Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Five Lessons, Ten Years After.

I've just recently passed the 10 year mark of working for LiveWorld, which I celebrated with a handful of jelly bellies, a diet coke and a passing nod that time really does fly when you're having fun. It's hard to believe that I've spent ten years working in the practice of developing online and offline communities--I still feel like I have start-up passion, conviction and optimism.

I'm not going to wax philosophical on the strange and curious wonders I've seen in this business--suffice it to say that my general observation is that building communities and brand engagement marketing is pretty much like reporting the news--the names and the tools used to do the job change, but the actual events remain pretty much the same.

I would, however, like to share a few lessons that I've learned that might be helpful both on a personal level in the workplace and for brands wanting to engage with their customers.

1. Listen to what is really being said, not just the words actually spoken.
The words "I hate you" usually mean "I want to love you but something is in the way." Translation: your most vociferous detractors really want to be your biggest fans. Take action on what people actually say...and what they were really trying to tell you.

2. Everybody wants to help.
Feedback, complaints, suggestions, comments--almost everybody wants to help! Regardless of whether you think the input is helpful or not, assume that people's intentions are good and give every suggestion the same consideration as if you had thought of it yourself.

My cat Cleo (pictured above) thinks she's helping me work by sprawling all over my keyboard and demanding attention. There are days when that seems really annoying and I want to push her aside. Those are the days when she is reminding me that taking time to scratch behind her ears will make her purr, and her purring will change my perspective.

Then there are days when I thank her for wanting to help, pick her off my keyboard and place her on the floor and get on with my work. But always acknowledge when someone wants to help and let them, or they will stop offering...and stop purring.

You want to encourage purring.

3. Everyone speaks the truth.
Not all truths are the same, of course. One person can tell you that you're great, and another person can say that you suck...and they are both right. So who do you believe? You get to choose which truths you will accept and will act on, but listen to what everyone is telling you and find the truth in it that you can use. There's something useful in what both sides are saying.

4. Speak the truth, be transparent and do the right thing.
It's a simple concept--don't lie or exaggerate. Just tell the truth. Admit when you make a mistake and when you are successful, don't take credit that isn't yours. People like the truth and we all know hyperbole when we hear it. "First, best, leader, anything ending in -est" is probably not the truth and will make people not trust you.

A corollary to this--give more credit to people around you than you take for yourself. It makes people feel good, encourages them to help even more and they probably deserve it more than you do anyway. Success is always a team effort.

And yes...do the right thing. This doesn't need definition--if you have to ask if you're doing the right thing, then you're not. Always go with your gut (and not your head) on that one.

5. Don't be afraid to fail.
We learn more from failures than successes so change the word failure to education. You know that campaign you tried that didn't go over so well? We sure learned a lot from that experience, didn't we?

On the other hand, don't make the same mistake twice. The point IS to succeed and learn. Just remember that if nobody is dying for real, it's not really an emergency or a disaster. We'll come back and do better tomorrow.

Oh yeah...

6. Have Fun and Break a Few Rules Every Now and Then.
100% of the people I know would rather have fun than not have fun. Create an environment and user experience where people can have fun and good results will follow. Joy lightens everything it touches and makes all the hard work worthwhile...and makes people want to come back for more.

As for breaking rules...well... rules are for those who lack creativity and don't trust themselves to the right thing. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?

Do you have any rules for success that you'd like to share?

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