Lessons from 2010

2010 has been a massive year of both ups and downs for me which has lead to some significant personal development. As I take a leap forwards into come new challenges I thought what better time to compose a very brief list of some lessons I’ve learned in the year past.

Professional Lessons

– A campaign not working is not a failure as long as you learn something from it
– Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it will work, just because something didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea
– Take holidays – for years I put off taking trips because I didn’t want to fall behind on work, but nothing leaves you more hungry to do good work than a little time away
– ‘No’ is not a dirty word – If a timeline is unrealistic at least suggest a more manageable solution, don’t just say yes
– Low cost, High Quality, Fast delivery – Pick 2
– Anyone can be insightful, often without realising it. The secret is to listen closely enough to hear the verbal diamond in the rough.

Personal Lessons

– There is no such thing as a black and white situation – only varying shades of grey
– While it’s important to speak your beliefs it is more important to listen to those of others
– Exercise really is enjoyable – everyone wasn’t lying to me for the past 23 years despite what I previously thought
– If you want something in life take it. Don’t wait for the ‘right time,’ it may never come
– In 12 months everything can change – Last year my dad spent about 6 months in hospital undergoing chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant. The end of December see’s him 12 months cancer free and he is currently back at work full-time and looking more healthy everyday.

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Perceived value

YAY!!!!

A while ago I noticed that a particular piece of thinking that has been carried over from the tangible world of sales and product/service driven business into the less tangible, more abstract world of social and non-sales orientated online business.

In the world of tangibles if a particular action has a perceived value, then there is a push from the business to lower the barrier to action, this can vary from access to a brochure or information pack all the way through to a sale of an item. The reason this works is because a sale has a physical price there is a physical value, so by looking at conversion ratios we are able to attribute a value to the brochure.

The problem with lowering these barriers starts to come when the entire value proposition of the action is the effort that went into it.

Case in point; Facebook removed ‘Fan’ and replaced it with ‘Like’ as they noticed people “liked” things with a lot less thought, therefor brands would be able to grow their pages with more ease. The issue here is that by lowering this barrier they have diluted the value proposition. If we make some very generous assumptions and say that a customer that is also a Facebook ‘Fan’ spent on average $5 more per year than a customer who is not a Facebook ‘Fan’ then this number will inevitably go down when the brand starts to attract less interested ‘likes.’

In many ways we can draw a comparison to what has happened to online advertising, publishers inflated their impressions in an attempt to squeeze more money from advertisers, however by inflating volume the response rates dropped. Advertisers realised that this meant they needed to serve more of these impressions to get the same value, thus the per-impression value of the site was diminished and the incremental gain to the publisher was lost. Thus the downward spiral begins.

Of course, all of this is based on the assumption that there is any real incremental value to a Facebook fan to begin with. So far all attempts I have seen to report on dollar values for this kind of activity have been using methodology that ranges from questionable to retarded.

Moving beyond this some would argue that the value is the ability to deliver messages to this audience and engage with them on an ongoing basis, which is terrific, as long as they are spending more money than people who aren’t involved in that engagement, because every line you read, every word you type has a head hour against it and those cost the business money.

So if you’re attracting more ‘Likes’ than you were ‘Fans’ you might want to hold off on that self congratulatory back pat and avoid sending out that smug tweet to all your social media strategy expert guru pals, because it’s highly likely that you’re increasing quantity at the sacrifice of quality.

But everyone’s doing it?!?

It seems to me that businesses have lost a bit of that discerning nature that makes them the long term successes they want to be.

Every decision should be made for the good of the company. This is a fact of business and often the key factor that can make the difference between a mediocre leader and a great one. Where the difficulty lies is that a lot of people only think of the good of the company as ensuring that their monthly/quarterly/yearly profits are as high as possible and that in the public eye there are sweeping positive reviews, but there is so much more to it than that. It is inevitable that there will be some level of negative sentiment about a business, be it from past employees, a negative event that occurred or a current employee that has had a bad day and is having a vent. The issue is with seeing all of this as a completely negative thing that is to be controlled. People expect employees to have bad days, nobody is happy all the time, work is stressful and at times depressing. This is the way things are in even the best of companies.

