Dec 15

Keep Austin Warm this Holiday

OK. So the idea of Austin being July-like warm in December a sign that the apocalypse is nigh and perhaps the most depressing thought ever. Rest assure, Austin-lovers, the city has actually seen record cold temperatures this December. This is great if you hate the heat, but pretty brutal if you are new in town and don’t have any money for a coat.

My friend Elaine Allan helps a group of refugees in town who are in this exact situation. Many of these people have never seen or felt this sort of cold in their lives. Imagine being dropped in Siberia without proper clothing, and then having to go to work or school everyday.

If you are in Austin and have surplus coats, clothes or blankets, consider donating them to local refugees or others in need. If you don’t have extras, consider a cash donation. Simply leave a comment or email me at michelle(at)michellesblog.com. I will introduce you to Elaine. She is working tirelessly to make sure everyone who needs coats, blankets and warm clothes actually gets them.

Not in Austin? Not to worry. It’s still good karma to donate to those who need it most, and a lot more fun than the typical holiday madness anyway.

Happy Holidays to you and your family.

kids

Help kids like these in your area by donating coats and blankets.

* Just a reminder: I don’t live in Austin anymore and haven’t for two years. I am just here visiting family. Please stop inviting me to your Austin events on Facebook. Thanks!

Sep 03

Leave Cancer in Our Wake by Supporting Swim Across America

debzokissAfter four years of sickness and tremendous pain, my sister Debby Greer-Costello lost her battle against leukemia in May of 2009. She was just 42 years old.

To this day, I struggle to make sense of Deb’s suffering. By the time her soul left her blistered, jaundiced body, she had been on oxygen, had a tracheotomy and dialysis, suffered from encephalitis that made her hallucinate, and couldn’t walk or eat. She was restrained to prevent her from ending her own life for six months. It has taken me years to accept that 1.) it was even ok to be angry about her treatment and 2.) eventually I could choose not to be angry and sad about this. After all, Deb raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society even while struggling with her own illnesses. She was a beautiful person who cared tremendously for others her entire life. It really is stupid to dwell on anything else but that.

So in her honor and at the coaxing of swim guru and Awesome Heroku VP of Sales Mike Pyle, I have joined the Swim Across America Salesforce team. Swim Across America is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events.

Our team is committed to a swim in the San Francisco Bay on September 29. As anyone who knows me can attest, I hate cold. I’m also not a fan of sharks and underwater creepy things. The Bay apparently has both (although sharks aren’t as common as Alcatraz guards led to believe). I’m doing this even though I’m scared because this is a cakewalk compared to what the 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women who will get cancer in America have to face. It is my honor to help them in their fight, even in this small way.

Cancer is so powerful, we can only fight it by cutting it out or injecting our bodies with poison to get rid of it. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. We need to get rid of this disease forever. Please help me do so by donating to Swim Across America at my fundraising page, and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Awareness helps, but paying researchers to destroy cancer seems like a much sounder bet.

If you have or have had cancer, feel free to drop me a line at michelle(at)michellesblog.com and I will dedicate my swim to you. If you have had a loved one pass away from cancer, I will do the same for them. Please remember that you are not alone and let me know if I can help in any other way.

Aug 29

What A Marketer Learns After a Year of Attempted Hacking

When Rob Spectre took a position as a Developer Evangelist and eventual Head of Devevangelism at Twilio, he learned that good products don’t exactly sell themselves. In this great post about what it is like to be in marketing after being a developer, Spectre declares, “Good marketing is a product of the same inputs as good code; long hours, sweating the details, and the judicious application of experience doing it the right way.” Here, here.

I am in a similar boat as Rob, in that a large part of my job is not natural for me. As the Product Marketing Manager at Heroku, I felt it necessary to learn some code and actually deploy an app or two. I discovered one thing very quickly.

Programming is f#@king hard.

Programming is hard for me because I can’t just negotiate win/wins or write something up that convinces you that you will be more awesome simply by doing my evil bidding. I have to sit for hours on end, ignore IM and all the news and people, and just…learn. Pretty hard to do when you have the attention span of a spider monkey.

