“What does your husband do?”

“What does your husband do?” It’s a fairly common question, and one that you’d think would be pretty easy for me to answer. Most of the time, a simple “he’s in the military” will suffice with acquaintances. He doesn’t usually talk about his work, either. Not that his current duties are anything secretive, but the way of the “quiet professional” is very much part of his work ethics.

His military career has evolved over the years. As I write this post, he has just returned from Thailand after a two-week conference that focused on improving multinational communications interoperability. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region participate in this conference every year, with representatives from government agencies, military branches, nonprofit organizations and the private sector. They gather to prepare and connect with each other, so they can rapidly and effectively establish communications during disaster relief and humanitarian operations. I haven’t been debriefed yet :) but it sounds like he delivered some kickass training sessions and gave a spiffy interview to the Air Force Times.

Over the past few years, he has trained, promoted and mentored many. It’s always great to hear about his former troops moving on to bigger and better things. While his expertise is often sought out to help various units with audits, transitions and other processes, he is good at maintaining a people focus while balancing it with the missions and needs of the organizations. His knack for training is also evident in the way he works with newer paragliding passengers and pilots, but that’s another topic. :)

During most of his work trips, our communications are sporadic at best. The last two weeks was very different. There was pretty regular connectivity, so we were able to keep in touch via Skype on his Surface. Of course, it’s still better to hear about his trip in person, especially now that he’s home to do the grilling, just in time for the US Labor Day weekend.

MSgt. Theodore Sopher, June 2012

MSgt. Theodore J. Sopher (June 2012)

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I put the money where my mouth is.

If you know me, you already know I speak my mind. And now, I’ve put the money where my mouth is.

Literally. Ahhhhhhh, see it?

Actually, what you would see are two transparent devices, with metal hinges and wires in and around them. They’re orthoses for treating temporomandibular disorder (often known as TMJ disorder or TMD). I even got a couple of nifty adjustment tools for them. Pretty rad, huh? Too bad this awesome new grill doesn’t come attached to a new Audi. Sigh.

It’s been over twenty years of chronic headaches, neck and shoulder pains, facial pains and ear aches. The amount of money spent on pain relievers, digestive aids, silly dental work, odd-shaped pillows and massages aside, I wonder how many hours of life I’ve wasted on oping with the pain and not being able to enjoy life. But better late than never, right? My treatment plan began on April 30 with an implant. The orthotic devices were fitted on May 6, and I’ve been wearing them at least 22 hours a day. Along with TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) sessions, the facial and ear pains have already decreased noticeably. I have no illusion though. It’s going to take a while to fix two decades of damage, and I’ll need to get pretty creative with my menu besides smoothies. But look at the bright side: great weight loss strategy! It’s okay if you make fun of the way I talk now. When this is all done, look for a skinnier me, sporting a killer smile, driving by in my sweet old SUV. Rawr.

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The lights went out and a bulb came on

Around 6pm on Thursday, April 26, I was catching up on emails in the office after a typical meeting-filled day. The lights in my office suddenly turned off. I looked up and they came back on, so I thought nothing more of it and went back to whatever had my attention on the screens. A while later, the lights turned off again, and it dawned on me: I had not been moving. The lights in my office thought I had left. And that was when the proverbial lightbulb came on over my head.

I spend most of my waking hours in a seated position: driving, meeting, working at my desk, eating, drinking, etc. I’ve never been an outdoorsy person, and having mostly desk jobs for the past 15+ years hasn’t helped my activity level. Come to think of it, my lifestyle has been largely (pun intended) sedentary since I gave up ballet in my early teens and took on the workload at a very competitive boarding school. But enough with the excuses.

The lights-out episode at the office really stuck with me. I remembered the article about those who sit the longest die the soonest. According to the study cited in the article, people who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40% higher risk of dying in the next three years than people who sat less than four hours a day.

Holy crap! I’m probably going to die in the next three years and my “things to do before I die” list is at least 10 years long!

