Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Kinds of LinkedIn Requests and How to Respond

How many times have you seen this email in your inbox?

It's an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. But it's from someone you don't know, or someone whose name you might have heard at a networking event. Did you go to college with this person? Maybe you bumped into this person at Starbucks and swapped business cards. No matter. The point here is you have an invitation, and you don't know what to do with it.

These invitations can be generated in a few different ways. Someone might have been browsing your profile and clicked "Connect." Often, I get these emails when someone has had LinkedIn search their address book and checks the options to mass invite every email address they have. I don't recommend doing this. It's not really spam, but it feels like spam to the person who receives it. This method doesn't give you an option to enter a customized message, which is the gold standard of LinkedIn requests.

The options for responding to a LinkedIn request are: Accept, Ignore, and Mark as Spam. 

So how do you decide what to do?

Scenario 1: You think you know who the person is, but you're not sure.

Check out their profile. Look for things you have in common, such as skills, location, or schools. That should be enough to jog you memory so you can make an informed decision.

Scenario 2: You don't know who the person is, but s/he is someone you might like to connect with.

You're in online marketing, and someone from an online marketing firm that you'd like to work for sends an invitation. Go ahead an accept, but make sure to follow up with a note within the next day. Your note should be clear and concise. Here's a sample:

Hi Samantha,

Thanks so much for reaching out over LinkedIn. I notice from your profile that you work at Digital Marketing Professionals. I work in digital marketing, and I would love to hear more about your role at DMP, as I am very interested in the company. Would you have time to chat by phone next week? You can reach me directly at email@address.com or (617) 555-1234.

Best regards,

After that, the ball is on the requestor's court to respond.

Scenario 3: You don't know who the person is, and you're not sure if you want to connect.

You got a request, you checked out the person's profile, and you're on the fence about whether connecting would be useful. Without accepting the request (you'll need to go into your LinkedIn inbox to do this), send the person a quick note:

Hi Quinn,

I don't think we've met. Can you tell me a little bit about why you would like to connect?


This gives the person an option to explain that they also went to your alma mater and wanted to meet fellow Electrical Engineering majors, or that they are a long time fan of your blog. If they don't respond, it's safe to assume that they aren't serious about connecting. 

Scenario 4: You know the person, but you don't know if you want to connect.

True story: A woman getting divorced found a great lawyer through word-of-mouth recommendations. The divorce proceedings went well (as well as any divorce goes), but toward the end of the process, the lawyer made a pass at her. She made it clear she wasn't interested, and they completed their business. Now, some time later, the lawyer invited her to join his LinkedIn network. Her dilemma was that he was a good lawyer in court, but he wasn't a very sensitive person, or the most professional.

The answer to this one is:

Ask yourself two questions. Would you recommend this person for a job? This would include everything "should I hire this person to paint my house, I hear he painted your house last year," to "Peggy is a finalist for the role of VP of Sales in our firm. What do you think of her work?"

Then ask, "Would this person recommend me for a job?" This would include being comfortable enough to ask, "Hugh, can I put you down as a reference on my job application?" as well as being reasonably certain that if a future hiring manager called Hugh, he would say you were the right person for the job and be able to enumerate your strengths. 

If the answer to either question is no, I don't recommend connecting. Some people are just out to collect connections the way other people collect stamps or camel figurines--just to see how many they can get. There's a danger in doing that. People actually use LinkedIn to augment real-life networking. If you have 5,000 connections but can't say anything about more than 20 of them, this signals that your network's value is low, and that your ability to create a network is similarly low. 

I have read that people should aim to have 500 or more LinkedIn connections in order to be perceived as "professional" or "good at networking," or whatever. This is silly. Connect with the people you know and trust, with people that you would be able to refer work to, with people you have worked with. Connect with people you talk to/collaborate with in an online-only relationship. Beware of the LION (LinkedIn Open Networker)--this person is out to collect scalps. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conference Swag Dos and Don'ts

I have always wanted to write about conference swag.

I have been to many conferences: legal conferences, technology conferences, academic conferences. And of course women's conferences.

The two women's conferences that I have been to the most are the Massachusetts Conference for Women, and the Simmons Leadership Conference. These are two very different conferences in terms of content, mission, and execution. The Mass Conference for Women is usually a nice time, some good cookies, and a few light, feel-good keynotes and total fluff breakouts. Well, that's not entirely fair. The first year I went they did have Gloria Steinem, who was more substantial. The Simmons Leadership Conference (which is no longer called the Simmons Women's Leadership Conference for a reason) brings in big names for keynotes (think Hillary Clinton, Sallie Krawcheck, and Diane Keaton).

