Saturday, April 12, 2014

Maximizing Exposure on Social Media

Many businesses and nonprofits have recognized the value of social media. Many launch into social media blindly believing that all that is needed is to build a Facebook Page or a Twitter account and start posting what is important to them. A few months go by and the individual tasked with managing their social media presence starts asking "Why aren't we getting more likes on our Facebook Page?" and "Why aren't we getting more Twitter followers?" The answer I have come to learn is they did not stop and learn the medium before they attempted to begin utilizing it.

In his book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, Gary Vaynerchuk says, "On Facebook, the definition of great content is not the content that makes the most sales, but the content that people most want to share with others." Facebook does not display everything everyone posts. Nor does Facebook display everything to you from a page you have liked. Facebook has a super secret and ever changing algorithm for determining what content it will display in your news feed from the pages you like and the people you have friend'ed. And the algorithm determined what to display on your news feed by analyzing what posts you have liked and shared. So if you like and share several posts from one company's Facebook page, the algorithm will provide you more of that company's content in your news feed. With that information in hand, someone managing a business or nonprofit's Facebook page should consider not only the message they want to disseminate to the masses, but first what message would the most people like and share? Because posting content that people will like and share gains their Facebook page a higher ranking in the super secret algorithm and gains them maximum exposure. Maybe every post should not be the message the organization is trying to communicate to the target market. Maybe some posts should be something inspirational that the masses will like and share.

At the same time, keep in mind that Facebook is a visual medium. A simple all text post will get significantly less likes and shares compared to a post utilizing a photo. No wonder Twitter has gone to showing a preview of graphic images used in Twitter posts! Utilizing a graphic or photograph that visually supports the organization's message is the most effective means of communicating a message in Facebook. Additionally, anything that a viewer would be inclined to share will help achieve maximum exposure. Watch your own Facebook usage. How many coupons or giveaways have you shared when you saw them in your Facebook news feed? How many beach sunset pictures have you shared that had a company logo or website in the bottom corner? Somewhere there was an organization's Facebook page manager saying, "Thank you for sending my message to your 500 friends."

Additionally, drop the "its all about us" mentality. Begin to adopt a mentality that helping partner organizations, clients, and followers is good for everyone. Stop talking your following and start talking with them. Make your social media presence a conversation. Look at what is important to your followers- what they are saying. Your organization might not have any interest in the Academy Awards, but if the people following your Twitter account and the people that have liked your Facebook page are chatting furiously about what is going on at the Academy Awards, it might be wise to watch the awards show and get involved in the conversation. Arby's did this very thing this year during the Grammys and it paid off for them a million fold.
See on Twitter

Arby's Social Media Manager, Josh Martin, noted Pharrell's hat looks like the one Arby's has used as their logo for years and commented on Twitter. “When I saw so many people mentioning us in relation to the hat, I thought it was a great opportunity to jump into the conversation,” Martin later explained. It was not a message to sell roast beef sandwiches or to motivate followers to the drive-thru window. It was a post relevant to what Arby's customers were watching and talking about at that moment. By the next morning, that post has been retweeted 75,000 times and liked 40,000 times. But it did not stop there. Pepsi's Twitter account quoted it and said "#Win", shoving the Arby's post to all of Pepsi's followers and Hyundai quoted it and said, "Well Played" which shoved the Arby's post to all of Hyundai's followers. It gained enough exposure that Pharrell saw it and responded, "Y'all tryna start a roast beef?" Arby's came away looking fun and relevant to its followers and a host of people who were not following Arby's. Recognizing the success of the media hoopla that followed this single Twitter post, Arby's then bought Pharrell's hat in the subsequent eBay auction for $44,100 with proceeds going to a charity, From One Hand to Another. When the dust settled, Arby's gained 6,000 new followers due to that single posting. 

Trying to increase the exposure of an organization in social media? I highly recommend checking out Gary Vaynerchuk's blog, reading his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, and check out Relational Equity and owner Van Baird


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Devil Walks in Mattingly - Billy Coffey



I will not make any bones about it. I have become of fan of Billy Coffey's writing. Maybe partly because his novels are set in the rural countryside of Virginia, and I can relate to the setting having grown up in rural South Georgia. But I believe the quality of his writing is a much bigger part. I have reviewed his latest novel, The Devil Walks in Mattingly for Bookwi.se

You can my review here: My Review at Bookwi.se.

