Flattery and Manipulation

Flattery and Manipulation

Flattery and Manipulation

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

All leaders have blind spots, and blind spots simply pose potential areas of vulnerability. However not all blind spots are created equal. Few things create areas of risk for leaders like their own sense of pride and ego. Here’s the thing –  a leader’s desire to have their ego stroked makes them vulnerable to a very seductive form of manipulation – flattery.

The most common form of manipulation comes packaged in the form of flattery – it’s also the most dangerous. The veil of most “hidden” agendas are also typically cloaked in flattery. The insidious nature of flattery is that it becomes most powerful when it is served to those who thirst for it. Leaders who place their need for adoration and acclaim above serving the needs of others are high value targets for those who would abuse the misplaced trust given to them. If you take one thing away from this post it should be this – the power that comes with a leader’s ability to positively influence others is only trumped by the power given away as they are adversely influenced by others. In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts on what has been the silent assassin of many a leader – flattery.

The problem with the old saying that “flattery will get you everywhere” is that those with less than pure intentions not only believe it, they act on it. The lazy, the power hungry, the greedy, the gravy-trainers, the psychopaths and sociopaths all understand that flattery is not harmless. Quite to the contrary, these soothsayers understand that flattery has the power to influence, corrupt, undermine and deceive – they wield flattery as a lethal weapon against the undiscerning. Manipulation in the form of flattery is little more than a covert form of aggression.

Before I go any further it is important to understand that praise and flattery, while often used interchangeably, are not synonymous. “Praise” is most commonly defined as: the expression of favorable judgment or sincere appreciation. “Flattery” is most commonly defined as: excessive and insincere praise. The naïve, the needy, the impressionable or the ego-centric view flattery as genuine praise. Discerning people understand flattery to be disingenuous, false praise motivated by an agenda.

Here’s the thing – In times past it was a bit easier to discern authentic praise from false praise because the methods by which relationships were constructed was different. We used to build our relationships slowly and carefully based upon personal history and experience. Trust was earned over time through personal observations of a person’s character, actions and decisions. Ah, the good ole days…

In today’s digital world speed has influenced every aspect of our lives – perhaps most notably how we build our relationships and who we grant access to. If you examine the speed at which people build their friends, fans, followers, and connections on social networks, and how they market themselves and their companies using social media, you’ll find many seem to be in a race to include as many people into their spheres of influence as possible. The only barrier to entry for inclusion in most people’s networks today seems to be that they are polite. Let me be clear – I have nothing against polite behavior so long as it’s not accompanied by a hidden agenda…

How often have you received adulation from the overly effusive in the form of an email, blog comment, tweet or Facebook message from someone you hardly know, and how does that make you feel? Do you trust them? Do you trust their motives? It’s as if the currency of social networking is rapidly becoming flattery – it should be trust. I’m not interested in flattery, but sincerity. It was Socrates who said, “Think not those faithful who praise thy words & actions but those who kindly reprove thy faults.” What leaders need to become cognizant of is that flattery comes with the territory. The more influence you have, the more you’ll be prone to attract flattery. The question is, can you discern fact from fiction and can you handle it?

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther: “The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive anything of ours in not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretence, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries.” Things really haven’t changed too much have they?

Now it’s your turn to shower me with praise, flatter my ego, rebuke my thinking or challenge my logic – leave your comments below…

Is Blogging Dead?

Is Blogging Dead?

Is Blogging Dead?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I read an interesting article in Inc. Magazine entitled “Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?” If you read this article it would lead you to believe blogging is in decline and on it’s way out as a marketing tool. The article cites a study from the University of Massachusetts in which the respondents (170 executives from Inc. 500 companies) indicated the use of blogging was down 13% from the prior year. Before you draw the conclusion blogging is dead, you might want to read the text that follows…

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Especially When It’s Labeled As Research
Research has it’s place, but only as it applies to credible research. Here’s the thing – just because a university, trade association, company, professor, etc., publishes something as research doesn’t mean it’s credible (read Not All Research is Valid). The Inc. article does offer some balanced viewpoints, but my fear is the tenor of the piece may create a negative bias in the minds of readers.  The statistics quoted from the University of Massachusetts study infer because blogging is in decline amongst a small sample group, therefore blogging must be on its way out. This is simply flawed logic based upon a lack of understanding about what’s really influencing the decline.

The Truth About Blogging
Despite opinions to the contrary, blogging isn’t dead; it’s just starting to get interesting. Microblogging (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) doesn’t replace traditional blogging, it actually serves as a catalyst to expose blog content to a broader base of readers. My observation is people who say blogging is dead either already have a blog that died, or they have no blog at all. The truth of the matter is blogging requires a committed effort, which many find to be unsustainable. We’ve all watched many a blog launch in prolific fashion only to die a slow public death weeks or months down the road. However for those willing to put forth the effort, there are great rewards to be gained.

There are always naysayers willing to offer their opinions, but my suggestion is not to listen to the rhetoric of the failed or uninitiated, but rather to seek your counsel from those who are experiencing success. While you can find numerous examples of successful bloggers to glean insight from, let me put this as simply as I can; I would not have continued blogging for the last several years if it was not extremely beneficial to do so.

Macroeconomic Forces At Play
For purposes of advancing this discussion I want to examine a few simple business fundamentals and macroeconomic lessons to lend some historical context to the rapidly evolving state of the blogosphere. When a new industry surfaces, the early adopters (first-movers) set-up shop, validate proof of concept, carve out their niche, and build very strong, if not in some cases, category dominant brands. Clearly this was the case for many of today’s most successful bloggers. The truth is that some of today’s most established bloggers aren’t necessarily the best bloggers, they just got there first.