Anyway, I am always irritated with the difference in swag between a women's conference and any other kind of conference. At INTA, I've gotten high quality pens and card cases. (Quick tip for conferences: carry a second card case to keep the cards you get from other people.) At tech conferences, I've gotten flash drives and USB hubs. These are all useful things. At a women's conference? Nail files, fold up mirrors, and nail polish. That last one came from Raytheon. Yes, the company that makes weapons for the US military appeals to women by giving them nail polish in Raytheon Red.

So here is today's haul, from the 2014 Simmons Leadership Conference:

EMC and The Harford - Tote Bag

I did go as part of the EMC contingent, which entitled me to a fancier bag than the general admission. Sadly, I didn't get to see the other bag up close, so I can't tell you much about it. This bag is actually quite good. It's some sort of water-resistant canvas with good straps and an internal flap with two pockets and a few pen holders. I will absolutely be using this bag again

Swag pile 1:

Novartis - dust cloth for electronic screens
BNY Mellon - dust cloth for electronic screens
EMC - luggage tag
MFS Financial Advisors - mini notebook
Merck - Sample of Oxytrol for Women, a patch to relieve overactive bladder symptoms

Points to Novartis and BNY for realizing that I am always getting finger oils on my iPhone screen. I have tons of these and use them plenty. They also work well on glasses. The EMC luggage tag is very useful, I have several of these now, in different colors and they are easily spotted on your luggage as it moves around the carousel. MFS went with the old standby, and several attendees were taking notes on their mini book throughout the conference. Merck--well, I'm not sure. In some ways, this is really neat, giving you an actual medical product. However, it's not one that most women would need, and I deduct major points for it being in a super-girly pink package.

Swag pile 2:

Zoetis - change purse
HP - USB to cigarette adapter charger
JP Morgan - pen
Babson Capital - mini flashlight
Dimension Data - lip balm
Wells Fargo - compact mirror
EMC - "Lovely Day Luxe Body Custard" from Soul Purpose
A bag of Craisins without attribution, so I'm assuming Ocean Spray

Zoetis gives you something mostly useful, but fails to tell me what their company does. I did see their exhibitor booth, and I think it has something to do with animals, since they had a line of dog figurines on display. HP is spot on with a car charger for your phone, everyone needs that. Good on JP Morgan, that's a really good pen that won't fall apart and leak in your pocket or purse. Babson Capital also provides something useful, a flashlight that would be handy to keep on your keys or in your dashboard for an emergency. Craisins fall into the good pile, because most people need a snack at an all day conference.

But then there's Wells Fargo and EMC. The Wells Fargo mirror is super flimsy. I have some fold up mirrors, one at work and one in my purse, but they came as giveaways from Clinique or Lancome, and those mirrors hold up. This one has a hinge that's dying to break, and a mirror that is loose from its frame. EMC--and yes I work for them!--is the biggest disappointment. Luxe. Body. Custard. Last year, they gave just plain body custard. This year we get Luxe! This is stupid. EMC is capable of much better swag, I've seen it all over EMC World--travel mugs, USB hubs, phone cases, t-shirts. At EMC World, no one gives out body custard. This irritates me the most of all the swag because not only is it cutesy and girly, it's in a pretty little chiffon bag! Like most people, I'm really picky about what skin care lotions I'll put on. So this isn't just sexist, it's useless. I am not going to use this. Ever. In fact, I sent last year's body custard to a coworker for a prank. He had no idea what it was. This isn't something you would ever think to put out at a conference with men.

So, overall, this was a good haul, especially for a women's conference. But seriously, if you are ordering swag for a conference (or any giveaway), or know someone who does, please tell them to think about it harder. Don't go for gendered products. I'm going to get rid of the mirror, the body custard, and the Oxytrol. I will use the pen, keep the car charger and mini flashlight in my car, and keep the mini notebook by the phone to take down messages. The tote bag is going into the pile that I use for grocery shopping and errands.

Moral of the story: if you want to spend money giving away tchotchkes to clients or potential clients, make sure it's not something they will look at, make a face at, and toss. Go for useful. And women like a lot of the same things men do, like device chargers. Lastly, never, ever give out body custard, luxe or not.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Meaning of Mentoring

As a young professional just out of college, I didn't have clear goals about what I wanted to do with my career. In fact, the idea of a "career" vs. a job wasn't even something I was actively thinking about. I was most preoccupied with getting a job in the city so I could move out of my parent's house in the sticks. I was very lucky. After a string of disappointing job interviews, I found myself gainfully employed by a university physics department, and my boss was an amazing teacher. He was also my first mentor, helping me to improve my skill set and supporting me while I worked on a graduate degree. While I wasn't going to pursue a career in physics, he guided me through the complicated world of Academe, and encouraged me to use my talent and smarts to move forward.

