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My Personal Experience with Personal Fundraising: Tips to Help You Reach Your Goals

I am very grateful for my generous supporters who helped me exceed my personal fundraising goal--But I definitely had to work for it!

I am very grateful for my generous supporters who helped me exceed my personal fundraising goal–But I definitely had to work for it!

On Saturday, August 9th I took on a difficult challenge that pulled me outside my comfort zone. The physical endurance was only one aspect that made this experience unlike anything I’ve ever done. The personal fundraising for a charitable cause was completely new to me as well.

As I wrote in my blog explaining the GORUCK challenge, personally asking for donations isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize.

From this whole experience, I walked away with quite a few new skills I never knew I had in me. One of which is my ability to set a fundraising goal – and exceed it. With the help of family and friends, I raised more than $1,200 for rare disease research. This was $950 more than I thought I was capable of receiving. What did I do to reach my goal? Here are some of the techniques I found to be most effective for personal fundraising:

Carefully choose your fundraising goal

In order to reach a goal, you have to first set one. I underestimated how important this number truly was for my own fundraising. If your goal is too small, donors may choose to give you a smaller amount than they would have it was twice that amount. Additionally, once you reach that goal, you have less power behind your plea for donations – even if you wish to continue to raise funds beyond it.

On the flip side, too lofty of a goal can turn donors off and make them feel like their small donation is merely a drop in the bucket. So where’s the middle ground? First think of the “safe” number that comes to mind, the one that you know you could reach with only about 60% effort. I would suggest setting your goal at twice this amount. This makes donors – at any level – feel like they can contribute to your success. It also holds you own feet to the fire to not get complacent or lazy with your fundraising.

Be strategic with who you ask

Simply put, people must be asked. If you don’t provide your family and friends with the opportunity to easily make a donation, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. And as I preach with any other type of communication, you must be strategic. If you start asking every single person in your social network (even ones who you have no real relationship with) you’re bound to come off looking spammy and desperate. Let’s be honest, only a small fraction of these people will actually donate.

Save your time and effort by narrowing down a core list of people who have your back and have supported you throughout other moments in life. These are the people that deserve a quality solicitation and will most certainly have the greatest return on your investment.

Make it direct and personal – don’t rely on social media!

Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to ask, you need to make it personal and genuine. Simply sharing a link to your fundraising page on Facebook may garner a few “likes” and words of support, but it does nothing to compel people to make a donation. Your network is able to easily hide between the virtual curtain and don’t feel any personal pressure to support you.

Combat this by writing an email, a letter or picking up the phone. Craft your message directly to that person and the relationship you have with them. While your core “ask” may be the same, add in a paragraph or two that shows this is not a mass message.

Be strategic with the timing of your asks

If you ask too far in advance, you are likely to get the response of “Sure, I’ll support you.” But then these people don’t feel the need to make the donation immediately and the task gets lost among their more pressing to-dos.

You should make your first ask about one month in advance of your fundraising deadline. You can even use this as the reason why you’re contacting them at this time. This also allows enough time to go back and follow-up with these same people in a few weeks, if you don’t hear back.

Ask for specific amounts

Asking someone for a certain level of donation can be tricky, but it is also effective for closing the deal. This amount will vary for every person on your contact list. Consider their personal financial situation, how well they know you and whether they have supported you at a certain level in the past. Together, these pieces of information will direct you toward the appropriate amount to ask for.

Why this is so effective is because it can compel people who have the means to actually give at that level. Otherwise, they may make a smaller donation than you were expecting. Additionally, for contacts who have limited means, you can encourage them to donate by asking for just $5. The direct ask lets them know that this amount is what you expect and what you’d appreciate; it’s not too small to make a difference.

Give away something of value in return

Even though this is a charitable donation and the “warm fuzzies” should be a good enough reward, people still like to feel as though they’re getting something for their contributions. This does not have to be monetary or material. I wrote a blog on why I was fundraising and this allowed me to initiate the conversation again with my networks. Moreover, it gave deeper insight into why this cause is so important to me.

People want to know that this is something you truly believe in, that it’s something you are committed to and something that’s unique from anything else you may have asked them to support in the past. Share this by writing a story, hand making an item to raffle off or giving a small token of appreciation to every donor.

Stay organized

Remember that list of contacts I told you to put together? Do yourself a favor and put that in a spreadsheet. You can then track who you contacted, for what amount, on what date and note any correspondence you’ve had with them. This will show you the appropriate time to initiate a follow-up or another means of communication. This will also be a big help when it comes time to thank your donors.

Follow-up, follow-up!     

