10 things I learned about quitting smoking

10 years ago today I quit smoking. It struck me as quite a milestone so in celebration I thought I’d make a list. That’s what ex-smokers do instead of going outside to smoke.

1. A big factor in why I wanted to quit was for my children. Good news! I can still happily chase my children round the park without being out of breath. Unfortunately they’re now 14 and 11 so they just wish I’d stop chasing them because it embarrasses them.

2.When you quit smoking your taste returns. I remember a time when I ate something about three months after quitting ciggies and and thought “Eeew!! Why have I been eating this all this time?!? It tastes disgusting”  It was probably celery, which apparently does have flavor. So watch out for that future ex-smokers.

3. I’m bigger, but we’ll call that muscle, or healthy weight. It’s good because when you quit smoking you can get fatter but people are still happy for you.

4. You will smell delicious and not like you fell asleep in an ash tray. Just ask Irma, she thinks I smell delicious (Note: Good hygiene is still required for this)

5. I can now watch a movie the whole way through without going outside for a smoke. Unfortunately I’m still fidgety and rarely make it through a movie so this one doesn’t really count, but I could if I wanted to, and that’s what’s important. I choose to fidget it’s  not the pesky ciggies making me.

6. Ciggies are expensive! So is health care for horrible smoking related diseases. Bikes however are fun, and healthy. Spend your money on one of those instead. I recommend Sunnyside Bicycles. Go and see John, Vanessa and the team, they’ll sort you out. You’ll still need health care though, and a helmet. They have those too.

7. I can get on a long haul flight without it being the most traumatic experience of my life…and I apologise to my wife and any passengers, customs officers, flight attendants etc for all those 11 hour flights we did when I was smoking. Man I was cranky.

8. My doctor told me a while ago that 10 years after you quit being a a smoker they no longer count things like heart attacks etc as “smoking related diseases”. So when I die of a heart attack now it’ll be because of too many hamburgers…or cake. Which is much more socially acceptable.

9. I quit cold turkey, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be (my wife may disagree). The hardest part was the decision to actually take the step to do it, then the first three days.

10. So, if you’re thinking of quitting smoking only you can make the decision, you can do it but only if YOU want to. Otherwise just carry on smoking and eating celery thinking it tastes ok.


The Dark Social Rises

I was having my coffee outside Sunday morning, scrolling through my Twitter feed, and I saw a tweet from The Atlantic to an article about Dark Social.


Confession, when I initially saw the title I thought ”Dark Social…BATMAN!” But then I clicked through and started reading. What I found was an article that has dropped a bomb on our understanding of where web traffic is coming from. In particular, social media traffic. I think many of us had an inkling that all was not well in the world of web analytics, but never have I seen it laid out so clearly as in Madrigal’s article.

As a teenager in rural Washington in the late 90’s, Madrigal spent a lot of time in USENET forums, on ICQ and email. The idea that the web was a structured set of links and directories that was suddenly disrupted and socialized by sites like MySpace and later Facebook has never sat well with him. He points out that much of the time he spent online prior to the “social web” revolution of the mid 2000’s was actually highly social – he was chatting and sharing links with friends.

Our history of the web is wrong, the web didn’t evolve to be social, it always was.

Tracking social data

When you follow a link on a web site and in marketing emails there’s data attached to that link. In short, web site analytics products know where you came from, and often what marketing campaign drove the traffic. This is useful information, it allows us to answer questions like:

  • Was the email campaign successful? Did it increase sales or leads?
  • What was the most popular story this week, and where did the traffic come from?

It’s good to know where this traffic is coming from, it gives us information on where to spend our marketing dollars. When we look at our web analytics and are able to see that 20% of all traffic to a particular page came from Facebook, we’re able to answer the “What’s the ROI of social media?” question. We have stats. Hooray for data!

But, something was niggling at Madrigal. What about the vast amount of referral traffic that has no data attached? Direct traffic. This traffic magically appears as if people suddenly decided to visit an article buried deep within your site. How can that be explained?

Madrigal spoke to Chartbeat, as they have been very clever about how they measure the site traffic. They figure that if a direct visit is not landing on the homepage or a major section of the site, it must have come from a link shared somewhere. It’s simple but it makes sense. I mean who would ever type a url like this into their browser?

(*ahem*, I think that link is a good read too)

So if it’s been shared via email or IM or some other app between people, it’s social. Madrigal calls this traffic Dark Social and it helps explain a lot about that large portion of traffic that is earmarked as ‘Direct’ or ‘Bookmarked’ traffic in many analytics programs.