My second mentor was my next boss. There's a difference between a boss and a mentor, but I was fortunate to find a second person who was both. She told me about which professional networks to join, and how to polish my outward appearance and persona so people would take me more seriously. (She also taught me to always open correspondence with a letter opener, which is something I still do.) We still meet for coffee and trade emails and she's still offering me her time and advice. She's someone I can really count on.

I was elated when Simmons launched a formal mentoring program two years ago, and signed up immediately to be a mentor. I firmly believe in Simmons' mission of educating women for principled leadership. There aren't enough women in the C-suite. There aren't enough women on corporate boards. And the way that more women will get there is to help each other. I truly hope that the women I mentor will build strong careers for themselves, and provide a path for future women to follow.

Yes, mentoring takes a lot of effort. With the Simmons program, we met every two weeks, set goals, and worked toward them together. It is terrifically rewarding to hear someone making progress and part of that progress was due to my input. In some ways, mentoring reminds me of the concepts I learned when I was starting out in fundraising: people don't give to institutions, they give to people. Donors are making an investment in something they care about, whether it's scholarships for dance classes or feeding seven families at Thanksgiving. So I am making an investment in women that I hope to see a return on, in the form of principled leaders who will bring good judgment and perspective to the world of business. 

Have you mentored someone? Have you had an exceptional mentor?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Customer Service Online and Off

In the past week or so, I've been doing more online shopping than I have in the past year. I tend to avoid it because many online sites don't collect sales tax and I'd rather pay it, and also because of some sketchy employment practices by some of the bigger online retailers. The increase of online shopping has been an intersection of gift cards, online coupons, and the fact that something I wanted wasn't available in my size in a local shop.

As a marketer, I am always looking at the advertising, messaging, packaging of any company that I purchase from. I love to ask the question, "Why does this appeal to me?" and think about how the same thing might be applied in my own work with my own customers. I was particularly struck this week by two of the emails I got, related to my online experiences at two different retailers.

The first one was from Brooks Brothers. I don't normally shop there (although my husband does), mostly because they are fairly expensive. However, I have a penchant for carrying handkerchiefs to blow my nose (we can discuss the ecological and medical arguments about this later), and I seem to have fewer of them than ever. Brooks Brothers is one of the few retailers that actually sells nice, soft handkerchiefs. (I have bought them at Macy's and other department stores, but those are usually so rough that you end up with a raw nose.)

What I found very interesting about Brooks Brothers' online shopping experience is that they charge a shipping rate based on how much your order costs. The handkerchiefs I ordered retail at $30. Based on their shipping rate chart, this would cost me $8.95 in shipping. Had those same handkerchiefs cost $6 less, the shipping charge would be $5.95. I've never seen a shipping chart like it.

I ended up searching the Ebates website for a coupon code, and I managed to find one that took 20% off the price, dropping the order into the lower shipping bracket. In a few minutes, I received my confirmation email:

The language is so utterly in line with every Brooks Brothers experience I have ever had:
Thank you for placing an order with BrooksBrothers.com. We are writing to inform you that your order has been received and is, at present, being processed with the utmost haste. 
I can almost hear the polished staff uttering these polished words as he hands me a heavy pressed paper blue bag with the golden fleece logo. 

Isn't that amazing?

In contrast, today I placed an order with Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor is one of my preferred shopping locations, and probably 75% of my wardrobe comes from there. They have terrific email marketing, with great photography and multiple stylings of the same items, helping you to see the flexibility of their pieces.

Sure their models are a little on the skinny side (and yes I know it's Photoshopped), but they helpfully let me know where the nearest physical locations are in addition to telling me about the online sale going on.

And yet, for all those beautiful "come buy!" emails, their confirmation emails are dismal. I won't even show you a screenshot, because it's nothing but a list of the items (no images), everything in text, and no headers--it's the online equivalent of a grocery store's printed receipt. Boring. Even Banana Republic (another place I've shopped in the past two weeks online), sends you a picture of the item in your confirmation email. (Why is this so important? So I can pull up the email and show a friend just what I ordered.)

Brooks Brothers is a company that prides itself on its customer experience. I have been to their store in Back Bay many times with my husband to buy shirts, suits, and ties, and I love going there because the staff never treats me as if I'm just hanging around. They ask me if I'd like a chair to sit down, they include me in the process of evaluating one tie pattern over another, and they smile and thank me for my visit as much as if I had also purchased something. Their online experience is a complete mimic of this, from the confirmation email telling me how much they value on my online order.

Ann Taylor is missing this follow up online. I've been an excellent customer of theirs for many years, and yet, when I purchase online, I always feel that once I click "Submit" on my order, they're done with me. This is so contrary to my store experiences, where staff tend to be super friendly and helpful. ("We don't have that in a size 8, but let me check the three nearest stores and we can have that shipped to your home.")

