Digital Casserole

WHAT I BELIEVE: I believe in the power of a single idea. A single good idea, anyway. Frankly, there’s just not a lot of power in a single bad idea, like scheduling “Bat Day” when the Red Sox play at Yankee Stadium. I believe in long, slow downloads that last 3 days. I believe in the designated driver, the fungo bat, and keeping words like gazebo and zamboni around just because they’re fun to say. I believe in naps but not Napster.(more..)

Location: Strongsville, OH, United States

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spoiler Alert: New Korean “Man Van” Coming Soon!

In Chapter 11 of my 2008 book, “Banks, Tanks & Angst: How Long Will America Idle?” I wrote:  

“The next 3-5 years will be marked by a radical shift to “Good Enough” in nearly every facet of society, as companies strive to retrench financially and a nation of desperate housewives strive to live within their fiscal means. Americans as a nation have decided that they no longer need a brand new car and/or that they no longer require a premium brand badge, as evidenced by Hyundai’s sudden surge in popularity – offering Lexus-level quality at a fraction of the price. In the Good Enough era, firms like Hyundai -which allow consumers to continue to enjoy the premium features they have come to love but at a much lower cost – will be best positioned to weather the growing economic headwinds.”

Since this prediction was published, Hyundai’s market-share has in fact surged from roughly 3% in 2008 to nearly 6% in 2013, as the economic malaise called “Lagflation” (which I warned about in the book) has become America’s New Normal.  In fact, since 2009, the Korean juggernaut of Hyundai-Kia has combined to take market-share from entrenched competitors worldwide by offering consumers a compelling trifecta - desirable vehicles, sporting stylish designs, and at great prices.  Over the past four years, this dynamic duo has twice won the North American Car of the Year award for selling a record number of vehicles in the U.S, and during that time, they have systematically updated and upgraded every vehicle in their line-up…except one.

Spoiler Alert: My Next Prediction

Based on how aggressively and elegantly Hyundai-Kia has reinvented each new model in their line-up, I have decided to go on record to predict that they will soon release their boldest, baddest, vehicle to date – The Man Van.

I believe that America, Europe, and the world are poised to embrace the reinvention of the minivan, and I believe that Hyundai-Kia is the company to do it.  My prediction is that, once again, they will use current best-in-class competitors as their starting point (Honda Odyssey & Toyota Sienna) and then leapfrog over them by introducing superior design elements, superior horsepower, superior standard equipment, superior warranty, and superior price points to steal market-share from the perennial leaders in this segment.

Introducing: The Man Van

Rather than target the minivan to soccer moms, I believe Hyundai-Kia will go in the exact opposite direction, by launching a “Man Van” which features masculine features and lines, a throaty exhaust, great stereo, and even a pronounced spoiler, and I fully expect their commercials to showcase lots of high-gloss beauty shots of this shiny black Man Van doing all sorts of cool “man things.”  In fact, I could even see it being marketed as a “Life Limo” targeting traveling businessmen (who could almost live out of it, with places for a laptop, files, etc.) as well as reclining seats and footrests, to make Saturday errands and road trips that much more comfortable.

In closing, I fully believe that if they do it right, I could see this being the most buzz-worthy vehicle of the year, and if that happens, I’m sure the awards will follow.  How do I know all of this?  I don’t - but I know a good pattern when I see one, and this one is so pregnant and so obvious, that I had no choice but to let everyone in on what’s coming.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Dirtiest Word in Startups

Just as karaoke machines created a nation of wannabe singers, and WordPress created a nation of wannabe writers, so the imperfect storm of global connectivity, crowd-funding, and America’s protracted economic and employment malaise (aka Lagflation) have created a nation of wannabe entrepreneurs.  While there are many articles out there urging you to throw caution to the wind, chase your dreams, and “Go for it”…this is not one of them. Instead, this essay is like a Simon Cowell wake-up call for those considering becoming an entrepreneur and launching their own company. In a world of Facebook friends cooing, “Believe and you will achieve,” this is the counterbalance – an adult, “eyes-wide-open,” practicum which draws back the curtain and cuts through the hype by zeroing in on the most controversial, misunderstood, and unspoken word in startups.   

Confessions and Credentials 

I begin with some confessions and credentials.  I love startups.  I love building things from the ground up.  I love taking a blank sheet of paper and transforming fantasy into reality. But more than anything, I love the culture of the driven people comprising this community - that audacious brotherhood of courageous pragmatists - who combine an infectious, ambitious, and generous entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for progress.

After spending the first decade of my career marching through the corporate world, I’ve spent the past 13 years as an entrepreneur.  I’ve launched five companies, written scores of business plans, investor guides, and industry white papers, and know firsthand the exhilaration of a public company exit.  I’ve raised capital and spent capital. I’ve consulted to private equity. I’ve pitched at “Stake and Egg” breakfasts and VC dinners, as well as conducting countless presentations to investment groups sporting edgy ironic names like ARCH Angels, JumpStart, North Coast Angel Fund, and Idea Stream.  My exploits have included forays into risk management, consumer products, corporate social media, commodities, bioinformatics, and commercial property, and I am currently a stakeholder in 7 startup companies.  I’ve been interviewed on XM Radio, hung out with Robin Williams at CES, had products featured in GE’s booth at RSNA, been on the Video Game Awards show red carpet, schmoozed in Studio 54, was showcased by MTV and Spike TV, and even had CNN cover a launch at COMDEX featuring a Bill Gates look alike. And yes, I’ve experienced failure and financial setbacks, and carry the scars from former business partners whose lack of integrity scuttled entire companies. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block so many times I can’t remember my first rodeo.

The Dirtiest Word

It’s been my experience that every meeting with a serious investor has what I call “The Moment.” You’ve just presented your brilliant, bleeding edge, “The next Facebook/Starbucks” idea, while bolding proclaiming, “Nobody else is doing this,” and thereby positioning your firm with that critical, “First mover advantage.” You’ve documented your industry research and market trends, you’ve smugly smirked at your, “Lack of any real competitors,” and you’ve detailed your product/service strategy, intellectual property, and price points.  And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve fawned over the stunning credentials of your veteran, experienced, top-shelf, blue chip, management team, your launch plan rollout, and your estimated revenue, costs, and profit margins - complete with requisite hockey stick growth projections (which are – of course – “conservative”).

The meeting reaches an emotional crescendo as you confidently answer the tough questions regarding the amount of investment you are seeking, in exchange for the amount of their stake in the startup.  And then there is “The Moment” – the moment they finally turn to the Excel spreadsheet on the last page of your meticulously prepared Investor Guide…and their eyes slowly scan down your projected expenses and use of capital…and then they stop…they ALWAYS stop…at the dirtiest word in startups – SALARY.  You hope it will go unnoticed.  You pray for a matter-of-fact nod…but it rarely comes.  Instead, they lean back, and start asking a series of awkward, personal, and uncomfortable questions beginning with the word “So” (so as to appear disarming, benign, and spontaneous):

“So, how much have you already invested in this startup?” 

A good question, for which you’ve got a good answer, but before you can reply, comes the kicker - “…not including your TIME,” - at which point, no amount of explanation regarding “opportunity costs” or “sacrificing family time” or “working nights and weekends” will suffice. 

Knowing you’re on the ropes, the next question (a direct and deadly corollary to the first), is as predictable as it is paralyzing:

“So, how much of your OWN money have you put in?” 

At this point, the room starts feeling stuffy and uncomfortable, and you’re startled to hear your once confident bravado replaced by a nervous stammer, as your now suddenly dry mouth sheepishly attempts to choke out a cryptic tabulation of what ultimately turns out to be an embarrassingly small amount of actual cash out of pocket – particularly when compared to what you’ve just asked them to invest.

As the hushed meeting falls silent, you decide to uncork a last ditch “Hail Mary” to salvage your dignity, demonstrate your commitment, and prove your passion for this project, by explaining that these figures represent a huge sacrifice, as you and the entire management team would, “Only be working at half our current salary.”

The next few minutes are the ones that stay with you, as the relaxed congeniality and respectful man-to-man camaraderie which marked the first part of your meeting are replaced by a dismissive air of mild annoyance, as they launch into a belittling, cliché-riddled lecture on the merits of “hard work” and “sweaty equity” and putting “skin in the game” and “keeping you hungry,” because heaven forbid, “We don’t want you getting too comfortable.”

