How to be valuable online in 2018

You know what kind of year-end blog posts are most valuable? In my mind, it’s ones highlighting the best or most successful content someone’s published throughout the whole year. That editorial winnowing down is a great value add. One good example is Marketing Sherpa’s Best of 2017: MarketingSherpa’s most popular content about email, customer-first marketing, and competitive analysis.

That thought combined with another thought or two in my mind just now and I decided it was time to update an old model I’ve been sharing with people for almost ten years: five ways to add value to social media conversations. That list is due for an update. I wrote it when I was a pro blogger and was sharing thoughts on how the bloggers on my team could get more traction with their blog posts.

These days I’m doing marketing, sales, research, business development, product leadership, influencer engagement, and more over at Sprinklr and so the blogger’s code of adding value needs to be expanded.

Why think about adding value? Few things are more important to building a career in this new, digital, post-scarcity world. You can either extract value or you can add value, and abundance-minded co-creation of value is the best way in this new world to strengthen your resource magnetism. The more value you put out into the world, the more you’ll also get yourself.

Adding value to conversations of general interest builds pass-along value and widens your network.

Here are some ways to do that.

Classic ways to add value in online communication

  1. Be first. If you can be the first place someone sees some valuable information, people will notice. If you are that person twice, then you’ll start to develop a reputation. Make a regular practice of it and people will pay attention to all the things you say, post, share and write because they’ll want to see what good things you first first or early next. This is what I used to specialize in as a blogger.
  2. Say it best. If you communicate more clearly, effectively, or insightfully about a topic of general interest, that’s a big value add. Who does that really well? A few examples include Stratechery and market research firm L2, who do incredible YouTube vidoes. Gartner acquired them this Spring.
  3. Bring multiple perspectives together. Aggregating influencer replies to a question is getting pretty tired, but there are good ways to approach this tactic still. I get my politics from Memeorandum and my tech news from Techmeme, for example.
  4. Unique perspective. My favorite examples this year is long-time blogger Audrey Watters, whose perspective I wish was less rare, and Jeanne Bliss, who brings a unique practitioner/consultant/journalistic perspective to interviewing corporate leaders in Customer Experience.
  5. Be funny. This is the hardest one, and I don’t know who does the best job of it, but I do know that whenever I share this list verbally, all the other items are so serious that people laugh when I just say “be funny.” It’s easier said than done! But it is one way to add value to social media conversations online.

That’s the list I’ve been sharing for years, but lately I’ve been thinking that list deserves an update. Here are a few tactics I’m thinking of adding to it for 2018.

Cross networks. Find great things on Twitter and share them on LinkedIn. Work out your issues on Wikipedia and then write an email newsletter about it. I once asked Kirk Borne, the most influential man in data science on Twitter, how he curates such an incredible stream of high-quality data science content. His answer? “Listservs.” So smart.

Explain it differently. Narrative stories transformed into visuals. Data and tables turned into narrative sentences. Video. White boarding. As Dave Gray says in Liminal Thinking, “Drawing things together aligns people on a vision better than words. And if it can’t be drawn, then it can’t be done.”

Draw connections with symphonic thinking. Daniel Pink writes about Symphonic Thinking as an increasingly important ability to draw together disparate things into a whole, to draw connections. I realized in 2016 that symphonic thinking is one of my greatest strengths. Maybe you’re good at it too.

Abstract into a new model. Peter Drucker said that strategic decisions engage with a problem at the highest conceptual level, what’s really at the root of it? And come up with a principal for dealing with it. Mary K Greer says that when you recall a memory from your experience, examining the elements of that experience that stand out in the memory is a powerful way to better understand what’s important to you about life. I think there’s a way that we could take specific information and use it as an opportunity to explore general principles that would be a very valuable contribution to online communication.

Apply a model. I’m not sure what to say about this one, but it’s something I want to explore more in 2018. For example…

Inversion: the practice of exploring how you want to do something by asking how a situation might play out if it went 100% wrong, and then looking at the steps you’d take to do the opposite of that.