For companies that have both an online and a physical presence, it's important to have consistency between your outlets. The reason I prefer shopping in person is because I do get a better customer experience dealing with people and not machines. And yet, as Brooks Brothers shows, you can absolutely replicate that experience online.

How you do make the transition from in-person to online with your marketing and customer experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing Media Consumption Habits

This weekend, my husband and I went down to the venerable Apple store and purchased an Apple TV box. It's this teeny tiny little thing, maybe 4" x 4" x 1" (roughly the size of a gift box for a bracelet), with a few outlets in the back. It came with the world's smalled remote (about as long as my watch).

We had been kicking around the idea of buying an Apple TV setup for over a year, holding out because for a long while, our favorite show, Mysteries at the Museum, was not available on any of the services you can view on Apple TV. Now it is.

And so, we're bidding adieu to DirecTV. Don't get me wrong, DirecTV has been fantastic with customer support and the offerings on even their smallest and most basic packages. I switched to them four years ago when I finally got sick of Comcast taking channels away from me and then pretending I shouldn't have had them in the first place. (You try being a political junkie with NO NEWS CHANNELS during an election year.)

However, DirecTV costs a significant amount of money each month, and as I'm focusing on spending my money on other things, it only made sense to switch. The Apple TV box costs $99 (plus tax) and for $7.99 per month I can get a subscription to Netflix. That sure beats the $80ish I pay now.

What's interesting about the switch is that it makes me realize just how much media consumption is changing. When I was a kid, you flipped the channels until you found something you wanted to watch, took bathroom breaks during commercials, and if nothing was on, you went outside or read a book or called a friend. If a show was on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm, you made sure to turn on the TV at that time. And we all watched shows at the same times.

In the past few years, I've gotten used to DVR. I fast forward through commercials, tell the TV what I feel like watching, and then watch it when I feel like it. I didn't watch the DNC or RNC speeches live; I read the reviews of the speeches and then watched the ones I thought were worth watching on YouTube.

When I told my father-in-law about our move to AppleTV, he asked, "How are you going to watch the local news?" I haven't watched the local news since.... ever. Okay, I'll watch it if it's on at the gym, or if I'm at my father-in-law's house and he's watching it, but basically, I don't consume local news on television. I read news online, get it from Twitter, or listen to the local NPR station on my iPhone app.

My father loves to tell the story of how, when I was very young, the only television I could watch was Sesame Street, and so I developed the idea that Sesame Street came on whenever you turned on the television. I was very upset when my dad said I couldn't watch Sesame Street after dinner, because I thought he was just saying no, when what he meant was, Sesame Street isn't on television at that time. Today, he just pulls up YouTube to watch Grover and Elmo with my nephew, whenever my nephew wants to watch Sesame Street.

Television is everywhere today, and it can be consumed in so many ways: streaming, subscription, DVR, DVD, BluRay, mobile... and who knows what will come next. How have you changed your media consumption habits?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who Is Tracking You Online?

Online tracking is a fact of life on the Internet. We all know that somehow, some way, websites gather and collect information about each of us as we wend our way through cyberspace.

Why does this matter?

Privacy-hounds are constantly decrying tracking from company sites and third parties. Facebook is tracking you! Google is tracking you! CNN is tracking you! And who knows what other shadowy figures lurk in morass of code, looking for credit card numbers or other valuable data.

But there are positives in this tracking equation. Tracking helps companies like Google deliver better search results to you personally, by knowing that when you are searching for the term "rockets," based on your search history, you're probably more interested in NASA than the basketball team. Tracking means that the ads you see on websites are more likely to be for things that you're interested in.

Still, the idea that people are constantly collecting information on you is a little irksome. And while I might not mind Google tracking me, I don't really need a lot of advertisers tracking me.

So today, I stumbled on an article via Google+: This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. The article's author, Samantha Felix, installed a new software program, Do Not Track +, and within a single browsing session, found that Facebook had made over 300 requests to track her information. THREE HUNDRED REQUESTS. Wowsers.

Facebook is definitely low on my trust-worthy websites list, mostly because they don't seem to care about users' privacy or anything besides making money and world domination (and not in the good Napoleon-type way of world domination, either). So, since the Do Not Track + software is free, I downloaded it for my Chrome browser. (You can download your own DNT+ here.)

In the first fifteen minutes, I found it had blocked almost 200 requests for tracking information, from the  following sites: New York Times, Business Insider, a local business I looked up, and Google+. (After visiting other Google properties--Gmail, G+, Blogger--I find that only Google itself is requesting tracking info on these sites.) Interesting.

How do you feel about online tracking? Is it useful for you? Or do you see it as an invasion of your online privacy?