However it’s also important to keep in mind that not all first-movers prosper, or for that matter, even survive. Because first-movers take large risks in uncharted territory, they often make mistakes that are not survivable. Even if their mistakes are not fatal, many times they serve to blaze a better trail for others to follow by removing and/or diminishing barriers to entry. In a previous post “Blogging Hits A Crossroads” I shared some insights on some of the “A-Listers” who have given up blogging, and why others stick it out. In a universe the size of the blogosphere there will always be churn. In fact, blogging has been around long enough we’re now starting to experience the second and third comings of those who once abandoned their blogs only to come back again.

Where Are We Now?
Many successful bloggers today were not necessarily first-movers, but rather fast-followers able to leap frog the early adopters. Any student of history understands as an industry matures, more capital becomes available, advancements in technology occur, new niches, markets and nuanced communication channels open-up, and more players enter the market. This wave of hyper-growth always precedes a consolidation, which is where we find ourselves now with regard to the state of the blogosphere. Blogging is going through a very natural (and healthy) consolidation phase where weak contributors are being weeded out. This is a positive sign – not a foreshadowing of doom and gloom.

Blogging isn’t dying – it’s being refined by those who understand it best, and abandoned by those who don’t have the talent or the ability to sustain their efforts. To be fair, the Inc. Magazine article which triggered this rant did point out those “Companies that do have blogs are very happy with them. Ninety-two percent of those businesses called the platform a success.” I’m not aware of any other medium/platform where 92% of users view their efforts as a success, are you?

Reasons Why Blogging Won’t Die
Because there is virtually no barrier to entry to a medium which offers global exposure to one’s thoughts and opinions, blogging won’t ever die. While the list of reasons behind why people blog are probably only limited to the confines of one’s imagination, the following list contains common representative examples of what I believe to be the main reasons people begin to blog, and why blogging will continue to be an influential platform (listed in no particular order):

  1. To follow a trend
  2. To become famous
  3. To rant, voice an opinion, or champion a cause
  4. To be of service
  5. To have a cathartic outlet
  6. To communicate with friends and family
  7. To collaborate or exchange ideas and information
  8. To build trust
  9. To acquire knowledge or business intelligence
  10. To engage a particular constituency or constituencies
  11. To make money
  12. To expand spheres of influence
  13. To extend marketing efforts
  14. To improve search engine rankings
  15. To improve personal or professional networking
  16. To create added personal or corporate brand equity
  17. To establish subject matter expertise
  18. And the list could go on, and on, and on…

The Road Ahead
The reason I’ve taken the time to walk you through this exercise is because “who” you are, and  “why” you blog will determine your unique definition of success with regard to your blogging efforts. Bottom line; process what you’ve read here and in other places, then incorporate what you deem to be valid into a blogging strategy that will work for you. For those of you in leadership positions, particularly at the chief executive level, blogging is an incredibly powerful platform, which should only be ignored at your peril. I authored a piece for Chief Executive Magazine which goes into great detail explaining the benefits of social media for CEOs. The only way you can lose with blogging is to not blog – stop finding excuses for why you can’t, won’t, or don’t blog and get in the game.

Thoughts?

Promote Your Blog

Promote YOUR Blog Day

Promote Your Blog

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth
Today is promote your blog day 2012. Today is your day for fully authorized, gratuitous self-promotion of YOUR blog. For one day only, this is your chance to shamelessly plug your blog in the comments section below. I did this last yearand thought I’d make it an annual event. It’s a fantastic way to help readers who share common interests find one another. So here’s how it works – In the comments section of this post include: Your name, blog name & description, link to your blog, RSS feed, your Twitter handle and any other relevant information you think would be of interest to other readers. I’ll approve all comments appropriate for our audience (G-rated only). If you participated last year, feel free to do so again. If you don’t have blog, but want to promote someone else’s blog that’s okay too.

Is Your Message Relevant?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

When was the last time you bothered to read, watch, or listen to a message that wasn’t relevant to your needs? Great leaders understand the power, influence, and leverage created by relevant messaging. Put simply, relevant messages are engaging because they connect – they add value. Great (relevant) messages usually contain one or more of the following aspects: they are timely, informative, actionable, revealing, ground-breaking, inspirational, challenging, empathetic, truthful, cautionary, or even rebuking.  They have some sort of emotive, intellectual, or instructional appeal to the audience being addressed. No appeal equals no relevance. Perhaps more importantly, no relevance erodes influence (real or perceived).

Do you ever find yourself sitting back and marveling at those leaders who always seem to have the right thing to say? Contrast this with the feelings you have when you hear an awful sound-bite that makes a leader look either uninformed, disconnected, or unintelligent. The difference between the two aforementioned examples is that great leaders have mastered the art of finding the right message (the relevant message) regardless of the medium, market, or constituency being addressed. Relevance is the greatest barrier to obsolescence.

Few things are as annoying as those who can’t get to the point, don’t have a point, or have the wrong point. If you’ve ever found yourself adrift in a daydream because you were being told how to build a watch when all you wanted was to know the time, then you understand the importance of relevant messaging. Fact: It is simply not possible to have a well received message that is not relevant. That said, I’m always amazed at those who believe that just because something matters to them, that it must matter to others. Remember that just because you have something to say doesn’t necessarily mean that other people want to hear it.  Furthermore, just increasing the volume or frequency of the message doesn’t make it any more relevant. When a message isn’t sticking, smart leaders don’t raise the volume of the rhetoric – they improve the quality of the message.

So why is great messaging so important? In the business world, as a chief executive officer or entrepreneur, corporate messaging is the key to both your personal and professional positioning strategy. A leader’s message has a direct impact on their personal and corporate brand equity, how they manage a crisis, marketing initiatives, investor relations, press and public relations, team building and employee engagement, customer loyalty and virtually any other mission critical area of chief executive responsibility.

