Monday, March 01, 2010

The Mighty Ducks: How new media successes got to be such lucky ducks

I recently spoke at the Mom 2.0 Summit, a wonderful event where businesses and market influencers converge in Houston to discuss what we're doing, how we're doing it, how it's working for us, and what next. I'm in the interesting position of being on both sides of that fence, and when I was invited to speak, I encountered a framing problem for my topic, "The Macro Impact of Social Media Engagement."

Despite this framing anxiety, I was honored to get a platform to speak, further honored by my amazing panelists (Joanne Bamberger, extraordinary pundit and lawyer; Loralee Choate, whose direct interaction with Valerie Jarrett regarding healthcare caused the entire Web to inhale sharply in admiration; and JJ Lassberg, whose creativity inspires enriched marketing and communication) and rich for choice about what to focus on in my panel. That's nearly as bad as having nothing, you know.

But as I spoke with my panelists -- and by speak I mean I spent a lot of time listening and asking questions first, which was sort of a stall tactic (lol) but largely to gain perspective -- a few things occurred to me:

1. What we seek in business isn't all that different from what we seek in life - we have goals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams and all lead to a sort of success we envision

2. My life and my business intersect, significantly - like many in this area of my field, I gained a beautiful network and community that has blossomed into work I love by connecting personally

3. Diversity can be complementary and intersect in unexpected ways - a DC political expert who talks on CNN, a famous Utah mom blogger, and a Houston-based communications consultant can end up having similar talking points that segue nicely.

In short, we built on the concept that you need to build a major highway of communication, with great rest stops, on the way to a destination:
  • Create a great blog or Web site, and invite others in as much as you go out to visit them.
  • Create a place they want to come, because it's valuable for them, and make it a clean, well-lighted space.
  • Get to know them, all of them, and value each of them, not just the ones who can Do for you. You never know who might become what for you...everyone has value, as Joanne said.
  • Pay attention to who comes, and in what quantity, but make that a piece of information, not the end all be all.
  • At the end of the day, content is king, and your mission statement always needs to hint at, "Ask not what my community can do for me, but what I can do for my community."
Our panel received positive press. More importantly, it prompted a lot of spring point discussions throughout the weekend, well after the panel ended.

Bringing us into your space with you

One of the best comments/highest compliments I received was from Leah Peterson, who said, "During your panel...you have this way of bringing us into your space with you."

Mission? Accomplished.

That's always my goal when I communicate, whether on my own behalf or that of a client.

The object is never to trap you or pull a used car salesman trick. Not at all. The point is to be there with you, seriously, honestly present, and to talk and interact.

All of this intersected near the end of the conference when a mom blogger caught me at a table and shared her story. "I just want to ask what it is that I should expect, you know, what else I can do," she said earnestly. She loved blogging and wanted to be successful at it.

"Tell me about it, what you've got, what you do, what you want," I said.

She shared her story about how she'd created a blog, put great content on it, worked really hard to be good, added in SEO, studied all the successful examples, and so forth.

I could tell that It, whatever It was, had not yet happened for her. She was actively pursuing the "what more can I do" angle. I bit my tongue in indecision. Should I tell her I thought she had it backwards? Tell the truth? Or compliment her on all she'd done so far, leave her with a wish of good luck?

Telling it like I think it is, and I bet I'm at least half right, or maybe three-quarters

I went with truth. I felt a bit arrogant, but she had asked, I have been doing this a while and have learned some hard lessons along the way, largely due to lack of mentorship at the time. Back when I began, there were not a 100 articles about how to blog, 200 about how to engage using social media, no conferences about it, and no major successes who were accessible. The rest of us felt our way, some landing it big, and some finding different paths, while others caught a rhythm that satisfied them. I didn't mention any failures because as my friend, the amazing President of Zoetica Kami Huyse quoted during the Ragan-Coca Cola conference, "There is no failure, only a yes or no to a hypothesis."

This young mom blogger reminded me of some mom bloggers friends I'd made along the way, but who had quit blogging when it failed for them. Many were writers who wanted to succeed at writing. We're a large club.

The difference between some and others in this case is the level of commercialization and experience. I've written and edited professionally and learned that the days of getting discovered by a movie producer in a soda shop are long past. You get discovered when you get in front of someone and that happens when you go to where they are.

Think of it as moving to a new house. When you move in, a few neighbors might drop by as part of a welcome wagon, but what are the odds that they will be your new best friends? When you do meet people you like, do they magically appear at your door, or do you need to build a friendship and then invite them over?

Blogging isn't so very different.

I can build a beautiful house, fill it with lovely things or the highest quality, and maintain a rich and vibrant home. That's satisfying if that's all I want from it. But what if I want to constantly filled with people, of all sorts, all of whom are wonderful in some way?

