6 rules for better brainstorming

peopleIf you’re like our company used to be, any mention of ‘brainstorming’ is generally met with a collective, audible sigh. And why is that? Usually because many companies do it wrong.

The wrong/easy/lazy way is to put a group of people in a room and ask them to come up with ideas for something. And what happens? Generally, the most dominant personalities in the room overrun the session with their ideas, beating everyone into submission with their will and forcing them to accept their less-than-stellar, quasi-obvious solutions.

How do I know this?

I used to be one of them.

After several of our brainstorming sessions were going south, we decided to do something about it. Now we have some simple rules around our brainstorms that have really boosted productivity and efficiency at our agency. They’ve also created better ideas.

Rule #1Have a clear objective at the beginning of the session. If you don’t know what you want to find out or accomplish, your session will spiral out on a tangent quickly.

Rule #2Have engagement rules. Give your participants a framework of how you’d like them to brainstorm. They could be as simple as filling out Post-It notes, calling out ideas in turn or writing solutions down on one piece of paper. Regardless, if participants don’t have rules, dominant personalities will own the session.

Rule #3If it’s your meeting, be the moderator, not a participant. Your job is to inspire people, which is just as important as idea generation.

Rule #4No pessimism. As soon as people start to criticize ideas in a brainstorm, people shut off. Create a safe environment where everyone can speak freely. As the moderator your job is to encourage people to think wildly. Sometimes the right idea comes from an outlandish one.

Rule #5Set rigid time limits. People can do amazing things under pressure. If you give them all day, they’ll take it. Add a little time pressure and you’ll see your group really kick it into gear.

Rule #6Give your group feedback on the session. After all, everyone wants to know that their contribution was valued. It will also get them fired up for the next session.

For some great brainstorming exercises visit www.changeminds.org

Paul Williams also wrote a great article on brainstorming tips.

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How to get your name in search results in 10 days

googleGetting your name into search engines can be extremely beneficial. It’s how employers do more research in potential employees. It’s even a way some people check out people they’re dating.

When I talk to folks outside of the marketing community, the question of personal brand or reputation comes up frequently. They tell me that they’ve Googled their names to see what comes up. Most of the time, nothing does, or very limited/obscure stuff. If you’re concerned about what’s coming up in search (or not coming up) this post is entirely about getting your name out there, in a positive way.

Here’s what to do:

1. Buy the URL of your name.

This is really easy to do, and it will cost you about $10 a year. Unless you’ve got a popular name, it should still be available. Even if you do have a common name, you can still buy URLs with alternate extensions, like .net or .ca. Here are a list of sites that allow you to search for your URL and buy it:

Netfirms
Network Solutions
Go Daddy
Register.com

2. Create a website

Whether you got your URL or not, you can still get your name up in search rankings if you start a website. Sounds daunting, but it really isn’t. In fact, it’s really easy to do, it’s free and doesn’t require any technical ability whatsoever. Here are a list of free website/hosting sites out there that are extremely useful.

Weebly
Webs
Wix
Jimdo
Synthasite

Once you’ve gotten to one of these sites, you’re probably wondering what the hell to post. All you really need to do, if you want to do the bare minimum, is post one page. If you want your ranking to reflect your career aspirations, then make sure the copy you write sounds like to first paragraph of your resume. If you want it to be personal, then write some copy that’s more personal. It’s also good to write in the third person. It sounds more authoritative in a search result.

3. Get Linkedin

When you Google my name, the first result is my Linkedin profile. If you haven’t heard of Linkedin, it’s the Facebook of the business world. It’s free. It’s also easy to build a profile and, if you want it to, it will automatically search your address book for people you know and can link to.

4. Start a Blog

This is asking for a bit of a commitment, because blogs are time consuming. But really all you need to do is post something once a week. Is that too much to ask for – 200 words a week? Blogs are terrific because they are indexed by both regular search engines and blog search engines. I’d recommend that you register a blog under your name and focus on areas that you know something about. Remember, go back to what you want your search results to say about you. If you want to be seen as an incredible chemical engineer, then probably best to stick that topic instead of why pancakes beat french toast. Here are a list of great, free blog sites:

WordPress
Blogger
Blog
Shoutpost
Typepad

5. Make some comments

Another easy way to get your name out there is to comment on articles and blog posts. Probably the top 25 out of 50 search results that come up for my name are comments I made. For many sites you have to register to leave a comment. Make sure you enter your name for your username, and be smart about your comment. Just because it’s easy to comment doesn’t mean you should be flippant. Whatever your comment is, it will live in search results for a while. And the simple rule is, the more famous the article, the better your comment will do in search rankings.

6. Be a critic

I started a profile on Amazon a while back and made wrote a review on a book called Made to Stick. I’m amazed that the review appears so high in search results. So if you’ve read a book or two, bought a TV, played a game or traveled anywhere, write a review about it on a popular site (Amazon, Best Buy, Tripadvisor, etc.). It will get indexed for search.