The reality is that your messaging will often times have a greater impact on your career than your performance. I have witnessed on numerous occasions CEOs with average, or even sub-par performance histories fare well because they possessed great messaging skills. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating form over substance here…I’m simply pointing out that they understood how to message their shortcomings and flaws, while engendering confidence around their planning for corrective measures to critical spheres of influence. The message was on target, it was relevant, and therefore it was believable.

By contrast, I have also watched CEOs with excellent performance histories not do so well because they did not possess the messaging skills necessary to keep stakeholders engaged. They did not address the needs or concerns of the audience they were addressing, and therefore the message was irrelevant and subsequently ineffective. Simply put, the relevancy, savvy and sophistication of your messaging will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your tenure as a chief executive.

CEOs who become recognized as great leaders are prepared, articulate, consistent, and crisp in their messaging. They speak with authority, clarity, and certitude because their messaging is relevant. In fact, it is the relevancy of their messaging that engenders confidence and serves to inspire and unify. Perhaps most importantly, a great leader’s message is never in conflict with their values. They will not compromise their core beliefs simply to manipulate the outcome of a specific situation. They rest in the comfort that doing and saying the right things will ultimately put them in a favorable position, and if not, they are comfortable in assuming any negative consequences that may come as a result of right thinking and decisioning.

When it comes to the construction of messaging, I have found that people will tend to fall into one of the four following groups.

  1. The Medium “is” the Message: People that fall into this camp believe that the medium will do the work for them…They believe in the reach and power of the medium to overcome any flaws in the message. This view of messaging constitutes a numbers based approach where the business logic states that if you reach enough people with the message some acceptable percentage of the people reached will embrace the message.
  2. The Market “is” the Message: This view of messaging values the target audience above all else. The message is so targeted and niche specific that it is sometimes almost unintelligible to those who fall outside of the intended target market.
  3. The Message “is” the Message: This group believes that content is king…The emphasis here is that if the message is creative enough, or valuable enough, nothing else matters. This view of messaging is all about the teaser, the hook, the calls to action, the design, the concept, etc.
  4. The Messenger “is” the Message: This is the branded approach to messaging…If the person delivering the message has enough credibility and influence, nothing else matters. This iconic, ego-centric approach to messaging places a high premium on the spokesperson.

My view of the aforementioned four theories is that their sum total value is greater than their independent stand alone value.  Other than in matters of character and principle, I don’t tend to be an absolutist…Over the years, and especially in the genres of marketing, branding, positioning, and messaging, I believe a collaborative and cross-disciplined approach to be the key to success…

While content can create credibility, credibility can also enhance the view of content. Furthermore, the best content or spokesperson in the world communicating to the wrong audience, with the wrong message, or through the wrong medium is likely to miss the mark. It takes a blending of approach to craft the right message and this will not happen when operating in a vacuum. Following are a few final thoughts for your consideration when crafting your message:

  1. It Must Be the Truth: The truth always comes out in the end…If your message won’t pass public scrutiny over time, then you have the wrong message.
  2. Use a Cross Media Approach: Long gone are the days of one size fits all media…the best messaging campaigns take place across media platforms and channels creating multiple touch points to various constituencies and demographics.
  3. Know Your Talking Points: Don’t allow the message to get lost in the medium. Remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. You must be consistent and convicted in your opinions and your positions. Be clear, concise and don’t compromise on key points.
  4. Know Your Audience: All messages should be tailored to the audience being addressed. This does not mean you should compromise your position, rather it means your message needs to relevant, timely, and of significance. While your talking points need to remain the same, they also need to address the concerns and areas of interest of those being communicated to. The message must be relevant to be successful.
  5. Don’t Forget Your Critics: The tendency is to believe that your audience is comprised of friends and allies. You need to assume that every message given will find its way into the hands of your worst critics, and furthermore, that they will attempt to use your message against you.

Keep the message relevant and real and you’ll stand apart from the masses. I invite you to add your feedback and insights by submitting a comment below…

Social Media for CEOs

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Nary a week passes where I don’t hear from a CEO who’s grappling with this social media conundrum: should I, or shouldn’t I? The inquiry usually goes something like this: “I’m interested in learning more about social media, but my board thinks it’s a bad idea, I don’t have any additional bandwidth, and I’m not even sure where to start…is social media really effective for CEOs?”  The discussion about whether or not CEOs should become more digitally accessible  is certainly not a new one, but in my humble opinion, it’s a tired one that should have ended long, long ago. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s time to put a fork in the social media debate…

Background/Disclaimer
We have a social media practice at N2growth, I use social media, and all of the CEOs I coach are participating at some level in social media. That said, my feelings are not prejudiced, just biased- there is a difference. Experience matters in this debate, and frankly, most of those who opine in dissent don’t have much experience to draw from…In an effort to be balanced, I have nonetheless attempted to represent both affirmative and dissenting opinions below:   

The Dissenting Position:
The stance of the risk adverse is there is little to be gained, but the potential for much to be lost in social media initiatives involving C-level executives. The fear of exposing executives and the corporate brand to public criticism, along with disclosure concerns with regard to forward looking statements, and other confidential information have caused concern for boards and legal departments. They are risk managers who believe in protecting what was rather than embracing what is, and what will be.    

The Affirmative Position:
Proponents of C-level social media participation believe the digital universe provides the CEO with the ultimate platform to evangelize the corporate brand, and to effectively communicate across multiple constituencies. They are opportunity managers who believe engagement to be more valuable than silence, they believe in dialog not monologue, they believe in change and innovation – not in status quo.   