You can get your copy here: The Devil Walks in Mattingly at Amazon.com

Read more about Bill Coffey here: BillyCoffey.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stepping Out In The Great Unknown



Last Monday we had a called full staff meeting. Once everyone was assembled,  our office's project manager called our company's headquarters and one of the corporate VPs came on the line to announce our office would be closing permanently at the end of August. Many in the room were shocked. I was not one of them. I have learned over the years to pay close attention to the small details and to read the signs.

In the last 14 years, I have survived two small businesses where I was employed collapsing. Unfortunately, they were consecutive jobs. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. But both of those experiences taught me a great deal including the tell-tale signs to notice. Both of these situations also taught me lessons in faith much like the lessons learned through surviving divorce. 

After the second small business collapse and subsequent layoffs, it took awhile to find another job. The concerns regarding paying the mortgage, child support, and all of the other bills felt like a huge mill stone hanging around my neck. But a gracious God provided for us while I sought a new job. I took side jobs from three consulting firms during my unemployment, and it was always enough at the last moment. And after the financial losses from walking through divorce, the prospect of starting over from scratch did not seem as intimidating as it had in the past.

While this is not a small business collapse, my past experience allowed me to recognize this office closing several months ago. And though I do not have a new job lined up, I have used the time leading up to Monday's announcement to prepare and had begun the job search process. Now is the tough but familiar part - the waiting and the sense of the unknown. 

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
- Tom Petty

As I think about the weeks and months that lie ahead of us,  I can picture that scene from Indiana Jones. He is standing at the very edge looking down into an abyss. He draws a deep breath,  looks straight ahead, and takes a huge step out into nothing. And to his surprise, he finds himself fully supported. It is a familiar feeling. I have been here before, and although I would rather not be here again, I know the one the cares for me holds me in the palm of his hand.

So I wait...

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" 
Matthew 6:25-27

-Peace

Allen

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Host of Golden Daffodils

It's been a bitterly cold winter in the Metro Atlanta area including the much publicized snow and ice Apocalypse. It was a warm 44F today, and we had to get outside and enjoy some natural serenity. And there is no better place than Gibbs Gardens for that kind of decompression. Here are a few pictures to help bridge you to spring's eventual arrival and a poem by Wordsworth.

Photo credits: The Author

Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Photo credits: The Author


Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Photo credits: The Author

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

Photo credits: The Author

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 
- William Wordsworth

Photo Credits: The Author

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Questioning Our Priorities



I have set and watched the ongoing saga/debate of gay marriage and now state legislation to allow businesses to refuse service to individuals based on their sexual preferences for months. And honestly,  I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and money that is being poured into it all. I have to wonder if it is necessary and if it is as much of a priority to God as it is to some of the folks heavily involved who call themselves doing His work. For years preachers have refused to marry people if they did not agree with the situation. I know of preachers refusing to marry couples they did not think were prepared for marriage and because one or the other was divorced. I do not recall anyone getting sued over it.

And further, it seems like much of the argument has come down to comparing sins. My studies of the Bible have concluded that sin is sin. There is no big and little sin. One is not worse than another, and God hates ALL sin. Lust, gluttony, adultery, lying, cheating, and yes homosexuality are all equal. Unfortunately as humans, we can accept our sins and ignore them as slight indiscretions,  but we are repulsed by the sins of others.

Andy Stanley said in an interview (read it here) this month on the subject of the legislation to allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual persuasion that if we wanted to be like Jesus then we would serve everyone because that is what Jesus did when He was here. He served everyone - thieves, prostitutes,  lepers. I cannot argue with that point. And "Christians" have questioned his theology and want to stone him for making that statement. Sorry, but I cannot join in on that campaign, because Jesus proclaimed love not public stoning.

Read the story of the woman caught in adultery: 

John 8:2-12
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

He did not stop the stoning because it was an acceptable sin. He stopped it because of His love and forgiveness for her. And He called out the crowd and encouraged the sinless to throw the first stone which demonstrated that He saw all sin the same.

My question is this: Are our priorities and agendas in line with God's priorities?

What is REALLY more important? How do we ignore modern day slavery and families starving all around us while fighting same sex marriage? Right now there are 27 million people in slavery worldwide including the United States.  Read about it here: CNN and here: EndItMovement

Right now in the United States 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger. That is more than 49 million Americans starving all around us.  Read about it here: FeedingAmerica. In Forsyth County where I live, approximately 11,000 children get one meal a day - school lunch.

