My Friend Wasn’t Killed By Social Media


I lost a friend yesterday.  Trey Pennington of Greenville — father, husband, grandfather, speaker, teller of stories and launcher of Social Media Clubs — could no longer fight the darkness and took his own life.  Twitter and Facebook echoed with the stunned and shocked responses from his friends, acquaintances and those who had been helped by this kind and gentle man.

Less than 24 hours later, I’m already seeing the first jabs coming online, talking about how this loss may have been caused by The Interwebs.  “Online Relationships just aren’t real.”  “We need to connect with actual people.”  “This Social Media stuff is all junk.”

What complete bunk.

If you know Trey, you know his demons were in the real world.  People who deserted him, institutions that turned their back on him after years.  I’m not giving details because he wouldn’t want me to.

But the online community — we loved him unconditionally.  He had hundreds of thousands of people who knew him as a kind, helpful, thoughtful soul.  He spoke around the world — most recently, here in Columbia a couple of weeks ago at my request.  He did it at no charge.  (A man who could command thousands of dollars for a single keynote appearance.)

We chatted, and put off dinner for another day because he was rushing home to work on a presentation the next day.  We knew we had time, because he was feeling great.  He’d lost weight, gotten tanned, and had all his dark demons at bay.

Then he returned to the real world. And it killed him.

I don’t doubt there are problems in the online world.  But I’m not going to let people sully the legacy of my friend with this kind of shit. He made social media a better place for so many people, and we’re all worse off now that he’s no longer with us.

I hope there’s really good wireless up there on that cloud, buddy.


Upgrading Your Customers

refresh greenville

On May 12th, I’m doing a wee speaking engagement in Greenville, SC — Refresh Greenville.



Upgrading Your Customers

Nobody reads the directions, anymore.  A “readme.txt” file is a great place to store secrets.  And the “Help” button is something customers just ignore.  Today’s user base expects that your apps and sites will “just work” and they don’t expect to have to spend any time getting up to speed.

There are two ways to improve your apps’ customer sat numbers – rewrite the code, or teach your customers how to use them better.  Dick Carlson spent five years at Microsoft doing the latter for some of the buggiest software on the planet, and he can help you too.  You’ll leave with:

  • Models of trouble-ticket systems that help you identify issues fast and plan future upgrades
  • Ways to use social media tools to have your customers build the help system for you
  • Actual experience identifying key support information and building the architecture to implement it in a business support model

Dick Carlson is an Instructional Designer and Content Developer who can translate “techie” to “user” – making those annoying people who give you money happy and contented, so they don’t send you long emails or post one-star reviews on the web.  You can find him at


Bug Tracking Tools

Java Bug-Tracking Tools

MS Watson Technologies

Does My Business Really Need This Social Media Stuff?


One of the BizDev guys at my new shop wandered by the other day, and I asked him what he was hearing from his corporate folks that he called on about “Social Media”. He looked at me a little blankly, and responded “Not much at all.”

pink_phoneHe said that to most of the corporate types he talked to, SM was pretty much a toy and they really didn’t understand why it would matter to their business, why they’d want to spend time on it, or why they’d want to be Tweeting or FaceBooking or whatever it is that the kids are all doing nowadays.

Truth hurts. Here I am rolling around in SM all day long, thinking that it’s the neatest thing since bread with the crust cut off, and it turns out that in South Carolina most of the guys in the nice suits think it’s something their daughters do on their little pink phones before their coming out parties.

My BizDev friend challenged me to give him a few short points that he could use with the folks he talked to, that would help them understand why Social Media was important to them.

And the hard part?  It’s gotta be written in “Business” not in “Woo-Woo Awesome”.

1.  You’re Already Using Social Media – You Just Don’t Know It

If you’ve got more than two employees (and they’re under 60), you’re already using social media.  You just don’t know it.  The average social media user is 39 years old.

Your employees are innocently posting things like:

  • “I’m so proud that our tuna is now 95% Dolphin Free!”
  • “I don’t think a few Toyotas exploding is such a bad thing – our dealership hasn’t had a single one explode, yet!”
  • “Yeah, we had a problem with e-coli in our potato salad last week but we’ve cleaned all the dishes and the restaurant is ready to go!”

