The Power of Community

peavatars.jpgIn the ten months that have passed since I became addicted to Twitter, I’ve seen the platform used in powerful and unexpected ways. It was the first place that I heard about several news events like the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the tragic school shooting in Finland. It’s also been used to relay events as they are happening. David Armano (@armano) witnessed a teen save an elderly woman from being hit by an oncoming train. Armano posted updates of the events to his Twitter account immediately after it happened, long before either the Chicago Tribune or CNN posted their stories.

The most powerful thing for me continues to be the way Twitter facilitates the development of new and real friendships with people all around the world. At 140 characters per tweet, you certainly don’t develop these digital friendships overnight, but with a steady interaction over the course of weeks and months, you find yourself very much attached to these people. In many cases you interact with your digital friends more frequently than your physical friends and like your physical friends, these people are human; each with their own set of life’s ups and downs. When a digital friend shares good news, like the birth of a child or a promotion, the community responds with congratulations. Likewise, when they share bad news, like a sick child or the death of a parent, the community rallies around them with words of support and offers to help.

I’ve experienced this support from my digital friends first hand, so I knew that when Susan Reynolds (@susanreynolds), informed her Twitter followers that the had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the community would be there to support her. True to form, Susan created a blog to document her journey. In one of her first posts, Susan described how using bags of frozen peas helped to ease the pain following her biopsy. She jokingly named the blog “Boobs on Ice“. Shortly after, people started changing their Twitter avatars to “pea-vatars” and Cathleen Rittereiser (@cathleenritt) tweeted that we should all donate the cost of a package of frozen peas to a fund for cancer research. That little spark has now developed into a full-blown fund-raising campaign, named in Susan’s honor, called the Frozen Pea Fund.

Frozen Pea Fund logo

The site will officially launch tomorrow (December 21, 2007), the day of Susan’s surgery. Money raised will go to Making Strides, the breast cancer campaign of the American Cancer Society.

As of this writing, at least 145 146 people have changed their avatars to a Pea theme. Members of the community are suggesting ideas for spreading the message. CK (@ckEpiphany) suggested contacting Green Giant or BirdsEye (there’s an opportunity). Someone else suggested communicating the campaign to the head guys at Twitter. Tonight’s conversation has been almost exclusively centered on Susan with people getting creative with their tweets, changing words so that they contain the letters “pea”. Some have gone so far as to change their Twitter name (on Frozen Pea Friday I’ll be @DougPEAcham).

Wow, talk about the power of community. I often get funny looks when I talk about Twitter with people who “don’t get it”. They have a hard time understanding why anyone would “waste” time talking telling perfect strangers what they are doing. I don’t see it as wasting time. I see it as investing in real and lasting friendships. Susan is going to have a small army of digital friends to support her tomorrow and over the coming weeks as she recovers from her surgery. It’s a community brimming with compassion and I’m humbled to be a part of it. Won’t you join us?



Sunrise over the Atlantic - Duck, NC

Summer is my favorite season. I love the warmth and the long days. I love the sounds, meals outside, sunrises at the beach, lightning bugs and lightning (except when it hits in my backyard). I’m happy that Summer doesn’t really end for another three weeks, but with the Labor Day holiday now past and start of a new school year, the transition to Fall has started.

This year, the transition from Spring to Summer was a painful one for me with the loss of my job after 23 years. I was outwardly optimistic, but a bit shell-shocked. Although I got really good at networking, solid opportunities were elusive and I spent much of this summer worrying, making it pass by way too quickly.

I’ve spent the last two weeks at my favorite vacation spot, the village of Duck on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A series of barrier islands subject to frequent coastal storm, its beaches are always in a state of transition. You never know what to expect when you arrive for a visit. Sometimes they’re wide and sandy, other times narrow and pebbly, but the salt air, the rhythmic crashing of the waves and the squawking of the gulls remain constant (and good) regardless of how the sands shift.