Use that organized spreadsheet as a tool to carefully time when and how you will follow-up with each person you contacted. Sending an email with no response and failing to follow-up is your own missed opportunity – not your donors’. Much like hiding behind the virtual curtain of social media, people can easily brush off a single email or voice mail solicitation. Sending one or more personalized follow-up messages makes it harder to ignore. A no is as good as a yes, and that’s all you’re asking for. If someone can’t donate, that’s fine. Ask until you receive a response either way (then track it on your spreadsheet).

Thank donors immediately AND post-event

Finally, show gratitude! Once you’re alerted that someone made a donation, immediately thank them with a quick message. Then, hand write (yes with a pen and paper) your formal, post-event thank you notes. I’m a big fan of including a picture from the event along with a personal message to each donor. This is such a critical step for completing the fundraising process. You may have already gotten what you wanted out of your donors, but remember that for any future fundraising efforts, they will likely be the same network you come back to and will remember this experience!

P.S…my fundraising page is still live and open for donations! It would be a missed opportunity not to ask, right?

Have you had the experience of personally fundraising for a charity or cause? Share what you found to work – and not work by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Life

 

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5 Ways to Build Your Personal Brand

personal brand

Whether you’re the business owner or the intern, building a personal brand is a powerful way for employees at all levels to increase their credibility and showcase their expertise. Everyday people have become celebrities all because of how they positioned their personal brand on social media and beyond.

We each have the ability and access to all the tools we need to start building our own brand today – and it’s quite simple! Here are five essential steps for building a strong and influential personal brand.

1. Define your area expertise

First and foremost you have to be able to clearly define your personal brand. Otherwise, how can you expect anyone else to? A powerful component of your personal brand is your area of expertise. Don’t be intimidated by the word “expert.” This doesn’t mean you need to be the most knowledgeable person in the world on a subject. Rather, you simply need to identify a subject that you know a lot about and for which you have passion.

2. Adopt a tagline

Once you know the personal brand you want to build for yourself, the next step is to clearly communicate it to the world. Just as a business adopts a tagline, so should you. Having a personal tagline might sound cheesy – and it can be – but only if you choose a cheesy tagline. If the personal brand you want to create for yourself is more professional and serious, there are endless options for a tagline that will also reflect this tone.

Once you’ve established a tagline, put it to use! Incorporate it into your personal website, blog, business cards and email signature. Use it when introducing yourself at networking events or in business meetings to quickly and clearly communicate who you are. A tagline will help keep your brand consistent and make it memorable.

3. Embody your brand from head to toe

While you may get caught up in building your personal brand on your website, blog and social media, don’t forget about the most valuable brand-building asset you have with you at all times – you! Your clothes, hair and accessories all impact the image you give off to the world and this should remain consistent with your brand.

If you want to be viewed as a respected professional, you need to present yourself as one. Give careful thought to your attire before heading out to a client meeting or networking function. Whether you do this or not, I promise you people will notice either way.

4. Create opportunities for other people to experience your brand

You can create an awesome brand for yourself, but if you don’t allow others the opportunity to experience and interact with it, it will have little impact. Just as a business puts great effort into promoting their brand, you should put effort into promoting yours too.

For a personal brand, this does not require the same tactics that businesses use. Not many of us have the budget (or confidence) to put ourselves on a billboard! Instead, maximize your online presence by creating a personal website, starting a blog and maintaining a strong social media presence. These are all great ways to showcase your area of expertise and give your network an intimate experience with your personal brand. In addition to the virtual world, get out in the real world too! Take advantage of speaking engagements, networking functions and other social events to get out in your local business community and represent your personal brand.

5. Be consistent

If you do nothing else when building your personal brand, be consistent! Think of any business that has built a successful brand; they do not waver from the core values it represents. All of their internal and external communications center on strengthening it. You should embrace this same level of consistency when shaping your own brand.

With every new business opportunity, consider whether or not it aligns with your brand. If not, it’s likely not in your best interest to pursue it. Your brand represents your morals, values and character. If your actions don’t align with the image you’re trying to create for yourself, you will never achieve a strong and influential brand. Instead, keep your personal tagline top of mind and use it to guide the way you present yourself to the world – in person, online and everywhere in between!

What steps have you taken to build your personal brand? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Are You Making the Biggest Social Media Mistake?

#fail

These days, everyone is on social media. But really though. There are fan pages for cats, Twitter profiles for cartoons and Instagram accounts devoted solely to food. It’s no wonder every business wants to also have a presence on these platforms because it’s where they can reach their targeted audience with interactive content that sparks discussion and builds brand loyalty.

