Digital Dating: Like Shopping on Amazon?

It’s compelling to believe that now, more so than at any point in our history, it’s possible for each and every one of us to find The One. If not The One, then perhaps close to The One. Very close. After all, surely that person is out there, with thousands and thousands of eligible singlets on a plethora of dating sites – both niche and mainstream.

Plenty-of-Fish, eHarmony, OkCupid, Lavalife,,, certainly amongst these online stores everyone can find their perfect match, the perfect size, the perfect fit? No?

I have a number of friends who have met their relationship partners through online dating, and the relationships formed have been loving and long-lasting. I think that’s awesome. I will readily admit that I use online dating, and I will continue to do so. But I have come to realize, recently, that I have fallen into a trap. I wonder, how many other people have fallen into the same trap?

It seems that dating, for lack of better works, has become …. commoditized.

It’s the search for the elusive perfect match, The One, that has led people – men and women – to treat dating like shopping.

Not satisfied with a recent date because she’s brunette and you’ve come to realize that you really prefer blondes? Then fine, there are plenty of blondes out there. Back to eHarmony.

Although you really like the arts, perhaps he’s not quite into them as you are? Whatever the reason, there’s certainly someone who has a stronger interest on OKCupid.

Go on a date that was actually quite fun, but still she’s still “only” an 7 out of 10? Well, get out your iPhone and find that 9 or 10. Go! Get to it!

It can be an ongoing cycle, really. “One and done” dates, with the feeling that somewhere out there, in galaxy not far away, you will find “The One”.

But, what if?

What if the brunette truly is awesome, in every other way that you want your ideal woman to be awesome?

What if he just hasn’t had the same exposure to the arts as you’ve had, and he really does have a keen interest?

What if she was really nervous on the date, as people tend to be, and she wasn’t completely herself? What if she is the star you’re looking for?

I believe online dating is great, and I am fortunate to have met some great women as a result.

I also believe that too many people now treat online dating like shopping and maybe, just perhaps, these people are too quickly passing judgement when meeting others. Clicking through to the Next One, instead of investing more time to see if the current one might be The One.

Listen. Engage. Connect.

This post originally appeared as a comment in response to a post written by Mitch Joel. Mitch asked readers to provide thoughts on what it takes for marketers to listen, engage and connect in today’s world. The two people who submitted the best responses, selected by Mitch, won complimentary tickets to the 2012 Canadian Marketing Association Summit. I was fortunate to be selected (my answer was ranked third but one of the other winners wasn’t able to attend).

Hi Mitch,

Several keys come to mind which should be considered.

Recognize that social media is about people.

Companies need to have the right people in place, whether in marketing, communications or customer service, with appropriate skills and education on social media best practices. These people, on the front lines, are essentially the face of the company – they should be both empowered and trusted when engaging with customers.  Enable people (your customers) to like your people (your employees) and thus your company.

Spend time learning.

Given the nature of the rapidly changing marketing and communications landscape, continuous learning is a necessity for people at all levels – so that a company’s employees are well-poised to listen, engage and connect. Marketers should regularly spend time reading social media and technology blogs and books, as well as occasionally attend conferences (such as The Art of Marketing).

Understand that listening leads to engagement and connection.

Marketers should start by listening to their target audience, in an effort to understand them – their needs, their nuances, their language. Engagement should start once sufficient listening has occurred. However, any marketing outreach can’t just be about the brand. The conversation must be relevant and genuine from the perspective of the customer, and it must somehow add value. Marketers that focus first on listening and have customer-centric mindset, will have a better opportunity to establish true engagement and connection.

Be proactive and build relationships.

Related to the point above, marketers should be proactive in building relationships – both with key influencers and other people in the target market. Relationship-building can occur by commenting on a blog, interacting on a social network, or perhaps meeting in person at an event. Investing in a relationship can truly help at a later point, perhaps when an social initiative/campaign is being launched that could benefit from engagement of key influencers.

Provide great content.

Whether making use of a corporate blog, or sharing information through a social network, marketers need to invest time and effort in cultivating and curating content that is relevant and provides value to existing and potential customers.  Time invested in listening to customers’ needs can truly pay off here, as insights gained can feed into the content developed. By becoming a trusted resource for customers, engagement and connection with customers will be enhanced.

Show that you care.

Simply put, a little recognition can go a long way.  If someone mentions your brand in a positive light, thank them. If someone cites an issue or concern, ask them why and do what you can to help them – in a genuine and, ideally, expedient manner.  You may not always be able to please everyone, but you certainly can earn a lot of respect by showing that you care.  Again this goes back to listening, which provides opportunity for engagement and connection.

