One More Step

The Story Of Creating Business And Music

Month: June, 2014

An Ideas Guy

I had delicious ramen to celebrate an awesome friend Sarah’s belated birthday yesterday, and we had a cool conversation about branding. In particular, I told her I had trouble coming up with my elevator pitch. In part, it’s because I’m not sure exactly what kind of role I want to be in – though I usually say strategy, branding, (ironically enough,) partnerships, or marketing. More than that, though, it’s because I’m having a trouble identifying a pattern in my experience. I’ve been doing music my whole life, but I don’t see myself following the professional musician path. However, co-founding Explorchestra, a composers’ orchestra,  is my greatest achievement to date. I studied behavioral economics, love decision making theory and and incentives, and worked in finance out of college. I have a few Java classes under my belt, and am currently studying up on more Java, HTML/CSS, and Ruby. For a while now, I’ve been designing an ultra-slim laptop bag. I go to entrepreneur meetups all the time, and see my path in start-ups, ideally hardware. I’ve been playing around with an Arduino. I currently work in healthcare IT, connecting medical staff with better software.

So what the hell do I say to people when they ask me “what do you do?” Sarah had no trouble summing it up: “you’re an ideas guys. You come up with ideas and you make things.” I like that. I don’t know how it’d fly at parties, but it’s a really good way to sum up my mindset. Thanks, Sarah! I have half a mind to go to some other old friends I have and ask them how they see me. It might be a really useful exercise.

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Hard Choices – Reviewing Without Reading

A few hours ago, I went on Amazon to take a quick look at Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices.” As usual, the first thing I checked out was the ranking, which surprised me as a meagerly 2.5/5 stars. For comparison, George W Bush’s recent book, “Decision Points,” has garnered 4.5/5 stars, and he was a wildly unpopular president. Nevertheless, I assumed controversial politicians still can write good books, so, my first thought was: “Hillary must have written a very poor biography.”

However, a quick glance at the ranking distribution told me otherwise. Take a look:

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I’ve always been interested in review distributions, and am normally vary of 1-star reviews, because from experience, few of them address the quality of the book. In most cases, I”ve noticed that these reviews complain about shipping, processing, Amazon’s customer service, or the author. Continuing to actually read the public response, I found that this is exactly the case here. The majority of 1-star-ers are not not fans of Ms. Clinton, to say the least. Their reviews indicate their opinions of her, not her writing. Here are some examples from the top responses:

  • “How out of touch is Hillary? If she really thinks making $12 million in one year is flat broke do we really want her leading America or having any part of our government? No wonder we are so far in debt with leadership like this.”
  • “Hillary is as corrupt as a rubber crutch in a maternity ward. I think the only hard choice for me was deciding how to divide this book up into even sections so I could effectively use it for target practice, a bonfire starter, and a flatulence deflector.”
  • “If you don’t like her as a person or public figure, don’t waste your time.”
  • “I want to mourn the loss…of all…the old growth…trees.”

We can certainly argue the objectivity of book reviews, and whether the readers’ opinion of the author always impacts their opinion of the book, but I believe this point to be true: you should read the book before reviewing it. On the flip-side, for all my Republican readers (I’m looking at you, Theodore,) the 5-star reviews aren’t much more informed. A lot of people wanted to bash the “right-wing trolls,” but did so while adding 5-star reviews to, I can only assume, bring some balance:

  • “Derp! Can’t even give a bogus bad review. Hint: an appropriate period of time for anyone to believe you actually read the book first, then try to sound as if you are even capable of reading when you give your review.”
  • “This is actually a review of the reviews. I love the unintentional irony of all those people who claim to have read all 650 pages the morning it was released and give it one star because they felt it was full of her “lies”
  • “Call me crazy, but it doesn’t sound like any of the one stars even read the book. Just like I, who have not, I’m willing to bet a good sum of money that a lot of them haven’t read the book either. Which I don’t care, but being childish and rating the book with low stars out of nowhere is plenty pathetic. What’s so wrong with Hillary? You guys act as if she peed in your cereal.”

These seemingly-righteous defenders of reading are promoting the same problem: their reviews aren’t based  on the writing. The end result? I, a typical consumer, have no idea whether I should read “Hard Choices.” I don’t know if it’s a good book at all. So, what’s the solution – should Amazon be policing reviews? Would it be cost effective to hire people to sift through reviews to see references to the books? Amazon already has a moderation process in place, and each review gets scanned for profanity (I think.) How much more would it cost to find at least one reference to the writing? I know we’re in gray territory here, but these outcries of either disdain or blind support are a problem, because they derail what these reviews should be doing: helping us decide whether to buy the book.

What Is Your Personal Facebook Brand?

If you manage your Facebook, you’re building a brand. I’m not talking about your professional, job-getting brand. I’m not talking about a brand as a means of advertising. What I mean is this: the kind of posts you put out to your friends’ timelines define your online presence in their eyes. You are a columnist on their personal friend newspaper. What kind of column are you writing?

In my last job at a small social media advertising agency, I learned a lot about how small businesses create an online presence. However, the principles behind who you are online are just as relevant – perhaps even more so – if you’re just keeping a personal Facebook page. When a business puts out spam, its customers can just unlike the page and move on. When your friends see spam, they’re less likely to just unfriend you. Instead, you leave a lasting, unpleasant impression in their minds that may impact their “IRL” perception of you.

Because I spend a lot of time paying attention to which of my friends posts what, I’ve intuitively learned to anticipate what sorts of posts are coming from whom. There’s the “OMG look at my brand new TOTES ADORBZ relationship” person. There’s the inspirational quotes girl. There’s the vaguely-unsettling-song-lyrics guy. There are friends who only post news articles. There are friends who will repost any spreading piece of viral content.

So, what are you posting, and more importantly, why? Ask yourself that question before you hit the “share” button, because every piece of irrelevant content you put out there lowers your social media standing.  That may sound like a strong statement, because “dude, it’s just Facebook,” but think about it: we spend hours a day on FB, it’s how we keep up with our friends, and when we build trust in somebody who posts good things, we’re that much more likely to actually pay attention. When a friend posts a steady stream of trash, we treat him/her like the boy who cried wolf and ignore.

I keep talking about “spam,” “irrelevant content,” and “trash,” but what do I actually mean? While there’s no universal answer, think about who your audience is. What do your friends actually care to see? Surely, there’s a record-keeping, journal-like aspect to FB (pictures, videos, check-ins, etc.) but, if you’re posting a piece of content you are excited about, ask yourself: will your friends be? I had a friend who reposted every funny picture he found on 9GAG, Tickld, and other funny-pic websites. I couldn’t take it anymore. I unsubscribed. On the flipside, I have a young lawyer friend who posts cool articles captioned by his clever, witty thoughts on them. I’m excited to see his name in my newsfeed every time.

I encourage you to keep your Facebook clean, sparse, and relevant. Are you a bio-chem major? Find relevant articles written in layman terms that would be interesting to your friends. Do you play competitive tennis? Perhaps you can share content to help your friends improve their overall athleticism. Is bird-watching a hobby? This may be a generalization, but most people don’t care about exotic birds. Everyone loves a beautiful photo, though.

Remember, you’re writing a column to your friends’ newspapers. If your column is riddled with a mix of YouTube videos, baby pictures, inspirational quotes and “Share If You Agree” posts, they’ll stop reading. They might stop being friends with you, too.

So, what’s your Facebook brand?