Category Archives: Business Ethics

Are Tech Conferences Distorting the Business News?

Does friendship affect Journalism? Last month I noticed Dave Winer’s tweet about so-called access journalism:


The emphasis there is mine. I care about journalism, was a journalist for years, have a grad degree in that subject, but I had to guess what access journalism is. And that note about  crossing lines and things forbidden by unwritten rules was irresistible. So I clicked the link. This is from Dave’s piece:

In an earlier life, as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I was good at the access game. I traded ideas and news with reporters, and in return they wrote nice things about me and my product. I’m sure many of them actually liked our products, but the reason they looked at them, or even heard of them, was this exchange of favors.

That’s true. I was there back then, consulting, writing software, and making ends meet by writing for business and computer magazines, and, more than once, interviewing Dave Winer. He wrote some ground breaking software and was combination of entrepreneur and pundit, a great interview. 

But I’m not so sure about his next point:

When you don’t do this, they pretty much ignore you, or worse. I’ve had a fair number of very negative jobs done on me by the press after I gave up the favor-doing. … The people who control access to users through the press play a dirty nasty game. And many of them have business cards that say they’re journalists.

So that, I guessed, was what he’s calling access journalism. And that, for the record, is an issue that started about 100 years before the Internet or social media. Although we didn’t use the phrase access journalism, the friendship relationship between journalist and source was a big issue even back in 1971 when I was in grad school in Journalism and started working with a wire service. And furthermore, it was also a big deal in the late 60s when my generation of college students took on the world, we mistrusted major media as part of the so-called military industrial complex. Big business, major media, oh my. My generation assumed what Dave calls access journalism was the norm, not the exception. 

And honestly, the years that I was full-time journalist in the 1970s, covering business and economy of Mexico for Business Week, I depended on relationships with business and political leaders to keep me on top of the information flow. Access was vital. I couldn’t have done the job without it. 

And time marched on. so now there’s social media, and a new kind of amplified friendship. And the rise of celebrity as power. Are these different issues, or the same thing Is it a different set of issues? These changes certainly make access to sources easier. I had just the phone, and mainly the phone to the receptionist or secretary as gatekeeper. 

Dave’s picture of the dark side of this doesn’t match my memory of those days exactly. Still, I went on to read both of the pieces he links to: First, Margaret Sullivan’s New York Times column questioning the Times’ own Dealbook conference, which featured, she says:

Big Wall Street names, flashy graphics, edgy Global Chill music, weighty discussions of economic challenges, a few good laughs and even some news tidbits. 

But didn’t include: 

A great deal of distance between sources and those who cover them — something traditionally thought to be a bedrock journalistic idea.

Dave also included Felix Salmon’s answer to that, in his column for Reuters:

Sullivan thinks that the conference debases the NYT’s editorial independence: given that you can’t run a conference without boldface names, she says, “the Times’s indebtedness to these sources lurks in the shadows”. To which I would say: quite the opposite. When you’re running a conference and your sources are right out there, in the open, on stage with you, that’s the limelight, not the shadows. The shadows is what we’re given the other 364 days of the year, when innumerable stories are written on the basis of off-the-record conversations with these exact same sources.

I think it’s an interesting debate. I see two sides, and I’m glad Dave covered both sides, by linking to them. What do you think? Is this an issue we should worry about? 


Here’s Some Good Advice About Cool Startups

Nice piece in Forbes from last week, called Your “Cool” Startup Sucks, by Brent Beshore. Great put-down for cool startups: 

Newsflash: your cool startup sucks. Cool doesn’t address a market need. Cool doesn’t solve a problem. Cool doesn’t generate revenue. Cool doesn’t allow you to see your deficiencies. Cool isn’t valuable. Cool is just, well, cool.

I really like his advice on this: 

 If you aim to move beyond cool, focus on what matters. Find a niche that is ripe for disruption. Seek transparent feedback from potential customers, not friends or family. Determine the key elements that must be accomplished to drive revenue and repeat customers. Focus on testing your hypothesis and tweaking your approach. Do those things and forget trying to be cool.

Well said. And especially his final put-down:

P.S. If you’d like to see the downfall of “coolness,” check out Bravo’s new show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.” It’s packed with cool.


2 Pictures, 200 Words, Lots of Ideas.

Pictures, words, lots of ideas. If one picture equals 1,000 words, how many ideas does it generate? Is there a transitive property there? I had time over the weekend to pick up two unrelated pictures. Each covers something entirely different. Both are full of ideas.