How can we ignore these types of situations and spend our time, energy, and money on same-sex marriage?

Aren't we commanded to?

Matthew 25:37-40
 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Isaiah 1:17

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

 What could be accomplished if those resources were focused on hunger and modern day slavery in the United States? If Jesus was walking the earth today, which would He be addressing? Are our priorities properly aligned with His?

-Peace
Allen

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Begging for Garbage



Monday was a federal holiday and observed by my day job which gave me a day to address things for the nonprofit. I had received a request from an individual that worked for a local chain restaurant. They were dismayed by all the food being thrown away each evening and wanted us to talk to them about donating the food. So I drove down and asked to speak with the manager. I introduced myself, explained what our organization does, and explained the need in our community.   He called his supervisor,  had a brief conversation and then told me I would have to contact corporate marketing department. I returned home and filled out a generic contact form on their website. I sat and marveled at the difficulty of getting a business to quit throwing away food and instead receiving a tax deduction and helping struggling families in their community.

I cannot count the number of these conversations I have had over the last three years. The responses are incredible.  Liability concerns despite federal and state laws that protect food donors from any liability claims. Concerns that employees will intentionally waste more food to increase donations. Concerns that it will take too much extra effort to donate. The popular response is that their management team carefully monitors inventory and usage and they have absolutely zero waste.

Last month we received a phone call from an anonymous individual that works for a local grocery store chain. They had seen a newspaper article about our organization's work to eliminate hunger in our community and daily watched hundreds of pounds of food going in the dumpster. So I drove to the grocery store and asked to speak with the manager. I spoke to one of the managers who told be the Food Bank picked up all of the meat and an area church picked up all of the bread weekly and "everything gets donated and picked up". I smiled and thanked her for her time all the while knowing they daily throw away cut fruit and vegetables.

I am dumbfounded on the insistence of business owners, operators, and managers that continue to throw away perfectly edible food everyday like clockwork. Don't believe me, pick a restaurant and sit in the parking lot at closing time and watch the cheeseburgers,  chicken fingers, hot wings, heads of lettuce, cut fruit, and pizzas being thrown in dumpsters 55 gallon bags at a time.

I have to admit I find it frustrating, and it causes me to question why I continue to struggle with it all. But then I remember the 16,740 adults and 11,000 children in our community that are struggling with hunger and deserve someone to work to help them. I remember the volunteers at over 29 churches who spend countless hours trying to help these struggling families that deserve some help and support. This weekend, our campus pastor Clay Scroggins delivered a message "Choose to Lose". In it, he said that when we are doing what we are called to do, it often feels like losing, but that choosing to lose is exactly what Jesus did for us. He chose to lose for our sake. That was a pretty timely message that hit home with us.

-Peace

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Pressure Is On


(Image Source: foodmatters.tv)
It was just another one of those routine medical checkups. The kind I would just as soon avoid. I have enough going on I really do not need another appointment on my agenda, but I agree to make these albeit begrudgingly. So here I sat on the end of the exam table that is too short to lie down on unless a medically trained professional pulls out that silly extension for my feet. I peruse a two year old copy of Car and Driver while I wait in the bleak solitude. Soon a 20 something nurse pops in the room that seems just a little too happy for a doctor's office and begins the inane battery of questions. How are you feeling today? Are you getting plenty of rest?  Exercise? I can hear Charlie Brown's teacher, "waa waa waa". She takes my blood pressure which has always been a textbook example of 120/80, but apparently not today. She deflates the cuff, furrows her brows, and seems to suddenly lose her effervescence. "I'm going to try this again", she says. As a former volunteer firefighter/EMT, I see this as pointless. She is just going to get the same result a second time. And as I expected, her effervescence does not return. Apparently my blood pressure is high today. Swell. One more thing for me to worry with everyday. Peachy.

The nurse disappears out the door. I imagine her scurrying the intricate maze of hallways in search of her lost fountain of happy. A few more minutes of flipping through the tattered pages of the obsolete new car reviews and my doctor enters the room. He reviews the notes that Nurse Rainbows and Unicorns entered into the computer and comes over and picks up the blood pressure cuff. Here we go again. "Hmmm", I hear him mutter. He elects to take it in my other arm. Still no difference. He gives me a talk about dangling my arm and takes another reading with identical results. Finally,  he tosses in the proverbial towel and tells me that he is going to prescribe me blood pressure medication. Great.