You need to have a Social Media strategy, a corporate policy, and guidance for employees.  Now.

2.  People Expect To Find You – If They Don’t, They Go Elsewhere

Your customers want you there. 93% of customers say they want businesses to be available through Social Media.

Customers look for your hours with their smartphone as they head to your store.  They compare your product guarantee as they shop in another store for a similar product.  And they look at reviews of your restaurant, hotel, or sewer service just before they call.

Your reputation is already out on the web, most likely.  Someone has posted a review, a blog, or a Twitter comment about an interaction they’ve had with your business.  If it was positive, you should be trumpeting it from the rooftops.  If it was negative, you should be on top of it immediately – solving the problem, if possible. Minimizing the damage, otherwise.

Ask Target. Or United Airlines.

3.A Social Media Presence Is Like That Fire Extinguisher On Your Wall

You’ve got a shiny fire extinguisher on your wall, and you hope to hell that you’ll never need to use it. But every year, you have it tested – and if you’re smart, you train your employees how it works.

A solid SM presence is like that for your business.  When disaster happens (your own little BP Oil Spill or Kentucky Fried Sink Bathers) you’re ready to manage communications and keep things from spiraling out of hand.

You can candidly communicate with your customers, sharing information transparently and quickly – not having let it get filtered and spun through the media.

Plus, your supporters (you’ll have supporters if you’re doing SM right – thousands of them) will come to your aid across the Internet and tell the truth about your company and who you really are.


So, those are my top three points I’d send out to Corporate America.What would you add?  Where have I gone wrong?

The Three Most Dangerous Words In Web Design: “Lorem, Ipsum, and Dolor”


If you’ve ever worked with a Web Designer (dangerous creatures who live in dark rooms, surrounded by monitors and empty cans of Red Bull and crumpled Twinkie wrappers) you’ve probably seen these strange words in the middle of the screen on your new web site:

lorem-ipsum“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. ”

Used by typesetters and designers since the 1960′s, this “filler copy” is meant to let you focus on the design elements of the page rather than worry about exactly what the copy will say. And, if you’re writing a brochure for Toyotas or a flyer about your lost cat, that’s all fine and good. But if you’re trying to design a blog, sales page or site for your community there’s a large problem.

You can’t properly design the look, feel and vibe of your site unless the designer can read the copy and experience the voice, tone, flavor and vibe of your copy. Let me offer three example opening paragraphs for the same web site, and you be the judge:

Bob’s Lugnut Emporium: Take #1

Welcome to Bob’s Lugnut Emporium. We are purveyors of fine lugnuts in southeastern Kansas (and the Oklahoma panhandle) for vehicles of all sizes.  If you need lugnuts, or lugnut accessories, we can supply all your needs. We offer overnight delivery of lugnuts via Fedex and UPS.  You can also visit our headquarters from 8AM to 5PM to pick up your lugnuts.  Please call ahead to make sure that we have the nuts you need.

Bob’s Lugnut Emporium: Take #2

In today’s competitive business world, your team is striving to be the #1 performer in your market niche — and Bob’s Lugnut Emporium can be just the partner that you’re seeking.  Our world-class experts are available to consult with you and provide business-class solutions that offer best-of-breed products providing proven best practices from threads to foot pounds.  We’re the market leader and industry pioneer in our space, offering our patented Limited Unlimited Guarantee Service (LUGS) where each lugnut has an RFID chip connected to a GPS which electronically communicates to your SAB tracking system to instantly update your CIO on the ROI of the product.

Bob’s Lugnut Emporium: Take #3

If you’ve got big trucks, they’ve got tires.  And if those tires fall off, you’ve got problems.  Big problems.  Missed deliveries, angry customers, huge repair expenses, and driver’s wages to pay with no deliveries being billed.  We’re Bob’s Lugnut Emporium — and we know it’s about way more than lugnuts to you.  That’s why every nut is tested twice.  That’s why professional drivers choose our nuts 3:1 in surveys.  And that’s why we offer a personal guarantee from our owner, Bob “Big Load” Johnson:  “My product will beat the nuts off the competition.”