I’m no master by any stretch, but here are some tips for marketers considering learning a thing or two about programming:

1. Find “Your Way” and Stick with It
There are no definitive guidebooks in open source programming. There is no one way to do something. One person will tell you you need Xcode or RVM, and someone else will tell you that those are total garbage. Every guide assumes you have a different level of programming knowledge, and they all start at different points. It’s best to stick with a few mentors and guides and just follow them all the way through.

Chris Pine’s Learn to Program is great because it seems geared for people who have never programmed before. It doesn’t assume you know what certain terms mean already.

2. Get Familiar with the Tools
I’m learning Ruby and dabble with Rails, so I use a terminal, the text editor TextMate, my local host, and of course, git and Heroku.

Every language requires you to install different things on your machine to get set up, and Windows, Mac and Linux are all different. Java developers don’t even use the terminal generally. I’d either make sure you walk through a complete tutorial or ask a friend to help you like I did.

3. Programming Takes Discipline
So, you finally get your machine set up and the tools you need to program, possibly in a Frankencomputer fashion if you did not follow Step #1. You finally dig in and start learning. Yay. You get confident, so you start watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix at night instead of mastering your new language.

THEN YOU FORGET ALMOST EVERYTHING.

Programming has fundamental concepts that make it easy to understand, but there really is a lot to know before you can even run anything, much less deploy a functional app. If you want to learn, you just have to keep at it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to relearn the same things over and over.

4. Google and Stack Overflow are Your Friends
If you don’t know what a programming term means or how to do something, Google it. If you don’t understand what some of the terms mean in the answer, Google them. It seems super wasteful as an exercise, but there is no fast way to get around this and eventually it does sink in a little. Wikipedia is somewhat helpful, but intimidating because everything is explained from a computer scientists’ view.

There are lots of newbie tips in Stack Overflow. You will get to know it.

5. Learning to Code, Manage a Database, and Design at the Same Time is Not Possible
Apps have interfaces and apps have databases. It’s hard to build all of the elements on your own.

CSS is the style sheet language that gives apps, well, a style. It requires the memorization then subtle nudging of elements on a page. I downloaded this simple theme that consists of one page with some Javascript just to change the CSS. After poking around with it, I have no idea how designers deal with this stuff everyday. Very tedious.

Data seems fun and useful to me though. Our developers set me up with Heroku Postgres Dataclips so I can poke around with SQL queries without breaking anything. O’Reilly has some decent books on SQL if you’d like to learn SQL concepts.

6. Be Social! It’s Hard to Learn This Stuff on Your Own
Google only goes so far, so real friends can help you get the basics down too.

I hear about code at the lunch table every day and often ask coworkers dumb questions. This means I end up happily playing copyeditor or Analytics nerd for anyone who asks. I’ve also bribed people with cookies and wine for offering up a little help. Reciprocity and gratitude seem key here, so use your best judgment.

Too shy or too far away from a crew of helpful developers? Rails Girls classes were helpful as well.

<3 Developers by Understanding a Little About What They Actually Do

For ten years, I’ve spent my energy keeping up the latest marketing tools, news, and blogs but couldn’t navigate a terminal in the slightest. I do hope to learn more about programming and encourage other marketers to do the same. When we understand how our products are built, we improve feedback loops between the problems customers have and the solutions developers choose to solve them. Everyone is happy and we go eat pie.

May 01

Building Online Communities with Social Applications

Yesterday I caught a tweet by Rohit Bhargava that caught my eye. It referenced a post by Jay Baer that mentions the lack of personnel often assigned to social media accounts. According to Baer,
“This is why one of the most common questions I hear at speaking engagements and in corporate conference rooms is ‘How can we do this well with limited resources?’ I’ve even heard on more than a handful of occasions the conversational shoulder shrug of ‘We can get software approved, but we can’t add headcount.’”

Scaling doesn’t have to be something you do with bigger headcount. In the same respect that advertisements scale the reach of sales, social web applications scale the reach of Community Managers. A web application built on the Facebook Platform can increase Fan counts significantly, simplify customer service or HR, or anything we program them to, really.