The dirtiest word in startups is “salary” because of its proclivity to upset, offend, and alienate your investor audience and because it exposes the great hypocrisy and the dirty little secret resident within this community, and it is for these reasons that the word is seldom discussed or even uttered in polite company.

Salary: The Elephant in the Punchbowl

The problem with salary, and the reason it’s so controversial, is because it does not accurately reflect reality – and in their heart of hearts, everyone in the industry knows this.  Here’s how the flawed circular logic plays out. 

First, the typical entrepreneur, by his or her very nature, is ambitious and driven - motivated not by a fear of failure, but rather by an overriding optimism regarding the potential of the business opportunity, combined with a steadfast confidence in their abilities and passion to succeed.

Second, it is acknowledged and understood within the industry that the most important component of a successful startup is the experience, quality, and expertise of the leadership team.  While “past performance does not guarantee future results,” it is still the best predictive measure for extrapolating outcomes, and it is for this reason that investors give preference to management teams comprised of accomplished professionals with demonstrated track records of career success.

And finally, the blindingly obvious.  If these professional have already been successful in their careers (which, again, is what investors prioritize and rank most highly on a startup management team), then they will usually enjoy the fruits of their labors, including a nice house with a mortgage, a contemporary car with a monthly payment, and other lifestyle indicators of affluence.

The Problem with Investors

My problem with most investors is that, for some reason, they seem to think that when a person starts a business, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs no longer applies to them. That suddenly, once a business plan is complete, the entrepreneur will no longer require food to eat, clothes to wear, or a place to sleep.  Hello?

As an investor and entrepreneur who has spent time on the both sides of the table, I completely understand the desire of funders for initial capital to be allocated with an emphasis on product completion.  However, by failing to provide a means of sustenance for the founders during this critical ramp-up time, they inadvertently increase the risk profile of the very startup they want to succeed. Remember, you’re investing in this business because of the novelty and promise of the idea and the accomplishments of the management team.  Since entrepreneurs are by their very nature highly motivated people, a failure to offer a salary to cover living expenses is not an “incentive” – it’s a distraction!  How can we expect people to make rational, strategic decisions on the future direction of the company when their hair is on fire trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage and put food on the table?

Why do you think so many of America’s greatest success stories involve companies started by a few guys in a college dormitory?  It’s because when they’re living on a campus, all of their lower level needs for food, clothing, heat, shelter, and safety are being met and paid for – providing them with the necessary time to invent, explore, and workshop ideas, and then nurture them into actual businesses.  Why do so many firms like Apple trace their humble beginnings to “Working out of Mom and Dad’s garage?”  It’s because, within this environment, all of their needs for immediate survival were being met, providing them with the necessary time required to focus on building something of lasting value.

Most Incubators Lay an Egg

The word “incubator” is plastered all over the startup community, but the concept usually falls frustratingly short in practice. Why?  Because while incubators often provide “nice to have” WANTS like tables, chairs, whiteboards, mentors, and Wi-Fi, they rarely provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a sufficient amount of cash to meet their lower level NEEDS – money necessary to buy precious innovation time, enabling them to survive during the critical phase when their idea goes through the process of gestation, development, and refinement. (Remember, if your 3rd grade incubator didn’t provide heat, food, and shelter, your tiny yellow chick would have never survived).

The impact of this overlooked or ignored disconnect within the entrepreneurial community is significant.   Not only do these challenging financial dynamics serve as a barrier to entry for millions of would-be entrepreneurs, but they can create a detrimental bifurcation in the demographics of the startup community, resulting in founders who are either YOUNG (just out of school and still living with their parents so their financial needs are minimal), or OLDER (over 40, who have been successful enough to “retire” with a nest egg providing sufficient residual income to get by).  If not reconciled, the net result produces a hollowing out of what I call the “sweet spot” – that huge swath of the most eager and available 20 - 40 year olds - who shun startups simply because they need a predictable salary to meet their commitments.  

CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready recently interviewed Blackstone LaunchPad’s Founding Director Mike Nock, who poignantly observed, “College kids and young people have a lot of time and a lot of ideas AND they don’t have a lot of obligations like mortgages, braces and babysitters.”  While his comments are on target, they still fail to paint a complete picture, as today’s four-year college students are graduating with nearly $27,000 in student loans (with monthly payments starting within 180 days of graduation), meaning that most are so indebted that they can’t even consider a job that doesn’t have a functional level of salary.  

A Compensation Compromise

While the challenge of salary can never be completely erased from the startup culture, I believe there is room for a pragmatic compromise to effectively split the difference.  Do I want to enable lavish lifestyles supported by my investment capital? No!  Do I want to discourage aspiring entrepreneurs by insisting that my capital goes towards building the product and not towards the income they need to survive? No! I believe there is a middle-ground whereby the NEEDS of startup entrepreneurs can be met, but not the WANTS.  The effective allocation of investment capital requires a very individualized and intimate discussion regarding the monthly bills of the principals and the amount required to keep them solvent. Will they earn enough to buy a new car, take expensive vacations, max out 401K contributions, and go out to eat regularly at pricey restaurants?  No!  The idea is to provide just enough cash flow to cover their monthly commitments - so that the entrepreneur knows their NEEDS are being taken care of - and thereby allowing them to focus on a successful launch.  By ensuring their survival needs are met, entrepreneurs will no longer need to waste energy grappling with the daily struggle for compromise – deciding between making the best strategic decisions for the long-term growth and viability of the company OR the short-term urgency to rush things, just to get some cash in the door.

Keeping Entrepreneurs Respectable

In addition to providing cash flow coverage, this investment approach also provides something far less obvious yet equally important to company founders – RESPECT.  By allocating a portion of capital investment for salary, investors show their respect for the entrepreneur by both honoring their track record and body of work to date, while also affirming their belief that their best work is yet to come.

One of my clients (Evolution Capital Partners) is a private equity firm which embodies this practice of respect in their investments in other companies (although their focus is on established Second Stage firms). While their model involves taking a controlling interest in their portfolio companies, they structure these deals so that they respect the success of the founding entrepreneur by providing a significant cash-in-hand payout at the close of the initial transaction, as well as a roadmap for an even more lucrative return at a larger exit down the road   Like signing a 4-year contract for a proven veteran NFL quarterback , this income commitment is a tangible recognition of their confidence in the idea and the individual, and clearly demonstrates they are “Putting their money where their mouth is” regarding their belief that the leadership team is the most important component of the startup.  For those who claim that human capital is the most important, yet fail to recognize and respect them with a modicum of salary, my inclination is to question the validity of their stated belief.  As the old saying goes, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Entrepreneur or Entremanure?

If approached in this respectful way, salary doesn’t have to be a dirty word – for investors OR entrepreneurs – and the reason it works is actually scientific.  The DNA of the entrepreneurs I’ve met shares a similar “motivation” gene.  These aren’t people satisfied to be coasting along with compensation that just gets them by month-to-month.  No way!  These are individuals who go above and beyond because they’re high achievers - that’s just how they’re wired.  The decision to provide sustenance-level salary to these ambitious individuals returns the dual benefit of providing entrepreneurs with the confidence that their NEEDS are being met, while providing investors with the confidence that their decision matrix is not being dominated by a tactical “tyranny of the urgent,” but rather informed by measured actions as part of a long term strategy.

My Solution

Over the next 18 months, my firm Briarcliff Capital is going to take this concept one step further by combining the best attributes of “Campus and Company” to design an entrepreneurial environment which truly covers all of the bases.  Our goal is to offer a self-contained entrepreneurial ecosystem which provides not only for the corporate and capital needs of our members, but the physical needs as well.  By providing office space, infrastructure, working capital, and mentoring, as well as efficient living quarters and attached community area, we’ll have the opportunity to maximize the impact of every dollar invested in our portfolio companies, as we seek to create an integrated entrepreneurial tribe of like-minded professionals committed to incubating the next generation of big ideas.