With everyone diving in head first, this also provides a prime opportunity for a lot of mistakes. For the most part, these are minor errors or forgivable social infractions, but sometimes these mistakes can prove to be much worse – even deadly – for business. So what is the single biggest mistake businesses make with social media? It’s NOT having it be part of a bigger communications strategy.

The danger of a disconnected social media strategy

The most effective social media cannot be done in a vacuum. Nor can it be your only effort to communicate with your target audience. The danger is two-fold. First, you risk presenting a completely different voice on social media, one that does not resonate with the rest of your brand. Second, you turn off the power to all other means of communications that could help to amplify your social media efforts.

If you pique someone’s interest with a great Facebook post, only to send them to an outdated website that makes you look inexperienced or unprofessional, even the best social media efforts in the world won’t close the sale.

How to avoid this mistake

Luckily this is an easy problem to fix. It begins with identifying the missed communications opportunities outside of social media and paying special attention to the brand you want to create so that all efforts work in unison to achieve this end result. Knowing what to do is the easy part, but actually making the time to do it is where the problem most often lies. It can be overwhelming, especially to business owners who don’t consider themselves to be communications-savvy.

It’s good to keep in mind that outsourcing is always an option and the number of firms and consultants who offer these services are ever-growing. But proceed with caution. If you’re thinking about working with a person or company that only does social media, you may want to rethink this decision. It’s okay to be specialized or particularly experienced in a certain niche, but when it comes to your business communications, everything needs to flow together. The various ways in which you communicate with your target audience need to complement one another.

Instead look for a firm or consultant who offers multi-faceted communications strategies that go beyond just social media. You want someone who can also create content for your website, blog, e-newsletter and other promotional materials. This is the best way to ensure that the voice and messaging will stay consistent.

Steps you can take today

One. List your other current communication efforts. Do you have any? Maybe there’s a brochure or business card you hand out, but it’s badly outdated. Maybe you have a website that you push your targeted audience to visit, but it’s a static web page with cheesy clip art and bright fonts. Take a critical look at ALL the messages you’re sending out in various ways. How are people finding you and what is this saying about your business?

Two. Note the areas that need some TLC. So you have social media down to an art – after all, it is kind of fun. Now, turn your attention to the messaging on your website, blog, promotional materials and e-newsletters. How can they benefit from some of the modern messaging you’re putting out on social media? Create a vision for how they can better engage your audience, just like you’re doing on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc.

Three. Dedicate time in your schedule to tackle some of these tasks in order of priority. If you know you simply don’t have the time, allocate this work to an employee or hire a communications consultant to help you keep things moving forward. While you’ll need to invest in their time, if they allow you to keep doing what you do best while they improve your comprehensive communications strategy – that is a worthy investment!

Where have you seen the biggest social media mistake being made? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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How to Cultivate Social Media Relationships (Outside of Social Media)

cultivate2Social media has forever changed the way we connect and communicate with people all across the globe. I’m always amazed to see the many various states – and countries – in which my followers reside. There’s no question that social media has fostered relationships that simply wouldn’t exist without this technology. Although social media helps to make communication easy and automated, there’s one very important aspect of relationship building that we must never put on autopilot or take for granted.

To cultivate meaningful (as well as beneficial) social media relationships, we must continue to build this connection outside of social media alone. Here are four important practices to help you foster your relationships and make yourself more than just an avatar.

Make it one-on-one

Following or friending a contact is only the first step, yet so many of us stop there and think we’ve built a meaningful relationship with someone. Sure, it’s exciting when your favorite celebrity follows you back on Twitter, but this hardly means you’re anything more than a number. To take it one step further, you have to seek out one-on-one interactions.

Once you get a good interaction going with someone on social media, such as a retweet, a like or a comment, follow-up with a private message (or even better an email) to continue the conversation on a more personal level. This could be a potential client, someone you admire or someone who has a question for you. While it’s not exactly face-to-face, in the virtual world, this one-on-one interaction makes you feel like you know the person on a much deeper level and is an important step in building a meaningful relationship outside of the massive, public social media platforms.

Reciprocate

It’s what every social media guru preaches, yet so often we still disregard this advice. To build a meaningful social media relationship, you must both give and take. If you have a connection that loyally supports you by retweeting, commenting, liking and sharing – look for opportunities to do the same for them!

The reason so many of us fail to do this is because we can’t rely on platforms like Hootsuite or Socialoomph to monitor this for us. Sure, they can tell us who interacted with our posts, but we need to take it one step further and closely follow our feeds, looking for appropriate times to reciprocate such support for news our contacts share. In doing so, we build mutual trust, respect and friendship that lay the groundwork for a meaningful relationship.

