Dear Executives, Social Media Does Not Render Your Employees Stupid

Social media does not make people stupid. It does not make them irresponsible, lazy, or unproductive. Social media will make you money, however, if you do it right.

I talk to a lot of business owners and executives who worry that if they start using social media to market their business, their employees’ productivity will plummet.

I’ve had meetings in the last two days with two different business owners. One has embraced Facebook and blogging fully, the other is worried that Facebook will hamper his employees’ ability to get work done.

The first employer urges his employees to do stuff on social media. Almost requires it. His Facebook page gets dozens of visits a day, which is awesome because they sell such a niche product, the customer base for the entire country can be measured in the thousands.

The other employer says — and rightly so — that they have so much administrative work to do around the office, he doesn’t want their Facebook efforts to distract them from getting their admin work done.

The first employer wants to know how he can do more social media marketing. The second employer wants to know the bare minimum he can get by with.

As Doug Karr says, asking what the minimum you can get by with on social media is like asking how slowly you can drive a race car.

Social Media Marketing is Not About Playing

Facebook lets me see kittehs

ZOMG! Facebook lets me play with kittehs!!

We as employers trust our employees. We trust them to answer the phones and be pleasant to everyone who calls in. We trust them to make travel to other states and make sales calls and presentations. We trust them to take payments from customers and put our money in the bank. We trust them to buy products from other companies. And we even trust them to use computers without standing over them, watching them type every email.

So what is it about social media that scares the bejeezus out of every employer and makes them think that the second they allow Facebook onto their computers, their entire workforce is going to turn into a bunch of 13-year-old girls jacked up on Red Bull and the most recent Justin Bieber sighting?

If you trust these people enough to do business in your name, collect and spend your money, and talk to your customers, then you need to trust them enough to continue to do these things while Facebook is unblocked on their computers.

If you don’t trust them, that’s your fault. If you don’t trust your employees to not screw around, you’re the problem, not Facebook. You hired the wrong people, and that’s a management issue.

Hire people who will get their work done, and make your expectations for social media usage clear from the outset. These are people who can help your company be more profitable, so why not take advantage of that?

Social Media Marketing is About Making Money

The whole reason for a business to be on social media is to make money. Period. It’s not to play Farmville on Facebook. It’s not to pin the latest novelty cake on Pinterest. It’s not to take photos of a rusted out piece of farm equipment on Instagram. It’s to find people who would be interested in buying your products or services.

Every business owner and manager is always looking for a way to make more money and be more profitable. The problem is, many of them are hampered by doing the things that don’t make them money. Doing payroll. Filing claims. Managing inventory. Filling and shipping product orders.

The problem is, payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping don’t make you money. Marketing makes you money. Finding new customers makes your money. If you’re a business owner, and you’re spending your valuable time doing payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping, instead of generating revenue, outsource them.

Hire a bookkeeping firm to manage payroll. Hire a virtual assistant to file your claims. Hire a $10 hour college student to count inventory and stick orders in boxes. The less of this non-revenue generating work you can do, the better.

Spend the newly found time pursuing new customers. Spend it on Facebook, Twitter, or writing your blog. It doesn’t take long to bring in a couple choice clients to recover the costs of having a part-time employee handle the grunt work that’s actually losing you money. Have them handle more of your non-revenue workload, and find a couple more. You can grow just by having someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

But it starts with letting go of the fear that your employees are going to be struck stupid the second you allow Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn on your company computers.

Photo credit: bjornlifoto (Flickr)

Reaching Inbox Zero in Five Simple Steps

Inbox Zero. It’s the holy grail of anyone who uses email as a primary form of communication. My inbox is empty right now. Completely empty. It took months to get there, mostly because I kept letting it get filled up again with complete crap. It will probably get full again, but my goal is to keep it below 10 as much as possible.

If you’re like me, you treat your inbox like a to do list. If it’s in there, it’s an actionable item, and you’ll leave it there until you can cross it off your list. (Because otherwise if you delete or archive the email, you’ll forget to do it.) Then, important emails get buried and you miss out on them.

Here are the things I’ve done over the past few weeks to get to a beautifully empty inbox.

Empty Gmail Inbox, achieving Inbox Zero

This is the most beautiful site these eyes have ever seen.

(Note: I use Gmail and all the Google properties, including Google Calendar and Google Tasks. This has also helped keep me organized because everything is interrelated. Some of this information is based on what I can do with Gmail.)

1) Delete the crap and dreck.

Before you do anything else, go through all your email newsletters, semi-interesting advertisements, and other pieces of information you thought you’d find a few extra minutes to read. If you have’t read it by now, you’re not going to find the time. If it’s an ad, a solicitation, or a special offer you signed up for, get rid of it. This is like junk mail. You wouldn’t keep piles of junk mail and newspapers in your house “just in case,” so do the same for your inbox.

