May 242007

Book Short: Blogging Alone?

Book Short:  Blogging Alone?

I usually only blog about business books, but since I read Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam, because of its connection to the topic of Internet community and social media, I’ll record some thoughts about and from it here.

It’s an interesting read, although a little long.  Putnam’s basic thesis is that America’s social capital — the things that have brought us physically and emotionally together as a country throughout much of the 20th century such as church, voting, and participation in civic organizations like the PTA or the Elks Club — are all severely on the decline.  The reasons in Putnam’s view are television (you knew all those re-runs of The Brady Bunch would eventually catch up to you), suburban sprawl, two-career families, and “generational values,” which is Putnam’s way of saying things like people in their 60s all read newspapers more than people in their 50s, who all read newspapers more than people in their 40s, etc.  He believes the decline is leading to things like worse schools, less safe neighborhoods, and poorer health.

The book does a good job laying out the decline in social capital with some really interesting and somewhat stunning numbers, but the book’s biggest shortcoming is that Putnam doesn’t do the work to determine causation.  I buy that there’s a correlation between less voting and less safe neighborhoods, for example, but the book doesn’t convince me that A caused B as opposed to B causing A, or C causing both A and B.  What I really wanted at the end of the book was for Putnam to go mano-a-mano with the Freakonomics guy for a couple hours.  Preferably in those big fake sumo suits.

The book was published in 2000, so probably written from 1997-1999, and therefore its treatment of the Internet was a little dated — so I found myself wanting more on that topic since so much of the social media revolution on the Internet is post-2004.  His basic view of the Internet is that it is in fact a bright spot in the decline of community, but that it’s changing the nature of communities.  Now instead of chatting with whoever is bowling in the next lane over at the Tuesday night bowling league on Main Street, we are in an online discussion group with other people who own 1973 BMW 2002 series cars, preferably the turbo-charged ones.  So the micro-communities of the Internet circa 2000 are more egalitarian (“on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”), but more narrow as well around interests and values.

What has social media done to Putnam’s theories in the last seven or eight years?  How have things like blogging, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Photobucket changed our concept of community in America or in the world at large?  I welcome your comments on this and will write more about it in the future.

May 222007

How to Impress Your Boss

How to Impress Your Boss

No matter what area of the company, non-profit, or public sector you work in, ask yourself these three questions every time you are about to review something you did with your boss:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish with this piece of work?
  2. Is this the best/only way to accomplish that mission?
  3. Is this my best work?

I guarantee you two things if you get into this habit.  First, you will frequently stop and do more work on something before handing it into your manager.  Second, you will get a raise and a promotion sooner than your friends.  And yes, it really is that simple.

Filed under: Business, Leadership

May 172007

A Thankful Moment

A Thankful Moment

While there are certainly some aspects of being a CEO that are full of those proverbial thankless tasks…there are some moments that are just the opposite.  And boy are those rewarding.

I had one this morning.  While I frequently get nice emails or handwritten cards from employees after they interview or start or get a promotion or raise — and those are all great — this is one I can easily blog about because it’s online.

Yesterday was the first official day of work for Neil Schwartzman, who actually joined us many months ago as a consultant running compliance for our Sender Score Certified whitelist but just finally became a full-time employee as we set up a Canadian entity and International entity and whatever our lawyers and accountants told us we had to do in order to be legit about hiring out of the country.

Neil’s thank you post is very entertaining (I promise, our objective isn’t to have employees drinking and slacking off!), but more than that, rewarding in that he says we do a good job at Return Path of walking the walk around ethics, reputation, and high standards in what we do for the email ecosystem.  Now that’s rewarding.