What we are seeing at the moment is companies rushing to control this output through monitoring of employees online activity and then taking action off the back of it the problem with this is that it is in no way a cost efficient use of anybodies time. If employees are complaining en-mass a standard level of brand monitoring throughout social channels should pick this up, there is no need to monitor employees specifically. Furthermore the way in which businesses are treating employees that do complain is counter-productive, in fact if an employee that is typically happy complains online they are just as likely to promote the business through the same channel when they have a good day. If there are high levels of complaints occurring from employees throughout the business, or even from within particular business teams the issue is not that people are complaining, it is that they are unhappy at work. This, whether businesses like it or not is a management/leadership issue.

If businesses put the same amount of time, effort and money into leadership training, employee reward and recognition programs and talent development that they put into attempting to control their employees online behaviour they would not only see the amount of negative sentiment from employees fade, they would additionally be left with a more engaged and productive workforce. This is the largest issue with businesses rushing to get on board the latest trend, they are not thinking about the long term cost associated with this behaviour. When you lose an employee t it costs the business on average a minimum of 2x their salary to recruit, train and replace the employee. Add to this the damage and cost of having dis-engaged employees to begin with and what you are left with is an extremely detrimental cost to the business, so instead of punishing and restricting the expression of employees who will only feel further unhappy about their situation knowing that work is now encroaching on their personal space, businesses should look internally at employee engagement (there are a multitude of providers who run assessments around this) and figuring out how they can improve the workplace for everyone. Hypothetically speaking you could be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars saved annually in turnover and productivity.

It’s just smart business.

For more information about the benefits of investing in employees you can look at my lovely partner Jessica’s site: HR Club Sydney

What a difference culture can make

I’ve always been the kind of person who doesn’t do what he doesn’t enjoy. When I was younger everyone played sports and so I too gave it a go, but at the end of the day I just didn’t enjoy it, so by 5th grade I had stopped playing competitive sports and spent my time doing art and reading instead. I’m not sure whether this attitude is a good one or a bad one to have, but I have carried it with me into adulthood. Pouring myself passionately into the things that excite me and provoke my interest while simply choosing not to engage in things I find tedious (unless of course they result in me getting more of what I’m passionate about).

The one place I notice this more than any other is work. I am a jumper. I’ve never stayed in a workplace for more than 18 months and I’m a restless employee, always looking for more challenges. If you can’t provide that challenge then I will go somewhere that can. I am one of those employees that is hard working and will take on as much work as you can give me, but if I’m not engaged you’re going to notice it quickly. This has served me well in my current industry, I’ve worked hard and progressed quickly and there isn’t a single day I don’t walk away thinking that I love what I do. But is it more than just the job? The other thing that the media/advertising/marketing industry has that has been missing from my previous workplaces is work hard play hard culture that goes through every level of the companies, from the management to the admin staff.
I stumbled into a job in media, it wasn’t a grand scheme or aspiration, I knew someone who worked in the industry and I lucked out and got a job. I started work and after about two weeks in the digital team I got home one night and just knew, this is what I want to do. It was unlike the jobs I had previously had (mostly sales/customer service/admin type stuff) and the people were certainly different from those at my previous workplace (it was the type of obscure business people walk into as customer service reps and never leave, thus management teams are made up of people with very little business acumen and little to no knowledge of how the greater world operates) no, the people here were smart, hardworking and they actually enjoyed their jobs. Work was not just a place to go during the daylight hours and it wasn’t just a thing you did to pay the bills, it was something you felt deeply about, something you wanted to do. I felt excited by possibilities being there. That was it, I was addicted to work from the moment I opened my first spreadsheet there.

I have been extremely lucky to work for two agencies that have amazing cultures and are filled with wonderful, hard working people and I think this, more than anything else in my work life has made me happy in what I am doing.

Are you happy where you’re working? If not, why not? and what kind of difference do you think a good culture would make?

For quality information on culture and HR orientated matters read articles written by my far more intelligent better half at HR Club Sydney

5 things Lady Gaga can teach us about business

I was sitting in an airport at 6am, waiting to board a flight when I observed a photo of Lady Gaga and the following thoughts occured to me.

5. An overtly sexualised presentation can make even the poorest product (see lack of talent) successful

4. Controversy sells

3. Honesty and transparency are the hot topics in marketing but at the moment, but sometimes it helps to create a little mystique by being (sexually) ambiguous

2. Look different, make your branding and packaging stand out in a crowd and be original (ish)

1. Pants are optional