Saturday, April 28, I gave myself a few hours to really think about this, to feel bad about my current physical unfitness situation, and to figure out a realistic approach to change it. I’m not outdoorsy like my husband. I’ve had several failed attempts at becoming a gymrat, even though my current employer provides membership to a very nice gym. I enjoy food and libations, and depriving myself of these won’t be a sustainable solution. Being completely honest with myself, whatever I decide to do to get my ass moving has to be fun and provide fairly immediate feedback. I recalled seeing posts about Fitbit from Beth and Mitch, and about Nike+ FuelBand from Brad and Ashton. After comparing features and evaluating their compatibility with my existing routine and technology, I headed to REI on Saturday night to pick up a Fitbit Ultra.

Today, Sunday, April 29, I logged 8,265 steps in the morning, which is about 8,000 more than my daily average for the past 15 years. Apparently, I also climbed 16 floors, which I’m sure I had never done without crying for my mommy before. It’s a good starting point. If you’re also using Fitbit, please catch me there and we’ll keep each other moving.

When will I get another chance to use a picture of walking lightbulb robots, right?

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I’m a lazy shopper

As I stepped out of our recently-professionally-cleaned shower today, I remembered the last Living Social deal I bought months ago for a house cleaning service. It expires soon, I think. I should call and set up an appointment with them, but that would be cheating on our new housekeeping crew that just started here last week. (I still can’t decide if it’s worse than cheating on one’s hairdresser.)

Over the past year or so, I’ve bought a few of these group buying coupons or daily deal offers. With the exception of an Amazon dot com and a Barnes & Noble offer, both of which I could activate and redeem from my mobile device, they’ve all gone unused: massages, car detailing, restaurants, attractions, etc. I don’t buy them anymore. I simply do not have the bandwidth to keep track of these prepaid goods and services. In the end, they feel more like restrictions and obligations to me. (Oh, shoot, we have to go to dinner at <insert restaurant name> before next Thursday even though we have things scheduled every evening from now ‘til then, in other parts of the county.)

Plenty has been written, from a business perspective, about the pros and cons of these group buying/social coupon/daily deals sites. I get all that, but what really matters is what these things mean to me as a busy working woman, wife and mother. There are too many of  these deal sites and daily coupons to count now. Checking all of them would be a full-time job, let alone comparing, buying and managing all the offers. I suspect soon there will be a spinoff of the TV show “Extreme Couponing,” featuring those who devote their lives to shopping these daily deal sites and striving to get the most out of them from all the businesses. No, seriously, there could be a reality show about a woman who pledges to live three months solely on merchandise and services she can find and buy on flash sale sites and from daily deal emails. I’d love to see how that works out.

My time and energy is much more valuable than $5, $50 or $150 potential savings. ($155 might be a different story.) Soon businesses would have to pay me to be allowed in my inbox. For everyday life stuff, I’m happy to pay full price as long as I can get what I want/need when I want/need it. Discovering good value on the spot also makes me feel like I’m really good at this spontaneity thing and that tends me make me spend more money happily. If/when a business figures out how to present the right deals to me at the right time, it can pretty much have its way with my wallet. Yep, I’m simply too busy and lazy to hunt for bargains. (Sorry, Mom.)

The golden football - the economics of Groupon

Image from Monkey Opus.

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Will it all become one big sharing party?

This afternoon, I read a piece in the New York Times about the Tateuchi Center, a new performance space opening in 2014 in Bellevue, Washington. This hall plans to allow the use of smart phones during performances, and is even adding an antenna to make sure patrons have a strong enough cellular signal to post and tweet as they please. The assumption is that the additional sharing of live performances via social networks will attract a younger and larger crowd, and it seems logical enough. Given my line of work (social media marketing), part of me looks forward to the adoption and all the fun to be had with this brave new concert etiquette in 2014. However, a bigger part of me worries and feels a bit sad: no place is sacred anymore.

Now would be a good time to share with you some thoughts on my mind about “sharing.”

Sharing at events – For the past couple of years, I’ve attended many social media, technology, marketing and networking events and conferences. For some of them, I’m responsible for live tweeting/sharing sound bytes and snapshots, and responding to comments and questions in the back channel. At the majority of them, it’s “customary” (or expected) that I’d check in on three or four location based apps upon arrival at the venue, tag a bunch of friends or associates, and then proceed to take pictures (or have them taken) and share them on more social networking sites. Early on along this process, I would obtain the official event hashtag so that my event related tweets are properly tagged, and so I can use it when following up with fellow attendees afterward. Here’s the secret. Of all the events I attended over the past three years or so, at least eighty percent of talks or presentations didn’t really register with me. Sitting among the audience, and often closer to the front, I look very focused, furiously taking notes. The truth is, I’m so busy listening for the next tweetable and retweetable sound bytes from the presenters that I don’t actually hear anything. I’m too busy sharing.