Conclusion and Caveats

I conclude with a few caveats.  As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the purpose of this article is to serve as a counterbalance to the irrational exuberance which often surrounds the euphoria of wannabe entrepreneurs.  As such, the enclosed storyline represents a purposefully heavy-handed caricature of some of the salary discussions I’ve participated in over the years, with the goal of attempting to level-set this conversation by sharing this unflattering reality of working in and around startups. The truth is, while I actually HAVE received a respectful salary at some of my startups, it’s also true that on other occasions that has not been the case, and the discussions paralleled the awkward exchanges described earlier. 

My purpose for composing this piece is to educate would-be entrepreneurs of the fact that – within startups - the topic of salary is dicey, nuanced, and grey - and will hinge on a lengthy list of variables including your age, experience, credentials, idea construct, location, and regional customs (e.g. West Coast vs. Midwest), not to mention your context (incubator, accelerator), your stage of development (Seed, Angel, Series A, VC), and the specific investment terms.

Hopefully this article will better prepare you for the nuances of this potentially prickly salary conversation, and thereby increase the chance of achieving a balanced equilibrium in the risk/reward continuum, and a beneficial compromise between investors and entrepreneurs.  Remember, it’s always easier to “Pay it forward” when you know someone’s “Got your back.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Biblical Explanation for the Wall Street Occupation

As a middle-aged-working-professional (with a wife, two kids, and leaves to rake), I found the ambiguous, leaderless, shape-shifting, “Occupation” movement to have all of the appeal and intrigue of a Madeline Albright comedy tour. However, as a rogue cultural anthropologist and designated “speaker of the truth,” I had no choice but to weigh in on this landmark uprising playing out across America and the world. I resisted joining the conversation until I had solved the problem, but now firmly believe I have uncovered the source of these global grievances – and it’s found in the Bible.

Matthew 18 verses 23 – 34 records the following “Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.”

23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison.”

False Profits

While many people can’t articulate it, the organic groundswell of this protest movement can be traced to a universal sense that a great injustice has been done to “the 99%” since the recent financial collapse. As in the parable above, both Wall Street and Main Street had enjoyed several years of easy credit, and subsequently both found themselves on debt’s door. In the years leading up to the collapse, many homeowners had refinanced their property and suddenly had thousands of dollars to spend, while the biggest banks and financial institutions had splurged on 50-to-1 leverage to make huge bets and receive huge bonuses. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, “The market for credit default swaps exploded from $632 Billion in 2001 to $62 TRILLION in 2007.” So, while Joe Consumer was enjoying $10,000 a year appreciation on his home, Wall Street employers were regularly doling out $10,000,000 a year in compensation. When the party ended and the real estate house-of-cards came crashing down (along with the incestuous bubble of high risk asset bets and enabling rating agencies), both Wall Street and Main Street were in big trouble.

Over the past three years, we have watched helplessly as Wall Street has been bailed out, their debts (billions/trillions?) have been forgiven, and their high-spending lifestyles have been restored, with bonuses reportedly EXCEEDING those of 2007. TARP, TALF, QE1, QE2, discount window – the acronyms and specifics are merely obfuscation. What DOES matter is that Washington has used the money from the 99% to bail out the 1%, and return them to “Business As Usual,” while the 99% - many for whom “living paycheck to paycheck” would be a step UP – have NOT been bailed out, as the money given to these banks has largely NOT trickled down to help forgive debt, write down mortgages, or refinance loans, but rather has remained on their corporate balance sheets to shore up their capital ratios.

Hijacking Principal and Principles

If there’s one unifying hallmark within America’s DNA, it’s a sense of FAIRNESS. The American colonists weren’t against taxation; they were against, “Taxation without representation.” The original Boston Tea Party was the result of a new British tax on tea, after which Great Britain passed a litany of new laws, which became known in the colonies as the “Intolerable Acts.” The revolt over the past three years has been a response to a similar list of Intolerable Acts. While the grassroots Tea Party movement has been in response the government’s hijacking of the PRINCIPLES on which this country was founded, the recent Occupy movement has been in response to the nationwide hijacking of our PRINCIPAL - where the largest financial institutions have “Privatized profits and socialized losses” on a scale never before seen in the history of civilization.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

While there is clearly a devoted minority who would relish the demise of free enterprise, on the whole, the Occupy movement isn’t AGAINST capitalism, but rather is passionately FOR capitalism. TRUE capitalism is based on a very basic premise of Risk and Reward. If you take a risk and succeed, you are rewarded. If you take a risk and fail, you fail. The hijacking of American capitalism was complete when the phrase “Too big to fail” was concocted as a loophole to enable the money-addicted Wall Street establishment to continue their financial tyranny and inbred dependence on the “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” gambling odds at the Capital Casino, where the deck is stacked, the dice are weighted, and the House (and Senate) always wins.

At the heart of the Occupy movement is a rage against hypocrisy. Wall Street and Main Street both failed, but the 1% on Wall Street used their power and connections in Washington to get bailed out, while the 99% on Main Street got left out. As capitalists, Americans don’t believe in bailouts, and yet we’ve just watched as the wealthiest 1% got theirs, while we stood by and were powerless to do anything. Sounds a lot like, “Taxation without representation,” and I predict the ongoing Occupy movement will continue until Election 2012, when their voice will finally be heard and demand an end to the hypocrisy. Until then, I hope the Tea Party and the OccuParty movements organically succeed in returning power to the people and “Takin’ it to the Street” through the peaceful pursuit of justice without violence.

Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors

As in the parable above, the fair, the prudent, and appropriate response from Wall Street SHOULD have been, “I have been bailed out and forgiven of BILLIONS/TRILLIONS by the American tax payer. To show my gratitude for avoiding bankruptcy, I will be generous to them with a few THOUSAND dollars to help people stay in their homes, and work with those struggling to pay their bills during these hard times.” Instead, their response has been just like the Unforgiving Debtor above and aggressively pushing forward foreclosures, which topped 1 MILLION for the first time in history last year.

Explanation For the Occupation

The American people have forgiven and bailed out Wall Street, and instead of responding in kind with generosity, a tone-deaf Bank of America has just announced a new $5 monthly debit card fee. You now have an Explanation for the Occupation.

Douglas O’Bryon
Soundbite Laureate

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nine Things My Cat Taught Me About Social Media

In 2004, my family adopted a 3-week-old grey-striped tabby, and because it was an election year, we decided to name our new kitten in honor of leading Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. Over the past seven years, “Waffles” has been an interesting part of our daily domestic lives, and in that time, I’ve learned a lot about cats, and in the process, also learned a lot about humans, and by extension, I’ve also learned a lot about social media – because at this moment, humans are the predominant species populating the world’s various online social media communities.

1.1 “What’s In It For Me?”

Cats and humans are identical in that we both seek to answer the same driving question; a compelling, visceral, life-force motivation that informs all of our other actions, namely, “What’s in it for me?” Unlike dogs, which seem to revel in “fetching” and other acts of service, cats and humans default to the same worldview perspective – a posture and preference to be SERVED, rather than to SERVE. A dog thinks, “My master feeds me and cares for me, he must by God,” whereas a cat - given the same scenario - concludes, “My master feeds me and cares for me, I must be God.”

While I originally numbered these blog items “1 through 9,” I’ve since decided that the list should more accurately follow the format of 1.1, 1.2 etc, as this singular motivation is so fundamental - yet so encompassing - that it permeates every other consideration below. If businesses begin every social media consideration with the consumers’ perspective of “What’s in it for me?” they will be at least 70% closer to a successful outcome before they even get started.

1.2 “I’m The Center Of The World”

We had no sooner signed the adoption papers (which are essential for cats…because they are immediately put to use lining the litter box) than Waffles let us know - in no uncertain terms - that he was the center of the world, and that everything would be just fine as soon as we all “got on board” with that reality. It’s been said that, “Dogs have masters, cats have staff,” and after checking my sources, I’ve discovered that it was actually a cat who said that. Like cats, people experience life through this same filter, and sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube all reinforce that same narcissistic lens. Presenting your firm’s content in multiple formats and across various platforms enables users to customize and tailor their experience in the genre most familiar and desirable for them at that moment. Conversely, NOT presenting your content in formats consumers find desirable will result in them, well, seeking out competitors with formats that they DO find desirable.

