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Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence is Still Progress

conscious incompetence on the horizon

Last year, I had the opportunity to drive a Tesla Roadster around Austin. I remember being absolutely blown away by the power of the car, and feeling eager to see what it was capable of, and to milk this rare experience for all the joy I could. Never mind, I didn’t have much experience driving high-performance super cars to get behind the wheel with as much earnest as I did. I just wanted to push the cars limits.

You know where this is going. I almost wrecked the car, and didn’t realize how close I came until later.

Supercars, like the Tesla, push a lot of power (torque) to the rear wheels, which allows the car to get up and go incredibly fast. The more power, the easier to make the tires spin, burn rubber, and lose traction if you press the accelerator to the floor.

But if you spin the tires as you go into a turn, the rear wheels can lose grip and send the car into a tailspin.

Fortunately, all modern sports cars have a safety feature called “dynamic traction control,” or “dynamic skid control.” Basically, there are computers and sensors plugged into the tires of the car that monitor when the driver is at risk of losing control of the vehicle. If you start to spin the wheels, the computers reduce the torque to the rear wheels so they don’t lose traction, and you stay on the road instead of wrapping the car around a pole.

If you lose control of the car, something like this can happen.

You’ll never guess what I do almost as soon as I hop in the Tesla.

I floor it around a corner in a West Austin neighborhood. My margin for error was about 18 feet across to the other side of the street where someone had parked a Volvo. Of course, nothing happened because the Tesla had skid control on and protected me from the $130,000 catastrophe I was a few foot pounds of torque away from.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and it almost burned me.

After driving my MX-5 in the rain enough – which has a much smaller engine, but is light and can easily go into a fishtail – I have a lot more respect for the nuance and control needed to drive a powerful car like the Tesla Roadster.

Ignorance in Business can be just as dangerous

In the last 6 months, I’ve begun to learn how much I don’t know about business and startups. The shape of my own ignorance is revealing itself to me. As if the sun were rising to reveal a new point on the horizon that had appeared suddenly the night before. It’s still far off, but I can see what I couldn’t 6 months ago.

I can’t yet describe it to you here. It’s still nebulous. But I know there is something for me to learn. There is evidence all around in the incredible effects of knowledge and experience from the new folks who are joining our company. Their experience, put to work, is having an incredible impact, and it’s clear that they are bringing things to the table completely unique to their experience and superpowers. And I wasn’t even aware of what was possible before they came on board.

Writing this down makes me think, “Well duh, Austin. Of course other people who have worked in startups longer than you have more experience to bring to the table.” All the same, it’s amazing to see the effects of their work and to admire the accomplishments of the team that wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t working together. I’ll confess that I a few months ago, I didn’t have much perspective about what could be possible. That ignorance could have gotten me in trouble.

This is encouraging. Despite the seemingly dispiriting dawn of awareness of my own ignorance, it actually means that I am making progress. When we are still unaware of it, our ignorance can be dangerous if we act as if we are totally in control. We can climb out of the Tesla without realizing how close we came to wrapping it around a station wagon.

I take heart in the knowledge that beginning to identify the shape of my own ignorance is a good sign of progress. I suppose it’s the classic process of “unconscious incompetence” transforming itself into “conscious incompetence” hard at work inside of me. Hopefully “conscious competence” is on the horizon soon.

As I reflect on what we’ve all had the chance to witness at the company in the past 6-8 months, all the growth, maturity, and progress that has been made as a result of the amazing leadership we’re bringing in, I find myself in awe of what excellence looks like, and in awe of how I basically had zero concept of the vision our executive team could bring to bear, and in such a short period of time. It’s a testament to their skill and experience that the company continues to live up to its promise, and exceed expectations.

The post isn’t really about what the people I get to work with are able to accomplish, other than to celebrate them as an example of high-achievers who serve as a horizon-broadening example of amazing vision, as well as what excellence and execution look like.

Instead, this blog post is mostly a way for me to publicly confess my own ignorance, in recognition of how much there is to learn. And then to remind myself that staying willing to learn means we can keep making progress day after day.

One of my beliefs is that if you have the ability to visualize something you want to achieve, then your mind has the capacity to achieve it. I don’t believe as humans we are able to conceive of things we cannot achieve. When we begin to recognize our own ignorance, it means we are beginning to identify the steps between where we are and where we want to be.