The Truth (as I see it)
A main point of consideration for CEOs is that social media transforms you from an enigma (the stereotype of the uncaring corporate executive) into a human being that people can relate to…social media personalizes you in a way that few other mediums can.  Whether you Tweet, Blog, Facebook, YouTube, etc.,  these communities allow you to be known for the whole of who you are as an individual, not just as a bio on the corporate website. The following list is comprised of  a few representative examples of reasons why all CEOs should be actively engaged in social media:

  1. Leadership Benefits: As CEO, you’re not supposed to be the relic, but the visionary. This may hit a little close to home for some, but the message needs to be heard. Great leaders lead by example. How can you ask members of your team to be innovative, engaged, proactive, creative, authentic, transparent, and communicative if you are none of those things? You cannot be an effective leader if you don’t model the behavior you seek in others. Be a leader or be a disingenuous hypocrite – the choice is yours.  
  2. Learning Benefits: Social media is not just a tool for pushing out corporate propaganda – use it as such and you’ll pay a steep price. What it is, is open access to people, relationships, communities, and constituencies. Put simply, it’s a chance to observe, listen, process and learn. A CEOs needs to understand that in addition to affording them with the benefit of directly engaging consumers of their goods and services, social media also provides a window into the insights or their employees and allows them to monitor the pulse of their culture. Social media also allows you access to business, market, and competitive intelligence in real time. 
  3. Business Benefits: Yes, I know, you’re the CEO and you have to pay attention to business. Well, social media does have significant ability to drive revenue, increase personal and corporate brand equity, open markets, create relationships, drive innovation, improve morale, build partnerships, attract & retain talent, and to generate communications leverage. Not only does social media work, but it works even better when the participant has a bit of cache. The truth is the farther up the org chart one resides, the more influence one possesses, the more leverage one creates, and the more one can accomplish via social media. You can do none of these things effectively by sticking your head in the sand and pretending social media doesn’t matter.
  4. Communications Benefits: I hesitate to mention this becasue it’s been so overused, but becuase it’s true, here goes: “The conversation is already taking place, so you might as well be a part of it.” Social media gives you the ability to be proactive in your communications, or if needed, provide a rapid response to crisis. Unfortunate things happen in business, and sadly, they’ll likely happen to you at some point. Having strong relationships, supporters, and fans created through social media is invaluable – so is having a channel to quickly and credibly communicate with those who are not.
  5. Legacy Benefits: I’ve often said the best legacy is one that can be lived before you’re gone. A legacy is shaped by the sum total of your personal and professional contributions, and most significantly by those contributions which have been the most beneficial to others. Social media takes your personal interests and your professional body of work and gives them access to a larger community. Social media can enhance the value of existing relationships and create new ones, it can help you evangelize your passions, recruit people to your causes, and to help others with their causes. Social media can help you and those you care about make significant contributions.     

To those of you reading today’s post who still haven’t seen the light, and believe that social media is either insignificant, or that the window of opportunity has passed you by, I put forth the following demographics as proof of the power of the social media as a medium:

  • There are nearly 150 million social media users in the U.S. alone, which is more than 60% of the U.S. internet population.
  • According to eMarketer, the average time spent per user on social networks as of late 2010 exceeded 5 hours per month. Remember this is an average number, many users eclipse this number by a significant amount. As an example, according to clickZ, Blog readers average 23 hours online each week. 
  • Nielsen data  shows a 2x lift in brand metrics around social ads vs. non-social ads. 
  • GroupM’s research reports a significant lift in search behavior from users exposed to a brand on social networks. 
  • Over 12 million American adults currently maintain a blog.
  • I have clients who have tens of thousands of Facebook Fans, oodles and oodles of Twitter followers, popular blogs, have driven huge increases in revenue, and have quite literally changed the dynamics of their businesses, brands and cultures via social media. 

If I haven’t convinced you yet, let’s look at what some other CEOs said just in reference to Blogging in a recent issue of Inc. Magazine:

  • “More effective than any marketing budget for getting our name out there.”
  • “Within 60 days of launching our blog, it is our top referral source.”
  • “Results have been great – we had more than 100,000 visits in May alone.”
  • “Our clients love it, and lots of people in our industry pay attention to it.”
  • “The blogs are 50 percent of website traffic. Great participation.”

So, do I think CEOs should be actively engaged in social media? In a word; YES. If you’re a CEO who hasn’t taken that first step, or if you’re struggling with strategy or execution, give me a call and I’ll help. If I can’t help I’ll refer you to someone who can… 

Thoughts?

The Lost Art of Brevity

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Power of BrevityDo you ever grow weary of listening to the verbose, or reading the work of those that have issues with clear articulation? I certainly do…but fear not; the lost art of brevity is making a comeback. Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase. I like to get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible. While I appreciate the great oratory skills of those who communicate using wonderful word pictures, or the academics who can wax eloquent while always using the best form of prose, I prefer my business communication to be quick and dirty. In the immortal words of Jack Webb: “The facts ma’am…just the facts.” In today’s post I’ll look at the benefits associated with the resurgence of brevity.

Let me begin clearly stating that it is not my goal to be perceived as a word-basher.  I appreciate anyone who has command of a great vocabulary, but I don’t have time for a 30 minute explanation of something that could have been, and should have been, communicated in 2 minutes. Brevity is rare because it takes both skill and effort to simplify the complex. It’s easier to remain ethereal, vague and ambiguous than it is to communicate with purpose and clarity. My message today is a simple one - refining your communications skill is well worth the effort. Don’t be the person known for rambling on, be the person known for being articulate and to the point.

Probably the greatest example of the power of brevity comes from what is widely considered to be the greatest speech in American history: “The Gettysburg Address.” President Lincoln’s speech was only 10 sentences long (272 words), and lasted less than a mere 3 minutes in length. Contrast Lincoln’s brilliant example of the power of brevity with the keynote speech that day. The renowned orator Edward Everett preceded President Lincoln on the podium at Gettysburg. Everett’s speech was an amazing two hours in length. He was after all the President of Harvard, but I digress…My question is this: which speech was more effective, and more memorable? Ah, the power of brevity…

The good news is that there are two big trends emboldening those of us who prefer brevity over other more irritating forms of communication. First is the time pressure for our attention. People simply don’t have the time to listen to, or read, unnecessarily long forms of communication. The second trend is technology’s recognition of the first trend. Emails, voicemails, instant messages, text messages, blogs, Tweets, Facebook updates, etc., simply don’t lend themselves to the indulgence of pompous grandeur.

