Be the Bigger Person

Being the bigger person doesn’t mean you’re letting others walk all over you.

Quite the contrary.

Being the bigger person, not getting even, settling the score, or playing tit for tat gives you the leverage.

You win when you don’t dwell and instead focus on the positive. You don’t gain by being petty even when others let you down or mistreat you.

Business and entrepreneurship is a rough game that has forced me to grow in so many different ways and push past my perceived limitations daily. It’s not always easy, but I’m grateful for the process and the opportunity.

Every day is a small step forward.

A New Bill May Hurt Entrepreneurs and Startups in NYC

This week, I came across the following article about a bill that would make it illegal for bosses in New York City to contact employees after work hours.

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/news/a-new-bill-would-make-it-illegal-for-nyc-bosses-to-contact-employees-after-work-hours-032218

Following the example of France and several European countries that implemented a similar measure, this bill seeks to help workers in NYC retain a sense of work-life balance that is more difficult to maintain in the age of digital communication.

I think such a bill would be both unnecessary and potentially harmful.

First of all, an email does not require an immediate response and if your boss is so abusive and disrespectful that he/she does expect you to respond immediately at all hours of the night OR it’s the type of job that necessitates being on-call and you’re unhappy, then find a new place to work. It’s that simple.

Secondly, it’s up to YOU to set boundaries or know what kind of job or culture it’s going to be before you start a new job. If that’s not a job you can handle, keep an eye out for new opportunities. 

Finally, NYC is a working city. It’s a different lifestyle than that of Europe or many other places. Neither is good or bad. Just different. A law like this may rob NYC and the United States of its entrepreneurial spirit and the hustle mentality that makes it so vibrant and alive.

While the idealistic sentiments behind this bill are well-intentioned and I don’t support offending employers in the slightest, making it a punishable offense to email after hours could hurt business owners and employees alike.

There is no reason to legislate such a measure, especially when every job is different and messages/emails, unlike phone-calls, can always be responded to later. The nuances of each career must be taken into account.

Anyway, I don’t think this bill will pass.

The Gate is Closing on the Gatekeepers

For the past hundred years or so, the gatekeepers held the power.

The magazine, newspaper, TV network, or radio station decided who was hot and who was not. What would be published and what would be left on the cutting room floor.

Advertisers decided the trends and which brands we would be exposed to.

And, we content creators were at their mercy. We had to please the gatekeepers and accept insufficient payment or no payment at all for the privilege of the exposure. Our fates were usually in the hands of an old white male executive in a suit puffing on a cigar.

No longer.

Today, the Internet is the middleman.

Media content has never been cheaper to produce and distribute at scale than it is now. Today, we all have the power. Anyone with a phone in their hands can create a buzz, break the news, get heard, or build an audience.

Content creation and distribution have been democratized. These are exciting times we are living in and most people fail to grasp how incredible it is right now. In the future, people will look back on this time and regret that they did not act sooner by staking out a claim of digital real estate to make their mark in the early days of the Internet.

Having an online presence is a powerful thing indeed and those who have one, have the leverage.

This means traditional publishers, though not irrelevant, have far less leverage than they used to. Perhaps, this is why those gatekeepers who abused their power *cough*Harvey Weinstein*cough, cough* are finally being outed for their diabolical deeds.

This would also explain why many journalists and others are now freelancing on the side or full-time.

Getting a piece published with your name on it in a publication is still a good thing to do. If the publication has a brand name that the public views as prestigious, it’s certainly a nice notch on the old belt, which makes for an impressive mention in a bio. That third-party affirmation can lend you some credibility in the eyes of others. However, it’s a vanity metric more than anything else.

More valuable than being published in a mainstream big-name publication is being published on a blog or on any platform with a high amount of engagement. If the readership actually cares about the content, it will get far more positive attention, even if the audience is very niche. For example, your article about camping in the mountains will most likely receive more interest and engagement on a popular blog about camping and hiking than it will in the New York Times.

Now that anyone can potentially become an influencer by getting attention on social media platforms and guest posting/appearing on popular blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, content creators can control their own destinies.

And, when you control your own destiny, you can also determine how much you get paid.

Recently, a relatively new business magazine with a very small following in whose pages I’ve been published approached me about a new project.

While my normal standard is to be paid my fee and paid upfront, they insisted that this time I behave in accordance with conventional magazine standards by getting paid by the word and only after the final draft.

The difference between me and most writers/creatives is that I’m not simply an artist. I’m an entrepreneur.

“If you pay me by the word,” I countered, “then that doesn’t take into account a) the research for the piece, b) the interview/s with the subject/s, or c) the edits and revisions.”

