool treat in the Austin sun. Couple great treats with great treatment, and you’ve got a combination that will keep me coming back.

These are, of course, just a few examples, but I’m a sucker for good customer service. In the current climate of faceless social media automation and lackluster customer service skills, it’s always refreshing to see someone doing it right. I recommend all three of the above.

Who would you add to this list? Share your customer service superstars in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

Conversation Economy and the Increased Value of Word of Mouth

I recently read an article on Fast Company, in which angel Investor Peter Shankman laid down a $5,000 donation bet that Yelp’s business model will fail by next year. He asks why, in the “conversation economy” that we live in, would he rely on the reviews of complete strangers when the feedback from his friends on Facebook and Google+ is so readily available. This term―conversation economy―really got me thinking. Though we’ve always placed a high value on word of mouth, social media has exponentially increased that, not only online, but in the real world. I’ll give you an example.

You can't beat these tacos.

You can’t beat these tacos.

A newer coworker at Main Street Hub recently became friends with me on Foursquare. She then began the obligatory creeping my check-ins to see what’s good (her words), when she came across a check-in at one of my favorite local Austin spots―Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and the accompanying photo. She asked me about it as we were getting coffee one morning, and I began the effusive raving that this little spot deserves. Amazing food, sweet service, and cheap prices. While we were discussing this, another coworker overheard the words “Pulled Pork Tacos,” and became interested in our conversation. Another was passing by and asked if we were talking about Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and also began talking about how much he loved the place. Remember those anti-tobacco Truth commercials, where the little asterisk appears above everyone’s head? Yeah, it’s something like that.

More than ever, now that Facebook’s Graph Search and Google+ Local search have incorporated your friends into what you’re searching for online, word of mouth is king. Positive experiences, check-ins, and good reviews from friends of potential customers (with Facebook allowing a star-rating and has teamed up with OpenTable, as well) can turn into real world dollars and ROI for a business’s bottom line. Just the opposite can happen if those experiences aren’t ideal or if poor experiences go ignored. Businesses simply cannot allow themselves to remain deaf and blind to the conversations that are going on about them. Participation is mandatory.

How has this change to the conversation economy affected your business? Have you had a similar experience like the one I describe above? Have you been to Elaine’s Pork and Pie? (If you’re in Austin, ever, GO. THERE.) Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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What Yelp’s New Mobile Reviews Capability Means

Yelp-logoWith their latest 7.0 app update, Yelp asks you to sit down, because this one’s a biggie. In their words you can now “visit any business page, tap “add review” and go bananas.” That’s right―Yelp has added the ability for your customers to write a review in the moment, on their mobile device, via the Yelp app. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t go bananas. Yelp responsibly.

A few things that this could mean:

  1. Optimist – More happy Yelpers will more readily share their opinions with local businesses due to the easy nature of typing up a short but sweet review on their mobile device. (bring on the Autocorrect typos.)
  2. Pessimist – Open the flood gates of angry people. Hell hath no fury like a mobile Yelper. Now that people can easily leave reviews in the heat of the moment, without first cooling down and hopefully rationally approaching a situation (or forgetting about it entirely), 1-star review hell will break loose.
  3. Realist – There will likely be some occasional anecdotal instances of both the above, but largely things will remain the same. Elite and consistent Yelpers will continue writing their reviews, possibly more often since they can do so immediately. You may see more people hanging around the table or salon, tip tapping away their experience into their phone, but I don’t expect to see a massive influx of changes to reviews.

Here’s what it should not mean, however. All business owners should not encourage their employees to download the app and write bogus reviews for their business. I have no doubt that Yelp has thought this through, being that it’s taken this long for them to add such functionality to their app, and have put some sort of safeguards in place (geo-tagging or GPS functionality, perhaps?). Don’t be that business. It always turns out badly.

What do you think of this new, obviously overdue addition to the Yelp app? Good, bad, ugly? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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A Career in What You Love Ain’t So Easy

I’ve never been fired from a job. Up until recently, I’ve kind of considered that a badge of honor. It meant that I was never bad enough at a job that someone couldn’t bear to keep me on, that I wasn’t hard to work with, or, let’s face it, that I wasn’t unlucky enough to be at a job that had to severely downsize. I’ve only failed hard once, and that was when I tried to sell knives. Kudos people who can make a living at that stuff. I couldn’t hack it. Recently, however, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. Some of them have featured great speakers like Seth Godin, C.C. Chapman, and Mitch Joel, who’ve all talked about how much they’ve learned by failing. Have I failed myself by not failing? Have I not pushed myself far enough out of my comfort zone cocoon and simply made it too easy? These are the questions I’m stuck with at the moment.

This about sums up my carrer direction

This about sums up my carrer direction

It’s easy to say “Find what you love and get paid to do it.” There’s very little out there that tells you how to find what you love to do, if you’re not exactly sure what that is. This is my boat. I have no idea what I love. Some people innately have a passion for something that drives them toward a goal. I just sort of move forward in a general, indistinct direction. I haven’t found that *spark* or that aha moment. I’ve been pretty apt at most jobs I’ve tried my hand at, and I’m a quick learner. You can’t really look those skills up on LinkedIn and narrow a job search, though. They’re skills that everyone wants from an employee, sure, but they’re not an interest. Not a passion. As a community manager, I love the social aspect of social media, but I’m not a numbers guy. Trying to calculate metrics and ROI and advertising dollars sort of makes my head spin. It makes me question my longevity in the industry of social media as businesses continually want proof that this will bring money in the door, and community managers become more intwined with marketing manager roles.

Failure IS an option, as it turns out.

A different way to look at failure.

So I think I’m going to try things, and if I fail, I fail. They don’t have to be big things. Maybe a blog post that I just want to throw out into the word will fail. Maybe acting on an idea to see if it sinks or swims. Failures that move us forward, I think, don’t have to be large, life-altering fails. Just something to help us make forward progress. I guess I’m understanding that we have to give ourselves permission. And that’s hard. As Chris Brogan said in his short podcast I recently listened to, you just have to do it, and it doesn’t have to be perfect every time. So there you are. Be imperfect. Go fail. I guess we’ll all be better for it. Let’s discuss how this works out for us respectively, ok?

What about you? Have you had some failures that have made you better? Are you struggling to find our aha moment? Share your perspective below.

Thanks for reading. Now go get your social on!

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