If you think I’m joking when I mention Twitter, think again. If you want to become a better writer and refine your sense of brevity, all you have to do is to start Tweeting. Regardless of how you feel about Twitter as a platform or practice, it is brilliant in its mandate of brevity. Twitter requires that all your communication be conducted in 140 characters (including punctuation and spaces) or less. Even given this stringent requirement, some of the most intriguing, complex, savvy, and sometimes ridiculous thoughts are being expressed at a rapidly growing pace. In 140 characters or less, elections are influenced, news is being broken, relationships are being created and expanded, brands are being built, trust is being build, influence is being generated, and products & services are being sold. Don’t underestimate the power of brevity.

One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and if you examine those people in your life you respect the most I’m certain you’ll find they do justice to Shakespeare’s ideal. If you require one last example of the power of brevity, let me ask you to examine the incredible influence that something as brief as a simple quote can have. Think about how often a sentence or two written down in the form of a quote has created a legacy long surpassing many more complex and lengthy works. Most people can cite several of Mark Twain’s quotes, but only a few of his books.

So, how do you know if you’re guilty of contributing to the destruction of brevity? If you exhibit any of the tell-tale signs below you may want to seek out some help:

  1. If your tag-line is more than 4 words in length;
  2. If the most frequently used words in your vocabulary are “and,” “um” & “but;”
  3. If people are consistently dozing off during your keynote;
  4. If the bailout rate on your webcasts are high;
  5. If use of the scroll bar is a requirement for reading your email;
  6. If you run out of time leaving a voicemail message….
  7. If you kill your cell phone battery with one conversation…
  8. If your PowerPoint slides need to be read instead of viewed;
  9. If you URL is so long that it confuses people, and;
  10. If you need a teleprompter to deliver a speech.

Bottom line…I’m in awe of those who have mastered the art of brevity, and after looking back at this post I must admit that I still have some work to do…

Brand Exposure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you understand the difference between presence, visibility and overexposure? Have you figured out how to apply the laws of scarcity to brand management? If not, then this post is for you. While a brand without exposure is not much of a brand, I consistently find that brand exposure is an aspect of brand management that is all too often overlooked as a success metric. Whether you’re assessing the strength of a personal or corporate brand, finding the appropriate level of brand exposure is key to sustainable growth in brand equity. 

As I stated above, having an underexposed brand, or what I like to refer to as having a brand in stealth mode, means that you really don’t have much of a brand. Conversely, having a brand that is mismanaged through overexposure can cause a brand to go into decline by diluting hard earned brand equity. The reality is that premium brands are viewed as such because they jealously manage their brand exposure. They pay attention to the both the frequency and reach of their exposure. While they are careful to insure that their brands are visible to the right constituencies, they simply won’t allow overexposure. When a brand’s pedigree has an element of mystique, scarcity, intrigue, or sophistication, said brand will be in high demand. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating brand snobbery, just astute brand management based on time tested success principles.   

Intelligent brands create at least some level of focused planning surrounding the issue of access to prevent overexposure. Once a brand is overexposed it becomes commoditized, diluted, and ultimately. will go into decline. While you might not detect brand taints associated with overexposure in the short-term, this principle holds true across most genres over time. Think about any overexposed brand that comes to mind and you’ll see that it quickly begins to lose its luster. Once a brand’s appeal begins to erode, it will require significant time and expense to recover. It is simply a more intelligent approach to consistently manage brand exposure than it is to let your brand run wild and then attempt to triage overexposure.  

Let me offer just a few examples to help connect the dots: Recording artists that release too many CDs over too short of a time period hurt their own appeal. The same holds true with authors that release books with too high a frequency, or actors that churn out too many movies. You may also notice that politicians who confuse their real job with that of a media celebrity will lose the respect of their constituency and taint their effectiveness.

Please keep in mind that the personal brands of business people are not immune to the phenomenon mentioned above. The goal of a sound brand exposure strategy should be to increase your demand, which in turn allows you to pick and choose your opportunities, which in turn further increases your demand…the goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace, but to have the right opportunities seeking you. 

I’ll close today’s post with a prime example of personal branding overexposure that while a pet-peeve of mine, will certainly draw the ire of many. I’m a huge believer in the use social media and social networking to further brand exposure. That said, I have little use for social networking junkies who collect friends/followers/contacts just for the sake of watching the numbers go up, while adding little or no value to their network. I would suggest that if your brand is based solely upon the quantity of contacts in your LinkedIn network, or the number of followers you’ve amassed on Twitter, and not the qualitative relevancy of said contacts, then you are more likely stroking your ego than you are acting as an astute personal brand manager. If no real interaction, no real value add, or no real engagement takes place, then while you migh have a lot of contacts you likely have very few relationships – there is a difference. 

Thoughts?

To Blog or Not to Blog?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I think you’d be shocked at how many people still struggle with the “to blog or not to blog” dilemma. Most of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve been an a strong evangelist of social media, and perhaps even more so of blogging for several years now. So why is it that so many people still seem paralyzed when it comes to taking the plunge? Let’s look at the numbers…While the numbers vary depending on which source you believe, the total number of blogs on the Internet is generally thought to be in the range of 200 million blogs. By any category analysis or analytical standard blogging has obviously developed into a powerful communication medium. However the question remains, do the numbers in-and-of-themselves mean that blogging is right for everyone?