So — would your web designer come up with a different looking web site for you, if they saw some of this copy before they put stylus to screen?  You bet.  These are three wildly different personas, voices, flavors and styles. (Yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point. So sue me.)  But without having heard any of this you probably would have gotten a nice site with a big shiny lugnut on the top and some photos of tires.

So the next time you’re at the “design” stage of a project, go ahead and write some copy — even if it’s just a few pages — and stay away from the “Lorem, Ipsum, Dolor” stuff.  You’ll be glad you did.

(BTW — the entire concept of this post was pretty much stolen from “Content Rules” — an amazing new book I’m reading by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. Go buy it right now. Stop reading and do it. Hurry up.)

You Can’t Stuff A Classroom Down A CAT5 Cable


old-classroomLast week I was having a nice conversation with a new online friend about helping her move her “in-person” teaching into the land of the Interwebs.  (This is a conversation that I’ve now had 21,586 times — since I do this sort of thing for a living — so I’m getting better and better at it.)  As usual, she was bemoaning the fact that there were parts of the in-person teaching experience that you “just couldn’t translate” into the online world.

With great sensitivity and thoughtfulness, I told her that those of us with a great deal of experience in developing online learning had a technical term for that concern.  We called it “dumb”. As you might expect, a short silence followed.

(I need to interject here that my new friend understands that I’m an obnoxious, opinionated old bear and doesn’t object to that at all.  Had I been dealing with someone who was more sensitive I might have described this as a “possible disconnect in her evaluation of the potential learning modality available within the online form factor as it relates to the more traditional instructor-led design model” or something like that.)

When she asked me to give her more detail, I said that thinking of the digital world as a place to just move her in-person class model didn’t make sense, because she already had a great place to teach in person.  It was called real life. What she needed to do was learn about the wonderful things that you can do in the online world that you can’t do in person, the experiences that learners can have in the online world that can’t be replicated in the meat world, and the ways that a digital teacher can create amazing experiences that would never be possible if they were in a traditional classroom.

How About An Example, Then?

Thank you for asking. One of my favorites involves what I call the “Poindexters” that all of us have in our real-world classrooms.  They’re the ones who sit in the front, have a pocket protector and a fresh notebook, and wave their hands high in the air every time we ask a question.  They want to be called on, they crave attention, and hope that the whole class hears them answer every question. (I have a great sympathy for them, because I is one.)

In the back of the room, we have the Wallflowers.  Heads down, never engaging, terrified that you’ll call on them and make them look stupid if they answer wrong.  Many of these people have the correct answer — and often some of the most interesting ideas — but you never get to hear them.  Because over the years in education we’ve taught them that the focus is on getting the right answer at all costs. So they just won’t participate.

In the online world, I can ask every student to log in as their favorite candy bar for the day.  (This means nobody in class knows who they are.)  Then, when I ask a question, the Poindexters and the Wallflowers are on a level playing field.  You should see the sparks fly!  You should see the creativity, the passion, and the engagement!

There are many more examples.  Online offers learners more time to create their thoughts and craft them carefully.  Those learners who are glib and can speak quickly and easily (I’m also guilty of that) are no longer at an advantage.  Collaboration looks very different online.  Research looks very different online. And peer-to-peer learning works wonderfully online, meaning the poor teacher doesn’t have to be the source of every bit of information.

So Online Learning Is All You Need, Then?

Oh, Pish-Tosh!  It’s just one more tool in the bag.  Just because we got pens, we didn’t give up on pencils.  There are good parts and bad parts to any way of delivering knowledge to young skulls full of mush.  And so far, we’re only scratching the surface on how to do digital learning right.

Want to glimpse the future?  Take a look at Building Intelligent Interactive Tutors: Student-Centered Strategies For Revolutionizing e-Learning” by Beverly Park Woolf.  In a nutshell, it’s AI that watches how the student is doing and offers meaningful help just when it is needed.  (Think “Clippy” on steroids.)