1.3 “I Want it All”

In researching this article, I was fortunate to get onto Waffles’ calendar for a 10-minute interview (sandwiched between naps and stretching). I was permitted only one question, so I swung for the fences and asked, “So, what do cats really want?” His matter-of-fact reply caught me off-guard (but it shouldn’t have), stating slowly (and in purrfect English), “Everything – we want it all.” He then continued by saying, “I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door, for long periods of time. Yes, I have decided, and my decision is that I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door.” In my experience, when some people witness a cat doing this, their tendency is to get confused and think that the cat is distracted or indecisive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that the cat HAS decided, and his decision is, “I want to sit half way in and half way out the front door” and the unspoken postscript is “…and I don’t care how much money you waste on heating and cooling your house due to the fact that your front door remains open while I am sitting half way in and half way out your front door.”

The take-away for anyone participating in social media is simple. What people want isn’t really complicated – they simply want it all. They want anywhere, anytime access to everything, and they always want to be first in line, regardless of whether there were others already waiting in line before them. They don’t want too much information, nor too little. They want links to other interesting stuff, but don’t want to feel like they’re being overwhelmed with ads and offers. They want access, customization, and personalization BUT they don’t want firms to know too much about their private lives or preferences. They want secure access to all of their sites, BUT they don’t want to have to remember all of their usernames and passwords (but they don’t want you to remember them either).

1.4 “If I Don’t Get What I Want, I Will Meow Outside Your Bedroom Until I Get My Way”

Waffles has a way of helping others in our household to come around to his point of view…usually by making life so miserable that we eventually just give in so he’ll stop driving us crazy. The reach and “megaphone” that social media offers is such that user communities now have a similar power to organize and wage online (and offline) battles with firms and organizations, and quickly get them to a point where they conclude it’s often easier (and cheaper) to just give in to their demands rather than fighting a protracted, brand-damaging, financially-taxing battle, played out across an array of media platforms for the world to see…and then Tweet and blog about.

1.5 “While You Think It’s Cute That I’m Rubbing Your Legs - I’m Actually Marking You As Part Of My Territory”

Sure, it’s great when people fill out your surveys, retweet your blogs, comment on your YouTube content, Friend you on Facebook, Link to you on LinkedIn, and Follow you on Twitter, but let’s face it – while you think you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re actually being tagged and backlinked to make THEM more searchable and build up their SEO rankings. It’s amazing that my cat has this figured out, yet so many people and their firms haven’t.

1.6 “If You Give Me A Treat Once, You Now OWE ME Treats For Life”

One day back in 2006, I made a rare “impulse buy” of Tender Vittles at the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket, then proceeded to throw a couple of these moist nuggets at Waffles upon my return…and have been subjected to a daily verbal assault every morning since then demanding more.

The free-line for online content has been receding so far and so fast that there isn’t much left out there to give away. Consumers have been conditioned to expect – and now DEMAND – that their content and online options be free and ubiquitous (or at least ridiculously cheap and convenient). Just witness the backlash when Unlimited Plans for smartphones started adding restrictions and fees, or, more recently, when over 24 million U.S. customers started seeing red as Netflix announced they would be increasing the cost of their popular movie service by over 50%. Just as you can’t “un-ring a bell and can’t get toothpaste back in the tube,” firms are discovering that customer demands for more and more while paying less and less represent a dangerous financial treadmill and potential impediment to sustainable corporate profitability.

1.7 “I’m Picky AND I’m Hard To Read And Understand”

I’m picky AND I’m hard to read and understand, and I will suddenly bolt in front of your feet – preferably at night, in the dark, at the top of the stairs – for no apparent reason. Okay, there really isn’t a social media application here, just a painful observation. Actually, maybe the application is that your social media followers and community are spontaneous and unpredictable, and while you can have a hunch regarding what will resonate with your audience, you never really know what people will do or how they will respond. (Remember what happened to The Gap when they tried to update their brand logo last October, and the resultant public outcry was so overwhelming that they reverted back to the original “blue box” logo in less than a week).

1.8 “I Will Disappear For Long Periods Of Time, And Suddenly Reappear With No Explanation”

While online marketers will pontificate ad nauseum about stickiness and brand loyalty, let’s face it – the consumer can’t be tamed. Never could, never will. Just like trying to guard Michael Jordan, your best hope with consumers is to simply try to “contain” them, by offering a steady diet of value-reinforcing experiences, but even that may be insufficient to keep them around. And furthermore, just because you stand outside and call them by name doesn’t mean they’ll come running. Like cats, customers will seek you out when they feel good and ready – in their own time, on their own terms – regardless of how often you nudge them (in fact, where do you think they got the word “catatonic” from?)

1.9 “I Will Never Sleep On The Part Of The Bed You Want Me To Sleep On”

Like cats, consumers will act in their own best interest, asking “What’s In It For Me?” rather than doing what you hope they’ll do (like sleeping on the corner of the bed, rather than their preferred spot at the precise magnetic center of the bed). In my 2008 economic manifesto eBook “Banks, Tanks & Angst – How Long Will America Idle?” I warned how America’s inevitable slide into a state of “Lagflation” would introduce the rise of a new caste of surgical shoppers called “Loss-Leavers,” who would buy only the stores’ weekly sales items, the retailer takes the loss, and the customer simply leaves. Regardless of how you want customers to navigate your website or how much time you invest in showing them how much “sense” it makes for them to upgrade to your premium services bundle, the customer can never be counted on to make rational or logical choices – even when it’s in their own best interest to do so.

1.10 “Sometimes the Strangest Things Are The Coolest Things”

Similar to the point just made above, you can’t always anticipate what customers will think is cool or interesting, or what will resonate on some kind of universal level with your audience - which is why it is nearly impossible to create and consistently predict truly “viral” content. Case in point: I recently spent nearly $150 dollars to purchase a six-foot “Cat Tree House” for Waffles, but I swear that cat spends more time playing in the CARDBOARD BOX that it came in than scaling the heights of his retro-shag bungalow. Again, people – like cats – should never be counted on to be cerebral, even-keeled, or predictable when it comes to matters of the head, the heart, or tree houses. (And remember, when it comes to content, it only takes one letter to change cat nip to cat nap).

So, there you have it, 9 Things – wait, scratch that, 10 Things My Cat Taught Me About Social Media” (see, there’s the chaos theory in action right there). Because implementation of corporate social media – like my cat – has 9 lives and a long tail, it is destined to have a significant impact for years to come, and change everything it touches along the way. So, please, don’t make me bring out my cat o’ nine tails! Heed the lessons outlined above, take action while there’s still time, and maybe you can avoid a corporate cataclysm!

My hope is that you found this cat scan of social media valuable, I apologize if it got a little long in the tooth, and…well, I’ve got to run - looks like I just missed feeding time by a whisker!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Is Social Media Making You Fat?

I guess you could call me a fitness buff. I started bodybuilding as an emaciated 16-year-old (who generously “rounded up” just to reach 130 pounds on his Drivers License) and have stuck with it through college, grad school, one wife, two kids, three houses, and an interesting career path. Over the past 27 years of training and traveling, I have experienced just about every fitness-related vignette conceivable throughout the course of my adventures crisscrossing North America and pollinating hundreds of sweatshops along the way. I’ve lifted in humid health clubs, aging athletic clubs, and classy country clubs; super-setted in wellness centers, weight-loss centers, lifestyle centers, and training centers; maxed-out in 24-Hour strip-malls, college gymnasiums, and eco-friendly spas; and even survived a membership to Ballys. I’ve endured the racquetball craze, Jazzercise phase, stability balls, step aerobics, Tae Bo, Pilates, Zumba, knew P90X when it was just 45, and remember the exact moment that cycling became spinning. I know the difference between a Gold’s Gym and a World’s Gym, learned (the hard way) the distinction between a YMCA and a YWCA, and now realize that when a motel says their property contains a “Fitness Center,” it probably means a converted broom closet (the temperature of a meat locker) containing a Nixon-era medicine ball, burlap jump rope…and two 5-pound dumbbells.