Meaning as made of a thing’s context, contrasts, and corollary consequences.

Kirk Borne again once wrote about how data scientists can wrap their minds around really complex data sets by asking which feature of the data is most descriptive, which is most explanatory, and which is most predictive. You can do that with anything.

Aiming to make a bigger impact through small steps, smartly made: focus, leverage, and acceleration. Focus = sense of destination and direction. Leverage = convincing others to contribute more energy than you have alone. Acceleration = taking time for reflection, learning, and refinement to optimize for non-linear improvement. (John Hagel)

Applying a model to an issue is a way to create, capture, or add value just like applying labor plus capital plus technology to resources.

Those are a few things I’ve got on my mind going into this wild, abundant, frightening year of opportunity. How about you?

Digital Transformation will change how we work and live together

I was asked in an interview that I hope will appear online soon what I’m excited about that’s coming in the future of social media. Based on some thoughts from Dion Hinchcliffe that I wrote about recently and some historical context from Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s new book Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future, here is what I wrote:

In short, I’m excited about how social media is changing the way we work. I’m excited about the coming bounty of real understanding and increased humanity that I expect to be a part of digital transformation. 20 years ago, the digital re-engineering of the enterprise brought new levels of efficiency and freed many people from their most repetitive work. Now our jobs require far more creativity, self-determination, communication, and other fundamentally human skills.

That type of transition is underway again in what we call Digital Transformation. Now it’s new technologies like social networks – both inside and outside of enterprises, new ways of working like the practice called “working out loud,” and new, network-informed ways of thinking about stakeholders, measurement, growth and management. This is an exciting time, this time of the consumerization of the enterprise. Hopefully the enterprise will have a lot to add to the mix as well – and the new capabilities of social media will be leveraged in powerful and positive ways at work.

On a deeper level, below this question about work, I’m excited about the ongoing democratization of communication and self-awareness that social media offers. It continues to face criticism, for example recently from some of the people who helped create it, as “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created [that] are destroying how society works.” But I think that’s just a sign that we as individual participants need to take more responsibility and use social media more effectively. History will be the result of both structural and macroeconomic trends and our individual decisions, together.

How good are you at predicting things? Here’s my Brier Score for the week

HBR ran a great article about improving the forecasting abilities of teams this week, (Superforecasting: How to Upgrade Your Company’s Judgement) I highly recommend it, and one of the most interesting tools discussed was something called the Brier Score. It’s an easy way to quantify how well you are doing at accurately forecasting the outcomes of your actions.  It’s pretty simple.  I kept track of my predictions at work and home over this past week and calculated my score, I’ll be excited to see if I can improve it week over week.

I scored a .78 this week over 4 predictions.  You want to get as close to zero as possible. I was wrong about one thing and it really dinged me.

Here’s how you do it.  Write down a forecast about something you can be either right or wrong about, and a degree of confidence you have about your forecast.  For example, I predicted that I was probably going to be invited to join my wife at dinner last night after an event she’s participating in.  We’d discussed whether that would be the case, and we left it open ended – but I had a 60% level of confidence that’s what was going to happen.

And I was right!  So when you’re right with a 60% confidence level, you calculate your score like this: (.60-1)^2 = .16

Now I also predicted this week that a certain woman I admire a lot on the internet was going to be lukewarm about a suggestion we collaborate on a project.  In part just to experiment, I gave that prediction a 70% probability!

And I was wrong!  She was pretty open to it and we’re doing a little experiment together that’s super cool.   I’m really glad I was wrong – but that dinged my Brier Score badly.  When you’re wrong with a 70% confidence level it’s (.70-0)^2=.49.  And we’re looking for as close to zero as possible.  Ouch.

So this week I tracked 4 predictions with confidence levels ranging from 60% to 80% and I was right about the other two, so I added them up and my total score for the week was .78.  We’ll see if I can get it below that next week.