Stop Counting, Start Engaging

More and more brands are truly embracing social media as an important component of their overall marketing and communications strategy. That’s the good news. However, unfortunately too many companies are focusing on the wrong metrics when it comes to gauging the success and business value of social media initiatives. Sure, it’s great to have hundred of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. But where’s the benefit if fans and followers aren’t engaged with the brand?

Companies must do what they can to inspire engagement and action from their fans – focusing on fan acquisition is simply not sufficient. One hundred engaged fans who can relate to a brand and share it’s core values are more valuable than one thousand passive fans. They’re more likely act in favor of a brand – speaking not only with their wallets, but also through recommendations to friends and family members.

Consumers are looking for companies to be more human-centric, and to show interest in the communities they already participate in. Companies that are currently doing a great job of this include Starbucks, Zappos, Converse and Lululemon. They realize that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are not broadcast mechanisms. Instead, they leverage available tools to build genuine relationships with their fans.

How are the relationships built? By providing a fair exchange of value. Companies must offer something meaningful to fans and followers, perhaps product, service or cause related, that generates goodwill and entices the community to spread word-of-mouth.

It’s not about numbers, it’s about relationships. Genuine relationships that will enable a community to grow and prosper.

The Costs of Social Media

Last Wednesday I attended the F5 Expo, a business conference on changing technologies in the online space, including social media, search marketing and mobile marketing. Malcolm Gladwell, the noted author and columnist for The New Yorker magazine, was the conference’s keynote speaker.

The audience, not surprisingly, had a strong contingent of people who are active with social media. Perhaps it’s also not surprising that the audience seemed only lukewarm to Gladwells’ keynote, which touched on some of the costs associated with social media. To learn more about Gladwell’s thoughts on social media, here is a recent interview published in the Globe & Mail.

Before I go on, I want to state that I have benefited immensely from social media. I am very active in several different online communities, at times spending a couple of hours a day interacting on them. Through my involvement, I have met some amazing people, many of whom I have been fortunate to meet in person and become friends with. I have also been connected to countless others whom I value and have learned from.

That said, I agree Gladwell, and I think it is possible that many people don’t fully realize the costs associated with social media. Online connections, “friends” or “followers”, are missing a distinct human element, an element that I believe can only been attained through face-to-face interaction. Social media is great at enabling breadth to be achieved across a social network, however it is far more difficult to achieve depth in the resulting relationships – unless subsequent in-person connections are made.

In his keynote, Gladwell stated that in the 1980s, 10% of Americans did not have a close friend they could confide in on personal matters. That number has now climbed to 25%, which I believe is quite startling. Is social media to blame? No. But is it a factor in this? I think it might be. Stop for a second and consider the time and investment it requires to truly build a deep relationship. Now consider the number of people many are connected to on social networks.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical limit to the number of social relationships one can maintain, the number is commonly believed to be 150. Given this, I find it hard to believe that many people aren’t being stretched by their extensive online networks, stretched in a manner that takes time away from building closer relationships and making them matter. People may have more friends than ever before, but at what cost? Strong relationships take time to develop.

There is another question that needs to be considered. In many ways, social media enables people to become more productive. One such example is the quick and easy formation of groups.  However, has it made people less productive in other ways? It seems to me that there is a lot of content clutter on social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter. In fact, I am very guilty of creating some of it.  Do people really care when I check into a cafe using Foursquare, and then post it on Facebook and Twitter?  Online friends who I have met in person, or at least built a strong connection with, might. Others, who account for the vast majority of my connections? Probably not.

Social media represents an opportunity for people to procrastinate, waiting or the next tweet or Facebook status update, taking away from time that could perhaps be better spent creating or adding value elsewhere.

Now, again I need to reiterate, I love social media. It has made a huge difference in my life, and my career direction has changed as a result. However I think it is important consider the costs associated with the social media revolution. For anyone who is interested, I recently wrote a blog post containing tips on how to better manage time spent on social media.

Marketing in a Sales-Driven Culture

I have been working as a Marketing Manager at my current company, Texcan, for a couple of years now. When I took on the role, I knew from the onset that it would be an interesting challenge. Texcan, a distributor of cable and wire for various industrial markets, is a sales-driven organization. Marketing, although deemed important, was not exactly at the forefront when I started.

Personally, I viewed the role as a great opportunity to make an impact, while taking the lead in creating and growing a more strategic marketing mindset in the organization. Although there is plenty of work to do, much has changed during my tenure. Senior management and sales see marketing as a critical function and asset in driving growth, both through new customer acquisition and incremental sales amongst current customers. Further, marketing now has a more prominent role to play in corporate planning.