March of the Newbies

We have finally entered the month of May, which for us loyal fitness “regulars” means the thankful (and merciful) end to any remaining New Year’s Resolutions by the latest crop of “newbies” at the gym (currently UXL Sports and Fitness Like the traditional throwing out of the Christmas tree, returning of sweater-vests, and the unfreezing of Dick Clark for New Year’s Eve, every January - like clockwork - brings with it the renewed hope which springs eternal in the heart (and thighs) of every red-blooded, white-socked, and blue-faced adult, promising that THIS will be the year they get ripped enough to put up a Facebook picture from their beach trip to MB, OBX, or some other pretentious acronym. Sporting a brand new headband, matching sweat-wicking tankini, and shiny, top-of-the-line training shoes (which belie the amount of use for which they are destined), and with newfound, steely resolve they descend on the club like Spartans in the movie 300. Sixteen weeks, three snow storms, and a pulled hamstring later, they are no longer Spartans - but sparse – in their attendance and interest, until the month of May, when they – like their names we never learned - are forever forgotten in the ambient glow of good intentions. And so, like sand through the hourglass figure, the gym returns, once again, to its singular stasis, its banal equilibrium, its gentle gestalt, ruled by grunting gods and groaning goddesses, wearing unmatched socks and threadbare shirts, with names like Tim, Nick, James, and Jeff, and the occasional Michelle (but never a last name). A free-weight fraternity forged in the fires of will and the depths of determination, an unassuming testosterone-tested tribe that considers “S’up? Nothin,” a complete and elegantly concise conversation, and a community that shares a deep - though never spoken - respect for everyone who perseveres and endures through this gaudy gauntlet of pain, where there is no finish line, where your work is your worth, and where intensity is the only currency.

The Weight of the World

According to The Atlantic Monthly, “In 2000, for the first time in history, the number of overweight people in the world – more than a billion of them, 300 million of whom were obese – matched the number of underweight people.” And that was over 10 years ago! According to Parade magazine, 67% of American adults (138 million people) are overweight, 32% are considered obese (30 or more pounds overweight) and these same adults weigh an average of 18 pounds more NOW than they did in 1979. In addition, there are now over 10 million Americans classified as morbidly obese (more than 100 pounds OVER their ideal body weight) representing 1 in 30 people. And if that’s not enough, according to, the prevalence of overweight children and adolescents between 6 and 19 has tripled since 1970, and now over 20% of children and teens are overweight (including over 1 in 3 kids here in Ohio) with millions of these children facing a higher risk of developing obesity-related disorders, and who are TWICE as likely to be overweight as adults.

America’s Health: Are We “Too Big to … Succeed?”

According to USA Today, “If Americans continue to pack on pounds, obesity will cost the USA about $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018, eating up 21% of healthcare spending,” an assumption based on current trends projecting that in 10 years 43% of American adults will be obese.” Why does this matter? Because the average annual medical bill for a healthy weight adult in 2018 will be $5855, compared with $8315 for an obese person – nearly 50% MORE! Here in my own backyard, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported, “By 2018, over half of Ohio’s adults will be obese,” and the average Ohioan will see costs for obesity-attributable health care services QUADRUPLE in the next 10 years.

So What Does ANY Of This Have To Do With Social Media?

By way of review, social media is an umbrella term for social marketing, social networking, and all of the various online-based technology platforms and integrated tools designed to expedite communication and exchange of information. The primary purpose of social media is to create and maintain ongoing relationships with friends, family, and communities, and can include everything from email, blogs, and websites, to high-profile interactive vehicles like LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. In his 2010 blog entitled, “52 Cool Facts About Social Media,”, Danny Brown noted:

People spend over 500 billion minutes on Facebook each month.
The average Facebook user has 130 friends.
Twitter gets more than 300,000 new users every day, there are over 110 million users currently, and there are over 50,000 third-party apps for Twitter.
A new member joins LinkedIn every second and receives over 12 million unique visitors a day.
YouTube receives more than 2 billion viewers per day, and every minute 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.
Over 77% of Internet users read blogs and there are currently over 133 million blogs listed on leading blog directory Technocrati.

Forrester Research’s most recent annual North American Technographics Benchmark Survey noted that, for the first time, the average American consumer now spends as much time online as watching television (13 hours a week for each activity). That translates into nearly 4 hours a day evenly split between sitting and watching an LCD and sitting and watching an HDTV. As report author and analyst Jacqueline Anderson observed, “This equalization is not fueled by a drastic decrease in the number of hours that consumers are spending with offline TV, which has remained relatively stable over the past five years. Instead, the leveling is driven by the HUGE growth in time spent with the Internet.” The average amount of time spent online has gradually increased (up 121% over the past 5 years), and in 2010 – for the first time - social media surpassed all other activities to become the number one activity on the Internet.

Social Media = Time Bandit

In and of itself, social media is neither good nor bad, it just is. The problem, however, is that because time is a “zero sum” phenomenon, in order for this extra time to be “given” to social media pursuits, it must be “taken” from other activities. And since the above study noted that the amount of time spent viewing traditional television has remained constant over the past 5 years, the obvious conclusion is that the extra time spent on social media has been stolen – not from televised train-wrecks like soap operas and reality TV – but from actual life-giving and self-sustaining activities that used to complement, enable, and support our existence and the quality of our lives.

How Social Media Is Making You Fat

Social media is making America fatter because its addictive tentacles have permeated the lives of millions of adults and children, its increasingly voracious appetite consuming our most valuable natural resource – time.

Excessive Social Media Use = Less Time For Sleep

Staying up late to connect on social media robs people from the amount of sleep they require to function properly. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Big deal. So you’re a little drowsy the next day. Who cares? It doesn’t matter. Wrong! The reason it matters is because less sleep means more overweight people.

In this excerpt from her article, “Is lack of sleep making me fat?” Julia Layton offers an excellent synopsis by presenting clinical information in a logical, linear, and understandable format. She writes:

“With an ever-increasing number of studies finding a direct connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain, it's difficult to deny the cause-and-effect relationship. People who get at least seven hours of sleep per night tend to have less body fat than people who don't. There are, of course, other factors involved in determining who becomes overweight and who doesn't, like food intake, exercise, and genes. But sleep is a more integral of the process than most people realize. In a study involving 9,000 people between 1982 and 1984, researchers found that people who averaged six hours of sleep per night were 27 percent more likely to be overweight than their seven-to-nine hour counterparts; and those averaging five hours of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be overweight.

Many people who are sleep deprived don't even know it. Lots of us think there's quite a bit of give in how much sleep a person needs to be healthy and well functioning, but most researchers disagree, putting seven hours as the minimum for all except the very young and the very old. If you are sleep deprived, there are some obvious tie-ins to obesity, like chronic sleepiness making physical activity unlikely. But there are also a number of things going on in your body that could contribute to weight gain. In scientific studies, the most commonly cited effects of sleep deprivation are hormonal disturbances, wherein your body has too little leptin and too much ghrelin.

The hormone leptin is intricately involved in the regulation of appetite, metabolism and calorie burning. Leptin is the chemical that tells your brain when you're full, when it should start burning up calories and, by extension, when it should create energy for your body to use. It triggers a series of messages and responses that starts in the hypothalamus and ends in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland controls the way your body stores and uses energy. During sleep, leptin levels increase, telling your brain you have plenty of energy for the time being and there's no need to trigger the feeling of hunger or the burning of calories. When you don't get enough sleep, you end up with too little leptin in your body, which, through a series of steps, makes your brain think you don't have enough energy for your needs. So your brain tells you you're hungry, even though you don't actually need food at that time, and it takes steps to store the calories you eat as fat so you'll have enough energy the next time you need it. The decrease in leptin brought on by sleep deprivation can result in a constant feeling of hunger and a general slow-down of your metabolism.

The other hormone found to be related to sleep and weight is ghrelin. The purpose of ghrelin is basically the exact opposite of leptin: It tells your brain when you need to eat, when it should stop burning calories and when it should store energy as fat. During sleep, levels of ghrelin decrease, because sleep requires far less energy than being awake does. People who don't sleep enough end up with too much ghrelin in their system, so the body thinks it's hungry and it needs more calories, and it stops burning those calories because it thinks there's a shortage. Sleep deprivation has also been found to increase levels of stress hormones and resistance to insulin, both of which also contribute to weight gain, and insulin resistance can also lead to type 2 diabetes.”

While long and detailed, I chose to include this text because it offers a contemporary, research-backed, and scientific explanation of how the body functions during sleep and how insufficient shut-eye creates chemical imbalances, which have a direct cause and effect impact on weight gain.