And as long as we don’t burn ourselves too bad along the way – and don’t crash $130,000 supercars – chances are, we’ll achieve what we’re after.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

 

 

 

Hiring a Social Media Rep? Here are 6 Qualities to Look For

Recently, I’ve had several folks ask me what it takes to hire someone to manage and direct their digital, social, and content marketing. They’ve been trying to hire someone who can naturally do the top of the funnel and branding work that connects markets with customers to companies with products.

I’m always really happy to get one of these questions, because sometimes the content and social can be ignored. Not every company realizes how much time is invested into developing a strong brand on social media. It’s just Facebook and Twitter, right? How hard is it to set up?

“Social” tends to have a problem developing credibility inside of a large organization. As  my friend Chris Heuer put it on Brian Solis’ blog recently:

“The problem [with calling it “social” business] is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit.”

I agree with the branding problem that the word “social” has in a professional environment. I constantly feel a cultural pull against calling anything I do “social media.” The word social doesn’t seem to endow my work with much credibility. What’s “social” about what happens in a successful, well-oiled company? Isn’t it serious business? Aren’t we supposed to sit quietly behind our cubicle walls and stare dutifully at our spreadsheets?

In the same blog post, Chris goes on and explains exactly what effective “social businesses” accomplish, and why cutting-edge companies see the value and are incorporating people who can execute these strategies into their ranks:

“By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization. By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with our peers and our clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo.”

Authenticity and transparency create trust with partners and clients. Social media gives organizations the means to connect readily with customers 24/7, and it turns out customers like being connected with the companies they buy things from.

Social media can become the front door for your organization. Every conceivable relationship, from support, to sales, to partnerships, to VIP relationships can and will begin on social media. Every tweet is an opportunity, and every like has significance.

But it takes a unique sort of person to thrive on managing the volume of interaction happening via those social channels. It’s hard to find a pre-existing job description that calls out to that person who wants to manage all those conversations.

Once Facebook and Twitter are set up, and you begin to build an audience, how should you begin to look for that communicator to put at the helm of your social presence? Here’s a list of qualities to look for in your Digital / Social Media / Community person to get you started.

1. Takes initiative to develop relationships

Social media is a channel where opportunities walk in the door all the time. Every person who interacts with your brand has their own following, their own relationships, and their own sphere of influence. In my career, Twitter has put me in contact with everyone from venture capitalists, Fortune 500 CEOs, influential bloggers. Done right, those initial interactions on social bring influential people in your front door to stay.

Because social media is a low-investment medium, it’s easier to begin a relationship on social than via email or a cold call. For example, 140 characters is “cheap” in terms of the opportunity costs for someone of influence to make contact with you, or for you to make contact with them.

140 characters takes 20 seconds to read – no big deal. On the one hand, that makes social a trivial medium, something you take as seriously as reality TV. On the other hand, because it’s a trivial medium, it’s easier for a potential customer to reach out than picking up the phone. And if you reach out to them, they’re less likely to ignore you, because, hell, it’s only 140 characters.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how social media can generate hundreds of tiny connections with your customers and your audience every day. That’s hundreds of tiny opportunities to connect with the folks who are the true lifeblood of your business – your customers. The best community people are born with an innate ability to take the smallest connection with an influencer,and turn it into a long-term relationship that benefits all involved. That’s the person you want at your organization’s front door.

2. Is a natural evangelist and self-promoter

A self-promoter is never off the clock. They’re always selling you on their new venture, or the new fad they’re into We all know that guy who never shuts up until you’ve tried whatever it is they’ve discovered that week.

A confession: In my social circles, I’m usually that guy.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about yerba maté, a South American tea that I drink instead of coffee. Maté has a number of health benefits that I obsessively researched, and shared in the blog post. I wanted to share the tea with my followers because I believe it’s superior than drinking coffee in almost every way, and I backed it up with evidence that I had after months of researching the tea when I first started drinking it.

In the month after I shared the blog post, two-dozen people tweeted and shared Facebook photos of themselves buying the brand of yerba maté I recommended to them. It was a simple post promoting a seemingly trivial part of my lifestyle, but I cared about sharing it with the readers of my blog, who took action and spent money based on my recommendation.

You want to find someone who naturally promotes the things that they’re passionate about. They can’t help but share things that they think are cool with everyone who will listen. If you have an amazing product, and customer experience, they won’t be able to sharing their passion about the company mission they get to be part of, and they’ll find ways to share it in almost every interaction that they have.

