How to unfollow

So often (unfortunately) in this modern internet world we live in, it seems to happen that we drift into a profile viewing mode. Inspecting another person, who are they? Why were they in my list of followers or worse, why am I following this person? The “loop” as my wife and I like to call it slips its invisible little hood over your head around this point; the zombie eyes and zombie mind take over quickly. Before you know it, you’re just scrolling, not really taking anything in. What is happening? No one really knows. But it’s around this point where the better part of my psyche kicks in, a Yosemite Sam sort of personality in my thoughts pulls a record needle scratching moment in the crowd of voices – throws up the big “WTF” sign and barks “who is in control of this moment?!?”. As all the shocked members of the interrupted sequence look around to see what will happen next the little guy in the corner peeps back “we were just wondering who that is, wooo woooeeewww – we thoughts we might unfollow it!” (this particular voice in my head has a Gollum sort of voice). It is at this moment, you can think clearly again, we were wondering if we know her, and we don’t and there is nothing interesting about her, “UNFOLLOW!”

I Wish Berlin Would Quit

Many visitors to Berlin are surprised to learn it can be hard to find a place to go for a drink in the evening without staining their hair and clothes with cigarette smoke. The “Raucher Bar” was they commonly refer to themselves is a regular feature of many night time haunts. At first it was part of the fun of the city, a remaining piece of the old days, or a symbol of the freedom & lawlessness that one can experience with the drinking in public and all hours bars, cafes, & clubs. These days, it’s a nuisance and I have become frustrated on more than one occasion that while wondering a neighborhood with friends looking for a place to sit down and have a cocktail, we had to compromise, or simply choose the least smokey bar available.

As one study on social smokers confirms there is no difference, in terms of risk of heart disease, between having less than one cigarette a day, and smoking a pack a day. And yet many Berliners, and perhaps Germans in general frequently say “I only smoke when I’m out with friends and drinking”. I wonder what these people will think when they explain to their kids that they never were addicted to cigarettes and yet still suffered similar consequences.

 

 

Blue Zone Meetup Group #1

Last night we hosted a dinner for 7 guests, 9 including ourselves. The theme was the blue zones. The idea was to spend time together with other people, sharing a meal using the same recipes as the people around the planet who live significantly longer than others (100 or more years).
 
Our guests were German, Indian, Israeli, American, and Polish (not including Zuzanna and I representing another Pole & American). Each of whom was new to Berlin, except for one of the Germans who had spent most of her life living in Australia. We were all from another place, but together for the common interest of health and happy living. Though we came together as strangers through the meetup group I created to host the event, by the end of the evening we were all making plans to meet again, and Zuzanna may have found a really great polish connection here – it was delightful to hear them speaking in Polish.
 
***
 
The idea of eating healthy organic sustainably grown plant based fruits and vegetables, with some red wine and sourdough bread, over conversations of family, life, backgrounds, food, health, and sustainable lifestyle was truly enriching and left a big warm happy place in my heart. The food was delicious, the conversation and time together with positive and multi-cultural folks was wonderful.
 
People in blue zones live longer because they surround themselves with friends and family each day or several times a week. They keep active into their 90’s and beyond with gardening, walking, and working around their homes (many claimed to continue their sexual activities well into their 90’s and beyond). They don’t have much money, and therefore have to live on the vegetables they can grow in their own gardens & farms. Meat is out of their price range except for a village annual slaughter (however the California 7th day adventists are vegetarian), or can afford from what little currency they can earn or trade with to buy produce at the markets. They keep low stress lifestyles and believe in a greater good (usually via religion), leaving the worry of their fate to a higher power.
 
***
To finish off our meal we each shared a photo of somebody special in our lives who wasn’t present but had a huge place in our hearts and minds. Transcending the event and group present, the activity encouraged the idea of spending more face to face time with loved ones.
 
I just wanted to share this, as a moment in time. To look back on, but since I’m sharing this with the public, I do want to recommend others give more time to be with friends and family. To focus on staying physically active, low on stress, eating food you can prepare from scratch (and having a lifestyle that affords the ability to do so).
 
One of the more popular stories of the blue zone people, is of a man from Ikaria, Greece. Who was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was in his mid-60’s living in Floria working as a house painter, he was told he had 6-9 months to live by multiple doctors. Resolving to die in peace (and be buried for <$200 in Greece instead of thousands in the US) he moved home to spend out his remaining days with his parents in Ikaria. After months of walking up and down the hillsides of the Island, sleeping in basic conditions in his parent’s 2 bedroom home on a stepped vineyard,  spending afternoons drinking wine with his friends, and eating the vegetables he could grow on his land; he started to feel better, months turned to years, his breathing improved. At the time of the printing of the NYT article about him in 2012 he was 102. Ikaria is one of the blue zones, along with Okinawa, Sardinia, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, and Loma Linda, California.
 