Put a face with a name

Any in-person, social function like a networking mixer, awards dinner or happy hour is a prime opportunity to take your social media relationships offline. There’s always that awkward moment when you know you’re already connected with someone on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, but when you meet them in person for the first time you still introduce yourself like you’re complete strangers. Stop the madness!

So long as you’ve kept a clean and professional relationship with them on social media (i.e. no stalking or creepy personal messages), there’s no shame in acknowledging you’re already connected with them. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re connected online; they might be thinking the same thing but don’t want to say it. This will put a (real) face with a name and show that you’ve done your homework. It will also make you memorable. Which brings me to my final point…

Be memorable

To make yourself more than just an avatar, you must first make yourself someone worth remembering. Out of all the people who contact me for various reasons, I’ve found the most memorable ones to be those who feel the most genuine. It’s easy to spot a message that was written just for you versus one that’s being sent out to an entire contact list. Private messages on social media are a great tool for cultivating meaningful relationships, but they’re also heavily abused. Be sincere in why you’re contacting this person – this will show through and help you stand out among the spam. It will also increase your chances of getting a response in return.

In a world where virtually everything is accessible online, the need to build personal and meaningful relationships becomes ever more important. It’s possible to accrue thousands of followers without a single one knowing you beyond your twitter handle. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you should strive for quality – not quantity – of connections. For it’s how well you engage your audience that ultimately determines whether they become a future client or customer.

Do you actively cultivate your social media relationships? Share how you do it!

 
 

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Appearance vs Experience: How social media has changed what we value

taking a photoHow often would you say you check your social media news feeds and see a picture of a friend on vacation, enjoying a fancy dinner, attending an expensive sporting event, meeting a celebrity or buying something big like a car or a house? I would venture to say this is likely an everyday occurrence. It’s common for social media to attract information such as big announcements or fun experiences, but what’s concerning is the trend of sacrificing the full enjoyment of these experiences in order to amplify their appearance.

We are becoming a society that is more focused on the appearance of our life experiences than we are with the actual enjoyment our life experiences. We can no longer appreciate a Valentine’s Day dinner unless we first check-in to the restaurant on social media, share a picture of our pricy entree and finish with an overly mushy (and overly personal) post about our significant other. Why do we need the validation of our social networks to confirm that life is good? Your vacation still occurred whether it’s on your Facebook newsfeed or not and your new car still exists even if your Twitter followers haven’t seen a photo. But maybe the reality of our lives is no longer enough. Maybe now we feel we need a broader audience to really enjoy life’s pleasures. This thought begs the following question…

Do we value the appearance more than the experience?

If you have ever paused, recreated or staged a moment so you could take a photo for Facebook, then the answer is yes. If you have ever updated your status in the middle of a romantic dinner, on vacation or during a massage, the answer is yes. I know I’m just as guilty of this crime as many of you may be and worse yet, it’s a hard habit to break! Next time you’re experiencing something really fun or unique, resist the temptation to update your social media. It seems downright unnatural. In particular, Facebook is becoming a “brag book” where we seek approval and validation for almost everything we do in life. It’s simply not accurate, and a little absurd, to measure the importance of such special moments by the number of “likes” a photo receives. We need to reverse this trend by refocusing on the experience over the appearance. We need to disconnect, even briefly, to allow ourselves a chance to take in the memory of a moment.

While social media has become the catalyst for this problem, it is a platform for sharing. There’s no reason not to update your networks with good news or a photo of something you enjoy. This is only cause for concern if in doing so you diminish the real-life experience for yourself. If you’re too busy trying to capture everything on your iPhone, the world is going to pass you by. Sure you’ll have photos to remind you of these great memories, but wouldn’t you rather simply live them first hand?

Have you seen examples of this emerging trend? Maybe you’re even a contributor. Where do you find your enjoyment – in the appearance or the experience?

 

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How Blogging Has Built My Business

building blocksWhen I first began blogging in June of 2011, it was an experiment. Publishing my first post didn’t feel much different than writing in a Word doc. I had zero subscribers and only a measly three or four people randomly stumbled on my blog each day. I wanted to learn how to be an effective blogger for my clients. To do so, I first had to become an effective blogger for myself. The blogging experiment far exceeded my expectations and I’m officially hooked. I write passionately for my readership of more than 700 subscribers every Monday morning.

The Bennis Inc blog began as nothing but a blank page, just as most things in life do. But it grew – and so did my business. Sure, time alone can cause growth, but I venture to say that it took more than just time. It took regular upkeep, vision and a willingness to put my thoughts out there for all the world to see. As awkward as that felt in the beginning, almost 150 blog posts later and it couldn’t feel more natural.

