Confession of a Digital Generalist

I am not shy about sharing that I am somewhat of a digital generalist. If there is one area of digital I have spent most of career working it is content strategy, but I have done a little bit of everything. Experience strategy, social media, email marketing, SEO and periodically paid advertising. I started out in this industry in 2006 working for startups, nonprofits, and political campaigns, all of which didn’t have large online teams and expected digital staffers to be jacks-of-all-trades. It was the Wild West of sorts, as we most of us were trying to figure out how to leverage the internet to really drive growth for business and organizations.

Aside from a training I did with the New Organizing Institute back in February 2006 and a few industry conferences I have attended over the years, I haven’t had any formal training in digital strategy. I am self-taught. I remember, while working as a community organizer in 2005, spending my free time trying to build websites and my own money placing small Google Adwords buys to learn the trade. It paid off, I feel like I have gotten to do a lot in my relatively short digital career, but my journey has been one that is atypical to say the least.

Being a generalist is not a bad thing. Some people are just good at a lot of different things. One person I use as an example of this is a former developer I worked with who taught himself to code, but was also a great writer, content strategist, and project manager. You can’t pigeonhole a guy like him, he was jus too good at whatever you gave him to do.

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It’s just Facebook

Early last year, a former colleague at Hill Holliday and I had an interesting conversation about Dunbar’s Number. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it is the result of an anthropological study that showed, on average, a person cannot manage more than 150 personal relationships at a time. That is a high level recap, and I suggest researching it more. It’s rather fascinating.

He told me that he actively tries to keep his friend list on Facebook under 150 friends by removing people he doesn’t interact with every month or so. His rationale, rooted in Dunbar’s Number, intrigued me, so I adopted this practice for the past year as an unstructured experiment.

My general criteria for whether I kept someone was:

1. I had to genuinely be interested in knowing what is happening in that person’s life.

2. We had to have been in contact within the past 60 days via any type of communication, online or offline. I even included a person liking or commenting on one of my posts or vice versa.

3. My memory of the last interaction with the person had to be a positive one, and I had to feel like we would be in contact again.

I, at the time, had 1,200+ friends on Facebook. In an hour I cut the list down to about 220. Over the next day, as I periodically looked through my friend list, I asked myself the hard question: “is this person really my friend?” This allowed me to slim the list down to 180.

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My Resolutions for 2013

This is going to be an exciting year. We are only six days in, and I already have a some new things on the horizon (more on those in the coming weeks). With new opportunity comes new challenges, and I would be remiss if I did not put some of that challenge on myself. So, in the new year, I resolve:

  1. I will only watch television online. I’m finding cable to be a waste of money. I was happier when I only had my Google TV and could watch what I want when I want. I also found myself watching less television overall. So, I am cutting cable out of my information diet.
  2. I will write an e-book. I haven’t determined a good topic yet, but I want to write an e-book this year. I am really interested in the way the internet is making it easier for creatives (writers, musicians, artists, etc.) to bypass traditional distribution methods and put out their own works. I am going to explore this myself and publish a short e-book on something related to digital technology and consumer behavior.
  3. I will spend more time in niche digital communities. Niche online communities were all the rave when I was in high school and college. I started really studying and being involved in online communities back on 2003 when I started working on cars and spent absurd amounts of time on sites like MX-3.com and ClubCivic.com. I got a real sense of community from these forums, which often led people to meet in the real world and build meaningful relationships with each other. I feel brands will start re-exploring building their own niche communities for consumers to interact with them versus relying solely on social networks like Facebook. I want to gain tips from some of these niche communities on how they get their members to engage with each other both online and offline.
  4. I will use technology like a teen. This article made me really think about whether I am helping clients prepare to engage the next generation of digital consumers in the ways they use technology. To better understand how teens and younger college students are using technology, I am going to spend more time using the tools they find interesting and watching how my younger friends and family members use technology.
  5. I will speak at more events. I have found that I really like speaking on panels and giving trainings. I am speaking on my first panel for this year at the upcoming NetSquared DC event and doing ongoing digital strategy trainings with a civic engagement group in Kenya. I’m looking for more speaking opportunities this year. If you are interested in having me speak on a panel, contact me here.
  6. Spend less time in the gym, and more time doing real-world activities. I have gotten tired of traditional gym routines. I find myself more interested in spending time doing physical activities that involve groups of people and will teach me some new skill. That is what drove me back to taking karate. I am going to explore new activities in the new year, like Parkour.
  7. I will travel to unpopular vacation destinations in the United States. I really enjoy seeing the diversity in culture, architecture, and communities across America. I find some of the most interesting things are taking place in cities that are not popular vacation sites, like Nenana, Alaska. I’m going to spend more time traveling to cities in the US that aren’t popular tourist destinations, but have a really interesting story behind them.

This is a non-traditional list of resolutions, which I am also excited about. Why declare that I will do the things I should be doing already, like staying in shape and saving money?

Understanding both communications and technology is a good thing

When interviewing for jobs, I often get many questions about my technical background. I think it throws people that, for a person who has focused mainly on communications strategy my entire professional career, I know so much and get so excited about technology. What can I say, I’m a geek!

Ever since I was a kid, I liked to take things apart to see how they work. I was never very good at building things, but always had a knack for reverse engineering devices to figure out how all the various pieces work together. I didn’t discriminate when it came to picking the type of device to take apart. I went through four or five Teddy Ruxpin dolls; ruined at least two gaming systems; and had to take the bus quite a few times after trying to dismantle my own car engine. To my credit, curiosity has neither killed, nor seriously injured, this cat.

I have always been fascinated with computers and the internet, especially websites. I took HTML class in junior high school, and have been in love ever since. As an adult, when I had the opportunity to switch over from doing community organizing and traditional communications to digital strategy, I was giddy beyond belief. I was able to do something most people dream of – make a career out of a hobby that I love. Continue reading “Understanding both communications and technology is a good thing”