25 years later the greek man went back to Florida to see his doctors and try to find out what happened. But he couldn’t get in touch with them because they had all already died.
 
Life is short! Don’t stress, spend more time with friends and family and being active, and eating healthy foods (and less meat).

I’m excited about the future.

I’m excited about the future. When people aren’t afraid of the police. When we don’t have to watch the road and use gasoline to get around town. When fresh local produce is in abundance and the big food industry isn’t in control. Where a nice dinner out with friends costs less then $20. When fast food restaurants and Starbucks aren’t on every corner. A society where arts and culture are promoted and supported by the government and community. Where people from all over the world can interact and keep their cultural identity, speak their own language, and still communicate with one another. Where you can go out all night and there is no last call. Where you can go to a cafe and not see everyone staring at their phones. Public transportation is available in abundance and you can literally cross the country for $40. Trips to Paris and Rome only take a couple hours and can cost less then $100.In the future I imagine education doesn’t require a 6 figure investment or taking on student loans and renting a large spacey 2 bedroom flat in the middle of town costs less than $1200. In my ideal future you can take a bottle of wine to the park and have a picnic without getting a fine. Where parents of new born children can have 1-2 years paid time off to raise their kids without losing their jobs or their income. Where we are not pressured by our employer to work overtime and if we don’t feel well we can call in sick and take 2,3 even 5 days off to get better before returning to our desk. And where we’re not only required to take two weeks vacation, we get five or six weeks paid time off to recover, get out enjoy the world, and be refreshed and ready for work again.

This is a future I would love to have and I can’t wait for it.
Only it’s not the future, its Berlin.

On Mindfulness of Possession Sustainability

  • Use things to last, don’t abuse them. Always start and finish in the best possible way for long lifespan.
  • Use things for their full lifespan. In many cases just because a newer better version of an item exists, is not a valid reason to replace it. If a working version is in possession, continue using it until it can’t be used anymore.
  • Repair or repurpose things which would otherwise be considered to be at the end of their life. This may give a whole new life, and void the need to replace it.
  • Don’t acquire things that wont last. When considering to purchase or come into possession of something, consider how long you will likely need it for. If you wont need it much or potentially at all, and it is just nice to have, consider not getting it, or finding a temporary solution such as borrowing it from someone else. And if the quality appears to be so low that you can’t get a reasonable life of use out of it, look for better quality.
  • Don’t pay for more than the minimum if the quality is the same. Vanity and popularity lead to irrational purchase & acquisition justifications. Just because the brand appears to be more prestigious, or the design is more attractive, the cost may not actually justify a tangible increase of value, rather speculative. In such cases consider how long the more expensive yet not higher quality item will last compared to its economical competition. If the difference is marginal or even worse, purchase for lifespan. The total cost of ownership could be twice as much on an item which has the same return of value of its entire lifespan.

The Conflict of Online Social Networks

With this new year rolling out, I find myself coming back to a topic of personal improvement that has been on my mind for a while: Social Networks. How they appropriately can support relationships and communication, and how they detract from relationships and communication.

It’s been said a number of times that people actually find themselves isolated from a physical social life when using online social networks, in some cases, even doing so in place of interacting with people in the physical realm. While there is a bump of excitement when friends like or comment on an update we posted to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. (and in some cases strangers or exclusively virtual acquaintances), the long term value really doesn’t work out to much more than this little emotional bump. And then it’s gone, with nothing left, not memories, no stories to pass along. Quite an empty social interaction really.

Personally, I haven’t read about any studies on the effects of using social networks versus spending time with people face to face, but recently I began to look back through all the time I’ve invested into social networks, the people I have connected with there, what I get out of it, and then I looked back at my face to face world; similar to the social network parts: the time I invest, the people I connect with, and what I get out of them. Turns out, from the online social networks, the biggest value has been that people know what I’m up to, and I know some of the things going on in their life too. That’s about it. Aggravating this, turns out, with all the algorithms managing the things we get in our social network “feeds”, we’re not even getting all of the updates from our friends, just those programmed to meet our ‘expectations’ for things we would like to see, based on some programmers work. In the face to face realm, the people that I spend time with is far fewer compared to the online group, but those that I do see and speak to, provide more important moments for me. Turns out, there’s a lot of people who will take time to connect and communicate with me online, but have never once made the effort to do anything with me in person. No coffee chats. No parties. No help with work or personal life issues. That’s something I seek to change.