Earlier in March, the National Sleep Foundation celebrated “National Sleep Awareness Week,” an annual public education and awareness campaign designed to promote the importance of sleep, and which includes sleep information for the public (, but in case you missed the event, I’ll sum it up for you – Get More Sleep!

Excessive Social Media Usage = Less Time For Exercise

When you substitute sleep for social media, not only will the chemicals in your body predispose it for weight gain, but the associated physical fatigue will result in a reduced interest in - and energy for - exercise. A good night’s sleep provides the “Get up and go” needed to attack your day with vigor. Without it, even if you DO hit the gym, your body will lack the strength and stamina to get the results you want, and when this happens, it’s not a pretty sight, and I would know, as I see it nearly every week at our gym, described in the following caricature…

A person (who evidently places a low priority on caring for their physical health) shuffles in and drapes themself over a cardio machine. So far, so good. But then, instead of taking some time to actually focus on getting their heart rate up to a challenging threshold capable of improving their circulation and fitness level, they proceed to light up a PDA of some sort, and attempt to multi-task. Folks, if you can text on the treadmill you’re not going fast enough, and I can assure you that you’re not doing either very well. There’s a time and place for multi-tasking, but if you’re doing mashups during sit-ups, creating flash mobs while flash dancing (an old ‘80’s reference for you kids), and blogging while logging snail-paced miles on the treadmill, then you’re compromising and conceding the bountiful health benefits available through regular, rigorous exercise. Exercise is important because your body and your health are important – so give it the time and priority it deserves.

Extra Social Media Usage = Less Time For Cooking

Let’s face it; it takes more time to prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal, than to run out for fatty fast food or to microwave a pasty potpie. Too much time spent on social media means making compromises in other areas, and thoughtful food meal preparation is often the first to go. Food is your bodies’ fuel, and if you cut corners and feed it low-quality junk just to get back online you won’t get the performance, mileage, reliability, or looks you desire. By spending a little less time with Facebook and a little more time with a cookbook, you increase the likelihood that your consumption habits will include more whole foods and healthy alternatives to the many quick-fix options proven to lead to detrimental outcomes. Luckily for you, March is National Nutrition Month, a full 31-day extravaganza featuring various nutritional, educational, and informational campaign sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. For more info, visit

Why Does This Matter? Here’s Why - $$$

Our country has been embroiled in a passionate national debate over healthcare for the past 20+ years and the discussion always eventually comes down to the same wearied couplet: “What will it COST?” and “Who is going to PAY for it?” The U.S. currently spends about $1.8 trillion annually in medical costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and all three are linked to smoking and obesity, the nation’s two largest risk factors, according to the America’s Health Rankings report.

Smoking is still the #1 preventable cause of death in the country, accounting for about 440,00 deaths a year, and even though 1 in 5 American’s still smoke, more than 3 million people quit smoking this past year. Did you hear that? They QUIT smoking – they stopped voluntarily treating their bodies in a way that they knew was harmful and took the personal responsibility to change their behavior and stopped smoking. Was it easy? No Way! But 3 million people decided to quit. Did the government force them to quit? No, but they did pass laws making cigarettes more expensive and creating smoke-free planes, buildings, and restaurants making it harder to light up. Did insurance force them to quit? No, but they did raise the premiums for smokers to reflect the higher financial burden they place on the health system. Did society force them to quit? No, but collectively the cultural norms have evolved so that – instead of being celebrated – smoking is now frowned on and discouraged via negative reinforcement in our schools, businesses, and major media.

Here’s my question: “What if 3 million people decided to quit weighing too much next year?” What if 3 million decided to stop voluntarily harming their body, took personal responsibility, and changed their behavior to make positive choices regarding their health? Could the government, insurance industry, or society force people to do this? No, no, and no, but – like smoking – if combined, they could work to change the cultural norms and establish a positive reinforcement infrastructure via financial incentives, reduced premiums, quantifiable health benefits, and visible “success stories” to head off and curtail the worst of this nationwide plague.

Can America AFFORD a “Weight and See” Approach?

Dr. Louis Aronne, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, says treating obesity may be the most cost-effective way of addressing many chronic illnesses that are driven by excess body weight. “When you go to the doctor now, they treat your high blood pressure, diabetes and your cholesterol,” he says. "What I envision is your weight could be the primary target of treatment because by treating your weight, not only will you get the diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but you'll get the many other underlying problems caused by your excess weight. We could reduce health care costs by managing the root cause."

The reason information and thinking like this is not “top of mind” in our society is because the dominant culture has an appetite for the sensational. They would much rather fixate on the sexy symptoms and radical remedies than the root cause. They would much rather feature striking images of vaccination shortages for Swine Flu shots than cover the exponentially more significant impact of personal health and accountability. If you think about it, that’s why they call it “News” – the only criteria is that it’s “New” – nobody ever said it was proportionately important.

Society tends to “Major in the minors” and put disproportionate emphasis on what’s “Hip” versus encouraging and challenging people to do what’s hard – commit to a lifestyle of self preservation and improvement. Case in Point: Our auto industry is obsessed with prevention, having introduced anti-lock brakes, seatbelts, airbags, reinforced pillars and crumple zones all designed to avoid or minimize the impact of a collision. Unfortunate automobile events are called “accidents” – sudden, spontaneous, unpredictable tragedies – and carmakers and insurance firms have invested BILLIONS in to prevent or minimize the damage caused by these events. The health choices Americans make on a daily basis are considered “on purposes” – rational, informed, habitual decisions – yet the cumulative effect of these choices have a FAR GREATER probability of impacting your life than random auto accidents – yet so few give ANY consideration or priority towards prevention in this arena.

Your Personal Health Sustainability Plan

Going green? Concerned about sustainability? If you really care about the environment, your personal footprint, and your impact on the collective, how about eating your greens and initiating a sustainable lifestyle? If everyone stepped up to the plate – by stepping away from the plate – and made proactive, positive, disciplined choices to do their part – think of the impact! Instead of our current “Sick Care” model, we might finally have the “Health Care” model we aspire towards. Society has made it “Not cool” to smoke anymore. What if we made it “Not cool” to be unhealthy anymore? Which brings us once again back to social media.

Social Media Paradox

In the remote event that you’ve missed the point I’ve been bludgeoning you with for the past few pages, allow me to state what should be painfully obvious by now. Social media is a paradox, capable of both great good and great evil. Just as nuclear power can light a city, it can also level a city, and social media must be similarly regarded and respected as a powerful construct that can both support AND sabotage a person, a company, or a brand. As a platform, social media has the same net effect on society in relation to overall wellness, as it can serve as both a huge help AND a huge hindrance to personal health and wellbeing.

Social media as a communication enabler has a great capacity for educating the masses with information about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle (examples include this white paper itself, as well as the short list of links included within this document), and the community-building features resident within social media make it an ideal tool for connecting people for the purpose of sharing information, encouraging accountability, offering positive reinforcement, and even introducing some friendly competition to keep things interesting. However, it is this same social media that is guilty of consuming more and more of our time – time which is being taken from the pursuit of other activities (including sleep, exercise, healthier eating) - and therefore sabotaging and working against these same objectives. The challenge therefore becomes determining how to achieve that elegant balance, that perfect harmony, that ideal equilibrium whereby we enjoy the benefits of social media without the inherent downside of excessive usage. What follows are a few guidelines for getting there.

Create Boundaries For Yourself

The digital, virtual world in which social media resides is “Always On” 24/7/365 – but guess what – so are you: On your bed, On your way to work, On a deadline, On vacation, On sabbatical, On spring break, On an errand, On a mission, On a date, On a diet, On the Stairmaster, On your back porch, or On your high horse. And just like you need to set aside time to recharge the batteries of your iPod, your PDA, and your laptop, humans also need to set aside time to renew and recharge themselves. The trick is figuring out how to unplug, but still stay plugged in, and the best way to do this is to create boundaries by setting aside specific times when you let others know that you will not be readily available. Here are two examples from my own life describing what this would look like. When I train at the gym, I don’t have my cell phone on, but my friends and family know that if they need to reach me in an emergency, they can simply call the front desk and have me paged. Similarly, when I go to bed at night, I turn off my cell phone, but my friends and family know that if they need to reach me in an emergency, they can simply call my home number. This discipline allows me to focus on the task at hand without distraction and do it to the best of my ability (sleeping, training) but also keeps me in the loop for those emergency events that just can’t wait. What I’ve found with this model is that it forces others to determine whether something is truly an emergency or not, and in my experience 99.9% of people will respect this approach - as long as YOU do. However, if you decide to repeatedly compromise your own model, then others will follow suit and expect an immediate response from you all the time, regardless of the priority of the exchange, and set YOU up for unrealistic expectations and OTHERS up for disappointment.