I gave myself some feedback on them where I could, and next week I’m going to think a little harder before committing to predictions.  I’d like to see if there are variations of the Brier Score, or if I should adapt it, to take into consideration the significance of the predictions.  Some of the things I made forecasts this week were much more important than others.

A few other thoughts:

  • Putting more thought into predictions so I’m more confident in them will make my score better when I’m right.
  • Without some normalization, every prediction you make impacts your score negatively.  I want to be thoughtful and keep track of many things throughout the week, so maybe I should say my score was .195 across 4 predictions.
  • There’s more to this but I haven’t drank enough coffee this Saturday morning yet to go much more in depth
  • The HBR article suggested you do this kind of thing with groups of people and figure out who’s best at forecasting.  It also suggested that groups collaborate and receive as little as an hour of structured training on avoiding faulty thinking patterns.  The authors found that those conditions dramatically improve success.
  • I love models like this – they are so powerful and useful!

Meeting Prep, on Your Own Time: A Template Google Doc

After feeling frustrated that I wasn’t prepped as much as I wanted before a meeting called by one of my co-workers at Plexus Engine, I came up with the following Google Doc template to capture all the info we needed before meeting with someone from outside our company. I really like this system and thought I’d share it.

The procedure we’re experimenting with is to create a copy of this Google Doc, edit it to fill it out, then paste the URL to view it inside our company calendar listing for said meeting. I’ve been experimenting with changes; just tonight I added the field for “confirmed within 36 prior hours” because I try to email people the day before a meeting to confirm and set the stage.

This system helps us communicate explicitly about meetings, but on our own time. It doesn’t take too much time to fill one of these out – generally less than 5 minutes. We’ll see how it works, we’ve only just begun doing it. If you’d like a copy of that same template, I posted one here. I have a link to that master template doc bookmarked in my browser toolbar. If you can think of any other ways this could be made more useful, please let me know.

A List of Checklists for Startups

tl;dr: Checklists for Startups

I’m falling in love with checklists. Specifically, a new service called Checkmarkable, which makes it easy to create re-usable checklists for any purpose. My Daily AM Checklist is proving super effective in helping me change my habits and maximize my productivity. I fill it out every day before jumping into the unique tasks of the day.

Checklists mean you don’t have to spend mental energy remembering the details of a complex workflow, they are all just right there in front of you. They also mean that people who do complex jobs in high stress environments (pilots, surgeons) are less likely to forget to do important things. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Checklists are themselves like technology, aren’t they? They do work (the work of coming up with a plan), through automation, which saves time and lets the user start their work from a higher level of abstraction. Once you’ve got a good checklist, you’re no longer a person figuring it out cold – you’re someone who’s just taking care of business, getting it done, and then moving on to more creative work.

At Plexus we’re realizing there were some basic things we should have done before starting the company, or as we started it, and we wish someone had told us about those things. So we’re working on a checklist to share with others, particularly our class-mates in the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE).

One of the things we did in the meantime though was survey (using our own automated technology) all the top tech startup incubators we could find for checklists they had made or shared already. A first iteration of that list of checklists is here: Checklists for Startups. Included are checklists for CEOs, for salespeople, developers and designers.

Checklists for Startups

Can you point us to some other good startup checklists? Please do and I’ll add them to the list!

Related: this 40 minute video from Joe Stump about things to do when starting your startup. Joe told me a few days ago when he came into PIE that was probably his favorite presentation he ever gave.

If you want to track the incubator community day in and day out, PIE’s Rick Turoczy has a list of 400+ Twitter accounts associated with the leaders in the field.

Enjoy!

Why Klout is Really and Truly Valuable

Social media scoring system Klout did a big refresh tonight and it is clearly broken because it said I am less influential than it said I was before. But is it worthless? Is this a meaningless arbitrary number that deserves nothing but mockery? No.

Alexia Tsotsis posted a funny video and a harsh critique at TechCrunch tonight and she said, essentially: Klout is worth nothing, nobody cares.

I disagree.

