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After all of the doom and gloom speeches coming from the White House and mainstream media lately, it’s good to read some industry messages about things organizations could and should be doing to invigorate, even reinvigorate, during a recession. Let’s put it in layman’s terms: It makes sense, when you think about it, to clean house and put things in order when there’s little money to go shopping.

In the Feb. 2, edition of InformationWeek, Art Wittmann, the director of InformationWeek Analytics, wrote “this is a good time for business technology organizations to get their own houses in order.”

The IT industry has recently been on the receiving end of a bubble burst, perhaps not of the same magnitude as the housing and financial sectors, but surviving that left behind valuable lessons. According to Wittman, the silver lining of that bubble burst may well be the silver lining here as well – a rethinking of the way organizations use IT.

The main point of Wittman’s article, and others like it, is a refocusing on making adjustments that can shipshape your shop. In Thornton May’s ComputerWorld opinion piece, Most CIOs ‘dinosaurs,’ heading for career Ice Age, he starts off a little grim, but May ends the piece with sound advice. May believes that CIOs need to look at this crisis as an opportunity for change. He says, if you hunker down to wait the crisis out, you’ll be left behind. I believe that advice applies to organizations as well as individuals.

All of this leads me back to my commute and the Webcast I heard earlier this week: Analytics 101.  And, I’m reminded of something I heard that Jim Davis, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at SAS, said, “Businesses must migrate from reactive to proactive decision making.”

According to Davis, proactive decision making can only be accomplished through the use of analytics. IT departments are the grassroots that can help organizations realize the importance of data and analytics. Tonya Balan, Analytics Product Marketing Manager at SAS, said in her Analytics 101 Webcast, that data was one of the cheif barriers to entry for organizations that wanted to use analytics to be more competitive. Now may be the time – while expansion and capital investment pressures are temporarily tabled – to put your innovation to work and present concrete findings that can show how your organization can use analytics to be more competitive, more profitable – even in a down economy.

One final article for you to read: Anne Milley, Director of Technology Product Marketing at SAS, attended the first ever Predictive Analytics World and blogged about her experiences. You can read her posts at sascom® voices.

Analytics 101

I have a two-hour morning and evening commute. Whenever anyone hears of it, the first thing they ask is, “How do you keep from getting bored?” and then, “Do you listen to books on tape?”

First of all, have you been in traffic lately? Boredom is not a problem with which I struggle. Frustration, maybe. Besides, the cost of books on tape is punitive and the four-hour daily commute puts a weekly trip to the library out of reach. But this week, I found a solution to two problems.

SAS and BetterManagement.com offers many wonderful Webcasts and podcasts that I’ve wanted to have the time to hear.

Now, I just queue them up from my car. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to have internet access.)

On Tuesday, I listened to Analytics 101. Tonya Balan, Analytics Product Marketing Manager for SAS, starts with a great wide-angle view of analytics and then brings you in for a close-up. She explains why any organization – big or small- should want to put analytics to work. She also breaks apart the “how” does analytics work to make organizations stronger, more efficient and more profitable.

If you want a Tweet-by-Tweet summary of the Webcast, check out the tweets posted by @sascomeditor (Alison Bolen, editor sascom® magazine) as she listened. Alison also wrote a sascom® voices blog post about Analytics 101.

More Wag and Less Bark?

About a year ago, while driving home from an especially difficult day, I saw a bright pink bumper sticker that read, “Wag More, Bark Less!” It seemed to me that everyone could use that advice, especially me. It stuck in my mind, but I changed nothing.  

Finally, on Tuesday, the January SAS Business Report blasted with this line in the note to readers:

“I vow to be more of a yes-man (woman). You know, less bark and more wag.

hard-wired to bark?

It was one of three bullets outlining my New Year’s resolutions. “More wag” should’ve been at the top because it’ll require the most effort and needs the most attention. If you don’t know me well, to my face I’m described as straightforward and direct. I like those labels. To me, they imply that I won’t lie to you or mislead you. The trouble is that although most people can readily see those traits and know that I’m a hard worker, they can’t see my flexibility.   

