The Most Influential People on the Internet Might Not Be Human

The cultural democratization that the internet ushered in generated a deluge of influencers across every industry and micro category one can imagine.  While many may be familiar with the Shorty Awards which is celebrating it tenth year, there is a new awards show making it debut this year simply called the Influencer Awards by Digital Hollywood.

Of course this immediately begs the question, what defines any influencers and what is the true quantifiable value that influencers bring?  In a world where social media‘s black market is filled with bots and trolls, it is impossible to nominate or judge influencer awards without trudging through the sludge of social media fraud. The New York Times did a startling expose on this topic last month uncovering that “nearly 15 percent (of Twitter accounts) — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people,” and Facebook reported “60 million automated accounts” or fake accounts run by bots.

With so many fake followers should we really be giving the awards to bots?  Are there any governance measures that can be imposed on companies that perpetuate and encourage this behavior?  Fortunately, many brands and marketers are favoring Instagram these days, which was rated the No. 1 platform for 92 percent of influencers in 2017. On the video side, YouTube stars are allegedly “more influential than traditional celebrities.”

This deserves to be a topic of great debate, and for those in the New York Metro area there is an open forum on this topic next week, Wednesday, March 7 at the Czech Center and Consulate in Manhattan.  I am personally a part of this forum during which we will openly discuss the appropriate governance, guidelines and code of ethics for the awards.  Voting will occur in late April and the actual awards will be given in October in Los Angeles. The categories and nominees are all open to public scrutiny, meaning anyone around the world can provide input and feedback into this living and breathing list.  

In an age where virtually everyone is seeking to create or bask in the halo of someone’s 15 minutes of fame, this topic is a compelling one, and regardless of your field it is worth reflecting on how influencers impact your personal and professional life, and steer your preferences or decision making.  As it relates to your brand, if you haven’t already considered the following, now’s the time to ask yourself:

  • Who are the relevant influencers in your field?
  • How aware of your brand are these influencers?
  • What is your current influencer activity?
  • Could you do a better job of reacting to or incorporating industry hot topics into the content you publish/share?

5 Critical Reasons Why You Need a Team Brand Now

The team you lead has been given the charge to impact your company. Maybe you run the Human Resources group and have been tasked with transforming diversity and inclusion, or perhaps your IT team is heading up a major technological upgrade.

You may find yourself in a position where your company has been acquired, and you need to redefine who your team is and how they will operate. Regardless, your group needs to step up and wield influence on the rest of your organization.

In the consulting work I’ve done, I’ve found that team branding can provide an invaluable path to productivity.

Why and when you might need a team brand. 

In fact, having your team define their brand can have a powerful impact on your team’s alignment, effectiveness and engagement with each other — and the rest of their organization. Five of the most common reasons I encourage clients to create a dedicated team brand include:

  1. When your team would benefit from a deeper alignment and commitment to the current team/project strategic direction
  2. If your team desires closer relationships among team members and a clearly defined code of conduct
  3. When you want to create renewed inspiration and engagement within the team, project or departmental purpose
  4. If the resolution of ongoing issues/disagreements about team direction is needed
  5. When you are forming a new project or intact team and/or have experienced a major change in team players, purpose, objectives or strategy

Should you change your team brand?

In the same way that a business or personal brand changes with time and circumstance, your team brand is likely to evolve as well.

I often find that changes in the company, the market overall, or the players on your team can create a need to pivot and adjust the team brand. I often suggest that the leaders I work with conduct a yearly off-site just to revisit their team branding.

Oddly enough, many teams have never even considered the idea that they have a separate “brand” to begin with. As one of my clients, a Vice President of marketing for a top-ten high-tech company, said, “We here in the marketing department are very bad at marketing the marketing department.”

Three key questions to ask yourself. 

The good news is that crafting a brand for a team is strikingly similar to creating one for a business or even a personal brand. When I do team branding off-sites, I always ask my clients a few key questions as a starting point:

  • Where do we stand today in terms of our brand and reputation in the organization as a whole, and where do we want to be? Where are the gaps?
  • What are the short-term and long-term impacts our team wants to make? What team brand would be required to get us there?
  • How will we relate to each other? What principles, values and commitments do we want to stand for in our team and in the organization as a whole that will express our desired brand?

Once these questions have been answered (and aligned on), the next step is to represent the team brand to the rest of the organization.

Your team brand in action. 

The classic mistake teams make here is thinking that talking is the same thing as acting.