A few weeks go by and I develop an irritating dry cough. At my next appointment,  I mention the cough to the doctor who immediately recognizes it as a side effect of the medication and changes me to another prescription. In the meantime, I decide that I need to see if I can work myself off the medication altogether. My charming wife recommends alterations to my diet and drinking more water. I begin to consider factors contributing to the levels of stress that I operate under daily. I identify several stressors not all under my control. I begin what I now refer to as my stress reduction diet. Getting up early, staying up late, and surviving on 4 or 5 hours of sleep was my norm developed when I was racing. I read somewhere that you really need 6-8 hours of sleep for ideal health and wellness. I decide we could start shooting for 6 and work from there. We begin walking three times a week. I begin to evaluate my job and other activities as well as my calendar noting what activities are essential and what can be eliminated.


I begin to consider decompression weekends and three day holidays where I can unplug from ringing cellphones, twitter, facebook, 5 email accounts, and text messages. One trip is a 5-mile hiking venture in the Appalachian mountains to an inn that is beyond cellphone and data service reach. Add a one week vacation at the beach with no preplanned agenda. Just five days of sleeping late, walking on the beach, and sitting in swings enjoying the view. I begin evaluating relationships. If there is nothing but drama and nothing positive coming from the relationship,  I need to remove myself from it for my better health and welfare.

The hypertension or high blood pressure diagnoses came almost three years ago. Six months ago my doctor took me off blood pressure medication completely. Last week I was in for an annual physical. My blood pressure was 114/80 with no meds. I share this story not to brag but to encourage. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension,  do not give up or lose hope. Begin to evaluate the stressors in your life and determine the ones you can change or eliminate. Start making the changes that can lower your stress levels. Start taking an annual vacation. Start taking occasional weekends away and unplug. You can manage your stress and lower your blood pressure.

-Peace

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Atlanta Snowapocolypse

You have probably read or seen video on the news of the events of the last few days in the Atlanta Metro area. Here is how it happened in my life.

Tuesday started like any other day. I woke up at 5:30 AM and was on the road for my 42 mile commute just before 6. It was fairly cold, and I had dressed according. The National Weather Service had issued a Severe Winter Weather Watch for our area and a Severe Winter Weather Warning for areas South of Atlanta. When I checked things before I headed out on my commute, I noticed they had revised their forecasts to include snow further North including Atlanta. Around 11 AM I noticed light snow flakes falling outside my office window. At Noon, I went downstairs to the food court area for lunch and sat and watched it snow. It was cold enough that the snow was sticking on canopies on the outside face of the building and the wind was picking up. I remembered in 1986 when I had first moved to Atlanta from college that my coworkers told me about a winter storm that quickly moved into the Atlanta area shutting down roads leaving people stranded in their cars. I also remembered two years ago when the weather folks forecasted rain followed by freezing temperatures and snow. It did just that and shutdown the entire metro area because after the rain no one felt it important to spread salt or sand. So, the roads froze over with a solid thick sheet of ice and everything was closed for three straight days. I wondered how much snow we would get and how it would effect my commute. I was thankful that I was to get off at 3:30 PM instead of 5 like a lot of other people.

When I returned to my office, I noticed the traffic outside my window on 14th Street and Juniper Street was unusually heavy and slowly moving if at all. I walked over to the other side of our office and looked out at 14th Street as it leads to the on-ramp for I-75. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see. I looked down Peachtree ST and the two North bound lanes were at a standstill. I hope the traffic dissipates before 3:30 PM, I thought. My co-workers started telling me about school closings around 1 PM. Soon after I received an email that the management office for our building was closing. My supervisor called and said she was trying to get permission to close our office by 2 PM. I thought it would not be helpful as all the streets around our building were choked with traffic. Where would we go? A couple co-workers left early to try to pick up their children from school as the schools had called to notify them they were closing.