I just finished a year off from work and when I got back I pursued finding work aggressively, online and offline. The online efforts got me one small job, but the offline efforts, even those like walking up and down the street talking with businesses, got me multiple jobs, which have been worth easily 8-10 times more value than the one job I found online. That’s right, the return on investment in face to face time got me more work than the efforts I made online. And believe me I spent a lot of time generating some opportunities online. I guess the people who I could meet in person had a stronger impression and really focused on my needs. Those online, might have been too distracted, or I wasn’t communicating properly through the text and updates, etc. Who knows. The results are still obvious.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment, surely there are many opportunities for people to explore online alone, with no need to leave their computer. But there are just as many people baffled by the dependance of others to online networking and communication dependance. And those people trust a face they met in person, and would rather discuss important topics than spell it all out in an email, or schedule a video chat.

I know I’m not alone, many folks feel the pain of the rush to be online, some are just over whelmed with all the things that can be done online now. Many get by still just fine with brick and mortal style, it’s nice to see. But then there are all the others who I know I will not stay in touch with unless I stay online. And that’s the thing that’s on my mind the most now. How offline can I be and not fall out of touch? Should I just go 95% offline, saving the few moments I do login, to reply to email and respond to a Facebook message or some other online only activity? I would like to stay offline. In my own experiment, I will focus in doing more offline. We’ll see how it goes. I hope I can offer some more insights on that.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

When “No” Really Means, “Maybe Later”

When “No” Really Means, “Maybe Later”

Have you ever tried to contact someone, for a job, to make plans etc., and gotten a cold response? Perhaps no response at all? And so you figured that meant no? Like “no, we don’t have a job for you”. Me too. But with many years of experience I’ve learned these cold responses, even the outright “sorry we can’t encourage you, we are not interested in exploring future employment opportunities with you” (paraphrasing a response I got from William Morris Agency in 2003), may in fact just mean “sorry not right now, but check back with us later”.

It’s funny, and maybe doesn’t even seem so strange. But that’s true. And “maybe later” doesn’t mean 6 months from now. Try 6 weeks.

Rewind.

Once upon a time I had an internship at a record label in New York. Martha Stewart’s Omni Media offices were just a couple floors above mine (pre-insider trading conviction). It was an exciting [unpaid] job for me. Naomi Campbell came into the office occasionally to visit the owner of the label. I was still in college and this was something I’d never experienced before.

My position was in the marketing department. I spent a lot of time preparing shipments, photocopying press kits, and organizing the CD closet. My big break came when I was asked to organize promotion of a Japanese metal band who was coming to the USA for a short tour. One of my first jobs was to contact the venues where the bands would be playing and ask the venue managers if we could organize a ticket giveaway to help promote the show.

As the email responses from the venue managers came in, I reported back to my marketing director. Some of the venues hadn’t replied. When I asked my boss what that meant, he said “it means ‘No’”.

Unfortunately for me, he was just not into the band and suspected most of the venues weren’t either. But I took his comment as a lesson and took it to heart. For a while afterwards, whenever I was pitching to someone, or trying to start a dialogue with a person not close to me, if I didn’t hear back I thought it was a sign to give up.

Fortunately, not too long afterwards I learned that repetition actually could be very effective. I gained this wisdom while watching Sex and the City. In the 6th season, while Charlotte York pursues a rabbi to learn the ways of her fiancées religion, she learns, that displaying dedication and temperament with repetitive attempts, despite outright rejection, eventually proved her devotion to the faith and won her the attention and ultimate support of the rabbi.

Pretty convoluted learning experience, I know, but it made sense to me, and so I let go of the words from my marketing director. Going forward when situations came up where I couldn’t succeed without getting the attention of someone too busy or important to talk with me, I just politely continued to poke them for a little bit of their time. It doesn’t always work, but more often than you expect, you can turn a “no” into a “maybe”, and once you have “maybe”, it’s much easier to get to “yes”.

Me with Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki, Greece
Me with Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki, Greece

Present Day

This all ties back to a methodology I’ve had lately. Persistence. Seriously. Persistence. Reach for the moon. Find the CEO of a company. The Senior PR Director for a global brand. Whoever it is. Whatever you want. Approach, carefully, and thoughtfully. At first you might not succeed. But with patience, displayed thoughtfulness and planning, you can make contact, and even get what you’re after.

If you’re in sales this is a pitch meeting. If you’re looking for a coveted job, this is a meeting with someone who can get you an “in”. If you want to get a sponsorship or propose a new product idea it could be any number of people.