The best side effect of this blogging experiment was how it built my business and defined my personal brand. I’m still amazed to talk to a new acquaintance who mentions a recent post they read or to look at the stats and see the various search terms that led people to my blog. Whether you’re a fellow blogger (novice or expert) or an intrigued reader, here are the key ways in which blogging has built my business – and has the power to build yours as well.

It’s an icebreaker

My blog provides a great reason to start a conversation. Whether it’s in a business meeting or a quick run-in at the coffee shop, telling me, “Oh by the way, I read your blog,” has replaced the obligatory conversation about the weather. It has also given people a reason to reach out to me with a professional question or to explore the services I offer. If I was just a name on a web site, people may not feel this same connection or be motivated to start a conversation. This is a pleasant reminder that the time I spend putting my thoughts into words is worth something.  It’s cultivating an audience, opening doors and inspiring people enough to want to tell me about it.

It reaches further than you might imagine

My blog has opened up an avenue for communication with people from all across the world. When looking at the stats, it’s exciting to see how many different countries are lit up on the map. Even more fulfilling than just numbers and statistics is the meaningful interactions with people via comments and emails. The reach of my blog has helped to grow my business on a more local level as well. Within my local network, I’m impressed by how many people I know (and look up to) read it on the regular. I would never have imagined they had the interest or free time, but they do. This has helped to build my credibility as a writer and entrepreneur.

It’s a living portfolio

I’ve often referred to a blog as a living portfolio of your work. When a client asks to see examples of my writing, I can simply send them to my blog where they can choose from a variety of topics to really get a feel for my style. This is much easier and more genuine than putting together a dull document of writing samples. They can also see the interactions with my readers which demonstrates my ability to grow an audience. My blog has become a valuable asset to my proposal process and I believe has helped to win me some work as well.

It strengthens your SEO and your personal brand

The final and most powerful way I feel my blog has helped to build my business is by strengthening my SEO and personal brand. Adding fresh and high quality content to your blog and appropriately tagging each post is one the best ways to increase your search engine optimization. I choose to host my blog on WordPress (as oppose to my web site) because of its added SEO power. Many readers have found my blog by browsing WordPress’s categories.

My blog has also strengthened my personal brand by showcasing the “human element” of Bennis Inc – me! While my business is all about Public Relations, I choose to make my blog much more personal with many articles on the struggle of entrepreneurship, life balance and unconventional wisdom. My blog shines a spotlight on the “Twenty-Something Entrepreneur” that I’ve become.

There you have it – all the compelling reasons you could need to be inspired to create or grow your own blog! The most important thing to remember is that once you start, don’t stop. Keep writing and posting regular content. Think of your blog as a hungry little monster. It needs food to keep it growing and that’s what your posts will be, food for your blog and fuel for search engines to pull new readers to your site.

Finally, here are some tips for successful blogging to get you start. Go forth and blog!

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Business & Success, Social Media

 

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The Growing Gap Between Technology and Wisdom

dunce cap

Technology is both a blessing and a burden. It allows us to access people and information all across the globe and has facilitated countless opportunities that would never exist without its advancements. But this doesn’t come without setbacks. Technology is moving at an increasingly rapid pace, a pace that society is struggling to match. A quote from Isaac Asimov sums this thought up quite well, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” This truth is only made more evident every time we see the misuse of social media or turn to a search engine to do the thinking for us. There’s a growing gap between technology and wisdom. Instead of embracing our ability to do more, we’re using it as a crutch to do less. Let’s take a look at a few trends that illustrate how technological advancements have come at the price of conventional wisdom.

Social Media Faux Pas

Spelling errors, outlandish or offensive statements and superficial thoughts are accepted without a bat of an eye on social media. Even if you keep your friend list to just close contacts, you’re still bound to see examples of these faux pas in your newsfeed on a daily basis. Social media has given each of us a soapbox and a megaphone, but not the common sense for how we should use it. The wisdom and better judgment we need to develop our “social media manners” is being outpaced by technology. As a result, we see daily examples of social media faux pas, some of which can be dangerous or hurtful. For the most part, social media is like the Wild West with no rules and infinite freedom. This is both a benefit and a pitfall. It will take time to develop the wisdom to utilize this technology with decorum, and it will also take our personal desire for higher standards. What can we do right now? Take careful consideration to what we share and how we share it. Use the same manners we would use when communicating through any other medium. It may be simple advice, but it’s not common sense – yet.