 
 
(pictures taken at 1:28 PM, Tuesday January 28, 2013)


2 PM came and went without an office closing email. I walked back and looked out onto Peachtree ST. It was now jammed in both North and South directions. I went back to my office and pulled up Google maps to try to evaluate my options. Every major highway or Interstate that ran towards my home was solid red. I knew that it would be useless to try to travel on Peachtree ST, and I assumed I needed to avoid the intersection where GA 400 and I-285 crossed as it was always difficult on late afternoons, Fridays or Holidays and today would be worse. Google maps confirmed that for me. I continued to hope that all of the traffic that had begun the commute at 1 PM would begin to dissipate before I left. I considered some alternate routes in my head, but Google continued to show me that they were not viable alternatives.

At 2:45 PM, we were notified the office would close promptly at 3 PM. A quick glance out the window confirmed my worst fears. Traffic had not improved in two hours. I checked the exit from the parking deck and cars were lined up trying to get onto Peachtree, but no one was letting them out. When we were dismissed, I made my way to the parking deck and prepared for a long night. I have left at 4 PM and 5 PM before and those days had turned into 2 hour commutes. I guessed this might be more like 3 or even 4 hours. Instead of leaving the parking deck as I normally would via Peachtree ST., I headed down a level to the 14th ST. exit. As I exited the parking deck, I could see 14th was at a standstill going towards Peachtree, so I turned the other way and headed towards Piedmont. My original plan was to turn onto Peachtree Circle and re-intersect Peachtree ST  several blocks further North to try and avoid some of the traffic. At a long redlight, I fired up Google Navigation on my Samsung S4 Android smartphone. I entered my home address and set options to avoid interstates and to select the fastest route considering traffic.

Piedmont was pretty congested as we crawled past Piedmont Park at 9 mph, but we were moving, and I found comfort in that fact. After a few miles, I noticed that Google was taking me a different route than I had considered in my head. I elected to stick with navigation as opposed to my own guesses. After all, the I had no idea on traffic. Within an hour I was merging onto GA 13 a route I often use. But navigation was telling me to merge onto I-85N. This sounded like a really bad idea to me. One, I-85 was really out of the way to me and Two, it was always slammed with traffic whenever I have been on it. But again, I yielded to navigation this time holding my breath expecting to find a parking lot. I was surprised to find traffic moving. At 25 mph, but again, at least it was moving. There was snow on both sides of the road but traffic was keeping a path mowed in each lane. Navigation showed it was going to have me exit in about 6 miles, so I settled in to stay in the two right lanes and prepare to exit the interstate in a few exits. Just a couple miles before the exit, navigation alerted that if had found a quicker route and asked if I would like to change routes. I clicked yes, and it instructed me to stay on the interstate for 20 miles. This really made me uncomfortable, but I decided to stick with it. As I merged onto I-985, I was surprised to find virtually no traffic at all. I cruised along at highway speed until the exit for GA 20. I noted the temperature was now around 24F and ice was forming at the base of my windshield. I knew this meant the road and bridges would be icing up.

GA 20 between Buford and Cumming has several bridges and stoplights at the top of hills. I figured this could be the highest probability of problems. I caught a red light at the top of the hill at Windermere. I was second car in light behind a Dodge Charger, and the left lane was open. I quickly thought the Charger was rear wheel drive and would probably have issues getting off the light. So, as I slowly approached the red light, I changed into the left lane. When the light turned green, I felt tire spin and the front of my front wheel drive danced a little. The traction control kicked on, I did a little counter steering to maintain my lane, and I was moving forward. When I had regained traction I looked in my mirror to see the Charger still trying to get moving and a line of traffic behind it. They would be losing this road in another hour I thought and there were several more hills ahead of me. I encountered a few more ice patches and continued to keep moving. I finally reached the intersection of GA 20 and GA 400. I elected to get onto 400 North as my wife had informed me she had come through there about 30 minutes earlier and 400 North was navigable. The ramp to 400 was icy and barely had detectable tire tracks, but I managed to maneuver onto 400. 400 Traffic was heavy and moving around 15 mph. As looked far ahead I could see two DOT trucks spreading sand and traffic slowly following. I reached our home and was grateful. I realized that another hour and most of the roads would be impassible. My 42 mile commute had taken just over 2 hours.