2) Create a label or folder and archive emails.

If you have important emails that you need to save about a certain project, client, or topic, create a folder, and put those emails in that folder. If you use Gmail, create a filter to apply a specific label for that project, client, or topic, and then archive it. When you need to recall it, click on that label, and all those emails will appear. If you store everything in folders, then search through that particular folder.

3) Delete or archive anything older than 2 months.

This is especially important if you’re the kind of person who saves all your emails in your inbox. I’ve known people who have more than five thousand emails in their inbox. Not their entire email folder. Their inbox. There is no reason you have to keep these handy. They’re not doing you any good, because if you’re treating your inbox like a to do list, those action items have lo-o-o-o-ng since expired. Just dump any emails you don’t need, and archive the ones you might.

4) Add actionable items to a to do list.

Copy the important information into the notes. I use Google Tasks, and there is a place for notes with each task. I can also type in specific keywords, the date, and the people involved, so I can search for that particular email later. And by archiving — Gmail has a great searchable archive that makes finding old emails a breeze — I get those things out of my inbox. Similarly, if it’s information I need to keep, I’ll copy and paste it into my Evernote so I can find it later.

If you’ve got stuff you need to take care of in the next day or two, leave those items out for now.

5) Do important actionable items right away.

By this point, you should only have a few emails left — things you have to get to right away, deadlines to meet, answers to send, appointments to schedule. I try to work in 15 minute blocks and plow through as many emails as I can in this fashion. If someone needs a reply, I send it. If I have to read something, I do it fast. Plow through all the necessary items as fast as you can, even if it means scheduling an appointment with yourself to keep that time blocked.

Important: Don’t just file actionable emails into a To Do file. That may be a real Inbox Zero trick, but to my mind, it’s cheating. You don’t just file stuff away to have an empty inbox. You actually do the things you’re getting the emails for. If you can’t do them, leave them in the inbox until you can. But if you feel the burning desire to hit Inbox Zero, then pull the emails into your To Do list, or copy and paste the information into a document on your desktop. But filing for later is not the best option.

To maintain Inbox Zero, I jealously guard my inbox from all intruders, and I treat each one like an incoming task. Here are the ways I get rid of those emails to keep them from piling up again:

  1. Skim and delete newsletters. Unsubscribe from any that don’t catch my interest. If I’ve received it five times and never opened it, I unsubscribe from it.
  2. Respond to easy questions immediately, and archive the emails. If a response is coming back, there’s no reason to keep the email in my inbox. It will pop back in soon enough when the other person replies.
  3. Schedule responses for appropriate times. If you have Outlook, you’ve always been able to do this. I just started using Gmail on Chrome recently, and I got the Boomerang extension, which allows me to schedule replies and responses. If I work ahead on an answer to a client or colleague but they don’t need the answer right away, I schedule my reply for a future delivery, and then archive the email.
  4. Filter particular emails like newsletters I want to keep, and have them delivered straight to a particular folder, bypassing the inbox. Then I can read them when I have the time, but they won’t sit in my inbox.
  5. Ruthlessly delete unnecessary emails. Be a jerk about it. If something doesn’t grab my interest right that second, dump it. I don’t keep it, hoping it will be relevant in a few days. If I really want to keep something, I’ll put it in a special folder called “to do eventually.” I created that folder six months ago, in the hopes that I would find time to go back to those “maybe I oughta” emails, and haven’t pulled anything out of it since. I haven’t missed anything since then either.
  6. Use Boomerang to have emails pop back into my inbox. If I don’t want to add something to my to do list, Boomerang can help. I can archive or hide a message and have it come back to my inbox at a certain time. When it shows up, I’ll deal with it at that moment. This is different from filing stuff into a To Do folder, mostly because I say it is. No other reason.

So that’s what I’ve done to achieve Inbox Zero, and what I’ve been doing to keep it clutter free. What do you do? Do you have any suggestions or recommendations? What about you real Inbox Zero practitioners? What are some of the best ways you’ve found to work clutter free?

Five Tips to Being Productive While You’re on the Road

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, with speaking gigs and client meetings, and I’m finding it harder to be productive, especially when these are all day trips, and the time I would normally spend in a hotel or a coffee shop is instead spent driving to or from my events. I’m also a regular entre-commuter, carrying my office in my backpack and working wherever I can find a coffee shop with free wifi.

While days like this mean a lot of evening, night, and weekend work (and a lot less sleep), there are some ways I have found I can still be productive while I’m out and about.