Lack of Common Knowledge

“I don’t know…Google it!” This is a phrase that’s echoed all across the globe. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s being said right now in multiple different languages. This is the easiest response to any question someone might ask of you. I don’t know if the bigger issue is that we don’t know the answers to so many simple questions or if we do but are just too lazy to retrieve them from memory. We can now type faster than we can think, and this is the ultimate problem. Search engines are right at our fingertips every hour of the day. Thanks to smart phones, they’re only ever as far as our pockets or purses.  I’m just as guilty as anyone else – if I want to know the capital of a state, convert feet to meters or check my spelling, I turn to Google. What did we ever do before? We committed information to memory. Search engines are fast, reliable and easy, but they’re not a replacement for actually learning the information they provide.

Communication Erosion

I’ve discussed before how technology can both bridge a gap and build a wall. It allows us more ways than ever to communicate and gives us instant access to people across the globe. But it also provides a shield that we can hide behind and has contributed to erosion in formal, face-to-face communication. When presented with all of our options, we usually choose email over phone calls and phone calls over in-person meetings. Throw social media into the mix, and Facebook messages and Tweets have become an even less formal way to get a hold of someone. This is a fine option for a quick message to a friend, but social media is not a replacement for sharing a project proposal or soliciting someone for their business. When it comes to sharing hard news or negative feedback, it’s even more tempting to hide behind technology.  Sending a generic Linkedin message to make an introduction or breaking up with someone over text may get the message across, but it won’t earn you any respect and won’t make you any (real) friends.

With all of the information we have at our fingertips, we are the “smartest” society yet. But in exchange, we have seemed to sacrifice our wisdom and ability to think critically for ourselves. Social media doesn’t spell check our egregious grammatical errors or review our half-baked thoughts, search engines have made us lazy and smart phones have made us dumb. These are the rock bottom standards that technology accepts from us, but we can demand better. Let’s aim a little higher. With awareness and commitment, we can maintain our wisdom even with rapid technological advancements. Let’s take an active role in growing our wisdom every day with the help of technology, not despite it.

In what ways have you seen the decline of conventional wisdom because of technology? Do you rely on search engines or smart phones to complete everyday tasks? Share your thoughts and add to the discussion by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Social Media, Technology

 

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Why You Should Become A Lifelong Learner

Head in sand ostrich

It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand, but to remain competitive in the marketplace, we must take our education into our own hands.

The first 22 or so years of our lives are consumed by education. Our full time job is to learn as much as we can about the world around us and narrow our focus on a specific area that we hopefully will turn into a career. But once we’re launched into the real world, this commitment to continuing our education seems to wane. As we spend more and more time applying the knowledge we have, we have less and less time for seeking out additional education. Slowly but surely, our wealth of knowledge begins to depreciate as it becomes outdated and incomplete.

With the types of resources we have available right at our fingertips, this should never be the case. We always have the opportunity to better ourselves through lifelong learning even if we feel we have no time or money to do so. It’s possible – and paramount – to developing both our career and our character. Here are a few critical questions we must first ask ourselves if we want to assume the mindset of a lifelong learner.

When did we decide to stop learning?

Doesn’t it seem unbalanced that we rely upon the education we gain during the first quarter of our lives to last us for the other three-quarters? This is a common idea that society has made acceptable. Maybe it’s because we’re so overloaded with school, classes, exams and essays that when we earn a degree we want to wash our hands of this part of our life completely – never wanting to return to the anxiety and challenge that often accompanies it. The shame is that this is such a small part of what learning truly is. Learning need not be defined by a classroom, diploma or grades. The decision to start learning again doesn’t mean having to enroll in a graduate program. The options for how we can do so are virtually limitless, but first we must change our definition of learning.

How do we change our definition of learning?

It doesn’t require a classroom setting to enhance your education. In fact, most of what we’ve learned throughout our lives was from observing other people or through trial and error. So throw away the notion that night classes are the only way to re-educate yourself. Technology has also drastically changed the learning opportunities available to us for free and from home. College-level courses are available at all hours of the day and in increments that can fit into any schedule. This type of learning may not earn you a formal degree, but unless your career field has a proven return on investment for additional degrees, don’t take on that unnecessary debt. Rather, informal and free courses are just as effective at achieving the ultimate goal…a lifelong education.

Will lifelong learning really make a difference?

Yes. Making the commitment to learn throughout all quarters of your life – not just your first – will have a great impact on both your career and your character. It will keep you competitive in today’s job market. With the ever-changing face of technology, we don’t have the luxury of relying on what we learned decades ago to get us through the job we have now. Even more mind boggling is that for many of us, the job we will have 5 years from now likely doesn’t even exist yet! If you want to increase your value as an employee (and secure your job for the future), lifelong learning is a must. Also, the more you know the more interesting you tend to be. Did you ever know someone who could start a conversation with just about anyone? It’s likely that this person was well-educated and continued his education throughout his life. You want to be that person, too. Finally, lifelong learning will make you independent. The more you know how to do on your own, the less you will feel inferior or helpless. You will be able to trouble-shoot your own problems and work more efficiently as a result. There’s many more compelling reasons why each of us should become a lifelong learner, but I think I’ve made my point.