Beyond having a well-crafted elevator speech for the team that creates a consistency of message, the secret is to translate that into the team’s strategic plan. Some of the things to consider include:

  • Adjusting, deleting or changing any items on the team’s strategic plan to reflect the team brand
  • Adding any items to the team’s current strategic plan to reflect the team brand
  • Changes you need to make as a team (and as individual members) to make your team brand a reality in the day-to-day way you work

In the end, your team’s brand can serve as an announcement to the business that your group is a positive force for change, and even transformation. Just bear in mind that actions speak louder than words.

So focus less on what you say to your colleagues about who you are as a team, and more on leaving them with an experience of your team’s brand that has them advocating for just how great you really are.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Students Can Teach You These 3 Crucial Lessons on Communication

The shooting at Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, FL nearly two weeks ago claimed the lives of 17 people and sparked a nationwide movement, led by students, to reform gun legislation. I live less than 20 miles from the school and have watched in awe as brave teenagers all over my community take to the stage to voice their outrage and demand change, even as they grapple with the pain and devastation of saying goodbye to their fallen peers.

It’s inspiring to watch, because even though many of these young people aren’t even old enough to vote, they are a generation on the rise — many will take up positions of leadership in the years to come. They make up what is known as Generation Z, a demographic cohort loosely defined to be between the ages of 11-19, and soon they will replace Millennials both in the workplace and in the marketplace.

If the students of Parkland are any indication, these teens are smart, articulate and know how to communicate what they want. There’s a lot we can learn about effective communication from these brave students.

Here are three takeaways from the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:

1. Have a clear focus.

Within days of the shooting, student Cameron Kasky, who, along with his brother survived the Valentine’s Day attack, rounded up some friends at his home and began sketching out the #NeverAgain movement.

In the beginning, Kasky told reporters, he directed his rage toward Republican lawmakers who, he felt, had failed to enact legislation after the Newtown and Sandy Hook shootings to ensure students’ safety. But right away, the Parkland student realized that was the wrong approach.

Instead, students’ decided their movement had to be bipartisan and they had to be clear about what they wanted to accomplish. They understood that if they wanted their voices heard, they need to be focused and stay on-message.

“The important thing here wasn’t talking about gore,” Parkland student Cameron Kasky, who helped launch the #NeverAgain movement, told The New Yorker. “It was talking about change and it was talking about remembrance.”

Good communicators know what their communication goals are and they are disciplined about staying on message. Strong leaders know this as well.

2. Be prepared.

At a press conference in Florida’s capital shortly after the shooting, 11th grader Delaney Tarr expressed her disappointment at legislators’ decision not to take up the issue of gun reform. But she assured lawmakers students’ would be back again with their list of demands.

“We came here prepared,” Tarr told those gathered.

“We know what we want: we want gun reform; we want common-sense gun laws; we want stronger mental health checks and background checks to work in conjunction,” Tarr went on.  “We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can’t just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15. We want change.”

Like all good communicators, Tarr was prepared. She and her peers had a strong sense of purpose, clearly defined goals and a list of specific demands. They were ready.

At work, preparation is key to effective communication. It shows the speaker has given thought to a matter and is ready to articulate his or her ideas clearly and succinctly.

3. Don’t be afraid to show emotion or vulnerability.

After a whirlwind of media appearances, Tarr explained how tired she was after several grueling days on the road meeting with the president, legislators and the media. The teen, so eloquent and poised, revealed that she had been asked to write a seven-minute talk and instead decided to speak from the heart.

“Instead of writing words from an overworked brain, I figured why not stand in front of these cameras and show them exactly how I feel,” she told reporters at a televised press conference days after the shooting. “Because speaking from the heart is what we do best. This movement…is based in passion and it is based in pain.”

Tarr had the courage to be vulnerable and, in doing so, connected with people in a powerful and authentic way.

Good communicators can communicate their values, their vision and purpose, clearly and powerfully. Good leaders know that to connect with an audience effectively, they have to reveal who they are and touch people on an emotional level. If the hallmark of great leaders are their ability to inspire change with their words, then our future looks bright indeed.

This 1 Thing You Are Definitely Doing Daily Has Been Scientifically Proven to Damage Your Brain

If I’ve written one story on multitasking, I’ve written at least ten. In fact I’ve penned whole chapters in books, led workshops and given speeches on the subject — clearly, none of which has helped me beat back this monster to the degree I would like.

In fact, as I’m writing this, I’ll admit to having just stopped and checked the email from my accountant that just popped up.