There are two things to keep in mind about this:

1. You might be reaching out to the wrong person

2. Follow up is key

Point Number 1 : Reaching Out to the Wrong Person

People scare easily. We don’t want to piss anyone off, or have a room full of people hating us. So naturally when we are trying to get in touch with a person, who more likely than not, is one of several people at a group, or company who could be the entry point of that organization, and we have no success, there is this fear that our one and only person to reach out to has nixed the request, and therefor no one else at the company is reachable either.

In reality what it probably means if one person doesn’t respond, or gives a really cold “go away” sort of email, is that that person just wasn’t the right person to reach out to.

What to do?

Why not reach out to someone else? Most companies are big, people talk, sure, but not that much, certainly not about you. Unless you did something really creepy or amazing, you were 4 seconds of someones day and they will not remember you from 20 other Joe Schmoe’s who also tried contacting the wrong person that week.

Other people aren’t always the same as the first person. You have to get creative and look around, try to learn who is who, and use your smarts. If someone says no, find someone more important, or closer to the department head of the team you’re trying to reach out to. If you’re trying to get a job and HR tell’s you there aren’t any positions available. Go directly to someone on the team you could potentially work for and see what they say. Hint: aim high. Team leaders are part of or responsible for hiring. Team members — not so much.

When no one replies or do, but say they aren’t interested… move on to point #2 — Follow up.

Me posing as a tourist in Belgrade, Serbia
Me posing as a tourist in Belgrade, Serbia

Follow Up

No one speaks better to follow up than Jason Sadler. Jason famously started the company “I Wear Your T-Shirt” which got sponsors to pay him to wear a t-shirt branded with their logo, and many other promotional opportunities around that idea. Since shutting down IWYS (after plenty of success), Jason has moved on to teaching others, which at one point included a email based course in getting sponsors. I was able to dig up one of his posts from the course here which embodies Lesson 5 of his Sponsorship Course “The Secret Art Of The Follow Up Email”.

Summarizing his points, follow up is huge for getting sponsorships. Which by the way is asking for money. If you think whatever you want is super in demand, and no one want’s to give it to you, try switching the subject of your pursuit to money. Now go out and ask people to give you money… you get the idea (I hope). If Jason could do it, then he probably has a thing or two to teach us all about asking people for stuff when they are used to saying “no” all day long.

Jason claims 75% of the sponsorships he got came after following up. Read: he did not get people to give him money after sending one email. Sometimes it took two, sometimes it took 4–6, but most of the time the 2nd or 3rd email was actually enough to get an in.

Why Does it Work?

Because most people don’t do it. Yep. So simple. Most truths in life are aren’t they? Most people just give up after the first email or more likely they forget. So by following up, you’re taking advantage of the fact that you will stand out by the amazing feat of sending not one, but two emails. Another great benefit of the 2nd and subsequent emails is the gift of memory. Since your name has already passed by your target’s inbox once before, you are no longer a complete stranger. Oddly enough, though you’re still a stranger to the person you’re contacting, just by having some existence and continuity in another person’s life, you’re creating familiarity. If you wait long enough, your name may have appeared more to that person than their best friend who never posts on Facebook anymore and disappeared after he had some kids.

How To Follow Up?

This is probably part of the secret sauce. I mean. If you just resend your email, the recipient will see that, and this action says you’re lazy. You didn’t take the time to give the recipient fresh info, you just hit the send button again. Which sort of says you don’t think that person is valuable. So don’t expect huge results from this.

Your recipient is thinking “great, I already ignored this person (told them to buzz off), now they’re sending the same email again, when will it stop…”

No.

Your follow up email should be a development. It should show that you know you’re following up, and that you’re re-requesting time from that person. But this time, it’s just a reminder of the first message you sent. A “refresh” or “bump back to the top of the inbox” if you will. And that’s all you really need to say. I wouldn’t load your second email with new stuff. Hopefully the first was clear, concise, and included your main value proposition. The followup is a reminder, to look at the first email, that’s it.

And in this follow up method, time is on your side. Just wait a little while and any number of things can change to benefit your cause. See, while the person you are reaching out to may seem impenetrable, the forces around them are anything but. Stuff changes constantly, an important project launches, or doesn’t. A position that was about to be filled falls through at the last minute. A new marketing strategy totally bombs and new talent is needed fast! Don’t under estimate the trillions of variables which can in lots of cases improve your chances of suddenly becoming the important solution to somebody’s problems.