As I watched the news, read Facebook status updates, and texted co-workers, I began to learn that folks that had left work before me had gotten stuck behind wrecks and had not gotten home yet. One friend who left at 1 PM who lives near us ended up getting home at 7 PM after driving 400 from downtown all the way up. Another co-worker ended up 9 hrs to make a 30 mile commute. People were sleeping in cars. Folks were running out of gas and walking to gas stations, grocery stores, and even Home Depot for a warm place to find shelter. One friend of our daughter works for a Daycare center that sits on a hill. The parents could not get up the hill to pick up their children, so several employees spent the night with the children. Several schools could not get school buses to school and the children ended up sleeping in the gym. Some school buses got stuck on the iced roads and children ended up sleeping in the school bus overnight. So many schools closed at the same time and so many offices closed at the same time that millions of cars hit the roads, highways and interstates and overwhelmed the roadways. Before traffic could work itself out, the roads began to freeze, ice developed and vehicles spun out, wrecked, and became stuck. Salt and sand trucks could not treat the roads due to all the cars and the huge traffic jam.

By morning, there were cars abandoned on the sides of roads and highways all over the metro-area and some even abandoned in the middle of roadways. Probably the greatest thing that came of all of this mess was how social media engaged. Someone started a group on Facebook called "SnowedOutAtlanta". It amassed 55,655 members. The group was launched with this purpose "Post here details of who needs help and where. Also please post details of where people can get help from". People began posting where friends and family were stuck needing help. Others began posting offering room in their homes. People went out on four-wheel ATVs to carry people to gas stations. Others went out with sandwiches, bottles of water, and hot chocolate. The people of the metro Atlanta area took in complete strangers and provided them with food, dry clothing, and shelter.

-Peace

Monday, January 27, 2014

Authentic Community vs Lip Service - The Outsiders

video link: http://youtu.be/x54Md1puim4


First the disclaimer. I am not calling any organization out directly, and I will not reveal where this happened so do not bother asking. K?

Everywhere we turn these days we hear people talking about building community. Churches, fraternities, sororities, civic clubs, even subdivisions. Sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means.
I attended a large meeting the other day. When the doors to the meeting room opened,  I was one of the first through the door. The door holder said to me, "How about going over to the other side of the room." I understood the request as people tend to plop down at the table closest to the door and late comers have to wiggle to the far side of the room to find an open table. So I graciously complied.

People continued to file into the room filling tables passing by me and occasionally greeting me as they passed. After a few minutes,  I noticed that no one was sitting down at the table where I was seated despite me knowing several of those filing past me and speaking. After about 10 minutes a member of the host team walks up and asks me to move to another table. Maybe there is something wrong with my internal wiring,  but that just hit me wrong. I felt like I needed to apologize for sitting at the wrong table or perhaps for no one liking me enough to bother sitting with me. I did a quick sniff check. Yeah my deodorant was still holding up. I did not know everyone that had entered the room behind me, so I can not accept that I am such a jerk no one wanted to be stuck sitting with me. But there I was, and now it was my responsibility to get up and go find a table of folks to sit with that had made the choice not to sit with me originally. "Why would I do that?"  I thought. If they chose not to sit with me when they came in, they obviously are not going to be real welcoming if I get up and walk over and sit down with them. Maybe the events of the last several days made me hypersensitive to it all. I cannot say for sure. But I can tell you I hated the feeling. I hated the feeling of being ostracized and rejected, but then to be asked to correct it just seemed really wrong. 

I stood up. I looked around the room of tables filled with people happily chattering away and realized I was not welcome and could show myself to the door. I pulled on my jacket and headed for the door. Not a single word was spoken to me as I crossed the room and made my exit. I have seen this play out before and I'm sure I will experience it again. Maybe they were all just so caught up in their conversations they never noticed me sitting there beginning to feel like the last kid picked for a softball team in grade school. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe they did not notice me bolt for the door. I do not know. But I do know this: I do not stay somewhere that I do not feel welcomed and neither will your volunteers or clients.

If we are going to create authentic community, we have to be intentional. True, I could have obeyed and got up and moved. I have at least partial blame in this whole deal. Who knows, I might have gotten a warm reception at another table. But when you are feeling rejected, do you want to risk more of the same? At the same time, any 3 or 4 of the hundreds of people that walked passed me could have just as easily sat down with me.  

My take away from this experience is this: I plan to watch for folks alone when I walk into a big rooms in the future and go sit down with them. Is not that true community? Seeking out the folks that do not seemed to be in the clique and making them feel welcome? Would you consider joining me?