Sharing while reading – At night, I pick up my Kindle for some bedtime reading, and marvel at the possibility (and now a reality) of communicating with authors and fellow readers electronically. Instead of discovering others’ notes in used book stores, I can now find them online. Instead of penning letters to authors or seeing them at library events, I can now send them questions or feedback while I’m in the middle of the digital book. Is this cool? Sure. Do I want to participate? I don’t know. I grew up knowing reading as an essential part of my solitude. Sharing is great for book club discussions. Social interactions while reading, I feel, would take away from my own process and appreciation of the work, and I have to wonder if writers really want that for readers or for themselves.

Sharing in everyday life – Two weeks ago, as I was pulling out of our driveway and heading to the office, a deer emerged from the woods and strolled onto our front lawn. I stopped, turned off the engine and rolled down the window. He stood by our young maple tree and looked right at me. Like reflex, I reached for my phone to take pictures for Instagram, and text TJ and Ty about it, but before I even finished entering my phone passcode, the deer walked around my car, and began trotting up and down our quiet street. I decided to put my phone down and just enjoy the encounter. It was mine to savor. I didn’t need to tell the world about it right then. Sharing the event digitally, instead of focusing on the joy of those moments, would have been a shame. Interrupting that time and experience would be disrespecting myself.

By now, you’re wondering: “Wait, doesn’t every social media marketer love to share everything and want everyone to do the same?” It seems that way, doesn’t it? :)  The answer is: yes and no, and I can only speak for me. Thing 1: I’m human. I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. My sharing activities have to take my loved ones’ lives, feelings and privacy into consideration. Thing 2: I do work in social media and I’m a fan of word-of-mouth marketing. Not every sales and marketing message can or should to made “social” or “sharable.” It has to be relevant first. I’m pretty stubborn about this and will discuss this in another post later.

How much and how often do you share? Where do you draw the line? Is that line moving or blurring in your world?

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School != Learning

Not that I’m super old, but my priorities have shifted significantly over the last 2-3 years as I further cement my place in the “middle age” category. (You’re welcome, U.S. Census.) Having experienced losses and challenges definitely nudged the process along, although I wish it didn’t always take so much sadness and regret to remind us to re-examine our own lives. My family and I have made some important changes in the past few months, in how we live, work, learn and play. As we make these transitions and I gather my thoughts, I’ll share some of them in the next few posts.

LEGO school bus

School != Learning

The education system in which I grew up was similar to force-feeding geese for fatter livers and better foie gras (mmm, liver). I did my best to think and do for myself outside the proverbial box, although doing so was often seen as acts of rebellion, which culminated in my departure from the boarding school and Taiwan. I won’t bore you with details, but my memories of those years and some residual effects played a large part in my decision to finally take Ty out of the traditional classroom. Honestly, I wish I had done it sooner, but better during the 11th grade than never. Sending him to what amounts to a daycare for 8 hours a day was not only ineffective, it was also causing stress in our family because he was “rebelling” like I did all those years ago. Said daycare simply did not have the bandwidth to truly help students develop into lifelong learners, and it’s really not the fault of any one school. Now Ty attends high school classes online, at his own pace, which usually means flipping through the required reading and assignments swiftly (he still needs to meet graduation requirements), and spending the majority of his time on the subject matters that interest him. No more “Mr. so-and-so said this” during our convo at the end of the school day. Instead, he shares from whatever he discovered, made or read that day, and we often have energetic discussions or debates that encourage all of us to think and find out more.

To be clear, I have not and am not advocating for homeschooling here. I’ve always had full-time employment outside the home and would never compare myself to those courageous parents who have made the decision to educate their children at home. That is a huge commitment. I have chosen what I believe to be a good combination of structured virtual classroom setting led by qualified instructors, scheduling flexibility, and a much better curriculum with diverse offerings (through K12). Honestly, I lost many nights of sleep before finally pulling the trigger. No matter how much research I did, part of me feared that I was about to ruin my kid’s life, but in the end, something had to change. We agreed to give this new learning arrangement a one-semester trial. Unless he somehow fails to meet his academic accountabilities, I don’t foresee us going back to the old way.