I’ve certainly got critiques of Klout, but I think the service’s value is important to recognize, too.

My comment, in response:

I use the Klout browser plug-in to help when I’m scanning down a large set of Twitter users in my browser as one of several methods to make sure I don’t miss someone that was not known to me before but was known to and respected by the many more people on the web than myself. In other words: “We all have an inherent sense of who is influential” is a statement that only makes sense if you keep looking at the same people all the time or assume that you already know everyone influential.

I suppose I could get a good feel for how influential a person I do not know, from a place I’ve never been, is if I took 30 to 180 seconds to make that evaluation manually (who can’t judge another person quickly these days?) but if you’re looking at hundreds or thousands of people then Klout can be a useful tool.

For example, see below a Twitter search for the hashtag #occupysf, with the Klout browser plug-in turned on. Scanning down these four accounts Tweeting the term, the numbers tell me that the first and fourth accounts are less weighty than the second and third. If I stopped and looked closer you know what I’d see?

I’d see that the first is a Sarah Palin satire account that almost no one pays attention to and the fourth is a political rabble rouser with little traction on Twitter either. The second and the third are documentary film makers who have built audiences for themselves online. I stopped to find that out, but I didn’t have to thanks to Klout. When I’m in a hurry and there are lots of twitter accounts to evaluate fast – I can scan down those numbers and see who’s got a history on Twitter and online, and who doesn’t. I don’t know any of these people, but some of them have a greater demonstrated history of contributing content that’s appreciated by their communities than other accounts have. Is that the be-all-end all metric? No. Is it a useful tool? Yes. Klout is great for quick judgements and fast sorting of a bulk of people online in lightweight circomstances.

All social networks assign scores to the accounts inside them, Klout just surfaces those as its central value proposition.

Tracking Startup Incubators: Three Helpful Resources

A few weeks ago ReadWriteWeb’s Audrey Watters wrote up a report ranking the top 15 startup incubators and accelerators in the US. I asked the virtual assistant program FancyHands to build me a Twitter list of all those top organizations and an OPML file of their blog feeds. I was just sharing those with my friends over at the very cool mobile app shop Night and Day Studios and thought, heck – I should post them here too.

I’m pretty excited about these. If you’re a startup, an investor, and incubator person or a tech journalist – I think these will help you peek inside and track what some of the very top organizations serving tech startups are doing each day.

So here’s the Twitter List: Top Tech Incubators.

Click Follow This List on that page and then you can either visit it on your list of Lists you’re following or you could use it to populate a column in Tweetdeck or Seesmic if this is super important to you.

If you’re the feed readin’ type (and you know I am!) then here’s an OPML file you can download locally, then subscribe to in any feed reader: StartupIncubators.OPML

That’s uploaded to Google Docs, let me know if you have any problems with it. Once you download it, you can upload it into an RSS reader. For example, in Google Reader the Manage Subscriptions link in the bottom left column will show you an Import/Export link.

And regular readers here will know that when I see a list – I think Custom Search Engine! Want to know what kinds of work any of these incubators has done regarding a given topic? Just search inside their web site archives using this handy dandy machine: Top Tech Incubators CSE.

I’d recommend including the command -“hacker news” if you don’t want the results to be flooded with news stories from YCombinator’s wonderful site Hacker News.

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Let me know if there are any issues with these, I hope you find them useful.

Here’s where credit is due for the rankings, according to Frank Gruber of TechCocktail:

As a part of his field work for the Kauffman Fellows Program (not to be confused with Kauffman Foundation), Aziz Gilani from DFJ Mercury, working in partnership with Tech Cocktail and the Kellogg School of Management, set out to determine the best startup accelerator programs in America and rank them. Assisting in the evaluation effort were Professor Yael Hochberg and MBA Candidate Kelly Quann from Northwestern University. Together there were numerous interviews with VC’s, Angels, and program graduates performed and then the data was aggregated. This is the first high-level published report of the findings – Aziz Gilani will be sharing a more detailed look at the findings in July, so stay tuned.