-Peace

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Customers



I never really thought I would write on this topic, but for some reason it keeps bubbling up so I give. I owned and operated a computer consulting firm for several years in the 1990s. It literally was launched in the living room of our rural farmhouse and before all was said and done grew into a computer store with three employees. There were a lot of lessons learned through that experience. Yes, there are some people you will encounter that you cannot afford to have as customers. People that no matter what you do, you will never be able to please.  It is their problem not yours.

Despite that issue, I continue to run into entrepreneurs who have no value for their customers - any of them. It reminds me of a friend who her and her husband operated an ice maker sales and service business and a story she shared. She walked into a local store and after a few minutes of browsing, a sales associate practically knocked her down in his haste. Her response? "Young man, you need to recognize something. I am a customer. I represent income. You represent expense. Check with your manager and see which one they value most."

As managers, business owners, and organizational leaders, we should never lose site of her point. Unfortunately in the hustle and bustle of the daily demands, we forget it. Every time I walk into a restaurant that is busy and the host or hostess begins to lead us to a table, invariably someone on the wait staff busy serving the customers at their assigned table will try to run over me. My value to them will only change if I am seated at one of their tables, and they begin to want me to tip. But what is my motivation to reward your service if you tried to knock me down 10 minutes ago?

To ever achieve success in any organization,  the people we serve have to feel valued. It is safe to assume that I do not feel valued by the wait staff that tries to knock me down on my way to a table. Communication plays a big part in the value equation. A couple of weeks ago,  I placed an order for a piece of equipment for our organization. The business owner had me send our billing and delivery address and committed to sending us an invoice and offered to schedule the delivery date. I committed to mailing a check upon receiving the invoice. Later that day, I received an invoice made out to a completely different organization for a completely different piece of equipment. So, I immediately responded to the sender notifying them of the error. Four days later I received a corrected invoice made out to the delivery address instead of the billing address. I mailed a check that evening. The agreed delivery date arrives and no equipment. I call them and get voicemail. I leave a message and follow up with an email. The next afternoon I get a call from the owner. He explains that they had not received our check so they delayed delivery.  Would it not have been a good idea to contact the customer and reset their expectations when that decision was made? And ask yourself,  why was the check delayed? Because it took them four days to send a corrected invoice. Does the customer feel valued at this point? No. The business is making it abudently clear they are solely after the dollar. The owner quickly commits that if the check is in the afternoon mail, he will reschedule delivery the next morning or Friday at the latest. Good save.

Thursday our operations manager buzzs me and says a bank is on the phone asking to verify a check. It is the check for the equipment in question. We verify that we did in fact issue that check to the company on the face of the check. Now mind you the owner did not call or email and say, "Hey we got your check and we are rescheduling your delivery. " The only way we knew they had received the check was because their bank called. No delivery on Thursday or Friday. Feeling valued? Negative. I call and receive another commitment for Monday.  Do I believe them? Nope. Monday comes and no delivery. I email them expressing my frustration with their lack of follow through, empty promises on delivery dates, and the lack of communication.  I receive a return call from a woman who apologizes for the delayed delivery and floats a story about truck problems and says "I meant to call all our deliveries but your number fell through the cracks." Then she commits, "We will get your delivery first thing in the morning or certainly by Wednesday at the latest." No delivery on Tuesday or Wednesday and no phone call or email to explain.Will they receive repeat business? Will we recommend them to other organizations requiring the same equipment? I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Maybe the world is big enough that you can aggravate everyone that comes to you as a customer and repeat customers are not of value. But I have found the best advertising any business can do is the word of mouth from satisfied customers. Make them feel valued and not only will they return when they need your product and services again, but they will be your advocate to their network of friends and family.

Remember Newton's law? For every force their is an equal and opposite force? Yes. The converse is true. Frustrate your customer. Try to walk over them like they are in your way. Do not communicate with them when you do not do what you have said you will do. They will not come back except maybe with an attorney and a lawsuit. And they certainly will not recommend you to their personal network of friends and family. Oh contrair! They will be the first to steer potential customers away from you.

It's your choice. Yes, it takes a little extra effort and time, but it pays huge rewards. Under commit. Over deliver. Do what you say you are going to do. If something comes up and you cannot meet a commitment, contact them. Do not force them to hunt you down for an explanation. Ensure to deliver on the secondary commitment when you failed on the initial. Make them feel valued if your income is important to you.


-Peace