Good news for marketers, there’s now a name for that loosely categorized data.  Even better, there’s a way to explain sudden jumps in traffic to certain articles or product pages that happen out of the blue. This is all good, but for me what’s even more important than all of this data is this sentence: 

“The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.”

For me this is the single most important paragraph in the whole story. Madrigal and our friends at Chartbeat have uncovered potential data to prove something we all knew already. When individuals share content with friends, it’s because it’s highly relevant and there’s a connection between the content and the people it’s shared with. It’s valuable, and it drives engagement.

After reading Madrigal’s article I checked my Gmail account and lo and behold the number of articles I had shared via email over the past week outnumbered anything I had shared on a social network. Why? Because each link I shared via email was important, either to one person or a small group of people. On my social networks, I tend to share links where I think “I like this, I wonder if this will be useful to someone”. It’s clear email is not dead, it’s a glue that still binds a lot of important social and personal interactions online, including sharing.

We talk about engagement a lot nowadays, but it’s still easy to click a button to like or retweet something. Social is important, but it will never be as important as the quality, highly relevant content that you put out there. That’s the gold! That is your brand, and your message that you want people sharing, wherever they do it.

Originally posted  for Social Media Club’s editorial team

Segmentation is dead, the interest graph killed it.

This post was originally published on for the SMC Editorial Team.

During a recent discussion at work (Sailthru) my colleague Amy declared “segmentation is dead”. It’s something that struck me as a really important statement because I think she’s right, and it’s the interest graph that killed it.

We’re living in an age where every click we make, every site we visit can be tracked and often personalized. Our relationships, clicks and likes are creating an individual map of our interests that can be leveraged to deliver us a highly targeted stream of recommendations. You have become a “segment of one”.

Traditional segmentation allocates a customer to one market segment based on characteristics such as gender, interests, location, income etc. Often employing continuous refinements to group people into smaller and smaller groups so that they can be targeted and moved through a sales funnel that is wide at the top and narrows toward a conversion goal. But, what if we’re looking at this process backwards?

A segment of one

All the data that is accessible to us via tracking tools provides us with a way to dynamically target our messaging in a way that skips the funnel altogether. When browsing Amazon I get recommendations on what books and products to buy based on previous purchases, browsing history and a collection of other data.

Amazon doesn’t segment, it use algorithms to put products in front of me they know I’ll be interested in and more likely to buy. I’d bet money that a marketer in Seattle isn’t creating customer segments that I neatly fit, they’re using real data collected from clicks and purchases and algorithms to present information to me.

An individual customer that receives content or product recommendations specifically tailored to their interests that’s highly likely to incite an action is a valuable asset.

Amazon’s not the only company doing this, publishers and e-commerce providers around the web are employing techniques to market directly to the individual. It simply makes sense to target a “segment of one” ME.

We’re in a time where an e-commerce store can literally present a product to me across any number of devices and know there’s a high likelihood of a purchase. Publishers can present a piece of content targeted to me knowing I am likely to read it.

Where it gets really interesting is when we add my interest graph and social graph to the equation. The similarities and differences in my connections start to create patterns that are highly charged with actionable data. When I share content that has been targeted specifically to me via a Facebook like, or re-pin it to Pinterest or even share it via email with a friend I am implicitly recommending it to people who will likely share common interests or relationships. (it’s important to note that an implicit recommendation is not always the reason for a share)

Those actions are repeatable and if the interest in the content shared matches he interests in my network it will gradually reach a wider and wider audience until it naturally fizzles out due to lack of engagement. It’s the reverse of the traditional segmentation model. We start at an individual and work our way up to a larger group.

If you can dynamically target your messaging and content on an individual level it’s simply more valuable. Amazon knows this and I suspect you do too. The data is there it’s up to you to leverage it for the benefit of your customers and your business.

As my boss Michael always says “When you look at snow it’s a mass of white, but when you examine it in detail each snowflake is unique”. That’s how you should treat your customers they are an individual with a unique interest graph…they are a segment of one.


Social Media is all Unicorns and Rainbows after all

Remember the good old days where the social media was all fuzzy and warm and everyone was your friend. “Social Media” was a special place where people gave each other virtual hugs and high fives all day long. Unicorns would skip by your desk and every time you looked out the window there was a rainbow spanning the sky (for some people it was a double rainbow…remember that guy?)