So at the risk of sounding preachy, I’ll just present three case studies of social apps I’ve seen built on Heroku that get what I’m talking about here:

1. ASICS “Support Your Marathoner” Campaign
ASICS sought to scatter supportive messages of hope across big screens throughout the NYC and LA Marathons. Instead of hiring a Community Manager to handle individual outreach, they plugged the application “Support your Marathoner” on their site and let runners solicit messages for them via their Facebook and Twitter friends. Thousands participated and the campaign was covered in magazines, blogs and TV shows. Give people a cool app, and they’ll do the marketing for you.

2. TF3 Battlezone: a Promotion for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” DVD/Blu-Ray™”
There are 5.9 billion mobile subscribers in the world, and almost 1 billion users on Facebook. Instead of merely putting out ads that may or may not be seen by TV viewers, Paramount Home Pictures commissioned Project Zebra to create a mobile/Facebook app where Fans could choose to compete as a Battlebot or Decepticon and claim actual places around them for their team. The app was an instant hit with Transformers Fans, prompting Paramount Home Pictures to take it global.

3. Warner Bros. “Social Cinema”
We all like watching movies with our friends. However, the concept of a “friend” is changing as social networks expand our ability to connect with people around the world. So Warner Bros. commissioned Milyoni to build a “social cinema”, allowing Facebook Fans to watch Warner Bros. movies with their friends.

Customers will always want to engage via social media. They might not always want to connect with us specifically. Social applications allow our customers to engage with each other around our brand. Isn’t that what we all intend to accomplish in the first place?

Aug 28

Why Geolocation Isn’t Quite “There Yet”

Hurricane Irene Captured August 26, 2011This weekend, we cowered to think that major cities on the American east coast would be pummeled by Hurricane Irene. We watched CNN and Twitter to see how things were going.

Geolocation tools like Foursquare could have been amazing during a natural disaster like Irene. Imagine if any check-in tagged with #Irene were pulled onto a map, and then you could see what sort of damage was done to millions of places in real time? How useful would something like that be?

Geolocation picked up as a meme in early 2010 and then slowed down significantly for the following reasons:

1.) Let’s face it: geolocation can be creepy. OK, so let me get this straight. You are going to give me rewards for letting the entire world know where I hang out on a regular basis? I see the benefits, but I’m not sure they outweigh the risks. This is especially true for public accounts.

2.) Many geolocation networks got numbers, but failed to capture critical mass…anywhere. I won’t get into naming names, but I’ve seen social networks with gobs of features fail. Why? Features do help you sell a social network. However, unless our friends are using it, we don’t care. Facebook had a lot of features from the beginning. What really helped it take off was the fact that they targeted schools hard and heavy before expanding. They didn’t rush to get 10 million users all over the world. They got 30,000 of heavily concentrated users, and then got 30,000 more concentrated users. It became so popular at the “it” places (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.), everyone wanted an account.

It’s not just important that people sign up for your site. It’s important that they use it. To Foursquare’s credit, it helped them tremendously to lock down New York City and San Francisco.

3.) Geolocation desperately needs context that can be defined through APIs. The Hurricane Irene example above is a fantastic example of a useful app that could be built quickly on geolocation APIs. What if someone wanted to build organicfoodfinder.com, which would allow users to check into and find spots that served organic meals? What if we wanted to call out restaurants who had bad service by checking in and leaving comments, or crowd source bike routes by checking in to spots along the way? It’s hard to add functionality to geolocation applications that will make everyone happy, but it’s relatively easy through services like Apigee or Mashery to build robust APIs that support any kind of functionality through third party applications.

If an application like Foursquare can provide the current data and basic functionality a geolocation service would want to use, they could theoretically be the Facebook of the real world. Instead of sharing links, we would share places. We could play games in the real world the same way people play Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Foursquare has some action around their API and could grow significantly towards this vision in the near future.

I’ve said this before and will say it again: the money in a social network is often in the lurkers. Make something valuable for them and things will get interesting in geolocation again very quickly.