The ongoing maintenance of your personal technology devices offers a perfect metaphor for this phenomenon. Think about those times when you’ve plugged in your laptop - after it had run out of battery power. If you’ve noticed, it recharges a lot faster and more completely when you turn it completely OFF and charge it, versus trying to charge it while you’re using it. It’s the same with your body. By completely turning OFF and disconnecting from social media and electronic devices – to sleep or to focus on your health (or family) – you are able to more quickly and more completely focus on recharging and renewing yourself, and thereby perform better when you ARE plugged in.

Respect The Boundaries Of Others

Respecting the boundaries of others is basically the other half of creating boundaries for yourself, and essentially involves following the Golden Rule to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Respecting the boundaries of others – by people who DO establish boundaries – is usually a given and not an issue because they understand the benefits of operating in this way. The problem, unfortunately, is that too many people fail to create boundaries for themselves, and therefore they project their unbalanced lifestyle expectations and choices on others (e.g. “I’m on the clock 24/7 and therefore so are you.”) and in cases like this “Doing unto others” has the negative consequence of propagating the deleterious habits and downward spiral of negative health choices referenced earlier.

How Do I Find The Time?

You might be thinking, “Okay, I see what you’re saying about boundaries, and I agree that it makes sense, but you don’t know my schedule – I just don’t have the TIME!” Here’s the reality. If you WANT to find time to exercise (or cook, or sleep), there is a 100% chance that you will find the time. Conversely, if you DON’T want to exercise (or cook, or sleep), there is a 100% chance that you will find excuses. Yoda, who appeared to have a long and fruitful life (except for a skin condition and excessive ear hair) summed it up thence, “Do, or do not, there is no try.” You need to first make your decision, and then fill in the details. Example: If you live in the suburb of a big city, right now you might wake up a 6am, leave the house at 7am, sit in traffic for 60 minutes to go 20 miles, arrive at the office at 8am, do the reverse at night, and then complain there is no time for exercise. Actually there is, but you have to find it. If you turned off Conan and woke up 20 minutes earlier at 5:40am, and then drove directly to a downtown gym, you would arrive in 20 minutes instead of 60 by beating the worst of the traffic, and have effectively “found” 60 minutes in your morning routine to establish and maintain a healthy habit.

Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

In a recent 2010 study, 200 University of Maryland students were asked to abstain from social media for 24 hours. When asked to describe how they felt, they used words like “miserable, anxious, jittery, and crazy,” the same words used to describe the withdrawal smokers and marijuana users feel when they go “cold turkey” (except without the “munchies”). Your response to this study should immediately categorize you into one of two distinct personas, either “Wow, a day is a long time to go without social media!” or “What kind of person can’t go a day without using the Twitter to tell the world they’ve just switched from conflict-free, organic, elderberry tea to corn-fed, free-range coffee?” In reality, both extremes have their drawbacks, and again, the challenge is to find that middle ground; to disconnect from social media long enough to focus and accomplish important things in the “real world” (and long enough for others to miss you), but also to be connected with sufficient regularity to benefit from the relationships enabled by this virtual community. (And if you don’t like the feeling that people are always following you…stay off of Twitter).

Leverage The Power of Social Media

Social media is here to stay, and it won’t be long before this default communication model becomes so ubiquitous that it won’t be called social marketing, social networking, or social media anymore, but rather simply marketing, networking, and media – the “social” will be implied. Therefore, it makes sense to make peace this construct, but rather than just endure it, why not take the extra step and learn to embrace and leverage it – capitalize on all of its reach and power – but do so on your terms. In other words, learn how to harness and control it, before it controls you.

Once you’ve established the boundaries we discussed above, the next step is to maximize the power of social media to help you create more time in your day to make good choices – choices that can have a positive immediate and sustained impact on your personal health and wellbeing. If done correctly, the scale and simplicity of social media can actually SAVE you time rather than steal it, and help you check things off your To Do list, rather than add to it.

Here at DemingHill, our tagline is “Bringing Science to Social Media™.” We use the word “science” because our strategies and solutions are predicated on systematic, quantifiable, and repeatable methodologies, rather than simply natural intuition. Historically, the lion’s share of social media implementation and evaluation has been focused on vague metrics such as mindshare, buzz, and gut feel – all buttressed by hype and hyperbole – but with little attention paid to the 3 R’s: Risk, Reward, and ROI. Because of this, many in corporate leadership are justifiably hesitant to pull the trigger, preferring instead to approach social media with the reluctant posture of R.O.Why? In addition, corporations and executives in particular complain that there just isn’t “time” because they’re too busy running the business (communicating the vision, engaging stakeholders, exploring R&D directions, extending the brand, streamlining operations, and listening to the market) to be significantly involved in social media. Of course, the cruel circular irony of this declaration is the reality that this same social media that “gets in the way” of running the business could actually help to manage and grow the business more efficiently and effectively.

Of Health and Hyperlinks

For more contemporary content, industry insights, watershed white papers, and bite-sized blogs identifying and interpreting how social media is impacting your work, your web, and your world, visit and subscribe to our blog. (And to check out this white paper tricked out with full graphics, click here:

Final Thoughts

Your physical footprint is more important than your digital footprint, and my hope is that this white paper encourages you to take that first step in creating some balance, and begin moving from fatness to fitness, by simply challenging you to give as much priority to your first life as you do your Second Life. If you neglect your health trying to break through the glass ceiling, you might find yourself staring up at a grass ceiling, and wondering how you went from cradle to grave so quickly. If you forget to unplug and play, that excessive computer usage could lead to a terminal illness, taking you from Windows to curtains, and that “Blue Screen of Death” might just be your own. What a tragedy it would be if one moment you’re decomposing your final “Kick the Bucket List” and suddenly you’re the Mayor of “Bought the Farmville” (while being fitted for your final In-Box on a “Pay as you decay” plan, and going to meet up with the spirit in the Skype). Remember, you can’t Google from grave, you can’t text from the tomb, and you can’t Facebook when you’re face-up. As a nation, let’s not be content to let Americans idle and just sit back and watch, as Generation X becomes Generation XL. So please, go ahead and renew that gym membership - we’ll make room for you on the Nordic Track.

Douglas J. O’Bryon, MBA
Chief Content Officer
DemingHill, Inc.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, April 01, 2011

Stolen Laptop Reveals Massive LinkedIn Acquisition Plans In Progress

April 1, 2011, 7:00 AM BREAKING NEWS - On Friday afternoon March 25th the personal laptop of an unnamed LinkedIn executive was stolen from a Caribou Coffee just outside of corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California. Within 48 hours, the computer had been hacked and confidential information – including plans detailing a massive acquisition strategy - were posted to Insider Leeks, just five days in advance of their scheduled announcement after the closing bell on Friday April 1st. (The site has since been shut down as of 11pm Monday night).

Details Downloaded, Posted, Revealed

The compromised reports revealed that in an effort to boost the stock price of their upcoming IPO, LinkedIn has been clandestinely buying up an array of companies, historic landmarks, and national treasures, and strategically assimilating them under the LinkedIn brand umbrella. The detailed intelligence included both maps and spreadsheets (delineated by division and operating units) emphatically stating that this growth strategy is in direct response to the “aggressive imperialistic actions” taken by their biggest online rivals (Google, Twitter and Facebook) over the past few months.