I can appreciate the need to standardize our children’s education, and I believe every child needs to be exposed to a well-rounded curriculum before they learn to choose for themselves. However, performance aside, the public education process has (d)evolved into something that, for the most part, effectively robs children and parents the joy and responsibility of teaching and learning. There’s much more I have to say on the topic of education and learning (and they are different), but it’s time to go watch a demo of Ty’s latest game programming projects.

Photo from Bill Ward’s Brickpile.

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The Seesaw of Connection and Privacy

Given the nature of my work, I’m much more active on social networks than many of my family and friends. “Connections” and “privacy” are always at two ends of a seesaw in my head. Recently, a client sent me a Facebook friend request, and I hesitated. Naturally, I asked the question of my Facebook friends: “Do you accept FB friend requests from clients?” Of the 8 comments received, 3 were definitely yes, 2 maybe (clients could become friends or vice versa), and 3 preferred to keep client relationships on LinkedIn and/or Twitter.

LEGO Seesaw

Arik Hanson was among the 3 “yes” respondents and blogged about his thoughts on PR Breakfast Club. For Arik, a business communications professional and seasoned blogger, being Facebook friends with clients is about strengthening the connection and improving the working relationship. I can definitely appreciate his point of view. Getting to know each other as people outside of work can certainly enhance interactions in business settings, which is why we do lunches, play golf, etc.

Perhaps my concern is more about my family and personal friends. By mixing personal and work-related connections on Facebook, I could potentially put my family and close friends’ privacy at risk, and I wouldn’t want my loved ones to feel like they have to sensor themselves when interacting with me on Facebook.

Another point of consideration: the more Facebook connections I have, the less control I have over the content associated with my Facebook profile, and I cannot be sure of the privacy settings of other people’s accounts or their knowledge regarding security. Of course, the safest thing to do is to not post anything at all, but that’s like telling teenagers safe sex equals abstinence.

By the way, in case you haven’t heard, Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is about sharing and doesn’t want you to be too concerned with privacy.

Just as social networks are always evolving, my opinion about this will probably change over time, depending on the role Facebook plays in my life at any given stage. For now, I’m sitting on the “privacy” end of the seesaw, choosing to practice filtering and selectively blocking. I’m not worried about missing out on the connections I need to make, because those who are interested can always find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to connecting on social networks?

Photo used under Creative Commons from Bill Ward’s Brickpile.

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Of House and Home

I live in a nice house. Not extravagant. Not palatial. But nice and comfortable. I should be thankful, and I am.

Sometimes, I fantasize about living in a smaller house, or returning to that 2-bedroom waterfront apartment we lived in once. Most of the time, this fantasy comes to mind when I’m driving to work on Monday mornings, thinking about all the chores that still need to be finished or house work that should have been done better. The bb gun hole through one pane in the window needs to be repaired. Gotta call the lawn care crew to come out and check on the shrub. I forgot to inventory the 2nd pantry (yes, I have two) for dinner ingredients. Oh, right, a heating element needs replacing…

I don’t remember having so many worries when we lived in that lovely 2-bedroom apartment with the gorgeous view of the lake.

And then, there are those days, after sending Ty to school (you know how much I love our morning routines), I look around my sun-filled house and wish I weren’t in a hurry to leave it and head to an office. There are so many things to do and enjoy here, but no one’s home to do and enjoy them. The piano sits silently in the living room. The Chinese watercolor scrolls in the dining room don’t get the regular admirations they deserve. The guest washroom only gets monthly cleaning because we seldom have guests over. Heck, the guest bedroom still has that new house smell when I occasionally open the door to retrieve something from the closet. There’s a huge yard: front, side and back, and I could only wish there were foot traffic on that grass so I might get a chance to complain about how the lawn got ruined during our last party. There is no party, ever. Ty actually took a picture of the flowers in our backyard and text’d it to me a few weeks ago, because he knows I’m never home to see them.

I’m missing out on my own life, let alone that of my good friends and relatives. And I’m frustrated about it.

Tulips, early spring

Tulips, early spring

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M.I.A. (Moms I Admire) – Sharelle Klaus

In my experience, brands that have compelling stories to share are better equipped to leverage social media. Many companies don’t have that luxury and need to invest in the creation of stories first, and it can be done. However, when a brand already comes with a human voice and personality, it’s already ahead of the game.