3. Is self-aware enough to build trust

The flip-side of being a good self-promoter is being self-aware. Self-awareness combats the negative connotation that comes with being known as a “self-promoter.” Usually the person who earns that title incessantly repeats the same elevator pitch to you every time you talk. They don’t know when to just shut up. You sort of hate them.

The truth is, effective promotion is rarely about being the loudest, or even the most persistent about delivering a message. The loudest, most incessant people on social media are the ones who get blocked the fastest.

In reality, the most successful self-promoters I know are aware that evangelizing an idea starts with developing trust first, and they know trust is earned over time. Earning your audience’s trust means when you recommend something, they’re likely to take you at your word. World-class community evangelists have a natural awareness of when to talk and when to listen. They *just know* when they’ve build up a cache of trust with your audience, and can ask for a testimonial, or send them to a salesperson.

4. Loves people…at scale

Social media, is just that: Social interactions, but at scale.

Over time your social media channels will become non-stop conversations. Everything from testimonials, to customer support, to sales questions, to partnership interactions will come in via social media. For a very long time, I’ve had all those interactions pushed directly to my smartphone. In effect, that means that every customer our organizations works with has the ability to text me 24/7. I love the work we do, so it doesn’t *feel* as much like work to me, but if you’re thinking “perish the thought” I don’t blame you.

Imagine 10,000+ customers, each of whom has a direct line to your cell phone. Social media doesn’t have a shut-off valve. You can’t clock out. If your customers can interact with your product 24/7, they’ll find a reason to tweet you 24/7.  Even when I’m technically “done for the day,” I keep my phone on me in case one of our customers needs help. I want to be there for them. The pre-eminent example of this is Rob La Gesse, who leads the customer support at Rackspace. He’s famous for giving out his cellphone number to customers on his Twitter profile. Frankly, I believe he sincerely loves every time they give him a call.

Life is too short to be the social media person and not love working with customers to ensure their success.

5. They know how to sell, but they don’t have a need to

Everyone needs to buy stuff, but nobody wants to be sold. If you can avoid dealing with a salesperson, you usually do. If there’s a self-service option, more and more customers will take it.  A recent study by Google and CEB found that today’s business buyers are making their way through 57% of the purchase process before they ever reach out to a sales person. That means Google is finding 57% of the information your customers need to buy rather than your sales team.

It doesn’t matter if the question is answered in a blog, or on Twitter, it just needs to be indexed in Google for a customer to find. But social media is almost never an appropriate place to close a sale, so the person manning the Twitter account needs to know the difference between “selling” and “helping someone buy.”

Content marketing and social media is essential to help potential customers answer their own questions, and qualify themselves as potential customers. This means that by the time your sales team ever connects with a prospect, your content and social team have had a huge opportunity to warm them up for the sale. Unless it’s an enterprise sale, by the time a customer calls in, they should have their credit card in-hand.

6. Their writing and “social work” shows up everywhere

The final thing to always look for in good community people is that they’re putting their work out there on the internet. If I were hiring someone to manage my social channels, and they didn’t have a decent body of work that you can find with a simple Google search, then I would immediately begin to question them.

This ties into the idea that your social media person should be a self-promoting sort of person. They’ve naturally got ideas, and the creative energy to launch them into the wild, you’re just harnessing and focusing that energy within your product.

So while you’re on Google, match the sort of work they naturally do with the social networks where your company needs to develop its presence.

If you’re doing technology sales, or have a need for social customer service, Twitter and Facebook are going to be two of your major networks. Look for their followings on both networks, and look for an active blog where you can evaluate their writing. If you’re a consumer brand, you’ll probably be on Instagram and Pinterest because those give you the best opportunity to showcase your products. Look for folks who have active accounts there. Each social network develops its own etiquette and social mores – the natives can tell when you’re new and when you’re native.

———–

I’m hoping to expand on this list in the next few months, so please feel free to weigh in with your own ideas and suggestions for what makes a good Social / Digital / Community evangelist. There needs to be a good resource for organizations looking to hire these folks, and for these folks who are looking to be hired.

And yes, if you disagree with any of the above, please do let me know as well.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

Relationship Remnants


As I was making breakfast this morning (I make a fairly consistent breakfast every day), I was struck by the fact that I basically inherited the contents of the food I was preparing from an ex-girlfriend. It seemed like a funny thing for me to continue carrying on from a previous relationship, but there I was preparing the same thing she would make for me. It’s a protein-heavy, paleo-inspired thing she concocted for me one weekend: turkey bacon, corn tortillas, spinach, and refried black beans. I loved it then, and I still love it today, breakup or no.