I have read many a commentary ranging from the negative – “is blogging dead?” to those who argue the opposite - “Blog or Die.” Moreover, since I author a Blog (you might be interested in reading a previous blog entitled “Why N2growth Blogs“) I must believe in blogging right? Not necessarily…If you’ve taken the time to review a random cross section of blogs on the Internet, I’m sure you’ll agree that the world would be better off without some of the content currently being published. That said, I also believe the world is indeed a better place as a result of some of the good content available via blogs. While I don’t think a business will perish if it does not blog, I wholeheartedly believe a business will clearly fail to maximize its full potential without leveraging the significant benefits that blogging affords to those who do choose to participate.

Jason Lee Miller authored a post entitled: “Blogging Hits a Crossroads” last year which I believe is probably even more relevant today than it was when it was first released. The premise of his piece is that the landscape of the Blogosphere is changing radically, and that as such many “A-Listers” have either quit, or are contemplating giving-up their blogging endeavors. Miller’s post is quick to point out that blogging is competitive, requires a great investment of time, subjects the blogger to the ire of those who have dissenting opinions, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make money blogging. I concur with all of the aforementioned assertions, but must admit that I am far from quitting…In fact, I would say that blogging is just starting to get interesting.

What makes blogging so interesting is also precisely what makes it so annoying at times…the low barrier to entry. The simple fact is that anyone can blog, which explains the existence of the huge numbers of blogs I mentioned earlier. The noise in this space is simply deafening…As Miller so aptly stated in his post, “The good stuff lasts, the chaff separates from the wheat, the cream rises to the top, all that.” The dropping-off of a few “A-Listers” is of little consequence to me, or frankly to anyone else. The litmus test for blogging is, and always will be, does your blog add value, does it make a difference, and do people benefit from the opinions espoused?

Bloggers will continue to come and go…while some will be missed, many will not. Nevertheless the reality is this…blogs are not a tool for those looking to get rich quickly (that train left the station a long time ago), nor are they likely to transform insignificant thoughts into something other than what they are. What blogs do offer is a viable and robust platform to be leveraged by those that have a message worthy of communicating. Blogs can clearly be accretive, and will continue to add brand equity to those companies and individuals who grasp the value of social media and understand how to incorporate blogging into their social media efforts.

It should also be noted that while blogs can and certainly do take people that previously lived in relative obscurity and turn them into almost overnight sensations, the reality is that the higher-up in the org chart you tend to find yourself the more benefit there is to blogging. This is simply due to the fact that more people want to hear what a high profile CEO or entrepreneur has to say. Taking into account the above considerations, not everyone can or should blog. In this author’s humble opinion, blogging only makes sense if the following conditions can be met:

You Have Something To Say: I don’t have any particular affinity for useless musings. Time is a precious commodity these days and most people I know are looking for valuable information that they can put to work for some benefit. I’m also not a fan of going to a blog to read third party news, press or the re-blogging of someone else’s information published for no other reason then to boost their search engine rankings. There are plenty of legitimate news sites and other aggregators out there so if you can’t produce your own content you shouldn’t blog.

You Know How To Say It: Mark Twain I’m not, but for the most part I can put across a cogent thought. While there is no requirement that you be a Rhodes Scholar to blog, it does help if you can communicate well in written form. The worst thing you can do for your business is to lose credibility via poor communication and a lack of professionalism. Not everyone is a writer nor should they try to be.

You Have The Time To Say It: I generally produce 5 blog posts per week (one each business day) and it normally takes me an hour or two per post. I don’t simply link to another article or make trite comments, but author original content that I hope adds value, which in my opinion is mission critical. If you don’t have the time to make blogging a priority the effort will end in frustration for both you and your audience. Post frequency is an often debated topic, but how often you post isn’t as important as meeting whatever commitment you make, and doing so with quality content.

You Have Someone To Say It To: Make sure that there is a viable audience for your content. Whether the blog is a tool for internal communication to employees or an external channel to third parties you must have an audience to either receive or pass along value. If no one is reading your content, you might get some cathartic benefit from your efforts, but there may be better uses for your time.  

There Is Some Benefit Derived From What You Say: Back to value – whether the value is received or given (in a perfect world both) does not matter as long as value is created. A blog can serve educational, social, business, philanthropic, political or any number of other agendas so long as a clear value add is present. A simple cost/benefit or risk/reward analysis should indicate whether your effort will be of value to you, and even if it is not of value to you, it may be to others.

The bottom line is that the numbers do in fact speak for themselves. Blogging is much more than the latest trend and is here to stay. So as long as you can meet the criteria mentioned above blogging can be a tremendous platform from which to effectively communicate your message. If you’re still on the fence, I would request you try and answer the following question: If you can engage those with whom you conduct business, or otherwise desire to interact with in a meaningful and value added fashion why wouldn’t you do so?   

Thoughts?

Social Media Responsibility

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

My wife pointed me to an LA Times story today that made me cringe…The article recounted how TV personality Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) suddenly passed out while speaking at USC. While this caused a tense moment, he appears to be okay now. However what incensed me was how the crowd reacted. Witnesses noted the crowd did nothing, they did not come to his aid, and they were of no help to Bill whatsoever. But the audience was oh-so quick to grab their phones and tweet/IM/Facebook about what they were watching. Therein lies the problem – they were watching, not acting. In today’s post I’m going to explore responsibility as it relates to social media – the responsibility that comes with living in the real world vs. a perpetual state of virtual reality.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan of social media. I use it personally and my company has a social media practice area which offers social media services to our clients. But when social media addiction takes precedence over common sense, over helping another human being, it may be time to reassess the world in which we live. Social tools, platforms and networks are meant to be conduits to broader and deeper relationships. The real benefit of social media is in improving how we interact not in creating barriers to engagement. The digital world is at its best when it brings us closer together and at its worst when moves us further apart.

I probably wouldn’t even bring up this topic if what happened to Bill was an isolated event, but it’s not. I have observed other reports where people have been attacked, injured, or were otherwise in need of help but didn’t receive it because bystanders would simply rather standby than help. They would rather shoot a video, bang out a tweet, or just go on ignore rather than help a fellow human being… 

Let me be clear – I’m not attempting to dismiss the value of social media, because it would take contriving an intellectually dishonest argument to attempt to nullify something that offers so many benefits and so much potential. In fact, I hope that some in Bill Nye’s audience were attempting to contact emergency services, but I rather suspect that this was not the case for most of them.