  • Get someone else to drive. When Paul and I drive anywhere, we take turns driving, so the other can get some work done. Get a friend or colleague to drive you to an appointment, or once you’re a big shot making a few thousand bucks for a speech, hire a driver. Do some work while the other person drives, and don’t be afraid to say “I can’t talk right now, I have to get this done.”
  • Keep projects “in the cloud” on your laptop. When we’re driving, I can tether my mobile phone to my laptop and get some very slow, basic wifi. This means that loading websites, answering emails, and writing blog posts is painful and I just give up. Instead, I write email responses and blog posts on my laptop and upload them when I get to a coffee shop or my destination. Since our writers turn in their submissions via Google Docs, I download them before I ever leave, make the changes, and upload them when we get to our next stop.
  • Paul Lorinczi, president of Professional Blog Service

    Paul's working on our new monthly email newsletter.

  • Plan for work breaks. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Columbus, Indiana, on the way back from giving a talk in Lexington, KY, to write this post, because we had some client work to take care of. Yes, we could just keep going, but we’re about to head north into Indianapolis’ rush hour traffic, and by delaying now, we’ll miss the bulk of the 5:00 rush. It also lets us get some work done so we don’t have to deal with it when we get home. Why slog through rush hour traffic only to do some more work when we just want to relax? Normally, we try to plan a 30 minute break in our longer trips so we can stop off and handle any surprise client requests — publishing a blog post, sending a Facebook message, responding to a tweet — that come in while we’re in the car.
  • Make phone calls instead of emails. My efficiency-expert friends say to stay off the phone and send emails, because I can write a note in two minutes, but a phone call can take 10. But when I’m driving, I’ve got 2 – 3 hours before I get to my location, so why not kill some time on the phone? I get to make that personal touch with people I do business with, and I avoid the 10-email-exchange that we try to do to get a task out of our inbox and into the other person’s. In some cases, a phone call even lets us finish a project completely.
  • Plug your laptop in whenever possible. I’m watching my laptop slowly drain its battery to below 50%, and I remember that I didn’t plug in earlier when I had the chance. Whenever you stop for a quick break (#3), your time and productivity may be limited by the fact that your battery wasn’t charged previously. This also cuts your productivity in the car — if your battery dies, you and your companion are forced to talk about your feelings any topic that randomly comes to mind. One way to avoid this is to get a DC converter for your car, like the truckers use. Get a decent one at your local hardware store or a truck stop, and plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter, then plug your laptop into it. Some really good ones even have a USB charger so you can charge your mobile phone with your USB cable.

What are your tips? How do you keep productive while you’re in the car? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Gmail is the New Black: Why You Should be Using Gmail Right Now

Do you use Gmail or some other web-based program, or are you still accessing email strictly on your computer, cursing Outlook, and praying for the sweet, sweet release that death a hard drive crash will bring? Do you have a backup of your address book and necessary emails, should that blessed day ever come?

When I give a social media talk, I tell everyone to use Gmail for basic contact management. It has saved my bacon more than once, and I’ve become such a raving fan that I use it as my only email interface. I even forward my work email and other addresses into Gmail, so I have one window, one set of contacts, and the cleanest, least buggy interface I’ve ever had the joys of using. I can send email from any of my addresses, but the interface is all Gmail.

The joys of Gmail

If you’re not using Gmail yet, here are a few reasons why you need to:

  • Social network building Any social network you join is going to have a way to import your address book into the network so you can see if your friends are on there. Gmail is the easiest one to bring in. Some networks don’t even import web-mail programs like Hotmail. Others are a little more forgiving and will let you import Apple Mail, Outlook and Outlook Express, and comma-delimited CSV files.
  • Offsite storage of your contact list Let’s say that your work computer crashes, and you lose everything. Or you are, um, no longer allowed to. . . access your work computer due to a new arrangement you have with your now-former employer, and you need to let your friends and colleagues in other companies know about your new work situation. Having a copy of your address book in your control will make this a lot easier. You can even sync Gmail with Outlook, so any time you change or add a record, that is reflected in the other. Warning: some solutions will split up multi-email records, and then sync all those brand new records into Gmail. I had that happen twice, after I spent hours cleaning them up.
  • Emergency access If you ever need to reach people over the weekend or in the evening, but your computer is at work, you can still do so. This is especially important for people in crisis communication whose organizations are still planted firmly in 1997. If you’re counting on your email server and your email list to be available if you need to do a press release or media alert, you’re totally hosed if that thing ever crashes because of a large-scale disaster. When I was in crisis communication, we had to come up with some plan to work around just that contingency. And if you’re in the middle of an emergency, and you can’t get access to your email server, you need another solution. There are so many workarounds to getting online, as long as you can get there, you can communicate. But if you’re depending on one computer’s data, forget it.
  • Enterprise email You can even use Gmail for business. For $50 per user per year, you can get 25 MB of storage per user, plus it syncs with Outlook and Blackberry. (For the record, I can also sync my personal email with my HTC Droid.) You keep your corporate identity and addresses, but you have the security and ease of use of Google’s email, calendar, and Docs.

What about you? Why do you use Gmail (or your favorite web-mail application)? Why should people switch to web-mail from computer mail? Or, why shouldn’t they?