Over the last two weeks, I have not written much here and what I have posted has been rather light. Instead, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the positive things from the last three months. I have been able to spend most of the summer with my 13 year old daughter. I’ve started playing music with a couple of bands, something that I have not done for many years. I’ve build a large network of professional contacts. I’ve met several local entrepreneurs and have had ongoing conversations with them about how to develop their ideas. I have also continued to develop friendships through conversations with my “digital friends” (that’s you guys). So although the course that the summer took was not what I had expected and the sands of my future continue to shift, the experience was a good one.

Several people have told me that, just when you think you won’t be successful in finding a new job, something always pops up. For me, that’s starting to happen; things are “popping”. Summer is starting it’s transition to Fall and I expect to be “transitioning” along with it. As with Summer or the beaches of the Outer Banks, I don’t know what things Fall will bring, but I expect the experience to be a good one. In the meantime, I’ve got three weeks of Summer to enjoy.

Do You Twitter?

A few months ago, I began using Twitter. I jumped in not really knowing why or understanding what the value would be. As I recall, I noticing that David Armano had started using the service, so I decided to check it out.

Some people have described Twittering as microblogging, but it really isn’t blogging at all. Blogging is like standing up on a soapbox and communicating your opinion. Sure, conversations happen through comments, but they tend to focus on the topics of the individual posts. If you follow bloggers over time, you can develop a sense of where they, and to an extent, their followers, stand on certain topics. While Twitter can be used in many ways, the real value for me comes from the insights I get about the lives of the people I follow.

To those who haven’t used the service, the short, 140-character messages from Twitterers may seem trivial and a complete waste of time. Since I started using the service last March, I’ve posted hundreds of “tweets” and had some really fun conversations about everything from the Dewey Decimal System to beef jerky. You may be asking yourself, why I should care that someone drank Margaritas and fell asleep in the hammock or that someone else missed the train to work. Individually, I don’t, but as I have been following the tweets of certain people, I have gotten to know a lot more about them. I have a much better appreciation for their daily routines, their sense of humor, how they spend their free time, what they are doing at work. The sense of community is greater than anything I’ve seen from blogging because Twitter is more conversational and I believe more personal than blogging.

While it is personal, Twittering is not about getting individual recognition. Hugh MacLeod recently asked Anyone notice the complete lack of kvetching about “A-List” Twitterers and Facebookers? Unlike blogging, nobody seems to care etc…“. Sure, there are sites that rank you based on the number of followers you have, but where blogging tends to encourage individualism, Twitter is more about collectivism. Wired’s Clive Thompson recently wrote a nice article that makes this point and discusses the Twitter effect of creating a shared understanding of what’s going on within a group and how that makes the group larger than the sum of it’s parts.

If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s fun and a bit addictive. Also, check out Matt Dickman’s excellent video overview. If you already Twitter, I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Either way, feel free to add me as a Twitter friend.

Tell The New Delta That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Earlier this month, I wrote about “The New Delta”. They are running some interesting innovation tests intended to “change the experience”. They are also using employee-generated videos that feature exciting destinations in an attempt to put a human face on the airline and promised to open a customer forum to really engage customers in conversations. In my post, I applauded these moves.

Too bad Delta’s Marketing team didn’t tell the Operations team that they were going to “change the experience”. This week, passenger Robert McKee was stuck on the JFK tarmac for seven hours. After two hours, he started recording the experience and posted the final product on YouTube. His post has these comments:

“Delta Flight 6499 JFK to DFW on June 25 2007 experienced more than just a routine delay.. for seven hours, four children screamed, and we were told by crew that they couldn’t feed us because Delta simply wouldn’t allow it”

The video documents multiple problems and Delta’s failure to address any of them in a truthful way or with respect to their customers. Examples:

  • Passengers were told a new captain “is making his way through the terminal”, when in reality, he was coming in from Newark.
  • Delta told Mr. McKee’s wife that the plane was in the air. This was right after she spoke with him by cellphone and they were still on the ground.