As a freelancer, I set my own standard procedures and protocol as well as my own fees. And, after getting burned in the past, I decided to only accept payment in full up front. To my knowledge, no one goes to a store, takes some items home with, and only pays after they get home or whenever they feel like it. That would be called shoplifting. And, I don’t see why my services rendered should be treated any differently.

The magazine editor protested that the exposure justifies the raw deal.

What most of these publications fail to understand is that we no longer need them for exposure. If the publication doesn’t have an audience of people likely to hire me or pay me for anything, it’s not that valuable.

On the flip-side, I would write something for FREE if it was likely that the exposure would likely net me greater brand equity or new business. But, getting published does not in itself make that a likely possibility, especially when the article is in print. Being published online can more easily lead to a comment, a DM, or some other form of direct engagement that can lead to something greater.

So, if publications want to remain relevant they have to:

A) Acknowledge that they are more dependent on freelancers than on staff and will have to pay their rates.

And,

B) Double-down on growing a brand on social media and other platforms that have their reader’s attention.

Finally, it’s up to creatives to put themselves in a position to win. Spend more time building an audience on social media, creating and publishing your content on your own, and directly engaging and interacting with your audience. Instead of trying to get published in traditional media outlets, create your own buzz and your own leverage. Once you do that, you can name your price. When you’re an influential content creator, publications, brands, and others will dance to your tune instead of the other way around.

The days of the gatekeepers deciding what content we consumer are over. Consumers and content creators are now in the driver’s seat. It’s time for publishers to take note and embrace the new reality.

It’s Time for Brands to Wake Up

If you’ve been paying attention to culture and society for the past few years, you know that there is a growing movement — mainly comprised of the young — that is becoming increasingly aware and vocal about important issues having to do with race, culture, gender, and lingering social inequality. Those who consider themselves especially awakened or conscious about these subjects are colloquially known amongst their peers as “woke.”

Social issues and matters of identity politics are most hotly debated — often uncivilly — on social media platforms where an increasing number of people, particularly younger demographics, are getting their news and discussing the subjects of the day.

While many of us are exhausted from all the discussions on social media surrounding politics and political correctness, the #StayWoke movement — love it or hate — shows that people are thinking more critically about everyday, long unquestioned realities and social constructs.

Interestingly, the fuel behind much of this widespread “wokeness” and heated discussion is social media. While some blame social media for the breakdown of civil discourse and democracy, it can’t be denied that social has helped bring awareness to issues that were not previously addressed by the mainstream media. Perhaps, the best example is the recent #MeToo hashtag. Social media discourse has not only led to debates, but to the resignations and firings of prominent figures and revolutions that have toppled repressive regimes.

Perhaps less interesting, but nonetheless important for brands and marketers is the disruption of the communication space and the democratization of media content creation, which is the engine behind societal changes and grassroots movements.

All the way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create more information every two days than has been created in the entire history of the human race until 2003. The amount of data and content we create on a daily basis is mind boggling. We are living through the greatest shift in communication in history since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. And, we are the first generation whose entire lives will be documented, which means what we say and do on social media will forever be on the record. Your great grandkids will read all of your tweets — even the mean ones you send to Jimmy Kimmel at 4 am.  

There has never been as much content published daily as there is now and the competition is fierce. And, social media has completely changed the game. On these platforms, brands do not simply compete with one another for the attention of consumers.They also compete with viral cat videos, friends’ photos of last weekend, your nephew’s baby pictures, and breaking news.

In the current media environment, we are drowning in a sea of content. Consumers are no longer a captive audience the way they once were on TV (pre-DVR) and radio. They often miss or deliberately block your advertisements. The only way to break through the noise is to frequently and consistently provide value, create content worth paying attention to, and actively engage with the audience. Paying to boosts posts on social media has also become the norm, especially on Facebook. Today, more than advertising or content, the key to success is interacting with your target audience on the platforms that have their attention.

One-way broadcast communication is increasingly less effective and the importance of facilitating two-way communication with an audience is growing with every passing year. Companies who don’t devote sufficient time and resources to engagement are losing their share of the attention graph as well as the market. Brands that don’t wake up and realize that they are no longer advertisers who sell products, but media companies will soon become irrelevant.

As brands begin to focus more of their energy and budget on social media, many of them are making one crucial mistake that continues to undermine their efforts: They’re treating the new platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn as if they are one-way broadcasts. They’re bringing an old-world traditional media mentality to social media, pushing out their messages without understanding these platforms and their nuances on their own terms. This shows that most businesses don’t fully appreciate the broader shifts that are occurring in social communication.

Social media is NOT an extension of your sales pitch or simply a distribution platform for your content. It’s much more than that. It’s a medium where brands can have meaningful interactions with their customers and build relationships. While many brands have woken up to this new reality, many more are still not getting it.