A reader e-mailed after he received his newsletter to say that he liked the resolution, but he worried that he was “hard-wired” to bark. He wanted to know my plans for changing everyone’s impression. Instead of simply answering his e-mail, I decided to blog about why I’d made the decision and include some of what I’ve been reading.

right path?

In April, I started working at SAS in Cary, NC. SAS has a very collaborative environment and an organizational culture that is mostly horizontal. Largely because of this, everyone is open, warm and friendly. Creativity and innovation flourishes. Previously, I’d only worked in places where processes and procedures were the boundaries that protected creativity. When I worked in those other places, saying “no” wasn’t something that I did to establish power. It was something that had to be done to set limits and ensure that work quality was met.

wag with power

Within a few months at SAS, I realized that “yes” is a powerful word. Say “yes,” and then make it happen. Now, that doesn’t answer the wag does it? You have to make up your mind that saying “yes” gives you more power than saying “no.” When I say “no,” I’m irritated. When I say “yes,” I’m invigorated and challenged. Saying “yes” makes me start brainstorming the hows. When I think of saying “no,” I immediately start brainstorming reasons that I have to say “no.”

I can promise you that this is a growth process for me. I’ve always been a hardworker. Saying “yes” helps others see how flexible and willing I am to get the job done.

Take some time to read the white papers and blogs at Interaction Associates.

One of the most often missed steps in a project is the one that most put off until things start going wrong. I’m talking about the pre-planning – defining the project’s purpose, goals and expected outcome. You’re right, your project can be successful without putting this first. And, you may get some grief because you’re halting the creative flow just to talk more about the project.  But, at some point, you and your team are going to hit a wall of confusion and frustration. A planning document or strategy brief will keep everyone aimed at the same goal from beginning to end. It’s like a beacon.

How do I start?

This doesn’t have to be a blood-letting exercise. Take a few minutes now to talk things through, jot it down and send it around so that everyone is in agreement.

  • Gather the stakeholders – either in a room or by teleconference.
  • Establish an agreed upon time limit for brainstorming purpose, goals and expected outcome.
  • Try to stick to time limits.
  • During purpose brainstorm, note  how the project impacts each stakeholder’s area of influence.
  • While brainstorming incremental goals (milestones) and measurements, you should begin to see how the goals redefine and complement the purpose.
  • Initiate discussion about expected outcomes.
    • NOTE: There’s a slight nuance between purpose and expected outcome. i.e. The purpose of the branded Web site is to raise awareness of high blood pressure as a silent killer and reinforce the message that John should take his XX medication. The sponsor company’s expected outcome is an increase of prescription refills of XX medication.

A brief statement of purpose can be written once you have defined the reason for taking on the project, the steps you’ll take to get there and your expected outcome. The next steps will probably include chartering a task force, clarifying strategy, outlining a plan and determining team roles.

This is the final part in my series about avoiding a hand-slapping from missteps while blogging and microbloggin.

Today, I want to talk about using common sense.

My biggest problem with using common sense as a category is that everyone already believes they apply it to EVERY aspect of life. I believe you think that way, and I know I think that way.  The trouble is that it is probably the most overused term for the least used strategy.

I’ll use an example from my own experience. Common Sense 101 – and even a little Journalism 101 – would probably make you very cautious about the rules for sending messages. After all, you don’t want to offend someone with the wrong message. Right?

A couple of weeks ago, after receiving an inordinate number of phone updates from one of my Twitter followers, I sent a message to 40404 (Twitter’s phone number) to “unfollow problogger.” Wrong! That little message went to all of my followers. It seemed to imply that I was suggesting others  should stop following problogger’s tweets. I only intended to stop phone updates of problogger’s tweets, so I should have sent “off problogger ” to 40404. The safest route would have been to uncheck the phone update area online, but I let haste rule rather than common sense. When I checked my e-mail the next day, another follower had sent a direct message to alert me to my mistake. Imagine my embarrassment!

You can do a great deal of damage to your brand identity – your reputation – by disregarding common sense.   

Common Sense 101

This category is pretty broad. As such, I’m going to limit it to some of the things that I have seen lately and believe are harmful to a blogger’s reputation.