Aug 24

How Can We Clone Steve Jobs?

Tim O’Reilly’s Google+ stream tipped me off to a very interesting post on Forbes about how outsourcing both helps and hurts us. You really should read it yourself, but the long and the short of it is this:
1.) We have to outsource where it makes sense, to keep pricing competitive, but
2.) As soon as we do it, whomever we outsource to will most certainly approach our competitor with the same proposition, so
3.) We end up back where we started.

The key to solving the equation? Outsource where it makes sense, but always add innovation.

Say what you will about Steve Jobs as a person. As a figurehead of Apple, his vision, passion and perfectionism as CEO of Apple are unmatched. Apple products are copied mercilessly and are the source of tech lust all over the world. It is why despite Michael Dell stating Apple should close shop and give money back to its shareholders, Apple is now worth more than Dell. Oh and Microsoft and Intel combined.

Whether we tax high and offer decent public services, or tax low and allow the business sector to cover the weight, it doesn’t matter. If we don’t innovate, we will cease to be relevant.

So I’m asking you, America: quit arguing. Just figure out how we can make more Steve Jobs(es?).

Let’s look at what helped make Steve Jobs successful:
1.) Republicans like Rich Perry seem to be strangling education for the sake of keeping taxes low. Steve Jobs went to a public high school in Cupertino, California. So did Larry Page and Marissa Mayer from Google. Yet today, we are cutting teachers and school funding is as low in some areas as it was in the Depression era. That doesn’t seem conducive to being competitive in a global market.

That being said, we really need to address teachers’ unions ability to protect bad teachers from being fired. Mr. Jobs is not a fan of this policy, and he doesn’t like teaching kids to take tests either.

2.) Apple is in Cupertino, which is in a hotbed of technology. Apple talent could come from Berkeley, Stanford, CalTech, and a host of other technical schools. So while Jobs himself got his education at Hewlett Packard with Woz, he was empowered by an educated base.

Right now, college tuition is increasing, but college kids are not learning about technology at the rate the private sector is producing it. Ask any tech company how difficult it is to hire developers and you’ll see.

3.) Reform patent law. I’m not a lawyer or an inventor, so I can’t confess I have a solution here. I just can’t imagine inventing anything with as many patent trolls as we see now.

4.) Reward innovation and people who think out of the box. Foster change makers. And for God’s sake, quit watching those ridiculous mindless television shows.

The G.I. Bill produced more engineers among the “Greatest Generation” than any other generation before or since. It helped foster engineers that put a man on the moon. Can our nation create an entire generation of Steve Jobs(es?) that innovate us out of this recession, or are we destined to care more about “Dancing with the Stars” than the X Prize?

Jul 27

Joi Ito Explains Creative Commons

My good friend and multi-talented designer of this blog Shyama Golden and I were discussing how confusing the internet landscape can be to an artist or musician. Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur asks Founder of Creative Commons Joi Ito what you are actually buying each time you purchase a CD, and how Creative Commons works.

Jul 26

How to Be More Pleasant on Google+

Apparently I’ve been dubbed some sort of queen of social media, and yet, it really can bore me quite a bit. From people ranting about some client they’ve had to people underhandedly pitching their brands left and right, it can get annoying. People aren’t trying to be noisy, mind you. They just aren’t given easy filtering mechanism to determine what they say to whom. This filtering is something we do naturally in the real world to keep ourselves from saying the wrong thing and the wrong time.

Enter Google+. I haven’t been the most active on Google+ yet simply because I’ve been playing with it and getting a sense of how committed Google really is to this project. I do like it though. I hope it succeeds for the sake of online communication everywhere.

It’s like Google put all the user groups I attend into one easy to use interface. I have a circle for “marketing”, one for “tech news”, one for “web developers and designers”, one for just my close friends, and another for acquaintances. I can see myself getting dozens of circles and I hope Google makes it easy to categorize these as I follow more people. I do this because I recognize that some of my followers really don’t care about marketing news, or what I did this weekend. Google+ also makes it easier to learn about different subjects because I can just click on a stream to see what is said by people who are experts in that topic.