We’ll always have classrooms, and I’ll always love to teach in them.


I Measure Results Because I Suck


This morning I noticed a tweet from @JaneBozarth, the Doctor O’ Learning who writes books and is the Worlds Worst Bureaucrat in Raleigh, NC. She was pimping an article she’d written for Learning Solutions Magazine on measuring the results of your e-learning, entitled “Nuts And Bolts: How To Evaluate e-Learning“.

Always the snarky guy, I tweeted the link out to all my little followers, but then sent a comment direct to Jane:


I spend a lot of time promoting the idea of assessment in learning — and rarely, if ever, get much interest from clients in including that part of the project.  Because it’s expensive, difficult, time-consuming and often embarrassing.

She responded quickly:


And that’s the sad truth.  Lots of people don’t really want to know if their learning, “e” or otherwise is working.  Because it’s hard to measure, it takes time and dedication, and (ultimately) you might just embarrass yourself.

So Why Bother To Measure At All?

Because I don’t create amazing training the first time I try. My first version is usually somewhere between “good” and “sucks”.  I don’t spend a lot of time on it, it isn’t real glossy and pretty, and sometimes there are even some big empty gaps.  But I quickly evaluate how well it worked — using the actual learning goals and the assessments we all agreed on at the beginning — and then go right back to designing.

By version #2, I’m usually at about “great”.  But I don’t stop there. Now, I’m able to really start making things happen.  I can add teaching suggestions, more interactions, alternate models, and lots of nice media and facilitation. Then I head back to designing.

By version #3, we’re up to “amazing”.  Most people would hang it up. Not me.  I’m drilling down on the 20% of the assessment questions that people are still missing.  I’m asking the students what isn’t engaging them, the instructor what still feels stiff, and the client what they might have forgotten to include.

At version #4, we’ve reached “in-freakin-credible”.  Go ahead and measure me. Bring it on! Want to talk about R.O. I.?  I’ve got your ROI right here, sucka!  Want to compare me to your PPT lectures?  Go for it!  Want to put your next training project out to the lowest bidder?  Listen to me chuckle my evil chuckle!

So the next time somebody asks you whether you include assessment, just smile and say “of course — that’s where we start!”

Building An Image In Social Media, One Yam At A Time

I try to be as tall as Miss Destructo
I try to be as tall as Miss Destructo

I try to be as tall as Miss Destructo

People often ask me why they would want to be on The Twitters, or The Facebook, or involved in The Blogging.  (To be fair, they also often ask me to hush up and move out of the way, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)  My answer, oftentimes, is that it’s a great way to build a personal brand.

I point to people like Chris Brogan, James Chartrand, Naomi Dunford, Scott Stratten — all of whom have developed great businesses based on being open and entertaining with their audience on one or more social media platforms.

But my favorite example is always Amber Osborne, aka Miss Destructo.  She’s the blue-haired dynamo who is the voice behind @brucesyams — my favorite canned spud — and the “destroyer of social media boredom”. She blogs from Tampa, Florida — the location of Destructo HQ — and was recently named the Best Twitter Personality in Tampa.

She’s managed to build a high-profile image online over a couple years of blogging, tweeting, and generally being helpful and interesting to folks in the social media world. Now that work is paying off – she recently was a headliner at Social Story in Greenville, SC.  Here’s a short video interview with her by Phil Yanov of the GSA Technology Council.

So — what are you doing to build your brand online? If you’re spending all your time on Twitter offering coupons, or telling us what you ate for lunch, or blogging about that amazing discount your hairdresser has going on — think again!

A Tall, Blue-Haired Woman And Me — Wearing Pants


Yesterday morning, I got in Abe Lincoln (my 1994 Lincoln Town Car) and headed 100 miles north to Greenville to attend “Social Story Greenville — billed as an event to “help you find and social_story1communicate your unique story in a way that will connect to your customers like never before.” (Full Disclosure:  I was the guest of Phil Yanov, aka @ThinkHammer and a man who often buys me beer at TechAfter5.)