Many businesses are missing enormous opportunities and leaving money on the table by not doubling down on social media. Others are doing social media all wrong. Comfortable sticking to what they know, many businesses remain hooked on their addiction to spending inordinate amounts of money on billboards that no one sees, because consumers are too busy looking at their phones. They blow the bulk of their marketing budgets on flyers and magazine ads that most people throw out or skip. And, they blow most of their digital marketing spend on banner ads that have an average click-through rate of only 0.05%!

Meanwhile, these same brand managers and advertising executives have the temerity to raise their eyebrows and smugly ask: “So, what’s the ROI of social media?” Too many companies are still not taking this underpriced and effective marketing channel seriously, delegating it to interns or family members who lack sufficient knowledge of or experience with social media marketing. And, they don’t think it’s a good use of their time or money to create content or engage with their target audience on these platforms.

As maddening as it is for all of my fellow social media marketers to watch this, we are powerless to prevent this slow-motion trainwreck from happening. Unfortunately, most brands will not wake up until it’s too late. Even as big brands lose market share and retail stores around the country go out of business, companies are still slow to make changes. The brands who are spending time on social media, learning how to use it, testing and learning, and engaging directly with their audience are winning and in the long run, they will win the day.

Moving beyond content

Content is still king, but more effort must be invested in two-way engagement if companies want to win attention and remain relevant in a 2018 world.

We are oversaturated with content. It’s never been so noisy. And, unless you were a first mover on the new platforms when early adopters took advantage and nabbed nice chunks of real estate, you will now have a tough time getting noticed and creating a presence.

There are simply too many options. Our attention spans are divided by a plethora of devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktop) and platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, blogs, Medium etc.).

People distracted.jpg

To get people to care about you, it’s important to put out relevant, quality content that touches on current trends and other topics of interest to your audience. However, creating good content is not enough anymore.

The Internet and the social platforms where most of us now live are so crowded that most of the content you share will get lost in the noise no matter how good it is. Not to mention, platforms like Facebook have killed nearly all organic reach. Hacking distribution or taking pains to ensure that the content actually gets seen and interacted with is tricky and more important than ever.

2 ways to hack distribution:

Influencers and collaborations

Influencers, particularly micro-influencers are still tremendous resources of underpriced attention who have a strong impact on what consumers purchase. These influencers have most of the attention and influence on social media platforms where your audience hangs out. By partnering with them, you will be able to siphon their attention and direct it toward your brand. Of course, you should only partner with influencers who make sense for your brand and for whom you can add value as well.

You can achieve this by offering influencers free product and/or monetary compensation in exchange for a mention, a photo or video of them using the product, or a guest blog post. For a relatively small spend (average is about $193 for Instagram micro-influencers), you can gain hundreds of impressions, likes, comments, new followers, and last but not least — leads and sales.

Stay out of the way

These influencers know their audience best. They got to where they are, because they are good at creating content that will elicit a positive response. Therefore, give them creative control and allow them to create the content. Understand that they will have to be subtle in their mention of your brand, lest they come off as too pushy and lose their credibility. If you connect particularly well to one influencer and their audience, consider a long-term partnership in which the influencer becomes a brand ambassador.

Engage, engage, engage

Although it may sound obvious, you would be surprised by how many brands — even small businesses and startups fail to simply respond to comments on social media. Acknowledge and encourage your fans! Reward their loyalty and positive feedback. Respond to your audience’s questions or complaints. Reach out to people tweeting about your space and offer them help without asking for the sale. Send a direct message or a personalized piece of content to prospects, loyal customers, and influencers. Talk, converse, and be human. In other words, be social!
People talking.jpg

Technology has fundamentally altered how we communicate and disrupted the entire way we message and connect with our audiences. If you think your self-serving piece of content i.e. ads, humble brags about about your accomplishments, and mercilessly PR-ing yourself is going to get attention in a world with more options and decreasing attention spans, you’re really not understanding what is happening. You’re not woke. You’re asleep at the wheel and you’re in for a crash.

Notice the shift going on around you. The way you’ve been playing the game until now is not the way you’re going to succeed over the next decade. Don’t simply focus on the culture wars on social media. Look at how it is impacting how we communicate and how we get our news. Pay attention to who and what has the eyes and ears of your target audience. And, work hard to build authentic relationships with them built on trust. Not only will it pay off, but you can’t afford to market any other way.

The Dangerous Consequence of Dismantling Net Neutrality

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or without Internet access, by now you have already heard that the FCC voted 3-2 to overturn a piece of Obama-era legislation known as Net Neutrality.

Since then, much has been written about it and a quick Google search will help you find what others have already said. Defenders of dismantling Net Neutrality, such as FCC chairman, Ajit Pai have championed this move as a victory for business and the free market, alleging that Net Neutrality overregulated the telecommunications sector. Others mistakenly believe Net Neutrality represented government censorship of the Internet. Critics of this recent decision by the FCC say this move may spell the Internet as we know it and prevent us from the free and open access to information and content we previously enjoyed.