I believe Google+ would benefit by allowing users to be transparent with at least some of their Circles. This would allow people to choose if they wanted to follow my posts pertaining to marketing, tech news, or just funny comments. I’m no UX expert so I’ll leave the details of something like this to them.

My biggest fear with Google+ is that people will get obsessed with the follower count game. As I’ve said like a broken record, it really doesn’t matter how many followers you have. If you can figure out how to deliver messages to people in a way that converts, you can be more effective with 50 people than with 50000. If people on Google+ get caught up in the follower count game, we risk just as much noise as we get on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m not sure how to stop people from using Google+ as a broadcast channel with little regard of what gets said to whom. I just hope people are mindful of their signal to noise ratio when they use it.

Jul 18

Caveats for Quantifying Online Influence

So Omar Gallaga wrote an Austin American Statesman piece about how our lives are increasingly becoming measured by our online presences. It was a well written piece and probably opened a lot of people’s eyes about how they are being judged in a way they had not previously recognized. You should read it if you have not already.

The piece talks about Klout, a startup that created a scoring system to measure one’s online influence. Klout uses algorithms that evaluate who you are talking to and how often in social media circles the same way Google PageRank does. Some PR and social media firms are using it to reach out to influencers, and Klout now has perks for people who have Klout scores above a certain number. To reach people with high Klout scores, you can contact the company to “get in”.

This approach is too simplistic, like an easy button PR firms can hit so they can say to their clients, “Hey, we got you covered on this launch”. While I myself value what Klout offers, it is a factor within many factors when considering how to expand your brand’s presence.

Let’s use this graphic/scenario on the right to show why brands really should take more care in managing their online reputation.***

1.) Influence is never static. The influence this would wield today would be much more damaging to my brand than it would a month ago. Although Klout scores do change over time, they don’t change overnight.

That being said, an awesome potential subject matter expert and influencer could have a low Klout score today, but could increase it over time. Is it wise to make that person feel less important than Rupert Murdoch?

2.) A person’s influence on a subject matter depends on his or her expertise in that field. Rupert Murdoch and crew don’t seem to get new media and the blogosphere. If people judged me by News Corp’s record in new media, I could actually lose influence by association.

3.) Influence must always be considered qualitative as well as quantitative. I don’t respect Rupert Murdoch. Say I went to a PR firm and said, “I want media influencers with Klout scores above 60 to tweet about my blog”, they could very easily return to me with someone like Rupert Murdoch. Do I want his endorsement, or the types of clients he would bring? What if he becomes my #1 nightmare customer and his followers are almost as bad? I marketed to him because he’s big instead of paying attention to whether or not his followers would benefit by my product.

4.) PR is just as much about building community as it is “spreading the word”. When you judge people purely on their influence number or Googlibility, you get a bunch of people who are “kind of a big deal”. People who are “big deals” can be demanding as customers, and often demand completely different things. That can make a product that appeases the majority of them very difficult.

I’m not saying you should ignore Klout completely. I just question practices like judging customers based on some sort of score instead of taking the time to evaluate how much value you can offer their friends and followers. Klout works best through a software API and paired with other metrics.

**Relax. I don’t actually know Rupert Murdoch and I’m not tapping your phone. I do sometimes sneak in your house and rearrange your furniture though. Anywho…

Jul 16

How @Expedia Demonstrated What Community Managers Should Do

People have told me that I shouldn’t expect companies to be perfect. Good advice. I don’t expect companies to be perfect–I do expect them to accept responsibility when it is appropriate and learn from the experience so it isn’t duplicated again. Basically, if you mess up, just do what you can to fix it.

So about a month back, I had some big headaches caused by an issue with Expedia. I’m happy to report that @Expedia referred me to their team at Corporate, who promptly issued me a credit for my inconvenience and recorded what my issues were so they could hopefully prevent issues in the future.

At a bigger company like Expedia, it makes sense for their social media team to act like a point guard for the company. In this situation, @expedia followed up and got me directly to the people I needed to speak to. So good job picking the ball up where you dropped it, Expedia. I will continue to book trips on your website.