The first, a chart by Seth Godin:

From Seth Godins Blog

From Seth Godin

This is one of those things that must have been hard to come up with, but makes sense when you look at it. A map of communication. On the horizontal axis of the chart, from book on one end to a conversation at the other. With a book, the writer writes it at one point in time and the reader reads it at an entirely different time. With the telephone and coaching, both parties of the communication, sender and receiver, are involved at the same time. On the chart’s vertical axis, how much bandwidth is involved, from mail and graffiti at the low extreme, to movies and coaching at the high extreme.

The Second, from Pingdom:



This one is one of several on that post — Report: Social Media Demographics 2012 — that are fascinating to me. As always with this kind of research, accuracy depends on how they sampled, but even if it could be off by a bit, it still gives a big picture of the main social networking sites (which is what I assume the acronym SNS stands for) usage by age. I have no conclusions to draw, but maybe you do. Apparently the more well-known platforms have older users, except Twitter spreads out over more ages. That same post has some interesting data on usage by gender, as well. Good stuff.

Beware of Bot or Bought Fake Social Media

Some times the right road isn’t the easiest way to go. 

Let’s talk about what it takes to build social media connections. The vocabulary varies from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to LinkedIn, but the idea is the same. In that great online conversation, the amplified word of mouth, as a business you engage because you want people caring about what you add to the topic. Opinions sometimes, humor sometimes, breaking news, but mostly what we call content. You don’t clutter. 

And what it doesn’t take: the bot-or-bought fake social media. “Bots” are programmed scripts that pretend to be human, winding around social media like nastily little trolls hiding under bridges, faking connections. And “boughts” are fake friends or likes. I’ve seen talk of buying 1,000 likes, or 1,000 twitter followers, for as little as $14.

Bot-boughts are tempting, but shortcuts don’t work. Anybody who cares to scratch the surface can tell, and then you’re looking like that little ethical spot of sleaze is the tip of the iceberg. Those iceberg are slippery slopes, by definition.

So how do you get followers. Are you old enough to remember those commercials where the old guy with the honest-looking face talks says “we make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.” You grow your social media presence the old fashioned way too. You earn it. And here’s how.

Build connections organically

Use the search features to find people offering content you respect. Follow them. Think of yourself as wanting to be a bird of a feather, so flock together. Search for topics that interest you and connect with people offering content you like. There are bots that will do that but that doesn’t work; it takes a human and it takes time. 

Interact with people you connect with

Social media, although it may be typing on a keyboard, is about listening (or reading). It’s about catching what others are saying and offering something back as a response. It’s about scratching the other person’s back. Yeah, they call that interacting. Think about what you’d tell a kindergarten kid about how to have friends. Follow that advice. 

Share valuable content

Would you go to a cocktail party saying nothing but “buy my product?” Social media is publishing, even if it doesn’t feel like it, creating content bit by bit. And shouting sales slogans all the time turns everybody off. You have to actually offer something other people want to read. Look for good content and pass it on.

Also, if you’re going to engage in social media for your business, avoid clutter. Don’t use any of these platforms to tell your friends what you had for dinner or that the plane is delayed. People won’t follow you for long unless you offer something interesting. 

And you don’t have to be original. Curation means choosing what content you pass along, stuff you’ve seen that you think others would like. Curation is the new content. If you’re curious about that, take a look at our curated social media stream here. That’s curation.  

(Photo credit: by John Bauer, via Wikipedia)

10 Tips for Being Great at Sales Without Being Sleazy

More than 40 years ago I spent a miserable summer trying to sell encyclopedias door to door. I hated it. I was terrible at it. And I hated the whole mystique of it: There were trainings on how to get through the door and how to trick people into buying what they didn’t need. And there were sales pep talk sessions where we were supposed to cheer on the success of the best liars. 

Then I started my own business. And, lump in my throat or not, nervous sweaty palms or not, I had to make the sales. My business depended on it. And so I did. And, over time, I discovered all that’s good about selling well, and how to sell right. And I had a serendipity moment: it turns out that the right kind of selling is good for you, for your customer, and for your business. Do it right and everybody wins. Here’s how: 