Following this debate, one thing has become abundantly clear. There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what this issue is all about. Of course, that doesn’t stop some people from weighing in with their opinions. And, the rest of America, not really understanding the nuances of the debate surrounding this issue, doesn’t really care or want to get involved. Sadly, they may only start to care once it’s too late and the equal opportunity the Internet provided us is gone.

First, a tiny bit of background to break things down for those of you who don’t wish to spend an hour wading through articles about the Net Neutrality debate. I apologize if much of the following is obvious to you. Feel free to scroll ahead. However, based on what I’ve been hearing and reading, a lot of this information is not obvious to many people.

In short, we can break down the entire Internet into two different kinds of companies — the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the content providers or Internet businesses. ISPs are utility companies, or telcos, such as Optimum, Verizon, and Comcast that provide you with access to the Internet through the use broadband fiber optic cables which are physically installed in cities and towns.

Content providers are digital entities that exist online. They are Internet companies, such as Google, Twitter, and Netflix. These companies are websites, which you can only access if you have functioning Internet.

Since the Internet started, we have always taken for granted that we can access any website we want freely and easily as long as we have an Internet connection. Our Internet providers charge us for Internet usage, but they don’t charge us based on what websites or content we visit once we’re online. Nonetheless, there has always been a lingering fear that ISPs could eventually start to do so. Essentially, Net Neutrality was a preventative measure that legally protected consumers from this possibility.

Sadly, that has all been reversed with a 3-2 vote of the FCC despite a great deal of backlash from the public. Trump appointee Ajit Pai himself was a Verizon lawyer before he was made the chairman of the FCC. If that’s not a conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is!

If ISPs have the power to dictate to Internet companies and potentially block access to online content, that’s not true free market capitalism. Rather, telco conglomerates and large, powerful Internet corporations — the major players like Amazon and Google will have a monopoly. In fact, over 50 million American homes have access to only one Internet Service Provider.  My neighborhood in Brooklyn only had one ISP — Optimum until a few years ago and now we can only choose between Optimum and Verizon (both shitty).

There has been much speculation about what the fallout will be after the FCC’s decision. Some don’t think ISPs will impose any additional restrictions, or at least not immediately. They argue that we had the Internet for a long time before 2015 when the Obama administration enacted Net Neutrality and we didn’t have any problems. Others fear that ISPs will eventually impose tiered pricing that charges you based on what you access and hides content behind paywalls, much like how you interact with television. Your Internet access will then be limited to “channels” and you’ll have to pay more to access things you previously could have accessed for free.

Still, others believe that whatever changes ISPs may eventually make are not likely to affect consumers directly. In other words, you’ll still be able to access Twitter, YouTube, online shopping, and your favorite free porn sites, but Internet companies that use up a lot of bandwidth, such as video streaming sites like Netflix may have to pay ISPs more for the privilege. However, this could mean that smaller, newer, or up-and-coming technology startups who don’t have the budget and connections to get behind whatever paywalls and hurdles the ISPs might impose will have a much harder time gaining access to the market.

When new startups and tech solutions lose the easy and direct access to consumers that the Internet currently provides, it will enable corporations to censor and monopolize our Internet experience, spelling the end of innovation, competition, and entrepreneurial pursuits.

The Internet is now the Middleman. It has been killing the Gatekeepers of old, such as mainstream media companies and large corporations by democratizing information and content distribution. Having a free and open Internet is crucial for society’s growth, education, and social mobility. The Internet is why today, a poor kid from Iowa with no connections can become a YouTube star with lucrative endorsement deals. The Internet is what can transform a single mother into a massive Instagram influencer or blogger with a wide following that translates into a successful business or side-hustle. Internet access exposes us to new ideas, alternative perspectives, and educational resources.

The Internet gives the power to the people. It is a tool that can start revolutions, raise money for a cause, provide a platform for voices to be heard, and help someone with little or no opportunities become known so that they will be able to compete in the marketplace. The Internet is the great equalizer of opportunity. Even with all its flaws — fake news, trolls, cyberbullying, and people spending more time on it than in the “real world,” a free and open Internet is preferable to the alternative.

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Ending Net Neutrality not only means the possibility of losing access to a free and open Internet. The real and dangerous consequence of dismantling Net Neutrality is that it could lead to the death of the American Dream.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, it’s absolutely insane to me that we call ourselves a democracy when a vote of 3-2 bureaucrats could completely screw all of us. Currently, some states and others are already filing to sue the FCC in an attempt to get this decision repealed. While I think this is a good first step, the only way to restore Net Neutrality and make sure it remains is to have Congress vote it into law. I urge you to contact your Congressperson today and urge them to overturn the FCC’s vote.