There’s been some significant developments for those who practice social media over the past few years and I think the most important is the recognition that social media isn’t just an industry unto itself. It’s growing up, maturing and and being recognized within businesses large and small as a disruptive force, a different way of thinking from recent years. The early adopters have gone through that phase where they created Facebook apps and Twitter accounts because the competition has them. They’ve talked about ROI until they’re blue in the face. The result, I think that many more business leaders are recognizing they need to wrap their arms around social while applying the same sense they would for any other decision. The early adopters have made the mistakes, there’s now a history of techniques and tactics to learn from.

The reason for this shift in my mind is(a) comfort levels and (b) that we’re realizing this social media stuff isn’t anything new. We’re just doing what we’ve been doing for years, thinking about our customers and what they want. Businesses have a symbiotic relationship with customers, if you serve them well and meet their needs (product and service) they will return, just as they did for the Mom and Pop stores of years ago.

The big difference between now and Mom and Pop store era is the customers’ ability to research quickly and efficiently reviews and word of mouth via social channels on demand. They ask people, and people tell them…lots of people. That’s a lot of data being shared, stored and available online to analyze. Marketers are finally getting the tools that allow them to use their skills to assess opportunities and get feedback quickly via automation and customer feedback. This maturation of products has transitioned us to place where business can get back to setting goals and using data to inform their decisions. Less hype more smarts.

So what’s this got to do with unicorns and rainbows? It’s simple one of them is real and one of them is a myth you just have to recognize which one you want to spend your time looking for and focus your business dollars there.

Hint- rainbows are real and if you know what to look for you can find them, just like your customers. Unicorns on the other hand, well you decide. See, social media IS all about unicorns and rainbows after all.

This post was originally published for Social Media Club at:

How do you protect your brand when employees leave?

When I started my job at Fresno Pacific University over six years ago Facebook barely existed, Twitter was a dream in Jack Dorsey’shead and Instagram’s million or so users had barely been born! Ok, ok Instagram users aren’t that young but the point is the social graph as we know it now barely existed.

During the last six years I’ve been part of the team team that has helped shape the digital marketing strategies. I’ve signed up for every cool startup that looked like it had a chance of redefining the social space, and many that just looked really cool.

As part of my role I had access to all the accounts for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube…the list goes on. And then a little over three weeks ago I handed in my notice. Now in my situation I had a great relationship with my employer, there’s no bad blood or bridges burned so I still have access, and I know that my access will probably be phased out as people get to it, or when they are sure they don’t need that “just in case” backup (or after this blog post is published).

But as I was packing my things last week it dawned on me how closely intertwined I was with the public face of my employer. I wasn’t the main person in charge of the accounts but there were shared responsibilities. If I had been fired and wanted to act unprofessionally would they know all of the accounts I have access too…(I gotta admit, I don’t remember all of them). Imagine for a second the damage I could cause to the brand in a few short minutes. Of course we had a plan for dealing with PR emergencies but what if the PR emergency was a wild card who holds the keys to the message. Scary isn’t it?

As I left on good terms and worked with a great team it was the flip-side of this situation that came back to bite me. I carefully went through my applications and logged out of Facebook, Twitter and anything else I could think of that might give my friends access to my accounts. I knew that if they could get in there’d be a random tweet or Facebook post by “me” that would appear. Just like so many times when I walked away from my desk, it was part of our team make up to prank each other. Sure enough during a lunch date with my wife the day after leaving a number of Facebook notifications made my phone vibrate. Well played team, well played.

Six years ago in the position I held before Fresno Pacific University I just packed up my desk and gave my keys back while my boss changed the server passwords. Now employer and employee have to make sure they protect themselves appropriately from being pranked or worse their reputation damaged. What do you do to make sure it doesn’t happen?

P.S. We talk about trust a lot in social media, but you know sometimes you just can’t trust everyone. Argh! I still can’t believe I got all the tools like Tweetdeck, Gmail and more but I missed Safari. Thank you Facebook for remote log out.

Time for a change – My new job

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be starting a new position as Marketing Technologist at Sailthru in a few weeks. This is a great opportunity to work with a rapidly growing startup doing some really cool things in the email space. I’ll be staying located in Fresno, CA and will be making great use of The Hashtag as office space, but it’s going to involve some regular travel back and forward to New York too.

So what will I be doing? I’m going to be working closely with the business development, product development and marketing teams to look for new opportunities in the industry and explore new ways in which Sailthru can continue to innovate. The idea is that my day job is to be a catalyst for new ideas and a bridge between marketing and technology. Yes you read that right…basically it’s my dream job.