It’s not about the meal. The meal is trivial, but it’s a meal that is unmistakably her contribution to my life. And it’s a contribution that I revisit almost every day. I did not go to work or go about my business without carrying a piece of what she gave to me at every step.

It made me think that every relationship is like that. Every smile, intimacy and trust we share with someone creates trails of their gifts to us whether we like that or not.

The breakfast I make is unmistakably hers, and so I think about the relationship from time to time while it cooks. If it weren’t for those reminders, I’d not think to remember the past that way. As it stands, this morning, I got this picture of what my life looks like as a result of our time together. The meal is a symbol of a reality that I cannot escape. As painful as a breakup can be, and as much as you can sometimes hate a person or never want to speak with them again, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice all these pieces of what you shared lying around that you’re actually really happy to have. They remind you that the relationship was rich, and lots of it, you wouldn’t trade for almost anything.

Of course breakfast isn’t the thing I took away from being with her. It’s just a symbol of all the things I learned, but wouldn’t otherwise remember. I learned how to start loving myself then, but that’s not something any of us think about every day. I just notice that I’m a better person, and more at peace today than I was 2 years ago. I know how to express myself better in a fight. I’m not as quick to run away from my emotions.

There’s a million things like that, which represent the love we shared.

Listening to the bacon cook, I was taking this all in and thinking about the relationships that I have had and will have in my life. How will the women that I connect with continue to leave traces of themselves in my life. Will I be as pleased to discover them as I am to find hair on my pillow, or notes on my mirror? Will I look back on a particular event in a relationship and wish it gone completely? Will a mistake that I make turn every reminder into a dagger?

Of course, this is true not just for all of us, and not just the people we allow ourselves to fall in love with. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve made some amazing friends. They’ve all brought new things into my life, and I’m quite sure that I won’t recognize many contributions for what they are until I’m making a new breakfast or ordering a drink that someone introduced me to. And then that act will serve as a reminder of the part of that person that they gave freely.

All this made me realize that we never really know in advance what gifts someone will bring to us. And once those gifts have been given, it’s impossible for them to be taken back. That relationship has ended, and new ones have taken its place, and I’m the product of all of them along the way.

It’s a great mystery worth celebrating how someone will affect us. From the people we work with to the friends we get drunk with to the lovers we share intimate moments with.

As I was thinking about that, I realized that my heart was full and my life was beautiful. I had nothing to take for granted, but everything to share. Hopefully I’ll be remembered fondly along the way as well.

Hopefully we all will.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Presentation: Building Something your Users Want to Buy (Video)

This talk is a version of the post I wrote on Smashing Mag called “Building Something Your Users Actually Want to Buy.” It’s an application of Nir Eyal‘s Hooked Framework, using it to design a process to interview customers and validate a product idea prior to investing time and energy in development. It’s not a new idea, I’ve pulled from several very good sources, in addition to Nir to put the process together.

The basic idea is that habit-forming products like Facebook and Instagram send users through the same 4 step process over and over again on their way to becoming a part of the user’s life.

  1. The Trigger
  2. The Action
  3. Variable Rewards
  4. Commitment / Investment

The way that I’ve broken the Hooked Model down offers a repeatable process to evaluate how well a product idea will satisfy each of the four steps, and drive the user into multiple iterations of the model, and ideally bring them back to use your product happily again and again.

You can grab the slides here.

Drinking Yerba Maté over Coffee

 

Yerba Mate over Coffee

Che Guevara Knows

During college, I all but refused to drink coffee. The only exception I made was during finals week when I was pushing myself writing papers and taking exams. The rest of the year, I could spring out of bed as soon as my alarm went off, and I didn’t see the need for coffee.

Philosophically, I wanted to make sure I was using caffeine as a tool rather than a crutch. I figured that I’d get more out of my caffeine intake if I drank it only a few times a year. I’d consume it intensely during finals week and then suffer a mild headache for a day or two during winter break as I weaned myself back off.

I remember watching friends of mine at 18, 19, 20 years old nursing giant Starbucks cups every morning, and I thought it was lame to have what I thought at the time was a crippling addiction. Yes, it’s definitely a physiological addiction that I now share with my former classmates, but I find it a bit less crippling in hindsight.