How was this achieved? Here are a few simple steps that I took.

Build Trust and Relationships

It goes without saying that relationships are such a cornerstone in business. From the outset, I made an effort to build personal relationships with the sales team. I listened to them, to gain an understanding of their unique sales challenges. Making an effort to attend become involved with sales meetings, and in general just make myself accessible, has made a difference.

Educate Colleagues

A strong component of my role at Texcan is to educate staff on the value of marketing, and provide a vision for what is possible. I consider myself to have a strong grounding in marketing fundamentals, I suppose the classic 4P’s we all learn. However, I also spend at least an hour each day educating myself on the latest in business and marketing innovations. Through communication with sales and senior management, some great ideas have been generated.

Be Proactive

Change can be hard, often times it’s much easier to stick to the status quo. Armed with insights gained from challenges faced by our sales team, I was assertive in providing strategic recommendations to senior management. I outlined challenges faced by our sales team, as well as opportunities, with corresponding strategies to execute and intended results. No, not all of my recommendations were approved, but some were. More importantly, however, by providing valuable insights I have gained management’s ear.

Demonstrate Results

Wherever and whenever possible, I communicate results of our marketing programs to senior management. For example, last year we re-launched our website in conjunction with a focus on search engine optimization. Our Google ranking, corresponding website traffic, and qualified leads from our contact form have all increased significantly. Senior management has gained confidence that our marketing initiatives generate strong returns, and as result funding has increased.

Have Patience

Change doesn’t happen overnight! It’s been a process at Texcan, and change is still ongoing. However, it’s been neat to see the transformation that has already occurred.

Social Media Time Management

(how to regain my sanity)

I have a problem. I love marketing and I love social media, and I am very excited about the rapid change and innovation that is occurring as marketers join consumers in conversation about their products, services, brands and companies.

Every day, through my multiple online profiles, I am connecting with new people – some very bright minds – and I am learning new things.

However, as the number of people I am connected with increases, and as I discover new tools to try, widgets to download, and articles to read, I find myself to be increasingly starved for time. Time to invest back into the social media communities I participate in, hopefully providing value to others, and time spent in the offline world (is there such a thing anymore?). Time also, to focus on writing for this blog – although admittedly I was quite distracted by the Winter Olympics in February.

Here are some tactics I intend to try, to better manage my time spent on social media.

1. Focus on quality, not quantity of connections

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of social relationships one can maintain.  There is no precise value, but many people approximate it to be 150. I imagine most people in social media are well beyond that, and I am quite certain that I am.

I have a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and I am fortunate to have met many of the people I have connected with. However, I don’t feel I have devoted enough time towards truly nurturing and growing my relationships, and I believe that many have the potential to flourish – online and offline. Moving forward, I intend to focus more on building the relationships that I already have. How? By interacting, joining conversations, and helping others when possible. For example, on Twitter I now have a separate list for friends and I will make every effort to focus on it.

2. Become selective with social media communities and tools

Being active in social media and staying on top of the game doesn’t mean that one needs to use all available tools, or participate in an inordinate number of communities. I used to run a social group using ning, however I found that it was too much for me to handle so I abandoned it – the value generated didn’t warrant the effort required. I also had an account on Delicious to share articles that I enjoyed reading, but again I didn’t find it worthwhile to maintain. Instead, I now send out a couple of tweets a day with links to articles I believe others might find to be of interest. Where possible, I also aggregate my status updates, using Twitter to feed into Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites.

4. Spend more time, less often

Truly becoming involved with social media, and understanding the changes and impact on marketing, requires both time and effort. It’s cliché, but one gets out what one puts in. That said, personally I have found that I am signing into social media platforms too frequently, in intervals that are too short – checking Twitter to review the feed, or commenting on a friend’s updated status on Facebook. It’s very tempting to stay connected and find out the latest news. However, I have found my habits to be disruptive to other tasks I’m working on.

As such, I intend to sign in a little less often, but spend more time online when I do sign in.  I am going to take the time to read blog posts, craft replies and hopefully write my own. With regards to Twitter, I have set up lists that make it easier for me to catch up on the latest news. I will also be make more use of timed tweets, to help build my own personal online presence.

These are just a few of my planned social media time management tactics. Do you use any that you have found to be successful?  Please feel free to share!

TED Talks: How the Internet Enables Intimacy

An interesting Ted Talk by Stefana Broadbent on how the Internet facilitates deeper relationships by enabling people to connect and communicate with friends and loved ones.