Let me ask you a few questions: Which world do you live in – the real world or the virtual world? Are you still able to distinguish the difference between the two? The term “virtual reality” derived its name for a reason…because it’s NOT real – it’s virtual, simulated, and it can easily become fantasy if you lose touch with reality. Even scarier is when the ambiguous and ethereal become your reality. If you choose voyeurism over real relationships you have precariously positioned yourself on a very slippery slope. It’s perfectly fine to spend time in the virtual world if you recognize it as such. So, are you still in touch with reality? Do you avoid human relationships in lieu of online relationships? Are your online relationships adding value to your personal and professional life or harming them? Would you reach out to another human being in need of help or just tweet about it?

The simple message here is anything can be misused, or abused. Anything can become an addiction or an idol – even something as wonderfully powerful as social media. I have no problem with social media if it’s adding value to your world. I have no issue with social media being used to help people as has been the case on numerous occasions around the world. But I do have an issue (and so should you) if social media is cutting you off from the real world, and is keeping you from helping others. When black & white becomes permanently blurred so that everything reads as shades of grey, things can become dicey. Real life is not a spectator sport – it’s a participation sport, and in fact, I submit to you that it’s a full contact participation sport.

As always I welcome your comments below…

Best Leadership Blogs 2010

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I know we’re all a bit election weary, but I’d like to encourage you to consider casting one more vote this year. Kevin Eikenberry (@kevineikenberry) opened-up voting for The Best Leadership Blogs of 2010 yesterday, and the N2growth blog was one of 11 blogs nominated for the award. The winner will be the blog receiving the most votes (One vote per email address), and you can vote by clicking on the link above. I know all but one of the other nominees and would highly recommend any of them as a high quality source of leadership information. If you are a regular reader of this blog and feel it has added value to your growth and development as a leader I would greatly appreciate your vote. If you don’t cast a vote for this blog, please vote for one of the other nominees. If there is a blog you feel should have been nominated but wasn’t, please share that information in the comments below and I’ll pass it along to Kevin. I’m Mike Myatt and I approve this message…

20 Reasons Websites Fail

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

For years now I have consistently received inquiries from CEOs who wonder why their web initiatives are falling short of reaching their objectives. Because most of these inquiries come from executives suffering from web maladies of a similar nature, I decided to put forth a list of what I consider to be the 20 most common website mistakes hindering success on the Internet. The sad part about the following list is that none of these typical mistakes are difficult to remedy, yet most offenders simply fail to correct the issues and wonder why their Internet presence isn’t producing the desired results… 

Without further adieu - 20 Reasons Websites Fail (in no particular order):