Discovering Yerba Maté in South America

I maintained my “no caffeine” discipline until my second stint living in Latin America. In 2007, I spent 6 months in Santiago, Chile, and came back with a habit for the South American traditional tea, Yerba Maté. It wasn’t until I started drinking Maté that I finally succumbed to a caffeine habit. When I came back to the US, I had a few friends that I would drink Maté with who had also lived in South America, so I had the right social reinforcement to reinforce the behavior. I would get up in the morning, pack the Maté gourd with about an ounce of tea, wait for the water to boil, and then get to drinking it. I’d go through 2-3 32 oz thermoses of hot water, and 2-3 oz of tea every day.

And as I drank Maté more and more, I noticed that my memory and recall were increasing dramatically. My ability to remember and apply the research I was doing at the time for my senior honors thesis improved dramatically on the Maté. It was like somebody lent me 20 extra IQ points every time I brewed the tea.

Using the mental performance as a justification, I started letting Yerba Maté become a part of my life and my routine, and I got a bit obsessed about why I felt so much better drinking it than I ever did drinking coffee. I wanted to know why it was so much more effective. Turns out there are a series of ingredients in Maté that coffee just doesn’t have, including three different types of caffeines.

Nerdy Stuff: The Xanthine Stimulants

Caffeine belongs to a chemical subset of xanthines, organic chemical stimulants. There are three major sources of xanthines in a typical Western diet: coffee, tea, and chocolate.

  • Coffee has caffeine. Turns out, all caffeine does is keep you awake. It doesn’t actually help you think more clearly or anything of note. But if you need to feel awake, it will do the trick.
  • Chocolate has theobromine. Theobromine is the awesome stuff in chocolate that makes you feel somewhat euphoric after you eat some. It’s also a stimulant, and increases heart rate, but isn’t as addictive as caffeine, nor is it quite as extreme on your adrenal system.
  • Tea has theophylline. Theophylline is a strong mental stimulant that occurs in most teas, and does good things for your brain and ability to focus. Again, not as hard on your adrenal system.

The Unholy Stimulant Trinity

All three of those xanthines occur naturally in Yerba Maté. I like to say that it contains the unholy trinity of stimulants. One of the things that I noticed after drinking Maté for a while was that I never got jittery like I would when I drank too much coffee. If you drank too much Maté, you’d get amped up, but you could eat some carbs or drink a little red wine to tone it down pretty quickly. Maté made it really easy to control and optimize my physical and mental state. Plus, I could drink it all night while I was writing, and as soon as I was ready to sleep, it didn’t keep me awake.

Part of the reason that you don’t get jittery on the stuff is because it contains 15 amino acids and 24 vitamins and minerals. It’s nutritious, as far as stimulants go, which I feel like helps balance the stimulants out as they metabolize. The real money shot is that Maté contains significant levels of magnesium, which relaxes your muscle tissue. So while the xanthines are at work spiking your mind’s potential, and giving you pleasant feeling of dark-chocolate euphoria, the magnesium is working to relax your muscle tissue, driving stress from your body. You get the best of both worlds: an alert mind, as well as a relaxed body.

Yes. They do call Maté a superfood.

Today, I still make a big batch of Maté every morning. I stopped using my gourd a few years back because I got a fancy consulting job where I had to wear slacks and stuff every day, and they didn’t appreciate the international flavor of drinking Maté straight out of a gourd in the office. I started making it in a French Press and pouring in a big thermos that could just as easy hold coffee.

Today, I’ll fill the thermos with Maté and then add a tablespoon or two of local honey. It lasts between one hour and right up till lunchtime.

Addiction?

The best part is that I don’t have major addictive issues with Maté. If I don’t drink any for a few days, I don’t notice much of a headache until about the third day, and that lasts an hour or two. It makes it easy to cycle-on and cycle-off when I want to cleanse myself from caffeine. That also appeals to my philosophical need to not be chained to a chemical addiction that doesn’t add to my daily functioning.

Get it.

I have a couple of sources for Yerba Maté, and I typically mailorder it by the kilo(gram). No, the reason is NOT because it’s fun to have a package arrive and tell people that your kilos from South America have finally arrived.

Canarias from Amazon.com – This is far and away my favorite Maté brand. It’s a very traditional Uruguayan brand that is super full flavored. In college, I’d order about 50 lbs of this stuff at a time, and go through all of it in 3-4 months.

Nativa or Guayaki at Whole Foods – The link I’ve shared has Yerba Maté in a bottle, just like the iced coffees that Starbucks will sell you. I love those in a pinch when I can’t make my own tea. However, I’d still recommend you buy a big bag of it and make the Maté in a French Press. It’s easy and more cost-effective. A pound of espresso costs anywhere from $8-$15, and 2 pounds of Maté will run you about $12. The Maté will last you for a good bit longer than the espresso will, even if you drink as much as I do.

