Monday, July 13, 2009

To Think Outside the Box,
Get Outside of the Box

A couple months ago, ran an article discussing the development of what was being named (in a particularly unpleasant neologism) "weisure time."

Simply put, a weisure lifestyle was one in which your leisure time was routinely invaded by your work time or both were so intermixed that there was no clear dividing line between the two. New York University sociologist Dalton Conley, the originator of the phrase, predicts that the line separating our work from our leisure will continue to blur until we find ourselves at the beck and call of our work 24/7.

To try and sweeten what can only sound like a bad deal for employees (though perhaps not seen as so bad for employers), Conley points to social networking and how your online friends are often frequently your work friends as well. "Increasingly, it's not clear what constitutes work and what constitutes fun," Conley claims in this article "in an office or at home or out in the street."

People are more willing to let work invade their leisure time because, for a lot of Americans, working has become more fun, Conley says. He refers to this group of professionals who tend to get more enjoyment out of work as "the creative class," borrowing a term coined by author Richard Florida.

Their work involves ideas -- perhaps helping create a new software product, ad campaign or creative financial derivative.

"This makes their work a source of meaning and fun to them, and thus the work-all-the-time mentality is partly driven by choice and desire," Conley said.

At the other end of the street, author William Leith, writing for The Guardian discovers that it is just this kind of lifestyle, the constant barrage of duties, even on supposed downtime, that leads to health problems, most prominently chronic fatigue. He quotes Dr. Frank Lipman, author of Spent, who writes that our go-go capitalist lifestyle is unsustainable for individuals:

We get spent because our modern lifestyle has removed us from nature and we have become divorced from its rhythms and cycles. We are slaves to the corporate model. I think it is going to get worse and worse - and I don't see any improvement in the near future until we reach some kind of tipping point and wake up.

Partly this strikes right to the heart of what Conley is suggesting. The idea that you can simultaneously be a part of the creative class, on-call 24/7 and have the time to rest, recharge your creative juices by not thinking about work, and reach those Eureka moments, strikes me as not only deeply problematic, but also a product of thinking that is divorced from the actual creative class.

This is not to say that creative inspiration doesn't happen in off-the-clock hours or that collaboration with your coworkers in these off-site brainstormings doesn't happen either. But the idea that our smartphones and our computers have, in effect, become leashes tying us to our work with ever tighter bonds is deeply troubling.

Much in the way the goal of education was once "the well-rounded individual" who could hold his or her own in a conversation about topics in science as well as in art and literature, employers should prize employees who can walk away from the job, who can disconnect and find outside interests. We have all of us, every one, met the one subject, single-minded bore. The creative output from such types not only frequently suffers from its limited focus, but also from its lack of applicability to the greater world outside the narrow confines of sub-sub-sub speciality.

Employees are often challenged to think outside the box, but to do such thinking, you have to actually get out of the box once in a while. The simplest way to do this is to set clear boundaries of what is work time and what is play time. Employers need to be willing to let their employees have the time away from the job, and employees need to step away from the computer, to let the voice mail do its job.

Absent small shifts in attitudes like this, employers are likely to see the backlash in employee loyalty, morale, and creativity. Better solutions don't always mean longer hours.

What do you think?

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Whither Posting?

Wow, haven't done much in this space in a while.

All the new changes and developments and so forth at The David Group have kept me pretty busy and sadly away from one of my great loves, blogging.

Well, I promise a new update coming next week some time, so please be patient and excuse our dust (as they say).

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Social Media Becomes Vital

The news has been transformative lately. Or maybe I should say transformed.

On June 12th, Iranian elections were held. Reports are conflicting as to what happened next, but a variety of sources allege vote tampering and outright fraud. The hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner by the Islamic Republic News Agency while a spokesman for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former Prime Minister, claims election officials had contacted the Mousavi camp to inform him of his win.

A former interior minister for Iran, now an election monitor for the Mousavi camp claims votes were cast in at least 70 municipalites that exceeded the number of eligible voters. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in the home region of Mousavi (imagine John Kerry winning Texas in 2004 for a hint of the likeliness of this) as well as in metropolitan areas like Tehran (now swap George W. Bush winning in Manhattan for a similar level of unlikeliness).

From these questionable results, Iranian supporters of Mousavi took to the streets. And as is to be expected in a repressive regime, the government clamped down with a vengeance, not only on protestors but on media sources as well. Visas for foreign journalists were denied and suspended. An Italian translator for Italian public television was beaten and his tapes confiscated. The BBC Persian Television signal was jammed. The offices of NBC, ABC and German television offices in Tehran were raided and materials taken. Popular websites like Facebook were filtered, cell phone services were shut down.

News of events in Iran were sparse. CNN's website barely had any mention of the election results and aftermath. On cable, the story popped up on the hour in brief updates. Newswires ran a few items noting election irregularities, but the story remained lukewarm in the mainstream media.

Enter Twitter.