But in some ways, it’s even more meaningful coming from Neil.  Just as he says he took a risk in coming to work with us, we took a risk in bringing him on board.  As a leading voice in the anti-spam community, Neil is exactly the kind of person that spooks out some of our clients who think of anti-spammers as the enemy.  Our view is, as you can imagine, more nuanced.  Anti-spammers who do their job well are a legitimate marketer’s best friend because they are keeping the inbox clean of actual spam.  As we tell our clients, we are a big tent here — the only way we will solve our clients’ deliverability problems is by working WITH the receivers of the world on common language, rules, standards, and metrics — not working AGAINST them.  And that’s where Neil has done such a great job for us so far — bringing his unique perspective on the spam problem and working alongside many others on our deliverability team like Tom Bartel, Tom Sather, Leslie Price, Melinda Plemel to help keep the world safe for email.

So thanks, Neil…and right back at you!

May 152007

Brilliant Client Service: It’s Not Just for Peaceful Revolutionaries Any More!

Brilliant Client Service:  It’s Not Just for Peaceful Revolutionaries Any More!

I just read this quote, attributed to an unlikely source, Mahatma Gandhi, in an annual report from InfoUSA, one of the biggest public companies in our industry:

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.
He is not dependent on us.  We are dependent on him.
He is not an interruption in our work.  He is the purpose of it.
He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it.
We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

This quote is widely believed to actually be from Gandhi, despite questions about that authenticity, at least according to one expert.

But boy is the content spot on.  We literally just finished developing something we call the Return Path Client Promise a few weeks ago, which you can see here.  The trick to getting something like this to work is that it has to be truly genuine and come from within, not from on high.  Our marketing, sales, and account teams worked diligently over the course of a couple of months to draft and refine this document and make it accurate and meaningful.

Filed under: Marketing

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May 152007

Why Exactly Does Anyone Use WebEx?

Why Exactly Does Anyone Use WebEx?

We had a terrible experience with WebEx a couple years back, which I blogged about here.  Since then, we’ve happily been using Ready Talk with nary a problem.

WebEx’s sales reps spam me all the time, and no matter how many times I try to get off their list, I keep getting the spam.  It’s embarrassing that an e-company is in flagrant violation of CAN-SPAM, the most permissive anti-spam law around.

But I’ve been on two or three WebEx calls lately where, sometime in the middle of the call, an automated voice comes on and says “thank you, your conference call is now over,” and closes down the call.  Sometimes, dialing back in works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Once a couple weeks ago, when dialing-in didn’t work, I just emailed everyone on the call, and we switched to my Ready Talk number.

I’m not sure how much due diligence Cisco did on them before acquiring them for a gazillion dollars recently, but the mix of poor technology, overly aggressive sales reps in violation of the law, and awful customer service sounds like a nightmare to me.

Filed under: Email

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May 112007

Email Marketing Blog

Email Marketing Blog

One of my readers just emailed me:

You’ve done a good job talking about first-time CEO experience but not explaining step by step what makes a good email vendor and why returnpath is, thus, the company we should use.  Subtly, over the years, I should have come to know exactly why I’d want to use returnpath…

As I wrote back to him, I’ve deliberately kept my blog away from being a promotional vehicle for Return Path, although I do periodically write about the company in one way or another.  My plan is generally to keep it like that.

In any event, the reader’s note reminded me that I may have a bunch of other readers who don’t realize that Return Path has its own blog, which is a great resource for email marketers large and small alike.  You can get to it on our home page, or the feed URL is here.  We also have a couple email-only options for feed distribution on our site.

Filed under: Uncategorized

May 102007

It Never Goes Without Saying

It Never Goes Without Saying

Remember that old adage, "It goes without saying…"?  That saying shouldn’t exist inside a well-run company.  Communication — real communication, not implied communication — is the foundation for a successful business.

We human beings live for "moments."  We mark time by observing regular occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.  While religions and cultures differ on the details, we mark the cycle of life with things like baby namings, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, first communions, weddings, and funerals. 

