A Lesson from the Mighty Zambezi River

This summer we had the opportunity to travel to Zimbabwe (by way of Zambia) and spend a few days in Victoria Falls with 7/8 of our children. The falls are incredible – with seemingly endless amounts of water!

Interestingly, being on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, each country owns part of the falls. Zambia owns 75% while Zimbabwe only owns 25%.

This would seem to be an advantage for Zambia – owning 3X as much as their neighbor…

But it’s actually not. Because to enjoy the falls you need to gaze across and see them! So Zimbabwe is actually more fortunate – able to see 3X as much of the falls as Zambia.

I have often found that the best way to appreciate a delicious chocolate bar is to share it with someone else – and I am certain that I get more enjoyment from their loving it than I would if I ate it all myself!

 

Sailing without a rudder

When I was in 8th grade we lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. At the time, there was outfit called Community Boating that held classes for kids and taught them to be sailors on their summer vacation. Kids would show up in the morning and sign up for a class and after some lessons and a test they would reach various levels of certification. My brother and I went every day, of course.

A sailboat on the beach in Tel Aviv in 2007. We got bumped from our flight and got a day at the beach courtesy of the airline!

Within a few weeks I was able to take out a Cape Cod Mercury  (seats 4 or 5?) on a green flag day, but not on a red flag (windier) day. Over the summer we did additional classes and learned to sail larger keel boats and smaller lasers. We learned how to work the jib – the smaller sail that sits over the bow of the boat – and the more serious students (not me or my brother) learned to work a spinnaker –   the bigger billows sail that also sites at the front of the boat.

The most interesting training I did was something called ‘sailing without a rudder’ – the equivalent of driving your car without a steering wheel. If you really want to be good sailor you need to understand how everything works so well that  you can manage when you are limited, you don’t have all of your tools, or something goes wrong.

It turns out that by re-positioning the weight in the boat (for example by moving your passengers to the back right corner) and by working the sail and the jib (say, by pulling them very tight), you can cause the boat to change direction, without using the rudder.

In my business I have often found myself challenged in similar ways. Helping shape online reputation may involve projecting your brand’s voice, creating and curating content, interacting with the media, etc. But many of our clients are banks, hedge funds, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies – highly regulated businesses that may not be allowed to deploy content because of legal and compliance issues.

Rather that concluding that we cant work without our tools, we are constantly forced to develop new tools and methods – making us smarter and more capable than if we had not been challenged. We are so used to being thrown curve balls that we try to anticipate them from the start.

And we keep sailing, with or without a rudder!

 

Knowing the rules of the road is not enough!

This year Hanukkah coincided exactly with Christmas vacation! This meant that not only could I get away with my family – I would be a fool not to!
We decided, very last minute, to spend the week in Seychelles! My wife and I had both wanted to go there sometime and the airline gods arranged that tickets would be available. It was a great getaway – absolutely gorgeous and probably because everything in Seychelles is a bit pricey – you hardly see any tourists. They are all in the their fancy resorts or on classy excursions, I guess. We stayed at a more modest hotel and probably were the only family of vacationers on the island who brought 7 kids – our eldest is in the Israeli Army and couldn’t get away…

Whenever we travel to far-flung place it always helps to learn the ropes – whats the best way to see the place? What should we avoid? etc. Sometimes you can do this in advance – like when we found out that the driving would be a bit challenging.

But sometimes you need to learn from experience – like when we fund out that even the biggest supermarket in the country has a very small selection of food!

To master a situation and make good decisions you need to know the rules, but you also need experience. I find that my most intelligent clients are the ones who know some of the rules, but know that this does not make them an expert. They may have some experience, but when presented with the facts – they choose to leave the driving to an expert!

 

 

To manage your brand’s online reputation – Tip #1: Make a Plan!

The most critical pieces of managing your brand’s online reputation is having a plan. This may sound obvious, but most Fortune 100 companies and top executives who we meet, have no plan for their online reputation.

What do I mean by a plan?

Think of an online reputation crisis as you would a gopher hole that has appeared in your front garden. Companies reach out to Five Blocks to fill in that hole and plant some new flowers where the hole once was. That’s not what I mean by a plan – that’s a reaction to a problem.

Planning your online reputation means planning the garden start-to-finish. Some of the steps you will want to consider when planning the online presence for your brand or key executives.

  1. Who are the key stakeholders who will be seeing your online presence? (media/reporters, regulatory bodies, prospective clients/partners, your own employees, etc.)
  2. What impression do you want to make on them? (Messaging, What do other people think about you)
  3. How are your key peers and/or competitors seen online? (Do they have multiple sites, images, wikipedia, video, social media presence, in-depth articles, ads, reviews etc.?)
  4. What do your competitors have that could be opportunities for you?
  5. Do you have sufficient content on owned sites, third-party articles, social media, crowd-sourced sites like Wikipedia and CrunchBase?
  6. Is it easy for searchers to find accurate, timely, third-party content about your brand?
  7. What are the important messages, articles, websites, that should be seen – and ones that should not?
  8. If there is negativity appearing in your online reputation, what are the underlying causes? (old story that has not been put to rest? nothing new to talk about? people talking about you rather than your ideas?)
  9. What are the potential threats your reputation could face and how have you prepared for them?

That’s a lot of chew on, but if you are not asking yourselves these questions you are not properly planing the online reputation for your brand or individual needs.

 

 

The Electoral College Makes no Sense

I’ve done some reading – every time I think about the electoral system in the US, and I know what the original thinking was. However, at this point I keep encountering people who tell me that their vote doesn’t count because their state always goes Republican or Democrat.

A situation in which tens of millions of people don’t feel their vote counts, makes no sense. I personally don’t want either candidate to win because they were lucky enough to move one or two swing states. The popular vote has to be the main determinant, otherwise some pigs were created more equal than others.