To end, I will leave you with this interesting quote from Robert Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Resources for lifelong learning:

Coursera. Coursera works with top universities from around the world to offer classes online for free.

OpenStudy. OpenStudy is a social learning network that allows you to connect with individuals who have the same learning goals as you.

edX. Harvard University and MIT partnered together to create interactive, free online courses. The same world-renowned professors that teach at Harvard and MIT have created the courses on edX.

Udacity. More college level classes taught online for free.

CreativeLive. CreativeLive lets you stream live courses being taught for free (if you want to view the course later there is a fee). The courses focus on more creative and business subjects.

TED. TED compiles speeches and lectures from professors as well as interesting people from many different walks of life. This is a staple for lifelong learners! (And they tend to be far more interesting and entertaining that the college lectures you remember)

iTunes U. iTunes U has thousands of free downloadable podcast lectures taught by the best professors from around the world. Learn while you exercise or on a long road trip.

YouTube EDU. Addicted to YouTube? Put it to good use by enriching your mind with thousands of videos that cover a variety of topics.

 
 

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The Things I Would Never Know Without Facebook

facebook loginFacebook – what was life ever like before this social networking phenomenon? Old flames and friendships have been rekindled, businesses have taken off and tanked and jobs have been found and lost all as a result of our publicly displayed interactions on this single web site. With more than 750,000,000 unique visitors estimated each month, you’re in the minority (at least within modern society) if you’ve chosen to stand strong and quit or resist the temptation of joining Facebook. Because of the nature of my business and my own curiosity with other people’s lives, I don’t think I’ll ever join the ranks of Facebook protestors, just as I don’t anticipate becoming Mennonite anytime soon. However, just entertaining this idea did lead me to ponder what would I be missing if I deleted Facebook and disconnected from the world of “likes” and “status updates.” What would I never know if it wasn’t for Facebook? So here is my comical, but insightful list of the knowledge and resources I’d lack without my daily logins to the world’s most popular social networking site:

Last Names

Without Facebook I’m fairly certain I would know as many of my acquaintances’ last names as I would their phone numbers without my cell phone contact list. Which means I would basically only know the last names of my family members…maybe. Facebook has become my flash card memory game for learning people’s full names and placing them with a face. I’m always proud when I can reference someone by their full name without stuttering or second guessing. What I don’t also reveal is that in addition to knowing their last name, I also likely know what they ate for lunch and the name of their family dog…

Birthdays

What better way to make someone feel special than to remember them on their birthday? Facebook has made this nearly fool proof so long as everyone chooses to list their birthday on their profile. I’m not a supporter of the cheesy and impersonal birthday wishes on someone’s Facebook wall (in fact, I think it’s been years since I’ve done this for anyone), but Facebook does help to prompt me to send them a more personal message or mention it in conversation if I see them that day or week. Is this a cheap shortcut to actually committing birthdays to memory? Absolutely. But I know I always appreciate a birthday wish and rarely accuse someone of only knowing this because of Facebook – particularly if the wish is accompanied by cake or an alcoholic beverage. I’ll take it!

Life Milestones

Even more useful than a birthday reminder is being cued in to the major life milestones of my contacts. Without Facebook I would have to rely on second-hand information or class reunions to tell me about my acquaintances marriages, children, new jobs and even the less happy parts of life. This instant news feed of pictures and posts allows me to stay in the know and offer support or congratulations where warranted. It’s safe to assume that with the volume of “friends” most of us have on Facebook, most people look, but don’t comment on such milestones. However, the pride and excitement we experience from announcing our news to the masses is well worth the couple of haters that might come along with it.

Insignificant and Trivial Facts

Life milestones are one thing – they’re newsworthy, interesting and I’m happy to be kept informed of them. On the flip side, there are far more insignificant and trivial items that are also shared on Facebook that I could manage without ever knowing. When I spend more than 5 minutes of my day reading about someone’s rant over a ref’s bad call, cliché quotes or a self-photo shoot taken in someone’s bathroom mirror – I know that is 5 minutes of my life I will never get back and I need to remove myself from my computer immediately. There’s no denying that Facebook can be a huge time waster, so we have to keep in check what type of information we’re consuming and know when to step away.

How to Reach Someone Without an Email

Back to the more useful elements of Facebook, I’ve found it to be an extremely reliable resource of reaching people who I don’t have an email for. Mostly these are friends or distant relatives, but in some cases Facebook has also helped me to connect with someone regarding something business related. They had a bad email address or were unresponsive, yet answered my Facebook message within minutes. It’s amazing! Without Facebook, my “Plan B” for reaching someone aside from email or phone would be reduced to smoke signals or a carrier pigeon. While both are creative, they yield far less reliable results.