And that’s about it, at least for now. If you have gotten this far and I haven’t convinced you to send a reminder to someone, or just start tracking the people you reach out to and occasionally send a “refresh” to the ones you never heard back from, or seek another gate keeper to try contacting, then I’ve failed. But hopefully that’s not the case. Hopefully, you have a huge head of optimism now, and you’re going to try to do that one thing you always felt was impossible, because now you realize, help isn’t so far away, it might even be just a few emails to the right group of people.

So do it. Go!

Turn a “no” into a “yes” today.

Tell the story of other companies

Tell the story of other companies

Startups are the future, already so common the word itself is a bit cliché and stigmatized. Making companies that generate new business and leverage new technology is so common it should be taught in all business schools, and encouraged from a young age.

But that’s still so far off.

Many learnings will not be taught, young founders will have figure it out for themselves.  So it makes sense then to teach people early on, in a simple format, some of the bigger more dangerous lessons. Not necessarily for avoidance, fear of failure without context can be just as dangerous, but for awareness. Some decisions will destroy companies: pivoting too late, building technology the wrong way, investing resources on the wrong customer; all of these can create an end with no value remaining except the knowledge itself. But if this knowledge is available, other companies can use it and benefit from it.

What $30.00 bought on Facebook

What does social do for your company? When I was in the US I’d say probably it can do a lot. But after moving to Germany I discovered things were different here. For a while at Arzttermine.de we let that rule dictate how much time to put into our engagement with people in social media. In a recent change of plans that old mentality is gone and we’re determined to be sure we didn’t pass up something great.

While posting an update to Facebook last week: “Wann hast du dich das letzte Mal auf einen Arzttermin gefreut und warum? Erzähl es uns!”. Which is like saying “What was the last time you looked forward to a doctor appointment? Why? Tell us!”, Facebook offered to boost the post for $8.00. With that investment our status update could reach nearly 5,000+ people the promotion claimed. And so another test and exploration began.

I am actually embarrassed we waited so long to do this. We have run ad campaigns, and re-posted our newsletters and “Magazin” posts on our Facebook page (our website blog), but other than that  really almost no tweeting or other network activity at all. If people wrote on our FB wall, we’d respond. Nothing else. Our Facebook account was the equivalent of a cork board in the back of coffee shop. Occasionally something was posted there, little signs of life indicating it wasn’t completely untouched, but not the hub of interaction or engagement that drives a steady stream of new users and keeps our brand on the minds of existing ones.

The reason we waited so long is one you can easily spot out with a little poking around in the startup scene of Germany. Germany and probably many other countries in Europe are an odd sibling of the social networking universe, usually late to adopt if ever at all. Where in the US you’d name five major social networks that have popped up in recent years, in Europe its unlikely more than one has even obtained a critical mass.

Also there is a delay. While Facebook use declines in the US and many have moved onto Snapchat, Vine and Instagram, most people in Germany don’t really even know what Instagram is about. A mind set that Twitter is for narcissists who want to post what they are doing as they are doing it all day so the whole world knows is at just about any diner table when the topic comes up. Many European companies simply don’t see the point of having a Facebook page. And if they wait long enough, it will have saved them some trouble too in a odd way as it’s likely it won’t matter anymore unless they are running a some kind of mobile campaign. But at what cost?

With a hunch that while it’s not nearly as big in Germany, our conviction to make this new push is about the fact that social media may still be a great place to acquire organic traffic and build some brand awareness, and we believe it deserves a good shot of going all at it. The marketing activities in this push is probably no surprise to an active social media’ist; acquiring followers, retweeting, publishing more newsletters, diving deepend into follower, open rate, click thrus etc, finding insights, tests and demo targeting messages.

And so when Facebook asked if we’d like a “boost”, for $8.00 we said why not. Except then I made the demographic’s more specific, and decided to go after a larger audience in the 6 digit range, which according to Facebook would cost another $22.00 bringing the grand total to $30. We decided to give it a go, a small cost to see what pushing our status a little deeper into our follower network might achieve.

So what were the results? As of the time of this post, the $30 helped our post to reach 40,944 people, which is about 40.5k more then our posts usually “reach” (still need to fully understand the definition of that term in the terms), as for engagement, the status message and got 7 likes and 1 comment, although there isn’t a comment visible on the post. And on the website end in our Google Analytics, it appears we had about visitors from Facebook, none of which booked an appointment. So there you have it $4.28 cost per like, $6.00 cost per visitor (assuming the paid post generated that visit), and 0% conversion rate.

Not exactly a successful post, so we’ll have to look deeper into this, especially compared to Newsletters which have some conversion rate, 20-30% open rate, and 6-13% click through. But that’s for another post.