Lots of bloggers are picking up this story this evening and I suspect more will over the coming days. Companies need to take note:

Talk is cheap. Telling customers that you are changing the experience when your actions say otherwise, is more damaging that not promising anything. Your customer’s have the power to create compelling stories about their experiences and social media makes it very easy to have those stories broadcast to a wide audience.

A Clean Slate is a Beautiful Thing


I typically don’t write about my professional life, but today is different.  After 23 years as an IT professional for a Circuit City Stores, my position was eliminated.  For the first time in 23 years, I am going to be actively seeking employment.  With today’s revelation, came a dark rainbow of negative emotions: frustration, anger, uncertainty, fear, sadness.   Over the course of the day, I reflected on those feelings, the pros and cons of my former job and the implications of the event.

Where I’ve Been

If you have explored my blog, you may know that my “day job” has been management of IT development.  Not very sexy stuff and frankly, not a very creative outlet for the stuff I am passionate about.  Nevertheless, after 23 years, you can get really comfortable with a 3 mile commute, a good salary, and lots of longtime friends, so I have never seriously looked elsewhere. 

About 2 years ago, I was asked to join an internal innovation team.  This cross-functional team, made up of all sorts of people with other day jobs, was given time and resources to design and test as many new ideas as they could come up with.   Recognized as someone who was never content with the status quo and who frequently pointed out opportunities to improve the customer experience, I was later invited to join a special team who worked with company execs and Gary Hamel’s consulting firm, Strategos, to develop an new strategic framework for the company. 

What I Learned

It was the most invigorating 10 months of my career.  I learned how to synthesize consumer insights, emerging trends, orthodoxies and competencies into a differentiating strategic architecture.  I researched and developed 7 year forecasts for consumer technology, social trends, retail store design, and the American retail workforce..  The team delivered several solid proposals, all of which had differentiating customer experience models, and eventually selected one to move forward with.

It was during these last few years of Innovation and Strategy work that I really discovered my passion and point of view around delivering great customer experiences.  It’s also when I became acutely aware of the shift of power from supplier to customer, and the need for companies to start using social media tools and other emerging channels like virtual worlds to engage their customers and employees in conversations.   These are the things I had become passionate about.  IT Management was my job and one was getting in the way of the other. 

 Who I’ve Met Along the Way

The same social media tools that can enable this amazing conversation with customers and employees has also allowed me to make connections and share insights with like-minded people all over the world.  A few months back, David Armano wrote a “emotion” piece entitled “Shared Experiences”.  In it, he asked if the digital relationships that we are forming through social media can ever be as close those we create through actual interaction.  I think they can.  I watch the banter between digital friends on Twitter.  I learn what people like, what they eat, what makes them laugh, their musical tastes, their kids names; and I share the same about myself.   Those of us who have adopted these vehicles of personal publication tend to share our thoughts much more freely than those who haven’t.

When I Twittered about getting laid off this morning, I was both surprised and delighted by the replies and offers to help from my digital friends.  You know who you are and I really appreciate you reaching out.  Though most of us have never met, I really do consider you my friends.

Clean Slate

Now before this post careens completely out of control (is it too late?), I think I need to get to the point.  I was dealing with all sorts of negative feelings this morning, but why?  Was it because I wasn’t going to be managing financial applications development projects any more?  Or perhaps I was going to miss that next meeting where we go over, in excruciating detail, why one team needs to adjust a testing schedule? 


These are the uninspiring elements of my former day job that were a necessity because I had not taken the time to look for other opportunities where I could do work that I really cared about.  Now I’m sitting here with a clean slate and it’s a beautiful thing.  I have been given the opportunity to find something new to do; something that I want to do.  The negative feelings from this morning are being offset with optimism, excitement, hope, happiness.

Having to find a new job is a challenge.  Contemplating a career change after so long is daunting, especially when you don’t really have a resume that reflects what you want to do.  My newfound positivity might erode in the coming weeks if the opportunities don’t pan out.  But for now I feel really good.  I love new challenges, I know what I am passionate about, and I know that I have a network of new, like-minded friends, who’s opinions I respect, ready and willing to help.

Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy


“As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited,” reads the first paragraph of the article Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine. The article was published in February, 2007, but I just found it this weekend and it blew me away.

Nussbaum profiles several Gen Y’ers; early adopters of social media, many of whom have been using the tools to record every detail of their adolescent years. It’s a fascinating look at the new generation gap where young people willingly and openly share the details of their lives in a way that is unimaginable, even shocking for older adults.

As a 21st century parent, I had been feeling good about how well I have kept up with the next generation. The things that defined the generation gap of the sixties (specifically music and cultural attitudes) are not big differentiators between me and my 13-year-old. What I have noticed over the last few years as she has adopted various social tools and creative outlets on the internet, I have noted her willingness to create and connect with people outside of her local sphere. This is way beyond anything I would have imagined at 13 because the capability simply did not exist. For this generation, it’s seems perfectly natural. Describing a 26-year-old named Kitty, Nussbaum writes:

She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and and Flickr and Facebook and and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

Parents of this generation have lots of opinions on this new level of transparency. Most worry about risks of sharing private information on the net. There are also the concerns that today’s youth can’t develop real friendships through the computer, that they have no attention span, and that they are only interested in getting attention. Nussbaum counters this argument with a theory put forth by NYU professor Clay Shirky:

“Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues. “You didn’t behave like that because nobody gave you the option.”

It could be jealousy, or it might be that it’s just not natural for those over 30 since they did not grown up with in a hyper-connected, always-on, reality-based entertainment world.

I don’t share most of the concerns of my parent-peers. I find the honesty of this generation is refreshing; I believe great friendships can and will continue to be made without physical interaction; and what looks like zero attention span might just be an conditioned ability to multi-task which exceeds that of the previous generation.

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would. One 2006 government study showed that 61 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds have a profile online, half with photos and these numbers are rising rapidly. So what’s different between us and them? They have a completely different definition of privacy. They think that the overly cautious nature of “their elders” is strange. Nussbaum suggests that there is a reason for this shift:

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

A different perception of privacy isn’t the only difference evident here. Professor Shirky suggests that there may be real neurological changes at work here:

They think of themselves as having an audience. They create content and once others begin to consume it, they feel motivated to continue providing and improving it.

They have archived their adolescence. I can barely remember mine. Today’s youth will not have that problem. They take the time to capture the details of their life and make them available for the world to see.

Their skin is thicker than ours. Nussbaum writes, “We live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not such easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square.”

There are a couple of powerful concepts being discussed these days in some of my favorite blogs. Developing your personal brand is one. Conversation Marketing is another. The thinking is that these are important concepts for marketers and businesses to understand and leverage as the consumer has fundamentally changed. Business leaders are having difficulties understanding the importance of embracing social media. The don’t see the point of much of it because they are from that other generation. Instead of trying to figure out the value of the tools, they should focus on understanding the Gen Y consumer. Understand how they are fundamentally different from you in the way they communicate & collaborate, how they create and maintain relationships, and what it is that they value. Reading this excellent article would be a good place to start.

Jott-Egor-Twitter Mashup


This one is for my Twitter Friends. I’ve found a way to do hands-free Tweets. A few weeks ago, Drew McLellan blogged about, a service that translates messages left using your cellphone into e-mails to people in your contact list.  At the time, I was getting all infatuated with Twitter and thought it would be cool to be able to Jott a message to my Twitter account. The missing link (unless you can program this stuff yourself) is a tool call egorcast which is specifically designed to allow you to Jott a message to Twitter, as well as Jaiku (if you live in that part of the world) and your WordPress blog.

This allows you to Twitter from anywhere that has cellphone access but browser access is either not available or not advisable (like driving into work). Set up your Jott and Twitter accounts first (if you don’t have them already). Then go to egorcast and connect it all together.

Have fun!