My Husband

I could say I saved this as the last item on my list because it’s my most exciting and most life-changing thing I gained from Facebook, but in reality it’s because I really didn’t appreciate how impactful Facebook has been on my life until I started thinking a bit deeper. It wasn’t quite as awkward or painful as an online dating experience, but the story of how we met is a pretty entertaining one that you can read more about here. My husband Scott and I first connected on Facebook after being introduced by mutual friends. Without a platform for social networking, I’m not sure how we would have followed-up and communicated further since no numbers were initially exchanged. Chances are good that the excitement to see each other again would have faded and that little spark fizzled out. But thanks to Facebook, that wasn’t the case! Our story is far from unique and the accurate number of couples who have connected and ultimately married as a result of Facebook would be hard to quantify.

To wrap up with just a brief moment of shameless self-promotion – for those of you who are among the 750,000,000 monthly visitors to Facebook, you should also connect with Bennis Inc here: Facebook.com/BennisInc. I would love to soon have our number of “likes” reflect the number or loyal readers and followers of the Bennis Inc Blog. Don’t have Facebook? I still want you to connect! Instead, comment below and tell us why you made this choice.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Life, Social Media, Technology

 

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Social Selling: Myth or Magic? (Guest Blog by Sam Bessant)

I’m thrilled to welcome back guest blogger Sam Bessant. Her first contribution to the Bennis Inc Blog, “Success Versus the Work-Life Balance” continues to receive top hits! Learn more about Sam in her bio following this post and be sure and visit her personal blog here.

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social media tool boxSocial selling is a relatively new concept to the world as its dawn has only come through the dramatic shift we’ve all made to living our lives through social media in the last few years. The whole networking game has changed and we now have easier access to more people and more information than we’ve ever had before. But what are we doing with all this information and what impact does it have on our working lives?

The term “social selling” is being banded around left, right and centre by people who consider themselves forward thinkers in the field but few seem to understand what it really means and whether it really involves any actual selling. A new pothole for salespeople to stumble into is the idea that stalking prospects on LinkedIn and sending them a half-arsed message constitutes selling. Similarly, there is the idea that following an event on Twitter is just as good as being at the event; reading a blog about how to sell is the same as mastering the technique yourself…the list goes on. The problem is that actions taken by your “virtual” presence in the online world are just that – virtual and intangible. And the results will be too. At some point, that world of Web 2.0 needs to meet with more old fashioned actions because we aren’t living in a fully virtual society yet. People still rate people and personal relationships built up through phone calls and meetings; some people aren’t even part of this huge social network, preferring to remain aloof and test your persistence in reaching them.

So we circle back to the question of “what is social selling?” and is it something that has been created by the very people whose advertising revenue relies on us using their social networks? I would suggest not. Social selling is actually very powerful but it needs to be thought of as a tool; one singular tool in a whole toolbox of potential sales techniques. What social media allows us is the opportunity to understand more about the people we want to engage, more about the companies they work for and more about what other salespeople are doing to win themselves success. It gives us an “in” and helps to reduce the awkwardness of the initial contact because we have enough information to make contact with purpose. We don’t have to spend ages battling with switchboards to get hold of a name and we can send messages directly to C-level contacts we’d have spent months trying to target previously, but this is only the beginning.

As with more traditional sales methods, social selling takes time. You still need to qualify your prospects and build a relationship. The social media piece simply allows you to do some of the legwork before you make contact so that you can wow them with a compelling story tailored just for them. A mistake commonly made is thinking that all of the information a salesperson needs can be found online. This is not the case. What you can find is a great foundation to hop over the initial hurdles so you can spend your valuable time working on real sales opportunities rather than arguing with gatekeepers. So social selling isn’t a myth; it’s a real thing and there are real opportunities being found through social media. However, it isn’t magic either. Nobody will do the hard work for you and you’ll still need to be creative in the way you approach people and ensure you deliver the service you’d expect yourself. Social selling is a valuable tool which you can’t afford to overlook but remember…it is only a single tool and cannot replace your entire tool set.

Sam BessantSam Bessant lives in Reading, UK. She currently works the standard office 9-6 while trying to finalize the direction she will take to start her own business. Sam’s blog, 20somethingfreak was created to help Sam and others understand what it is to be in your 20s and for Sam to share some of the millions of daydreams she has every day! Be sure and visit Sam’s personal blog: www.20somethingfreak.wordpress.com.

 

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