7. Be shameless

By now I am sure you’ve heard of Twitter, the microblogging tool that’s taking the geek world by storm. What you’ll notice is that the folks who are really good at getting followers always post helpful links. Do the same. But every once in a while, post a link that goes to your website or blog. If you’ve got something interesting for people to read or see, they’ll follow you. You can also post your blog or web URL when you make comments. If it’s too long, just go to Tinyurl to shorten it. You will also want to ping search engines when you have a new post to your blog. Here are some popular tools:

Feedburner
Pingomatic
Technorati

8. Be consistent

Building your online brand isn’t tough, but it takes consistency to make sure it stays where you want it to be. If you follow all of the previous steps and drop them all a month later, rest assured your search rankings will fall into obscurity. Also, everything is time/date stamped by the search engines. If someone does a search on you and the most recent thing is from 5 years ago, what does that say about you, other than you’ve been living in a unibomber shack in the woods.

Some of these steps will index quicker than others, but rest assured, you’ll see your results change in about 10 days.

Buy me a drink before asking for sex – a lesson for Twitter

sales-guyI’ve noticed that the majority of people on Twitter are only focused on building up sheer numbers of followers, regardless of quality. However there are a small minority who actually care about building relationships.

Those who genuinely want to start a relationship generally send me a personal, direct, non-automated message once I start following them. For example:

Hey Rodger, reply to me @richardr if you could recommend another fun and smart person to follow.

A nice touch. But there are also those who are sending me direct messages under the guise of relationship building, generally to build a business of some sort:

Thanks for the follow! Would you like to know How to Get 16,000 Followers in 90 days & Make Money?

You’re the ones I want to talk to.

If I’m following you on Twitter, I probably either find you:

A. Interesting (worth following/generating relationship with); or
B. Likely to follow me

Whichever one it is, it doesn’t matter how you communicate with me, whether it be through Twitter, the phone, or in person, one thing I’ve learned as a marketer is that no one likes the high pressure sales guy – no matter what you’re selling.

So even if you’re trying to build a business through Twitter, try working on our relationship first. Make me feel like I’m worth connecting to, then I might be more likely to check out your wares. When your first direct message to me is already selling me something, it’s akin to walking up to me and asking me for sex after merely catching my eye in a crowded room. It may work with a few people, but your conversion rate might be a bit better if you buy me a drink and get to know me first.

Today is the end of news

latimes-logo1All Things Digital has just released an article that shows the LA Times‘ new strategy for revenue generation – selling ad space to TV networks who then produce content that look like real articles (sort of). Does this mark the end of factual news as we know it? Or are newspapers finally accepting their fate as quasi news sources (like the news networks) that will only survive this downturn as ‘infotainment’.

Has Fairmont tweeted you today?

fairmont_logo_enI live in a city where tourism is the dominant economic driver. So, as you can imagine, this year is projected to be a little gloomy. Some companies, however, aren’t taking this recession lying down.

One company that’s really got their thinking cap on is Fairmont Hotels. They’ve used their Twitter feed to appeal to a whole new audience. One tactic I really admire is they give away a free stay every time they hit a benchmark in followers.

Travel and Leisure Magazine has also released a slideshow of how to use Twitter to maximize your travel experience.

What can your company do to get more followers?

Geeks! Stop treating Technology like Fashion.

bartI remember 20-odd years ago when, as an impressionable high schooler, all I wanted was a Bart Simpson “Don’t have a cow, man” t-shirt. Was it because, even early on, The Simpsons already demonstrated multi-generational appeal and a potential for longevity that no other television show had ever achieved? No.

I wanted one because Matt Crawford, the cool kid in school, had one. Matt was a trend setter. Boasting boyish handsomeness, uncompromising athletic talent and a flair with the ladies, Matt was the guy we all wanted to be. So we emulated him as best we could. My problem was that once I finally got my Bart Simpson t-shirt, Matt had already moved on to the next cool thing. Or if, by chance, he hadn’t, my wearing it signified something abhorrent to cool kids everywhere – the geeks had caught on. Death to Bart and all things Simpsons.

So here we sit, 20 years later and the tables have turned slightly. I, having studied hard, having stayed out of trouble and having worked my butt off, am now enjoying the fruits of my labor (as geeks do). While Matt, who dropped out of college to surf, party and meet girls, is now working at Kinkos and wondering where his hair went. But I digress.

What my point is, is that now it’s chic to be geek. Geeks control so much of what’s going on in the world, including the development and popularity of new online tools, like Twitter, Last.fm, Digg, Flickr, etc. But after reading a recent article that touted the demise of Twitter just as it is going mainstream, I felt a twinge of something I hadn’t felt in some time – the cool kids have moved on.

Somehow Twitter has become Ugg boots.

I think geeks get so obsessed with the latest and greatest because it defines them. To be using something that no one has ever heard of before makes you more of a geek. And when the world catches up and starts using it too, your mere affiliation with it somehow diminishes your identity (much like being caught with leg warmers on while not appearing in a Flashdance revival). So I have some advice for all geeks out there:

Instead of divorcing yourself from a tool like Twitter and touting its imminent death because of its rising popularity, why don’t you work hard on making it a better tool. Then we can all take a breath, learn more and focus on making our lives better through it, instead of rushing off in an ADD torrent towards the next trend du jour with the fleeting hope that it will define us.

After all, it’s what Matt would want.