To attend an event in G-ville means I have to:

  1. Wear pants.
  2. Get up at 6AM.
  3. Act like an adult.

miss_dSo whatever it is, it’s got to sound pretty interesting.  Lots of the time, I pass because it just doesn’t seem worth it. But since Phil was going to be the Ringmaster at this Circus, and I had a chance to get my picture taken with MissDestructo, I decided to take the risk.

Good investment.  I spent the day listening to a wide variety of folks talking about the value of stories — your stories — and how you could use them in connecting to customers in Social Media situations.

Speakers included:

• Rick Murray, President of Edelman, Chicago

• Sean Buvala, @storyteller, author, and entrepreneur

• Trey Pennington, story prospector

• Tim March, aka TimTV, storyteller and performing artist

• Olivier Blanchard, @thebrandbuilder, entrepreneur

• Amber Osborne, @MissDestructo

There was also lots of nice time to talk with people who were attending, a nice box lunch, and an after-party that I had to miss so I could scoot home early for another engagement.

As a “professional learning dude”, I was a bit disappointed that it was mostly done in a model of one smart guy on a stage talking to all of us sitting on the bleachers.  It really would have been great to have used some of the SM tools that we have, and maybe created some other models for engaging before and after the event.  So here are three ideas for future events (that are planned for other cities, I hear).

  • Engage with us before the show Let’s have some short webinars or teaching sessions online before the actual show, for the participants who’d like to join in.  Or a phone call.  Or some e-learning.  Or a TweetChat.  Not everyone will attend, of course, but it would help beginners get up to speed and let the presenters better understand the needs of the audience.
  • Don’t just lecture to us I’m an experienced presenter, and I realize that there’s nothing more entrancing than the sound of your own voice!  But ask us questions, have us do things, play videos, use clickers for feedback, project a Twitter feed in response to your topic, engage, engage, engage! Kudos to Sean Bulvala for engaging with his audience!  (And NEVER present sitting down.  Never, never, never! That’s why people fall asleep listening to Charlie Rose.)
  • Give us some “next steps”  Set up a little community we can discuss our stories in, or a place we can share what we’re working on, or somewhere we can learn more.  You’ve gotten us all excited about this topic — don’t let the momentum die!  No matter what you’re trying to teach, people have to practice it to make sure it sticks — so help us out.

If you couldn’t make it to the show, you can watch the video online and get your stories out to the world right away courtesy of Brian Kelly Multimedia, or read the wthashtag transcript for all of the tweets sent.

Oh — as you can see — I didn’t have to act grown up the whole time!


In The End, All You’ve Got Is Your Good Name


I’ve just completed a very strange experience with a client.  Well, she wasn’t actually a client — that would suppose that there had been an exchange of funds for services.  In this case, there were santamany promises of funds, but none ever showed up.  It’s not the first time that’s happened to me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  And it’s not even the biggest lie I’ve ever been told — there was Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Federal Reserve.

No, in this case, there was just a string of phone calls and emails about the bright future I would have if I just “trusted” her.  If I bought a plane ticket to her client site with my own money, if I started work without a deposit, if I kept revising my proposal over and over and over without ever getting a dime from her.  I wouldn’t pony up the money for the plane ticket (not my first time at the rodeo) but I did buy her book, read up on her theories, prepped for a phone conference, participated in more calls and email, and generally wasted hours I’ll never get back.

(My wife, who’s the financial brains in the family, thought I was a fool.  From the start she pegged this one for somebody who’d never pay up.  But I’m a Minnesotan — our word is our bond, and if you say you’re gonna do something, you do it.  And if you sign a freakin’ contract? Done deal, Bubba.)

This went on for three weeks.  Finally, I called a halt and said unless she paid the deposit in the contract that she had signed — nothing more would happen.

She said she’d pay if I signed an NDA.  Well, that’s pretty common, so I said sure.  The agreement was if I signed the NDA she’d send the deposit via return mail.  What’s the first clause in her NDA?  That I never, ever disclose to anyone outside her team that I participated in the development and facilitation of a public event for 50 learning professionals.  Huh?  Was I going to wear a hood? I signed, but asked in the return email if she wanted to discuss exactly how this would work.