I have to go out and meet them, and it needs to be genuine and sincere. Same goes for blogging.

You can be wonderful and friendly, a marvelously charming and charismatic person, and you will still need to work to build and maintain relationships.

But even good friends don't always know what you want and need. Building the relationship is part of it, but you still have to pursue what you want.

In the end, you have to use your words. You have to tell people what you dream of, what you want, what you need, how you're available (if you are) for work opportunities, and keep your eyes and ears open to figure out when and how you can create an intersection that brings a win-win for you and others.

When you see someone succeeding at something you are interested in, talk to them about it. When you see a job you'd like, find out what qualifications it requires. When you see a job you'd like, sort of, don't be afraid to propose yourself with your modifications to the job.

You never know.

And that's what I told this wondering mom blogger who asked me what I thought she ought to do next.

She stared at me, said hmm, and turned away. I think I know why. I think it's because I used the words work and effort frequently. I think she, like so many others, subscribe to the Kevin Costner Field of Dreams Philosophy: If You Build It, They Will Come.

I confess, I never "got" that movie.

I confess, I don't subscribe to that philosophy.

Maybe it's because I'm a middle-class American born of middle-class Americans, but I believe in putting your best foot forward and your nose to the grindstone. That means trying. That means meeting a lot of No before you find that Yes.

Fielding the no to reach the dream of yes

A lot of people will tell you that things come effortlessly. They'll either say this outright or put on a good facade of ease. You might think you are surrounded by Olympic champion ice skaters who glide about beautifully with no trouble.

The truth is we're all ducks and under the water our legs are churning as fast as they can.

If I were an oversimplifier who loved to continue a good metaphor, I'd say there are two kinds of ducks: the one who sits close to shore and waits for someone to toss her a crumb because she is such a cute duck, and the one who cruises the shore and keeps a sharp eye out for any crumbs to snatch.

If you've ever fed ducks, you know who gets the crumb, even if you try to toss it to the patiently waiting cute duck.

Even so, sometimes neither duck gets a crumb, and sometimes your artfully tossed crumb lands right at the waiting duck's bill.

That keeps us all hopeful, especially when that duck gets a book deal about how to be the great duck who gets the crumb tossed her way. Then we all start thinking, well if I pose prettily alongside the shore and everyone sees what an awesome duck I am, I'll get a crumb.

Then some other duck gets a crumb. "I made sure to be by the shore, kept the water rolling off my back, and lo and behold...a crumb!"

We start thinking, "Wow, there sure are a lot of lucky ducks out there! I want to be a lucky duck."

We see other ducks munching crumbs, sometimes it feels like we see crumb munching ducks everywhere we turn. We start feeling like the Ugly Unlucky Duckling.

What you may not know is what happened during the ellipses. Usually, a lot of work and effort happened during the ellipses. Usually, a lot of no happened during the ellipses.

People don't want to hear about the no, though. People prefer to talk about the yes.

But never assume the no wasn't there because I guarantee you...it was. Just like the baseball game in Field of Dreams -- a lot of bad pitches to get to the good one, and that's the one with the glory. But the bad pitches were worthwhile because they taught us something about the game, ourselves, and the pitcher.

You have to field a lot of no to reach the dream of yes.

(Now I have ducks and baseball all in the same metaphor -- an expansion team of The Mighty Ducks, only baseball. )

I didn't just shake my tailfeathers to land a crumb. I worked my tail feathers off. I still do. It takes just as much effort to maintain the yes as it does to get it in the first place.

It's a big pond but we're all swimming in it

Now, though, there are a lot of ducks on the pond. So how do you get heard above all that quacking? How do you develop yourself or your business?

Feel free to share your ideas here, thoughts, comments, and I'll be back with my answer later.

3 comments:

Mr Lady said...

I totally agree, Julie.

I also think that this particular media is built, or is being built, in such a way that it's damn near impossible to put your finger on what "success" is.

More importantly, It's really hard to quantify why we are so eager for it, that illusive "success."

I think it's because what we do is so new, and the ceiling hasn't been built yet, so we all aim so unimaginably high that we can't benchmark ourselves very well.

I try very hard to remember the day I started my blog, and why I did, even though I had no idea there were more of us out there. I try to remember that I just wanted to write, and I wanted to learn how to type more than 15 words a minute.

I've achieved one of my goals. I'm so not admitting which one.

Mayberry said...

I'm still looking for those elusive answers ... and can't wait to see what you and others have to say. Your duck metaphor is excellent.

Mamma said...

Shoot! I can't just sit there and look cute?

The whole idea of success is so elusive too. I've been blogging for what? 4 years? And I still don't know why I do it, other than the incredible people I've met along the way.

I keep hoping I can just figure out what, if anything else, I would like to accomplish in this area.