Competitor Buying Binge Signals Intentions

In December 2010, in what was the biggest real estate deal of the year, Google bought one of the largest office buildings in Manhattan for $1.8 billion. The 15-story brick edifice covers an entire block on Eight Avenue and totals over 2.9 million square feet - boasting more space than the Empire State Building - and already houses Google’s East Coast headquarters and 1,800 employees. Last August, micro-blogging firm Twitter added to their stable of talent with the acquisition of Atebits (and their popular Tweetie iPhone app), made another strategic move in late December with the purchase of Q&A service firm Fluther, and just announced Monday that their two co-founders are switching roles. And two weeks ago on March 14th archrival Facebook also tipped their hand by announcing they had hired away a key member of the Google’s corporate development team Amin Zoufonoun to lead and grow their fledgling M&A division, and on Sunday revealed advanced talks with former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Historic Growth

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has grown exponentially as the networking destination for business professionals, hitting revenues exceeding $200M in 2010, and is currently one of the hottest traded private stocks on Since filing with the SEC back in January, the preliminary Intrinsic Value of the IPO suggests a valuation of $2.6 - $2.9B, which could easily increase over the next few months given their 80% growth and 20% EBITDA operating margins. After their initial acquisition of recommendation startup mSpoke in 2010, LinkedIn appears ready to go “all in” as management has decided to complement their existing model of online clicks with actual bricks, aggressively pursuing an acquisition strategy to purchase and rebrand signature properties, landmarks, and companies from coast to coast.

Secret Acquisitions Unveiled

The first and perhaps most startling of the classified deals detailed on the stolen hard drive was a major infrastructure play involving the purchase of the Lincoln Tunnel - a submerged 1.5 mile highway running under the Hudson River and connecting Weehawken, New Jersey with the borough of Manhattan in New York. Rebranded as the “LinkedIn Tunnel,” this strategy (code named “The Pincer Move”) boldly defends this preemptive tactic, stating, “If we are able to control physical access to the business district, we may be able to limit access to Google’s new headquarters as well.” Clearly NYC is a major focus of their campaign, as just blocks from the tunnel their newly acquired “LinkedIn Square” and the world famous “LinkedIn Center for the Performing Arts” will begin featuring distinctively digital fare to further strengthen local marketing efforts to reach their core audience in the Big Apple.

Their government play is perhaps the most audacious, with the 100-year lease and transfer of associated naming rights to the soon-to-be rechristened “LinkedIn Memorial,” majestically situated near the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in DC, and augmented by their purchase of the historically tragic “LinkedIn Theater” downtown.

In the Midwest, the company snatched up Cleveland’s largest arc-welding company and renamed it “LinkedIn Electric,” and they are in final negotiations with retailer K’Nex to purchase and rebrand their most popular toy franchise “LinkedIn Logs.” With America’s domestic car companies still on the ropes, the decision to partner with Ford and their historically affluent demographic was a natural fit, resulting in the roll-out of several upcoming co-branded 2013 models, including the networked and technologically advanced “LinkedIn Continental,” “LinkedIn Navigator,” and the classic “LinkedIn Town Car.” And finally, in a desperate move to avoid bankruptcy and a complete government shutdown, the governor of the impoverished Cornhusker State agreed to accept an undisclosed sum of money in exchange for selling naming rights, and forever changing their capital city to “LinkedIn, Nebraska.”

Whether all of these efforts will produce the desired results – or even stand up in court – remains to be seen, as rumors on the Internet have already been circulating regarding the legal fight that is soon to follow, led by the SEC’s top litigator Robert Douglas. Talk-show pundits are already referring to them as the “LinkedIn – Douglas Debates.”

Asked to comment on these bombshell revelations, Nathan Kievman, CEO of social media think-tank and strategic powerhouse DemingHill, Inc. and owner of the top LinkedIn Strategies group, was both puzzled and flabbergasted, stating “Next thing you know, they’ll be in Washington lobbying to establish a national holiday for LinkedIn’s Birthday!” I’ll Link to that!

Douglas O’Bryon, Soundbite Laureate
Chief Content Officer
Cleveland, OH

Disclaimer: No landmarks or laptops were harmed in the writing of this fiction.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Tweet Yourself to “Social Bowl Bingo” During the Super Bowl

A New Party Game for Watching The Big Game

While Super Bowl XLV will soon be remembered as just another Roman numeral in a long tradition of season-ending football games, within social media circles, the upcoming 2011 classic will forever be remembered as “Social Bowl I.”

Since it first kicked-off in 1967, the spectacle that is the Super Bowl has grown in visibility and influence, and today stands as the single most watched television program in American history, eclipsing over 106 million viewers last year. Within an increasingly fragmented TV viewing audience (decimated by attrition thanks to cable TV, Internet options, downloadable movies, and various social media platforms), the Super Bowl now stands alone as the one remaining real-time American tradition bringing intoxicated people together for 5 hours to eat junk food and stare at a 50-inch liquid crystal display (I mean, seriously, have you ever heard someone say, “I’m going to TiVo the Super Bowl and watch it on Monday.”)

The industry insiders at DemingHill are already calling February 6, 2011 the inaugural “Social Sunday” because, in the 12 months since the last Super Bowl, social media has officially “Crossed the chasm” into our corporate consciousness (see “Why Executives Hate Social Media”
and transitioned from “bleeding edge” to “leading edge” in terms of marketing, advertising, brand messaging, and target audience communication. The upcoming smack-down this year will not only feature the NFC vs. the AFC going toe-to-toe for bragging rights and league dominance, but we will also witness an equally epic battle “outside the lines” as MEDIA worlds collide, pitting the entrenched, old-line guard of traditional TV commercials vs. the proliferation and power of new social media channels for reaching the Main Street mainstream audience.

Just like the upstart challenger American Football League (AFL) back in 1967, progressive and emboldened social media advocates are anxious to make their mark and show the world that they can finally compete with the big boys in the big leagues on the biggest stage and on the biggest media day of the year. To help you keep score of this “passing of the baton” during the big game, I have enclosed your own Social Bowl Bingo card below, allowing you to play along with your rowdy friends. Fox Sports (another upstart) will be airing Super Bowl XLV this year, and I’ve recently learned that XLV actually stands for the number “45” (which is exactly the number of minutes allocated for commercials this year) so be sure to have this card handy during the advertisements, and when you get 5 marks in a row, feel free to jump up and yell BINGO (or, you can just text it, and then update your Facebook wall).

Yes, it’s going to be difficult to be sociable at the Social Bowl - watching a giant TV screen while balancing a laptop in one hand and gripping a smart phone in the other - but rather than setting up a steel curtain around you, try to have fun with it. I’ve heard the cheese-spread is 2 ½ points, so I’m going with GreenBurgh by a field goal.

(Note: For a Spreadsheet BINGO version, click link below - which I HIGHLY recommended as the run-together text below could be confusing...)



An Advertiser Asks You To “Friend Us” on Facebook Any Commercial Poking Fun At Social Media (“Social Media Gone Bad”) Check This Box If You Dialed # On Your Landline Phone To Access “The Twitter” The Simpson’s Promo Features Lisa Simpson Asking Willie the Groundskeeper If He Wants To Get LinkedIn An Advertiser Asks You To“Join Our Community”
Your Update Your Facebook Status During The Game To “Inebriated” Social Media B to B Commercial (Beer to Buddy Advertising) Form A “Flash Mob” At The Bathroom At The End Of The First Half You Ask Your Buddy To “Pass The Black Eyed Peas Dip” You Tell Your Party Host To “Put Another Blog On The Fire”
An Advertiser Says “For More Information Visit Our Website” An Advertiser Asks You To “Like Us” on Facebook You Think the Glee “Thriller” Mash-Up Will Reunite Hawkeye, Radar and Klinger You Visit To Actually Check On A Domain Name An Advertiser Asks You To Text Them NOW For A Very Special Offer
You Take Off President’s Day To Celebrate LinkedIn’s Birthday You Have A Sudden Urge To Run With The Clydesdales An Advertiser Asks You To Log On And “Cast Your Vote” On Their Website While Watching The Game You Forget To RSS Feed Your Dog Social Media B to C Commercial (Beer to Chimpanzee Advertising)
An Advertiser Asks You To “Visit Our Blog” You Ask Your Kid “What’s a Mash-Up?” You Google “Clay Matthews’ Hair Stylist” And Discover “No Results Found” The E-Trade Baby Asks You To Skype, Friend, And Retweet Him (And You Do) You Wonder When They Legalized Hashtags

Labels: , , , , , ,