In what can only be described as Twitter's most salient moment, even more so than the Hudson River landing and the assault in Mumbai, Iranian Twitterers began sending out messages from the streets. In real-time, first person accounts, news began to appear. Twitter users in the United States pressed news organizations to devote more time to the story, especially CNN by adopting the hashtag #CNNFail and the news org stepped up their coverage. Avid Twitter user, CNN host Rick Sanchez was less than thrilled with the social media revolt, but the media has begun paying attention.

Users like @persiankiwi and @change_for_iran and more kept up a steady stream of updates from Tehran University and elsewhere. If you go to Twitter search for #Iranelection the updates continue to come in fast and furious. Leave the page open for five minutes and hundreds of new posts arrive. And those posts contain links to videos like this one on YouTube of Iranian militia firing at protestors and hitting at least one and of wounded protestors receiving medical treatment in a garage (warning these are quite disturbing). It includes links to photos of protests, what some claim are ballots found in the trash, and Tehran University the morning after pro-goverment militia attacked it. Secondary sites have been popping up such as Iran Unrest funneling Twitter messages, videos, news articles, and pictures from the revolution.

When Twitter scheduled a downtime for maintenance, users protested, noting that the downtime would be the middle of the day in Tehran, when the news coming out through Twitter was most important. Twitter resisted user pressure, but found themselves caving at last when the State Department made a similar request. Behind this request was a twenty-seven year old Rhodes Scholar at State, Jared Cohen, whose job it has been at the department to work "with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other services to harness their reach for diplomatic initiatives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Iranian officials began to play catch up, though. There were reports that government censors were blocking cell transmissions, that they were signing up for Twitter accounts and posting misinformation, and that they were scouring Twitter profiles based on location. In response, Iranians on the ground moved locations, hacked government websites, and repeatedly switched phones. A complex and deadly game of whack-a-mole developed where outside sources set up proxy servers for Iranians Twitterers and the government shut them down as quickly as they found them. Users abroad retweeted the message of the government profile searches and virally spread the news for users to change their profiles to +3:30 GMT, Tehran time to flood the zone and throw off Iranian censors.

The Twittersphere was striking back. In a small way, yes. But striking back through the power of the group against top-down controls. It is everything Twitter marketers claim for the power of social media in the consumer realm, only in a much more important and serious fashion.

In a moment such as this, Twitter plays an unprecedented role on the international stage. Thanks to the power of social media, most specifically Twitter, the world is now watching. As long as access to the streaming messaging service continues unchecked, government censors and security forces will be unable to entirely clamp down on the resistance. And once an authoritarian regime loses its ability to monologue to their citizens and the world, it is a genie that can not be put back into the bottle.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Success Without Postage

Saints Medical Center

In February, our client Saints Medical Center had stellar success with their Nursing, Pharmacy & Allied Health open house initiative. Saints approached The David Group Boston a little more than a week before the event to develop a budget friendly strategy to market their event. Our challenge was to build a comprehensive media approach with elements that could be executed within a matter of days. Our solution: a dynamic multimedia plan that included traditional print ads in local newspapers, a variety of targeted online media, and for the first time, no print direct mail.

Online media included:

  • Google keywords
  • homepage highlight, event listing, and the big banner ad
  • Targeted email blast to 5,606 Nursing & Allied Health recipients

Most websites require a minimum run schedule of two weeks for banner ads.

Because of the unique time frame presented, we were able to negotiate with special one week flights to meet Saints' needs.

Internet advertising allows us to provide detailed metrics, and in turn, measure ROI. For example:

  • In just one week, the Google Keyword campaign received well over 102,000 impressions (or views) and 326 clicks. This represents a .32% click-through rate (industry average is .04%!).
  • homepage highlight received over 1.6 million impressions and yielded 599 clicks.

With these two Internet products alone, Saints reached 925 interested professionals.

Online media is affordable and can fit into any budget. Keep in mind, replacing print direct mail with HTML email blasts can significantly reduce your costs (no postage or printing fees) while hitting the same audience in a timelier manner.

Let the final numbers speak for themselves: Saints had 122 attendees with 18 potential hires.

Congratulations, Saints!

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inaugural Video

Just a short video I made on the fly about getting started on Twitter. So many business out there are still not even taking that first step of getting started. More videos to follow especially once I finish reading the manual on the much better camera.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Charities Online

If you have some time and you fancy yourself quite a trivia buff, go and visit, the well-established charity challenge. Originally just a vocab exercise paired with donations of rice to third world nations, has branched out into other subjects to test, such as math and history, has lured more users and has become a model of online giving.

Founded in 2007 by John Breen and donated to the UN World Food Program in March 2009, Free Rice peaked in its viral visitors in the first year, getting some 500,000 visitors daily. While those numbers have dropped with time, the site still does a brisk business in unique daily visitors and in food donations.