Don’t get me wrong. I love drinking espresso. When I’m out and about, or having an early breakfast with someone, you’ll see me drinking a cappuccino with my meal. After living in SF long enough, I’ve developed a taste for good coffee. Espresso is delicious, and Matè can be hard to find in most restaurants.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re a fellow Yerba Maté drinker. If you live in SF, we’ll have to get together and make a batch.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

Your customer experience begins on Twitter

Every time I go to a conference, there is a long list of people that I’m planning on meeting and connecting with for the first time. A big goal of every conference I attend is to create new relationships of value with folks in my industry, and I work hard to maximize that value by careful research before the conference starts.

Before I ever step foot at the conference venue and into physical proximity of those people I’m hoping to meet, I make a point of doing as much research as possible. This usually involves asking people in my network what they can tell me about those folks I plan to connect with. What are they like in person? What are their values? How much should I invest in them? And on.

Doing a bit of advance research makes it much easier to create real connections between folks that I look up to and want to collaborate with.

Of course, the other thing that I do is look them up on social media. What people share on Twitter and Facebook will tell you a lot about what they do and think. You can also get a sense for how much value they provide to their communities by the way they give back on social media. An online presence has become the new first impression, which is often simply confirmed when you actually meet in person.

We can spend 2o minutes on our computers doing research without ever having to talk to the person in real life. Social media is a frictionless way to get to know someone.

Your Brand’s First Impression is on Social

Of course, companies and brands make the same first impressions on social media, and consumers do the same online research. Doing a little research of a company on Twitter is easier than calling them up to talk with a sales rep. The sales rep is going to have an agenda, but the Twitter account isn’t. Customers want to learn about your company in the simplest way possible. As much as possible, they want to draw their own conclusions about whether or not to buy. Social media gives them this simple way to learn about your company before engaging your sales process.

It’s no wonder that, according to Google, customers have gone through 57% of the sales funnel before they ever engage a sales person. Today, customers have access to all sorts of information via their computers and smartphones that they had to engage a salesperson for a decade ago. This empowers customers them to test-drive the customer experience of your company without first becoming a customer.

In the same way that you or I want to do research on one another before we meet and greet at a conference, customers want to learn as much as possible about your company and your product before they even consider buying from you. And they want to learn about you out in the wild, where you can’t carefully control the experience and the message.

In other words, they want the honest truth about your company, not the party line.

This isn’t a trend that we can fight. Nor should we. In fact, as marketers (and we are all marketers in this age), we can seize this trend as an opportunity and provide breadcrumbs of content and digital marketing that make it easy for customers to build relationships with us from their first interactions on social media.

Customers are looking for information about us online. It’s our responsibility to give it to them. If we don’t someone else will.

Elements of your Customer Experience

There’s nothing worse than navigating over to a company’s blog or Twitter handle to find nobody is home. If that happens, people are likely to leave and not become customers.

You need to keep a constant stream of content flowing for them.

It’s important that you have a carefully produced strategy that articulates which aspects of your customer experience you want to share with your customers. You have the opportunity to highlight the best parts of doing business with you and nudge the customer closer to a sale with every tweet and every blog post. Here’s a few things you want shared in your digital marketing:

  1. Company Values - Now, more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that share their values. Make it painfully obvious what yours are, and you’ll draw the right customers in.
  2. The Support Experience – Companies have different styles of support, but consumers are increasingly taking to social media with support concerns before they ever pick up the phone or send an email. Make sure that you provide the same level of support on social that you do elsewhere.
  3. Thought Leadership – How is your company leading the innovation and growth in the marketplace? Keep a constant stream of blog posts coming that illustrate this.
  4. Community Engagement – Does your company give back to its community? Share those experiences on social media, and engage with key community members who are social media savvy as well.
  5. Humor – Social media is a fantastic place to let customers know your company has a healthy sense of humor, so let your hair down a bit.
  6. Your Product – Are you sharing content that is related to your product and its benefits? Relevant news surrounding your industry develops massive credibility over time. Fashion brands should talk about new releases; API Platforms should talk about industry developments; Open-source companies should share the latest community news.

Think about the different ways you can share this sort of content with your users, and the people in your company who are well-placed to produce this sort of content. It can make all the difference between a sale and striking out.