  1. Not Having One: If you’re a proud hold-out continuing to dwell in the offline world, WAKE UP! Not having an Internet presence is akin to not being open for business. Don’t think for a moment that you can outlast progress and advances in technology, and somehow end-up coming out ahead of the game…It won’t work. 
  2. Being a One-Trick Pony: Almost as bad as having no Internet presence is confusing a single website for a web presence. Do me a favor and imagine a spider “web” – intricate, concentric strands carefully woven together to create the perfect “net.” To develop visibility, presence and influence you must use multiple sites, platforms and networks that work in collaboration with one another to create a digital “web.” It is not uncommon for a successful Internet presence these days to include ten, twenty, fifty or even hundreds of digital connection points. What you have to remember is the importance of engaging your customers where they are, and in today’s world they’re literally everywhere.  
  3. No Leadership: You’d be surprised at how many times a company’s Internet presence is still the number one corporate “hot potato” with either nobody in charge, or the wrong person in charge. Without leadership, vision and executive involvement, your web presence will be destined for failure. Hint: your web initiatives must be in alignment with, and serve as a key driver of your business objectives.
  4. No Aesthetics: While I’m not advocating form over substance, let me be very clear – design matters. Now comes the tricky part…what you think passes for great design isn’t as important as what your audience thinks. So, how do you know what passes for good design? Be open minded, seek advice, then listen. I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion great content that doesn’t get viewed because people can’t get past horrible design. I’ve also witnessed good content deemed less than credible because the design is clearly not credible. I’ll say it again – design matters.
  5. No Metrics: Nowhere is the axiom “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” more appropriate than as applied to the corporate Internet presence. If you don’t have a detailed analytics program measuring key metrics then you cannot even begin to hope to understand what’s working, and what’s not working…No metrics – no success.
  6. No Visibility: If you have a great website, but it can’t be found - you lose…If you don’t have page one visibility (either paid, organic, or preferably both) on major search engines under relevant search terms, then you’ve wasted whatever investment you’ve made into the creation of your website. No visibility, equals no traffic, equals questionable sustainability in today’s world.  Hint: think mobile – if you’re website isn’t mobile friendly you’re already behind the curve.
  7. No Phone Number: If you really want to frustrate your clients and prospects try not publishing a contact phone number. Let me put it another way…if you want to send your clients and prospects directly to your competition just withhold your phone number from them. Smart companies provide multiple channels through which they can be contacted. If someone on your leadership team believes it’s more cost effective to play hide the pea with your phone number, then I would suggest that person doesn’t belong on your leadership team.
  8. No Social Acumen: Being anti-social in today’s market is the proverbial kiss of death. A website without a voice doesn’t doesn’t engender much confidence. Numerous studies have shown that visitors have a better opinion of companies who maintain an active blog, and actively engage in social networking. If your company doesn’t blog, tweet, and participate in other social networking platforms, then you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to engage with your customers, prospects and other stakeholders.   
  9. No Opt-in List: Give your website visitors the option of opting-in to receive information and updates. This is the fastest way to identify those interested in what you do. There are few things as valuable for direct marketing purposes as having a large, targeted e-mail list, and nowhere can you build a better list faster than mining for subscribers on your website.
  10. No Executive Bios: People don’t do business with companies, they do business with people. If I can’t read-up on the team behind the brand, then I don’t know who I’m doing business with. If I don’t know who I’m doing business with, I won’t do business…
  11. Forced Registrations: If you force visitors to register prior to giving them access to your information, your losing valuable opportunities. Forced registrations out of the gate send website visitors away in droves. If your idea is to better qualify prospects by shielding access to your content behind a registration form then you are misguided in your thinking. Grant access to your information first, and people will gladly register to be provided full details of your offering. You need to earn the right to qualify a prospect or to mine for data by earning trust and communicating value. This cannot be done by starting with a forced registration. Engage first – sell later.
  12. Static Content: If the content on your website is ostensibly the same as it was 6 months ago, then you’re messaging that you either have a static organization void of innovation, or that you simply don’t care enough about your website to update it with fresh content…in either case you lose.
  13. Poor Quality Content: Content is still and forever will be king…If your website contains content that doesn’t add value to, and doesn’t properly address the needs of key constituencies, your website will not be successful. If you must pick between quantity of content and quality of content, choose the latter and not the former. However keep in mind that a combination of the two will afford you the most significant benefits. Hint- don’t create content for you – create it for your audience.
  14. Pop-ups: Today’s Internet is open, collaborative and consumer driven. Just like the topic of forced registrations mentioned above, attempting to control browsing habits through the imposition of unwanted interruption based applications is offensive to the majority of Internet users. If users want to be surveyed, polled, updated, etc., then they’ll subscribe to your opt-in list giving you their permission to query them.   
  15. Poor Linking/Navigation: If you make visitors work too hard to find the information they’re seeking, you’ll lose them altogether as they’ll leave your site for more fertile ground. Navigation needs to be simple, intuitive, and functional. When you examine your analytics and notice that visitors leave your site after viewing only one or two pages, a likely cause is poor navigational architecture. 
  16. No E-Commerce: Make it easy for your customers and prospects to buy from you. Don’t force them to order a catalogue, talk to a sales rep, visit a retail location, or to participate in other multi-step processes. Every web presence should have the ability to sell something. A website is capable of selling products, services, knowledge, information, subscriptions, advertising, and a virtually anything your mind can imagine. Make sure your website is e-commerce enabled.
  17. Bad Multimedia: When I land on a website I don’t want to be assulted by cheesey music, bad video, or maybe the worst offense of all – total multimedia as a feigned substitute for a lack of content. Let visitors select multimedia elements of interest, but don’t force your presentations on them.
  18. No Community: If your Internet presence creates a destination, but not a community you’re missing a key part of the puzzle. There is a big difference between creating a desire to arrive and the desire to stay and then to comeback again and again. To create a community is to create trust, a sense of belonging, the feeling that people have a voice, and that you listen. A strong community is also social proof that you have something valid to offer. Miss this point and you miss big time. 
  19. No Fun: Part of creating community is having a sense of humor and adding a bit of entertainment value. If you think your brand is too high-brow or too institutional to have fun – think again. Stodgy, stagnant, and elitist is just another way of saying you’re boring. Boring brands equal bad brands.
  20. No References: If you don’t provide references and testimonials you are simply creating an unnecessary barrier to success. Don’t tell people you’re good at what you do, let your work, and more particularly your clients tell them on your behalf. Nothing speaks to professional credibility like affirming voices – especially influential ones.

So, what did I miss? As always, I welcome your comments below…

Thought Leaders

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership…What is a thought leader, and what does thought leadership mean in today’s business world? These are interesting questions as we get ready to kick-off the World Business Forum today in New York. Over the next two days I’ll be with some of the worlds most notable CEOs, an Academy Award winner, a Nobel Laureate, New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best Selling authors, distinguished business school professors, champions of innovation and other titans of industry. But are they really thought leaders, or are they simply just plowing old ground with more eloquence than their predecessors? In today’s post I’ll examine the subject of thought leadership in an attempt to separate fact from fiction…  

As much as some people wish it wasn’t so, a thought leader is not someone who simply restates someone else’s views and positions. Even going beyond uniqueness of thought, a true thought leader’s positions also challenge established norms and conventions. Moreover, the true litmus test for a thought leader is when their unique ideas are implemented in the marketplace, they tend to create disruptive innovation, and often change the way we view the world.

Regrettably the label of thought leader has evolved to become a self-bestowed title for anyone who has something to say or promote, often without regard for qualitative issues. Some would say that the term thought leader, once synonymous with futurist and innovator, is more closely aligned with snake-oil salesman today. Don’t get me wrong, true thought leaders still exist; they are just much harder to spot these days.

Let me begin by stating that authentic thought leaders, the real deals, are not created via great marketing and PR alone. While they are oft published, quite outspoken, and many times represented by marvelous publicists, they are not merely contrived, self-promoted legends in their own minds. Rather true thought leaders are born out of real-world successes, achievements, and contributions that have been recognized by their peers and competitors alike. 

The collection of speakers at WBF causes me to ponder what really constitutes thought leadership? I’ll be sharing my observations with you over the next two days, but my advice to you is to  judge people on their actions and results, not their rhetoric. Don’t accept conventional wisdom as gospel unless you can validate proof of concept, and then only accept it if you can innovate with it, or around it.  Here’s the deal - when you run across a real thought leader, you’ll clearly recognize them as such for there is something truly unique in both their words and deeds.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on what defines thought leadership. I’m also interested in your thoughts about the speakers I’ll be profiling over the next few days – do they deserve thought leader status? Lastly, if you have anyone who stands out to you as a real thought leader in business I welcome hearing about them. I look forward to your comments…

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