  • Understand your audience – Your intended audience will help you decide whether to microblog or blog. Either way, learn as much as you can about how to use the software up front.
  • Proofread – Formatting errors, simple spelling and grammar errors, and wordiness can be distracting for a reader.
  • Do your homework – Learn from others about effective techniques and dead-end streets. 

In my mind, the three main rule categories that we’ve covered could probably have been wrapped quite nicely with common sense and sensitivity. Breaking it out makes it more digestible though.

In my last post, I introduced the idea that there are three basic sets of rules that will allow you to blog and microblog without fear of jeapordizing your credibility or security. Today’s post deals with the second category: internet safety.

Internet Safety 101

Some of you may be aware of the phishing scam or profile hacking that occurred on Twitter during the last few days. After the news of these events, bloggers began issuing warnings about how to avoid being tricked. These tips I’ve included may seem remedial, but it never hurts to be reminded.

  • Install antivirus and antispyware software and keep it current. Microsoft Windows offers free antispyware and a free malicious software removal tool.
  • Be aware of the ultimate destination of URLs before you click thru. This image from Microsoft shows one way you can uncover deception. (Your browser may be set to show the destination URL in the bottom tray.)

             Example of a masked Web address

  • Here’s a great axiom: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. According to Microsoft, the best way to avoid problems is use good judgment before you open or download. You didn’t win money and your bank doesn’t need to verify your account number by e-mail.
  • My advice: Be careful with your passwords. If you’re using the same passwords for work, finances and social media then you are “crusin’ for a brusin’.” When Twitter was hacked, those passwords could have been used maliciously for identity theft.

Hint: If you’ve been paying attention, you’re surely starting to see the thread running through this series.

I keep thinking that it shouldn’t be that hard to figure this stuff out – the rules of social media engagement– but evidently, I’m wrong. Every day, I read a Tweet or blog about someone who’s been misunderstood or made a horrible gaffaw without thinking. And, I keep seeing posts about how to blog and microblog. How could there be enough new entries to social media to warrant that level of publication?

Well, here I go. (Remind you of a song?)

I think you can apply three basic sets of rules and be fairly safe in the world of social media: Journalism 101, Internet Safety 101 and Common Sense 101. Let’s set this up as a series to provide you with a little more detail.

Journalism 101

The widespread use of the Internet as a publishing environment has made the “rules” a little fuzzy. But as Jim Davis, senior VP and CMO for SAS says, this environment is self-regulating, self-correcting. If the audience thinks you messed up, you’ll get a sound hand slapping. Applying a few of the basic journalism rules may not stop you from embarrassing yourself once in a while, but it should keep you from losing your audience completely or hurting your business.

As a first-year journalism student, you’d learn the definition of plagiarism, the hows and whys of attribution (quoting someone if you use his or her work or words), and the wisdom of being politically correct (no name calling). You’d also learn the legal ramifications of copyright infringement. But, most early adopters of social media weren’t journalists. They were gamers, housewives, business men, teens, etc., who were connecting with family and friends. The same is true today. Most who decide to start blogging or microblogging aren’t budding young reporters or marketing officers, they just want to tell the world interesting anecdotes or share opinions about the news.

Without delving too deeply into the ethical discussions surrounding these terms, here are the basic tenets and why you should follow them:

  • Plagiarism — In this day of copy and paste, it is so easy to pull in someone else’s cool turn of phrase and simply reword it a bit. Is that plagiarism? YES. The question that you have to ask yourself is how valuable your credibility is. If your answer is that you want to be widely read and accepted, then ATTRIBUTE.
  • Attribution When quoting another writer or speaker or referring to an article, attribute (give credit) either by linking to the original or by correctly identifying the origional contributor. It’s not your work, and you will be found out. Two examples of attribution: 
  • Political correctness — For lack of a more recognizable term, I’ll use political correctness. It means thinking through the terms you use to label someone or something. Name calling usually starts unintentionally. If I say handicapped, it might not upset those of you who meet no daily physical or mental challenges. But, that word does have some negative connotations, though not nearly as many as crippled. Sensitivity, research and a step back can be good advice.

In my next post, I’ll cover Internet Safety 101.

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