With millions of people not even casting a ballot because they feel their vote doesn’t count, we are likely to believe that in some states it really is the consensus that Hillary or Donald are the only choice.

It won’t be long before people feel like the blue states and the red states are two different countries. And you don’t have to be too creative to think about how that becomes a bad thing for the US – resentment by the states who perceive themselves to be more economically important etc.

My sense is that it’s only a matter of time before this system is changed – and we actually will wait for the west coast votes before we declare a winner in the US election.

 

What is the right way to manage an online reputation challenge?

Over the past week or so, a number of news articles have appeared detailing how one university handled an online reputation issue. Rather than get into the specifics of that case, I want to address the general question – what is the right way to manage an online reputation management challenge.

I am the CEO of Five Blocks, a boutique digital reputation management company. Individuals, brands, organizations, and companies retain our services to handle online reputation crises. More than half of the clients engage us because they don’t like something they see when they or their brand is searched, typically in Google or Bing.

Our message to them is that their best bet is to utilize Google and other search engines to tell their own story, or that of their brand. This means optimizing their own website/s to appear prominently and to tell their story. It also means utilizing social media and business profiles to present what their organization stands for. Many of our clients need to publish more content or produce more video than they have previously. Our job is to provide the expertise to help them do it.

Yes, I know you want to get rid of an outdated negative news story – but the right way to do that is it provide searchers with rich, relevant, timely content that legitimately deserves to displace that news.

In some cases our clients will need to address specific negative news and in so doing, start putting it behind them. In other cases they may choose not to address the crisis directly within their online presence.

Our experience has shown that a long-term strategy should be about telling a story rather than hiding a story. You have far more resources available to use when you are telling a story than the opposite. You will also find yourself and your organization spending efforts on ensuring accurate information is easily found, addressing stakeholder concerns, and sharing thought leadership – all efforts you may have neglected in the past. And best of all, you will be working with Google’s algorithm rather than against it.

There are many tools and platforms that are available to you including: on-page content and technical SEO, Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, Wikidata, Social media profile optimization, YouTube video and channel optimization, Google images, Google Plus, etc. To really tackle these, you will often need expert help – and this is what digital reputation management experts should be helping you do.

For me, the difference between addressing unfavorable results correctly vs, incorrectly boils down to attitude. If your plan is to outsmart Google and subvert their algorithm, you will usually be unsuccessful – certainly in the mid to long-term. If instead, you use the situation as a catalyst to do a better job of telling the story of your brand, both through your owned properties and via third-party websites, and you utilize all of the tools available to do so, you are likely to be far more successful. In the process you will have added significant value to your brand’s reputation.

Maybe this should be the litmus test. Are you better off after the crisis than you were before. Is your brand better equipped to handle unfavorable news? Are you in better control of how your own presence appears online? If the answer is no – you have treated the symptoms of your problem. If you are now stronger – you have gotten to the underlying causes and you are well on your way to a long-term positive digital reputation.

What Candy Crush taught me about reaching higher

Candy Crush LessonsMy first smartphone (if you can call it that) was a Palm Treo. I spent a lot of time using it to play Bejeweled.

When I became aware of Candy Crush for Android I got hooked and played what I thought were an impressive number of levels – achieving what I believed to be a reasonably high score. Then I started using the feature that lets you compare your achievements to those of your Facebook friends – and I had a bit of an awakening.

My friends, particularly my sister and my sister-in-law,  had achieved scores that were on a completely different order of magnitude.

I wasn’t thinking big enough because I didn’t know it was possible (or reasonable).

It was a bit embarrassing – and it led almost immediately to my attaining much higher scores. I pushed myself harder because I was now aware of what was possible for people similar to me.

As I look at my early career working in technology companies I also felt good about my success. I was growing, taking on more responsibilities, doing good work for my employer, and moving up the rung in salary. When I started my own business I began to realize that perhaps I wasn’t thinking big enough.

If everyone around you earns $50,000/year you are typically happy when you do that well – and satisfied that you continue from there. If your peers learn new skills and take on new responsibility at a normal clip, you would probably be okay with doing the same of somewhat better.

Many of the ceilings that we perceive are artificial.

There is no rule that says you cant build something yourself and it doesn’t need to require a lot of capital. Salary does not have to be capped when you are adding significant (or as my kids say ‘ginormous’) value to the people with whom you work.

The Olympic games are probably a good example of the same thing. When you watch athletes compete and reach new heights – it is a reminder that you may actually be able to run faster or jump higher than you previously can. Maybe not on the level of an Olympian athlete, but perhaps quite a bit higher than you previously thought possible.

My advice – question ceilings. Go beyond your own experience and that of people around you.

 

You can be big on Twitter!

Google launched a deeper integration with Twitter – a new Twitter box.

I decided to tweet a few times and see if I could get my own Twitter box.

Guess – what, I could – and you can too!

Matching the twitter name to your searched name seems to help.

Also make sure to tweet several times.

See for example:

sam michelson twitter

 

Google Trends on Same-Sex Marriage vs. Gay Marriage

When I opened Google Trends today they had a story on how America expressed interest trough search in ‘Same Sex Marriage’ as a result of the supreme court ruling last week.trends-ssmarriage

I decided to compare the search traffic for Same-Sex Marriage vs. gay Marriage – wondering which phrase users are using more and if there is a difference by location.

The results are clear – overall Americans search Google far more for the phrase ‘Gay Marriage’ than for ‘Same Sex Marriage’

trends-gayvsssmarriage

Next I looked to see if search phrase choice was related to location of the searcher. Not surprisingly there were significant differences.

The term Same-Sex Marriage was most prevalent in the following locations

regional same sex marriage

The term Gay Marriage was most prevalent in the following locations

regional gay marriage