Such is the case with DRY Soda.

Sharelle Klause (front/right) at DRY Soda taste tour launch

Before I go further, let me disclose up front that I’m currently working with DRY Soda and having a great time with it. I have never written about a client on my personal blog, but the DRY Soda story resonated with me personally and I wanted to share it with you. Besides, I was already a fan of DRY Soda before working with them.

In addition to being the Founder/CEO of a fast growing, well loved beverage brand, Sharelle Klaus is a wife and a mother to four beautiful children. She enjoys good food and spending time with friends. For many years, she couldn’t have alcoholic beverages with a nice dinner or while out with friends, because she was either pregnant or nursing. Not being able to pair wine with dinner, or have some bubbly on special occasions, left Sharelle feeling like she was missing part of the experience. I know exactly what she means. :) (If you know me or follow me on Twitter, Instagram, etc., you know adult beverages have a fair amount of presence in my life. Ok, fine, it’s a constant presence.)

Being a mom, Sharelle is careful about food and drink choices for her children. She wants to give her family healthy options without sacrificing taste and fun. Mass market soft drinks are definitely out. All the “natural” sodas out there leave something to be desired: flavor, sugar content, additives, etc. I’m a mom, too. I’ve also checked and double checked all the soft drink choices available in my local supermarket, and usually walk away from that aisle, shaking my head.

The combination of these experiences, wishes and needs propelled Sharelle to create DRY Soda. Her story speaks to me: as a mom, a wife, and a fan of good food, good drinks and good times with friends. She turned her own life experiences into a product that so naturally (pun intended) finds its way into people’s lives. As I said in my previous post, whatever message a brand sends out, via traditional advertising or social media, it has to be relevant in its audience’s lives, or it won’t get very far.

As my friend Jen Zug reminded me recently: “We are most successful/joyful/productive when we’re true to who we are.” I see Jen practice this in everything she does, everyday, and I see the same spirit in Sharelle. Stories of “mompreneurs” inspire me, and I hope to make it a regular feature on my blog. I’m thinking of going after Maya Bisineer, Founder of Memetales, next. :) Stay tuned!

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You’ve built it, but why should we come?

Ok, here are a few questions I’ve been dying to ask my friends:

  1. Of all the brands you follow on Twitter, how many have you recommended to family or friends?
  2. When was the last time you entered to win something on Facebook AND shared it with friends?
  3. Do you use a “junk mail” email address to sign up for news/offers/etc.?
  4. Think of your top 3 favorite YouTube videos. Were they product pitches? If so, did you buy?

Nowadays, every brand wants us to “like” it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, watch it on YouTube, subscribe to its stuff, download its app, and join its “community,” and blah blah blah. It’s enough to make Susan Powter scream. Seriously, how many different ways do YOU want or need to hear from a company?

Here’s the thing, dear brands: When the voice in the corn field whispered “if you build it, he (they) will come,” it definitely wasn’t talking about all your social presence on multiple networks. We only “like,” follow, subscribe or download when there’s something in it for us. Your customers, not the C-suite, are the most demanding people when it comes to ROI: is your company and its wares worth our time and/or money? If your company doesn’t offer anything unique and compelling, isn’t helpful, or doesn’t provide easy access to whatever we want, we either won’t come or won’t stay. It’s that simple.

What if, instead of chasing after the next shiny social media object, you spent that time approaching us at our favorite hangout, both online and offline, and talked with us? What if, instead of trying to create the next “viral” thing (eww), you asked what we want or need, and actually made it happen?

True, I work in the social media field, and I’m familiar with many tactics brands employ to spread its messages online. But more importantly, I’m a wife, a mom, a woman with disposable income, make household purchasing decisions, tech gadget friendly, and active on social networks. I get pitched and marketed to all day long, too. I see and understand both sides, and not surprisingly, the side of real life wins every time. I’m thankful because the combination of my two points of view helps me make better recommendations and decisions for my clients. So, dear brands, whatever you choose to do with this social media thing, if it’s not relevant to your customers’ lives, it won’t last, and certainly won’t help your bottom line.

P.S. Have you read Brains on Fire (the book)? I’m a fan, and would recommend it to you. And no, this is not an affiliate link.

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