I remember the first time a girl I was dating told me her friends had decided to Google me after our second or third date. She told me the story with a bit of pride in her voice because when her friends put “Austin Gunter” into Google, they saw pages of results that had my face on them. My status went up immediately because I had already done the work to create breadcrumbs of “competency” that her girlfriends could follow to the obvious conclusion that I was a guy worth dating.

Of course, I’d done all that work to impress future employers, but I knew that it would work to impress future girlfriends as well. Now I had proof.

Go forth, Tweet, and impress your customers.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Life itself is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. Intellectually this is very frustrating.

Non-linear logic

To “make sense” has ordinarily meant to be definable in terms that are linear – logical and rational. But the process, and therefor the experience, of life itself, is organic – that is to say, nonlinear by definition. This is the source of man’s inescapable intellectual frustration.

-David R. Hawkins, M.D. PhD, from Power vs. Force, the hidden determinants of human behavior

There are two different ways that human beings draw conclusions. By deductive reasoning, which involves a step-by-step, sequential process of applying specific forms of logic to rationally arrive at a single conclusion based on observable evidence and “facts.” We may also arrive at conclusions via inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning springs upon us in the shower, or somewhere between the first gin and tonic and the second. It’s the sort of reasoning that happens completely out of order, at the unconscious level. We are aware of the truth of our conclusion, but sequential backtracking may not happen immediately.

Those among us who one might describe as intuitive are familiar with the second form of reasoning, and the frustrations that come along with trying to explain something when the rationale behind an idea arose from the ether.

Malcolm Gladwell’s research in his book, Blink, describes this phenomenon of when we arrive at the conclusion in an instant, and then must spend arduous months retracing our steps to find proof.

As people in business, I find that deductive proof is often the most valuable currency available to us in meetings and business deals. Despite this reality, however I spend hours every week meditating. Sometimes my brain surprises me with great ideas when I’m least expecting it.

Finding my feet again

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Tonight, I went and saw a movie by myself. A lot has been going on in the past few months, and I needed to find some solace and take refuge in my old friend, The Cinema.

After the movie, instead of heading straight home, the action a painful limp had forced me to do since moving to SF, I started walking. I walked until my head was clear and my emotions had peacefully walked themselves out.

Maybe you relate to this. Since I can remember, I’ve taken walks to clear my head and center myself. Being able to walk your thoughts out is one of the best ways to untangle all the thoughts in your head.

Like a huge ball of string, my thoughts unwind themselves with each step. Each mile we walk is a mile willing to accept our baggage and our burdens. Our feet carry us great distances while our minds work out the problems of today, preparing us for tomorrow.

Except, for the past 8 months, I’ve had an ankle that limited me to where I could take a cab or drive my car. I was able to travel from place to place, but I didn’t realize I had been unable to unburden my mind with my feet.

This is the second time in my life that I’m teaching myself to walk again. The first time was at 16, after having my hips replaced, and now again at 26, after ankle surgery.

I’m either unlucky that I had to go through the trouble three times, or lucky that I had the chance to make sure I learned everything I could from the process.

Learning how to walk again is a hard-fought battle. It also comes with a new lease on life. When you suddenly can walk again, it’s like the world opens up in a completely new way. That feeling is worth every halting step. Worth walking with a cane. Worth embracing what may be a lifelong limp that starts in my mid-20s.

A limp that means I always got back on my feet. That’s something to be proud of.

I stopped to write and to remind myself that it’s worth it. The combination of words and footfalls that signal where I’ve been. Words and steps that sometimes fall shakily, but help me move forward. Other than a slight limp, this blog post will be the only marker of this part of the journey.

Find the thing that hobbles you. And then find the strength it offers you.

Accept it. Then take the next step.

Content Marketers, heres a simple trick to make your content easier to share Buffer

I share a ton of content using Buffer on a weekly basis. Spending an hour or two combing through blog posts to stock up my Buffer queue is just part of my weekly routine. In particular, WP Engine shares a lot of content, primarily on Twitter (follow us!), but we’ve branched out to several other social networks as well. Today on the WP Engine blog, I published a short post about how to make your blog posts a bit more sharable on Buffer by adding your Twitter handle to the <title> tag of your blog posts.

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When you share content on Buffer, it first takes the content from the <title> tag of your blog posts, and auto-populates it along with the link to your blog post when you click the Buffer button.