Using sponsor banners that appear on the site with each correct answer, players build up a store of rice, 10 grains at a time, which is then purchased by the banner ad sponsors and donated to the UN for distribution to countries with famine epidemics. Over the last 18 months, Free Rice users and sponsors have donated over 60 Billion grains of rice.

And that's part of the appeal of online charities. I myself was a regular at for several days when I first discovered the site. It didn't take long to build up a significant amount of rice, and with a minimal effort you could do some good. Online charities are growing into the social media and internet sphere just like every other organization. Part of what makes these charties so effective is the rapididty with which you can join in as well as their viral nature.

Simply put, the Web is just too big for any one person to know of or even be aware of everything that is out there. Viral campaigns are aptly named because they flare up, sweeping through the internet, only to die down for a while before being fanned alive once more. Every so often, a new batch of people will discover the site and email invites will begin to appear in my inbox, and I return to to play some more. And invite others to play who might not have heard of or who, like me, have forgotten about it.

With the expansion and participation of social media, this can be a match made in heaven. Fans of various game applications spend more than enough time playing Scrabble or Mafia Wars that harnessing something they like to do with something that benefits others is a shrewd move. Into the fray we have movers and shakers like these 26 Twitter Charities, or you could consider this list of 50 Social Media charities from sites around the 'net or if Facebook is your primary place there are these great apps. You could even consider looking into experiments such as Twestivals and Twollars.

Part of what makes social media and social networking an interesting, fun and helpful place to be is that people engage there just as they would in their away from the keyboard lives. Being involved in making the world a better place is something intrinsic in most people and most of us have some kind of shortlist of charities or causes we believe in and want to help. Social media is a great place to harness that power and to connect with others who have the same interests and concerns. What social media can do for the business side of things can find its altruistic side as well.

If your organization is involved in traditional giving, but you've been considering a social network push for some time, why not combine these efforts? Consider becoming a sponsor to one or more online efforts or even starting your own socially charitable hub. Give your users a small game or application that lets them interact with you and your charity and you may have a recipe for success. Plus, it's a great way to boost your name recognition while reallocating your charitable donation dollars, giving you a double bang for the buck.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Social Media Security

Have you ever signed up for a service like online banking or bill paying or created an account and there was a selection of "security" questions in case you lost or forgot your password?

Have you ever filled out a questionnaire on Facebook like 44 Things About Me?

Is your family tree online somewhere like or

The ongoing and increasing trend of sharing information online whether through quizzes or just the generalized oversharing that can happen on Twitter is leading toward a security perfect storm. Data mining from various public personae and profiles and too common questions online means you don't even need a password cracker to hack into someone's account. Just patience and savvy.

A perfect example of this came during the 2008 Presidential election when Veep candidate Sarah Palin's Yahoo! email account was hacked after a resourceful search online:

The individual, known on the blog post as Rubico, said that he was able to determine that Palin met her husband Todd in high school, along with her date of birth and zip code from Internet searches on Wikipedia and Google. Altogether, the hacker said that the process took no more than 45 minutes by experimenting with different word combinations until deriving at the correct word order.

Now think carefully over the various places you've set up accounts. Do any of them have a password reset feature that allows you to select from a list of four or five security questions? Have you ever filled out an online family tree that includes your mother's maiden name? If you've answered any number of fun online questionnaires from your friends, have you compromised your security? Plus, the average password is so average that lists circulate online. Add that to social media sharing, and if you haven't been hacked, maybe it's only a matter of time.

Phishing scams, too, are starting to become more and more prevalent on social networking sites because of their growing popularity. Phishing involves sending what appear to be legitimate emails from trusted organizations such as banks or eBay or requesting passwords or stating that passwords or other sensitive information needs to be "verified" or "confirmed."

Compromising your security can be as easy as finding a profile on Facebook, scrolling through the list of friends, then creating a fake profile with the same name as one of the friends. A "friend request" from this fake profile that includes a message like "Hey, Facebook suspended my other account, so now I have to make a new one," will be accepted at face value by most users. Once you've friended these scammers, everything you do and say can be parsed for information.

Still feel like announcing to the world your upcoming vacation plans?

And individuals aren't the only ones susceptible to getting hacked in easy ways like this. Go to a person's info page on Facebook, write down their email and you have one half of the info needed to log in as that person. Enough good guesses at their password and any pages they administer for businesses are compromised as well.

So not only users, but businesses need to consider what kind of social media security they want to have in place. Admins and superusers need to take more stringent security measures than average ones, but every member of a businesses social media team (and all employees of a business on/in social media) need to be careful not to compromise security.

A few ground rules are helpful:

  • Differing sites need differing passwords. And update passwords regularly, avoiding obvious choices.
  • Never follow an email link to a service you normally use and provide passwords (go to the main site and navigate to what's needed from there).
  • Never tweet, post or otherwise write about sensitive company information online.
  • And consider carefully when you're posting information that might overlap somewhere else.

The important thing to always remember online is that pretty much once it's out there, it's out there forever. Think before you type, think after you type and think again before you hit enter.

Now go have fun.

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