But if you are like most people, you feel my pain. You, like me, have experienced the constant toggling between checking email, texting and surfing the net — all while simultaneously binge watching The Crown season two.

Okay, I have gotten better — much better in fact — but a recent report that made it into my inbox made me once again pick up the mantle of stopping the multitasking madness.

According to a study at the University of Sussex, constant multitasking actually damages your brain. The study reported that people who regularly multitask have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for:

  • Empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  • Cognitive control. Mental management that allows information processing and behavior to be adaptive depending on current goals, rather than rigid and inflexible.
  • Emotional control. This is the conscious (or unconscious) control of emotion or mood. It is a coping mechanism that relies on a proactive mental or behavioral commitment to control emotions.

To quote Scooby Doo, “Rut ro.” I don’t know about you, but I think leaders need all the empathy and cognitive and emotional control they can get. Losing any capacity in these areas is not the path to greater productivity and employee engagement — let alone a winning executive brand or presence.

The crazy thing is that ending multitasking is not actually that difficult to do in practice, but rather is more a matter of changing a habit. Here are 4 new routines you can put in place to beat back multitasking.

1. Become a batch responder.

Instead of reacting in the moment to incoming emails, determine specific time periods when you will read and respond to email. These set times might be at the top of each hour, or twice a day.

Regardless, the key is to avoid being a “constant responder” (reacting as soon as the email comes in), and instead become a “batch responder” — meaning that you respond to all the messages that have come in at a designated time.

In this way, you avoid the constant interruption of emails and reduce your online multitasking.

2. Capture your concerns.

Put a system in place that lets you capture all incoming to-do’s in writing. Instead of feeling pressure to do the item “now” (lest you forget), your brain can relax, secure in the knowledge that you have the item identified and stored.

3. Put yourself in seclusion mode.

Have a pressing project you need to finish? When you’re facing either a short deadline or work that requires tightly focused attention, one best practice is to isolate yourself. You can do this by:

  • Letting your colleagues know you will be unavailable for a certain period of time and will return their emails, calls, etc., afterward.
  • Physically removing yourself from distractions by going into a room alone, shutting the door and putting a “please do not disturb” sign up.
  • Quitting your email program, turning off your phone and blocking surfing on the net (unless you need it for the project you are working on).

4. Organize some open space.

Instead of booking every minute of every workday, leave some open time when you can catch up on anything new that comes in, or process old items that have been hanging around.

Lastly, if all of this is not enough to inspire you to stop surfing the net and talking on the phone simultaneously, consider a study done at the University of London which found that multitasking had a negative effect on IQ that was close to three times greater than…smoking marijuana.

So please, put down your cell phone, turn off the text and give your full attention to one thing at a time. Believe me, your brain will thank you.

Brands That Tell Unforgettable Stories Do These 3 Things

Brand storytelling: It’s something every brand knows it has to engage in, but only a few do really well.

The simplest reason for this? Brand storytelling is hard. It’s hard to distill all the things that make your company what it is into a compelling, cohesive story that grabs your customers’ attention and turns them into fans.

But it can be done, and done well. Here are the 3 things that every brand telling unforgettable stories does.

They dig deep, soul-search, and ask tough questions about what their company stands for.

Brands that excel at brand storytelling are unafraid to look inward, and to ask the tough questions about who they are and what they stand for.

They ask questions like:

  • What are our values?

  • How do we express those in our everyday business dealings?

  • Are we truly living up to the standards we profess for ourselves?

  • What are our biggest challenges?

  • How do we approach those challenges – with energy and ambition? Avoidance? Fear?

  • If we asked our customers to describe our values, what do we think they’d say? Would their answers match our own?

It’s easy to pull out your company’s mission statement and stop there, without taking the time to reflect on how that mission is actually lived out by the company as a whole, day in and day out.

Brand storytelling without soul searching and reflection, however, will be mediocre at best, and insincere at worst.

They bake their story into every aspect of their marketing.

Brands that tell unforgettable stories are able to bake those stories into their marketing in a holistic, comprehensive way.

Today’s consumer – the connected consumer – is increasingly bombarded with marketing messages and branded content. Some studies suggest the average consumer sees 3-4,000 marketing messages in a day.

This volume of messaging means that consumers are becoming better and better at tuning out anything that doesn’t immediately hold their attention. This usually includes anything that feels too promotional, as well as content that seems inauthentic.