There’s no reason the workplace should be any different.  Think about these few examples where it could "go without saying," but where you’re so much better off creating that "moment" by:

- Publicly acknowledging a member of your team for reaching an employment anniversary (the bigger the number, the heartier the acknowledgment)

- Laying the groundwork for a new initiative by reminding the team in a meeting or email about the company’s mission and how this initiative fits into the big picture

- Marking the end of a project or a transition period with a celebration

- Meeting two weeks after the end of a project or a crisis to do a post-mortem analyzing what went well and defining lessons learned for the next time

- Publicly thanking a colleague for helping out on something — anything

- Giving an employee a quick reprimand or constructive feedback right after an incident (probably privately) instead of letting the issue fester and its details slip from short-term memory

Clear, simple communication is the cheapest and easiest way to create a fun, rewarding, accountable, and focused work environment.

Filed under: Leadership

May 102007

In the Land of Too Many Conferences, This is a Good One

In the Land of Too Many Conferences, This is a Good One

It’s rare that I’m sad to leave a conference — usually I can’t leave fast enough.  But such is my mood today leaving Mediapost’s third Email Insider Summit.

Our industry is way over-conferenced in general.  I’m guessing that our company’s full conference calendar has 40+ events on it over the course of a year.  It’s more than we can afford to exhibit at, participate in, speak at, attend.  We do our best, and what money we spend is much more carefully monitored and measured than it used to be, but usually it’s with that sick feeling in the pit of our collective marketing stomach that we’re throwing money away just because our competitors are there.

But the Email Insider Summit is different.  While there are some aspects of the show that I don’t love — four days is a long time, and three half days of golf and snorkeling is a little too heavy on the boondoggle side for my personal taste — the content and attendees are fantastic.  Mediapost’s formula of comping marketers and charging vendors very high prices to attend ensures an intimate, high level, and vendor-light crowd.  That’s a recipe for success in my book!

The two most interesting nuggets from today:

1. John Stichweh from Coca-Cola’s observation that brand marketing and direct marketing continue to rapidly converge, and that measurement of outcome (e.g., ROI) as opposed to measurement of process (e.g., GRPs or impressions) are gaining steam, never to look back.  I couldn’t agree more.  What can be counted will be counted.  And it can all be counted in the world of advertising, somehow.

2. Lisa Galli from CNET’s discussion of mobile marketing and what they’re doing to take advantage of the channel.  The best example I’ve heard in years of a marketer leveraging a medium is their new SMS Reviews product — just text message CNET1 the words Review xxx (insert name of product here), and you’ll get a text message back with a product review.  Now THAT ought to make shopping for electronics much more interesting.

I’m ready for more conferences like these, and fewer mammoth trade shows.

May 102007

Blogiversary, Part III

Blogiversary, Part III

OnlyOnce turns three today.  While year 1 was exciting and year 2 was still a build, this year has been more about maintenance.  I don’t mean that in a bad way — I still enjoy writing it, but I am finding it a little tougher to make time for it (probably more a function of other things going on in life).  Also, I periodically catch myself starting some post or other and realizing that I wrote it, or something much like it, sometime in the past!

I think in honor of the third blogiversary, I’ll reinvigorate today by posting three times!

Filed under: Weblogs


May 032007

Feeling Less Like a Luddite: Welcome, Lijit!

Feeling Less Like a Luddite:  Welcome, Lijit!

As I’ve written about a few times (here, here, and here), it’s easy to feel like a Luddite with the rapid pace of change of the web these days. Anyway, I’m feeling slightly less like one today with the addition of Lijit to my blog.

You’ll notice that I changed the search box from Google to Lijit on the right hand side of the page on OnlyOnce.  Lijit seems like it’s a better way to search a blog, and maybe other things as well.  Using Lijit, you can search not just the text of the blog itself (which is what Google allowed), but Lijit also goes out and searches a few other buckets of related content all in the same fell swoop.  So while it searches the blog, it also searches other sites that I run, other sites that are related to my site (e.g., blogs I subscribe to), other services where I might post content, like Flickr and Delicious and LinkedIn, and the open web.  Search results with four tabs — now that’s making good use of the web!