I’ve always been happiest in a role that sits somewhere between tech and marketing and that’s where my strengths lie. I’m really grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given. I won’t deny it’s tinged with a little sadness. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great bunch of people at FPU. My bosses have been amazing and have always encouraged me to explore new opportunities and I thank them for that. The team is amazing, we’ve laughed…a LOT. We’ve cried (well most people have, I’ve yet to do that and so I’ve been denied access to the inner circle). I’m going to miss every single one of them and everything they’ve done to enrich my life over the last few years.

But it’s time for a change – It’s going to be awesome! Wish me luck.

Some fond memories of my time at FPU

As I wrote this I started thinking of some fond memories. There’s too many to list but luckily some of them have been caught on camera. These are just a couple of the silly ones. There were many, many more pranks played over the years and we managed to get a lot of work done too.

Facebook deleted our mascot’s profile in 2009 as it wasn’t a real person. The response over lunchtime was to create a website and pretend he was kidnapped. A very trusting Lisa Alvey dressed up in the mascot outfit and let me tape her to the chair.

She got me back a few years later when she had an idea for an Angry Birds inspired promo for the FPU v Grizzlies game. After being thrown in the air by two strapping baseball players and landing on my face. All I could see as I painfully peered out of the beak was Lisa bent over double laughing at my agony.

The thievery at Christmas time.

Bonnie Smith is famed for her love of the Christmas season. In 2010, tired by the constant thieving of decorations I received a punishment for stealing the countdown to the 100 day countdown. For our party I was required to wear a santa hat, some shoes or sing a christmas carol at the countdown party. Somehow I thought by going a little over the top and dressing as santa this would negate the punishment! Yeah, not so much. That poor child…I was the first Santa she ever saw. Also to be noted just because your boss is on the short side it’s not always a good idea to suggest that she could be one of santa’s elves.

We also enjoyed a little competitive spirit, so not to be outdone by Bonnie’s enthusiam for decorating. We have been know to cover the entire office in christmas wrapping paper, the only reason being so we could say ‘We won”

Barrel Bandits

When you see a barrel in a hallway it’s good to know you can count on your team to step up to plan suprise attacks. The planning it took to get Laura Brickey to walk past this barrel at the right time was nothing short of amazing. There were more victims including poor Niki ‘Banks…dangit’ DelaBarre who graciously forgave and (never) forgot.

There are soooo many many more good memories caused by the phrase “I bet you can’t” and “I double dog dare you”. The annual giant paper plane contest, the challenges. The team retreats with summer olympics and inner tube riding…I still cherish being the only person not to be thrown off the inner tube at bass lake by Laura Brickey. Which reminds me of yesterday morning’s arrival at the office.

I’m pretty sure that’s never going to happen again. It’s been a really fun job and for every memory listed above there are hundreds more. The people at FPU are special, that’s something that will stay with me forever.

What Gary Vaynerchuk and my Mum have in common

Gary Vaynerchuk recently posted a video to Google+ Weddings vs. Marriage: A business story. He has a really interesting analogy about the lifetime value of social media. He feels mosts businesses today are acting like a bride that puts more energy and effort in planning their wedding than they do putting into their marriage. I recommend you watch the video below, for the full Vaynerchuk experience.

I had an epiphany while watching this video. When I was a kid my Mum (in her strong Belfast accent) would say to my sister and I “You two need to stay close. You’ve only got each other, remember that.” Typically I would roll my eyes and say “yes Mum” as it always felt she was demanding a friendship for us both.

My Mum grew up with twelve brothers and sisters on the outskirts of Belfast, N.Ireland – a region that in the sixties was simmering with an undercurrent of violence and conflict. My recent epiphany after watching the video from Gary was that Mum was teaching us a lesson in the importance of forging lasting relationships. She wasn’t expecting my sister and I to be best friends but to create a relationship that had a lifetime value, one that that counts when it matters most.

Many business are going full tilt at social media and demanding more followers on Twitter, more “likes” on Facebook and more ROI from their marketing teams. They are looking for short terms wins in an effort to capitalize on opportunities. How many of you are waiting on that Google+ page for your business because it’s the hot new girl in class. (Guilty)

If Gary and others are right the future of business is deeply entwined with social media/social business. It seems the greatest opportunity is the lifetime value of knowing your business is the one that a customer turns to because it knows he/she can count on you.

It’s not going to be easy. It’ll take time, energy and effort but the long term value is going to be almost unmeasurable.

The wedding day is an amazing memory but the value is in the marriage. Think about that when you are courting your customers. I think it’ll be worth the effort, don’t you?

Image Credit of Gary Vaynerchuk: Brian Solis