That inauthenticity can be the kiss of death for a brand today. Stories that feel tacked on to the rest of the brand’s messaging, or that don’t cohere with other stories the brand is telling, will cause your customers to put on those blinders.

They use lots of different mediums to tell their brand stories.

Storytelling should be dynamic, which is why the best brand storytellers out there use a variety of mediums to construct their story.

Airbnb is one of the best at this technique. Their AirbnbMag, an online and print magazine about “being at home in the world,” offers video, photos, long-form reportage, and traditional travel stories that all reflect the company’s belief in the sense of belonging, and joy, that come with getting to know a place through the eyes of its locals.

You don’t need to start a magazine, though, to make your storytelling dynamic. One way to start is to take existing content that you believe tells your story well – whether that’s a blog post, a video, or a photo essay – and translate it into another medium.

If you have a written interview with your CEO, try adding to that by interviewing her on camera.

If you’ve got a large video library, but not many articles or blog posts, try choosing one video and turning it into a blog post or infographic.

Not only does this exercise increase the types of content you have available, allowing you to appeal to a larger number of customers and potential customers – it can also give you a new perspective on a story that was very familiar to you.

Brands that want their storytelling efforts to succeed need to be honest and truthful about who they are, while making sure that the stories they do tell are authentic, cohesive, and holistic. For more, read my post “What’s the Best Valentine’s Day Gift for Brands? Self-Care.”

How to Know When to Pivot

I recently met with an entrepreneur who’s been working on–and investing his own money in–an idea he’s passionate about. He’s been at it for more than twelve months, and the business is not yet fundable by outside investors.

The problem? It’s a consumer product in a noisy space, and it still doesn’t have much traction. This worries me profoundly. It’s clear that he needs to make a change.

I reminded him of the obvious: His time and savings are important assets. I asked him to think about how he was investing these resources and come up with concrete steps that would lead him to progress in a short period of time.

If you’re in a similar situation, here are three realities for you to ponder as you decide how to proceed:

  • You never get the time back that you are spending. Are you spending your precious time on something that will produce world impact or deliver multigenerational wealth?
  • Are you spending every dollar wisely and with impact? Being thoughtful about how you spend is another incredible resource, and you need to know that you are handling it well.
  • How is your team holding up? Are they fired up, and ready to go out swinging? Silicon Valley is filled with temptation for talented employees, so it’s crucial to know how committed your people are.

Given those truths, there are three questions you need to answer:

1. Should you keep on trucking?

All entrepreneurs hit hard times and tough choices. Many survive precisely because they stay with the same idea.

Ben Silbermann made incremental changes to improve Pinterest, but kept the vision and didn’t pivot from the idea of a social bulletin board. Marc Benioff evolved Salesforce by bringing popular consumer trends to the enterprise, and never pivoted away from his idea of making software easier, more accessible, and more democratic for businesses.

Before you completely change course, consider other correctional steps to take–like tweaking a product, increasing marketing activities, or ramping up sales spend.

2. Should you think about a pivot?

Some great entrepreneurs have executed a “big pivot,” changing everything about the product. Instagram, which started as Burbn, a mobile social check-in app with game features, saw that the photo-sharing feature was where the majority of its user engagement came from and pivoted to deliver on that before launch.

When I invested in Meteor, it was only a few weeks after they had pivoted from building a travel guide for iPad. They realized that they were again re-creating front-end syncing technology that they had already built twice before, and they decided to focus on that instead.

Despite the success stories, pivots are not always the obvious next step or a guaranteed route to success. I would only suggest pivoting if you have a great team and a great idea to chase.

3. Should you shut it down?

Sometimes, there are no more steps you can take and the most responsible solution is to call it quits–because you’re burning time and cash and there’s little hope left that you can make something magical happen.

What’s your next move? The answers to the following questions should give you some clarity and guide you to the right next move:

  • How long do you have to live? How much cash do you have to continue pursuing your dream? Can you raise more money based on the traction you have?
  • Is there traction at all? Are you building something that people like? How certain are you that this will be a winnable market? Are you early? Late? Is your timing off?
  • Can you do something that has much more relevance? Have you developed any new insights that demonstrate that you should be chasing something else, ideally something you and your team have seen is a clear need? If you can: Is your team the right one to execute on this idea?
  • How do you want to treat those who have invested in you when you are unsure of where you want to go? Are you able to provide a return to shareholders rather than just burn through the cash?
  • Most importantly: What are you prepared to take on? A pivot means starting all over again–fundraising, recruiting, hyping what you’ve built. If that prospect doesn’t fire you up, it may be time to look elsewhere.