That information is pulled from the <title> tag in your site, which is defined by your SEO plugin (in WordPress). By default, the <title> tag of individual posts will have the post title and the name of your site. You can force those to be re-written with anything you like, including your Twitter handle so that when people share your content on Twitter, they automatically mention you.

If you want to build up a Twitter following, then the small details like this make it easier for people to share your content and give you attribution. If you get more attribution, you get more followers.

When someone I follow shares a post that I love on Twitter, they’ve just exposed me to a potential new blogger that I may want to follow. If it’s a great blog post, I search for the original author’s Twitter profile, but most of the time I have to search for the author’s Twitter handle. But if it’s auto-populated in every tweet, then it’s simple to find the author and follow them.

If you want to make the change to your title tag, the process is simple. You can read how to edit your SEO plugin to change the <title> tag on the WP Engine blog today.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Email isn’t people. Email is one way people get a message across. And it’s over-saturated.

If Email Is People, Can I Mark You As Spam?

Whitney Hess wrote an interesting piece about email today. She was responding to the tide of “email is the worst,” and the “stop checking email so much” manifestos that have populated the internet like Inbox Zero and GTD.

Her thesis was the following:

I want to stop the email slander. Instead I want to recognize it for what it is: the people who make up my life. Best friends, strangers, colleagues, role models, mentees, prospects. Even the bills, even the mailing lists, even the surveys! There are human beings behind every one of them. Regardless of intention, regardless of quality, regardless of relevance — there they are, right in front of me.

So let’s embrace email. Let’s embrace each other. And respond.

While I understand where Whitney is coming from, I disagree with the conclusion. Email isn’t people. I agree that most of the time, we owe people the respect of a response when they take the time to reach out to us in most communication forms. It’s important to never lose touch with the people that surround us, and that means staying in communication. That means responding.

But email isn’t people. We can’t treat email the same way we treat our friends or or coworkers or our significant others. That’s a trap.

Email is simply one way (out of many) people have learned to communicate with one another. Not all ways of communicating are equal. And, depending on the context, we prefer that people communicate with us in certain ways over others.

For example, we don’t yell at our significant others all day because it’s disrespectful and emotionally draining. In fact, we modulate our voices a lot based on the context of the exchange. Everything from a whisper to a normal voice is fair game depending on the context and the message.

The medium of communication is intrinsic to the message. Sweet nothings are whispered, not shouted, because they are more intimate that way.

That’s an extreme example to establish that people have a lot of nuanced ways to communicate with one another. The internet is simply an expression of that. We have as many ways of communicating digitally as we do with our body language and our voice.

Think about it.

We don’t send an hour’s worth of text messages when one 5 minute phone call will do. And we don’t write on a Facebook wall something that was private between two people. I don’t tweet you to ask if you want to go on a date, and you don’t send a fax to ask me if I want fries with that.

Let’s say that two people were sending each other sexy photos as part of their flirtation. That goes somewhere like Snapchat or Pair, not on HackerNews, right?

There’s a context for every communication, and a proper medium for every message.

So back to email. Email is just one form of communication people use to get a message across. It’s one form among many.

Where email went wrong was it became the go-to for too many different types of messages, not all of which have the same value or urgency. Email is all the things. Email is everything from appointment reminders to contract proposals to technical questions to “can you help me with my startup?” to “please pay your credit card bill.”

Not all of those are of equal import. Not all of those deserve a response every time.

To keep up with all the messages, we have to be more efficient with our emailing habits, and train the people who email us to help us with that. That means brevity, and not answering emails when the email probably shouldn’t have been sent in the first place.

The volume and diversity of messages we receive via email is incompatible with the amount of time we should spend on email in a day. If we were to spend tons of time with each email, we’d lose touch with all those other ways we connect with people. And those other ways of communicating, like talking, are much more powerful methods of connecting with people than email will ever be.

The problem isn’t that we’re disrespectful of one another via email if we don’t respond to everything. Sometimes no response IS the response. The problem is that email still needs some innovation to add context to the medium so that the inbox cues us to the importance of a message. Email has a ton of potential to be nuanced and subtle, but it needs to give us more to work with than an inbox and some folders.

People aren’t email. We can’t simply “archive” our friends, or “mark unread” and come back to them later.

Well, we could, but they might not stay friends with us very long.

And we can’t treat every person in our life the same way either. Our close friends get more attention than people we don’t know. Some people deserve a response, and sometimes the best choice is to not respond to someone and simply move on with our day.

People are people. Email is a fledgling way that people connect with each other.

Email needs to adapt to us. Not the other way around.