Suddenly, I was being unreasonable.  We needed to talk.  She had a partner who had to be consulted — we might even have to “start over from zero.”  Ruh roh, Scooby. The next morning, I had an angry email in the inbox telling me the contract was “canceled” — and “since you haven’t done any work, I don’t owe you anything.”

I pointed her to the cancellation clause on my website, common to most freelancers.  It says that if I can re-sell the time, I’ll refund your deposit.  But my time is all I have to sell, and I’ve already told others I’m unavailable.

Is This A Teachable Moment?

Well, on the one hand, I suppose it should be.  I saw right away that this person was pretty emotionally unstable.  I’d known her for years — she’d actually been my employer for a bit quite a while back.  And I don’t remember any of this kind of stuff. But now she kept changing her mind, spent hours trying to decide on spending $400 on an airfare, continually promised to send a check that never materialized, ignored emails — not at all the kind of behavior that gives you confidence in a professional relationship.

Maybe this is just a difficult time in her life.  Maybe there are personal, physical or professional pressures on her right now that are causing this kind of erratic behavior.  (I went through menopause with my wife of 14 years, and, at times, she was nuttier than I am normally.)  Maybe the stress of starting a new company and striking out in a new direction have overwhelmed her — and somewhere down the road things would even out.

Twenty years ago, I’d be shouting “lawsuit” and bringing in the lawyers and enforcing every recourse that my contract entitles me to.  Now, a little older and wiser, I just feel sad that people don’t realize that the learning world is a pretty small pond and that the ripples reach from edge to edge.

My Heart Will Go On: Social Media In The Enterprise


I just read a wonderful post by Jane Hart entitled “The Future Of Social Media In The Enterprise“.  In it, she deftly describes an issue that I’ve been encountering often lately with potential clients who want to talk about using this game-changing paradigm-shifting bar-raising (insert your own favorite stupid marketing metaphor here) thing we call Social Media.

titanic1Her argument is quite elegant.  If I may distill it, she feels that using Social Media tools only behind your firewall (not allowing employees to connect outside the company) is short-sighted.  And that their real value is the cross-pollination and connection that comes from engaging across a discipline, around the world, and to people who see things in vastly different ways.

(I bet British Petroleum has a great internal forum to discuss how much time and money to spend when drilling really deep wells, and what to do when you get 700+ safety violations.  But maybe, if they’d been more connected to reality, they wouldn’t have lost $17 BILLON DOLLARS and become the poster boy for dumb.)

I have to say, though, that I’m getting a little bit tired having this discussion with people who are extremely focused on keeping the fence up between their employees and the rest of the world.  Stopping the dangers of Farmville, YouTube, and people randomly getting information they might use to improve their skills.  It’s exhausting to keep having the same chat with the same network administrators.  The same vendors who want to sell their custom “behind the firewall” solutions.  The same tiny minds who think they have all sorts of special secrets about how they put their canned hams in the boxes and ship them out.

Would it make more sense for me to have a “pre-work” session, where there’s an assessment of some kind?  And if the client is mostly focused on how to lock all the doors and bar all the windows — just smile and move along?

On Jane’s blog, I said it this way:

We try to run from or eradicate that which we do not understand. If we can’t kill it, we try to control it and limit the access of others.

Probably true with the first cave-person who found fire. Still true in corporate America today. I have to admit that I, personally, am actually getting a little tired of having this discussion with potential clients and people who ask for advice.

I want to just say “Whatever” and move on to someone who’s open to new ideas and things that might help them. (Kind of a lifeboat drill — if I’ve only got so many years left, do I spend them arguing with people about the VALUE of parachutes or just HAND OUT parachutes to as many people as possible before the crash?)

It’s actually kind of exhausting. Like trying to convince my mom that “unlimited long-distance” actually meant she could talk to me as long and as often as she liked.

Never won that one, either.

So what do you think?  Do you want a parachute, or should we keep talking about the nuts and the in-flight movie?