When you’re at this crossroads, it’s time to dig deep, and decide whether you need to make some tweaks (modifications), execute a pivot, or shut things down. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos calls this “investigate everything” process the “regret-minimization framework.”

Bezos encourages his teams to explore all the plausible possibilities–spending extra time to determine if the idea is worth it, rather than having regrets about giving up too early or not diving deep enough. Reflect, make up your mind, and get going.

Leaning In To Remote Workplaces

As recently as 10 years ago, the idea of working remotely had a fairy-tale quality to it. Although companies did exist – mine among them – that allowed their employees to skip the commute and work virtually, it was still more of a novelty than a trend. Since then, however, the practice has gained real traction, with the non-self-employed work-at-home population increasing by 115% since 2005 – a whopping ten times faster than the rest of the workforce.

Today, according to a recent Gallup poll, 43% of all employees telecommute, either partially or fully. But the last few years have seen the rise of another interesting trend – the reversal of some corporate giants’ remote work policies. Companies such as Yahoo, Aetna, Bank of America, and IBM all cite issues with remote worker productivity, as well as a lack of the kind of impromptu in-person collaboration that leads to innovation.

So what of the much-touted benefits of a remote workforce, then? Wasn’t working virtually supposed to increase productivity and innovation?

In my decade of experience as CEO of a company with a remote team, it does that – and more. Higher employee satisfaction – and the lack of a time-wasting commute – leads to increased productivity and better results for clients. The fact that hiring isn’t limited to one geographical area means that people can be hired based purely on talent and qualifications – which gives top creative minds a chance they wouldn’t otherwise have to collaborate and innovate. The problems those corporate giants are seeing with remote work seem to me to have less to do with telecommuting itself, and more to do with the way they structured and managed their virtual workplaces.

One shining example of a company getting telecommuting right is performance marketing agency PartnerCentric. The reason it works so well for them, when others are bowing out of the space? CEO Stephanie Harris has structured her company from top to bottom with remote work in mind, using policies, processes, and tools specifically designed to elicit the best possible performance from each remote worker on the team.

PartnerCentric’s telecommuting set-up has 3 integrated pillars that all support and build off each other. Any company looking for answers as to how to find success with a team of virtual workers would benefit from shaping their workplace around the following three essentials:

1. Culture

For Harris, a strong and cohesive company culture is a non-negotiable in a successful remote workplace. Based on PartnerCentric’s core values – professional intimacy, improvement, expertise, and responsibility – their workplace culture is a vibrant mix of relationship development, continual learning, constant communication…and fun.

“We’re always challenging each other to perform at even higher levels, in a spirit of teamwork and shared responsibility,” Harris explains. “One way we pull everyone’s efforts together into a single group focus is to work towards team rewards, where each person’s contributions are necessary, and everyone cheers everyone else on to complete their own tasks, so that the entire company benefits.”

2. Transparency

That strong company culture creates an openness and a level of friendly communication that makes everyone accountable to everyone else for their work. It’s not a matter of micromanaging employees to ensure work gets done, but instead, a team attitude that simply won’t tolerate anything less than the highest levels of productivity – and a transparency that would bring any slacking off to light instantly.

“There’s a reason fitness gurus tell you to choose an ‘accountability buddy’ for workouts – having that transparency there, along with the encouragement of a friend, keeps you motivated and working harder than you would on your own,” Harris says.     

3. Improvement 

But even the most well-oiled teams can start to lag behind if it’s always the same old, same old. That’s why Harris implemented “Deep Work” time every Friday from 10 am to noon. It’s a timeslot employees dedicate to personal development and continuing education, and the takeaways each team member gleans are then shared with everyone during the weekly company meeting. 

“Our continual efforts to improve benefit each of us individually, of course, but also our company and our clients,” Harris explains. “Sharing what we’ve learned each week leads to exciting conversations and innovations that never would have occurred otherwise.”

So while companies like Yahoo and IBM may feel remote work isn’t getting them the results they wanted, PartnerCentric wouldn’t have it any other way. Their 3 pillars of culture, transparency, and improvement allow their remote team to work more closely together than most in-office teams, and the results they get speak for themselves. By leaning in to the remote workplace, and being strategic and mindful about how they structure and manage every aspect of their business, even those giving up on remote work might be pleasantly surprised at what their teams can do.