  1. Shut up and listen. This is by far the most important point. The secret to good selling is real listening. Your conversation should be 95% listening. Find out why Joe or Mary contacted you, what they want, what problem they want to solve. Understand their situation. See it through their eyes. 
  2. Don’t ever sell what you don’t believe is good for the buyer. That’s a tough one, I know, in some circumstances. Still, selling something you don’t believe is good for the customer will hurt you and your career on the long run. If you need the job, be careful about it, but start looking for a different job. 
  3. Empathy. Care about the other person. Great sales, put simply, is understanding what that other person wants and helping him or her get it. You care enough to actually want to solve their problem, or point them in the right direction, rather than just tricking them into buying something. And that means caring enough to not make every transaction a sale. Sometimes what you have to sell isn’t what that person needs.  
  4. Know what you’re selling very well. Understand its guts. Understand who wants it, why they want it, what it’s good for, what it isn’t good for, and especially what people might think it does that it doesn’t do. 
  5. Know the substitutes and near competitors very well. For example, as Business Plan Pro was growing up about a decade ago, I’d ask callers whether they really wanted a business plan for their business, or just a use-once-and-throwaway document to put on the banker’s desk in two days. If they really wanted just the cynical document, regardless of content, I’d recommend a competitor’s product. Most businesses have similar situations, people wanting what their own product/service doesn’t do. Know your territory. 
  6. Make your goal helping the other person. Long term, this makes you better, makes you feel better, gives you and your company credibility, and ends up as a win-win situation. 
  7. Look for how your product can solve their problem. See point #2 above. If you’ve got a job selling a bad product, change jobs. If not, then most of the time the steps above will lead to helping somebody buy what you’re selling. This is how sales are made, customers are won, and healthy relationships with customers start. 
  8. Now tell the truth. If what you have to sell solves the problem, hooray, everybody wins. But what if it doesn’t? Here’s where you have to honor the truth and share what you know about solving the problem to help the person you’re talking to. Sending them somewhere else is way better than just making a quick temporary sale. You already know they aren’t going to be a happy customer now, because that’s the way I set this example. So making the sale anyhow just creates a future unhappy customer. Helping them find something else doesn’t hurt your business and might even (long shot, but still) generate a sale later on, because you were credible today. 
  9. Never send people to bad-faith competitors. Just to clarify my example in #5 above, I’m not suggesting you should send somebody off to your competition unless you respect the competition, and it’s clearly differentiated, and you aren’t building up a competitor for no reason. If they’re Thai food in Miami and you’re Thai food in Seattle, no problem. If they’re Thai food next door and offer better food than you, then sales aren’t your real problem. I especially don’t recommend sending people to bad-faith competitors or sleazy substitutes. 
  10. Don’t bad-mouth competitors either. No matter how tempting, even when somebody asks you straight on to compare your offering to your competition, don’t do it. Say you don’t know the competition, or you haven’t tried it, or you think it’s bad business to make comparisons because you love your business too much to be objective. Telling somebody what’s supposedly wrong with the shop next door has too many risks. 

Will this work? Yes. You’ll sell more, you’ll like yourself, you’ll live your company’s values, you’ll build better relationships with customers from the beginning. Everybody wins. 

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Bad

Whether you like it or not, silly or not, superficial or not, it’s sillier and more superficial to just ignore these obvious grammar goofs and think people who see them are just nitpicking. It’s about respecting your readers. That’s my opinion.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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New Game: Social Media Snooping vs. Social Media Cleansing

The other shoe dropping: Business Insider posted This Company Will Expose All Your Most Embarrassing Online Moments a few days ago. It’s about a service company that helps employers by doing a social-media online background check on a potential employee.

It was more than two years ago that I first saw a business plan for a social media cleaning service, meaning a company that would clean up all those dumb and embarrassing things college kids posted on Facebook, when they wake up to the job market and the implications. (Aside: that one was done by Kai Davis, who is now doing marketing for Palo Alto Software).

My favorite comment in this context:

What part of the word publishing don’t you understand?

I’m traveling as I write this, waiting for my car to get new brakes while on a driving trip to California. While I was driving this morning I heard a major radio station commercial for a social media cleaning service. Sorry, I forget its name, I’d like to mention it.

So the contest is on: the social media scraping service, telling your next employer every dumb comment and picture you posted online; vs. the social media cleaning service, helping you get all of that off of the web.

Shall we take bets? Who wins?

(Image: heal the bay/Flickr CC)

3 Tech Benefits and 1 Threat for Guru Businesses

By guru business I mean the expert business, and particularly the one-person expert business. I mean consultant, coach, adviser, researcher, business hired gun, life coach, trainer, and so on.  I mean a person who makes a living by selling (real or imagined) expertise, experience, and knowledge.

magnifying glassI was a business planning consultant for most of the 1980s and early 1990s, working almost always alone, just myself, no company. So that’s an example of an expert business. And I’ve been thinking lately about how much social media has changed that business model for the better. In this case – but with one notable exception – change is good.

Benefit 1: Marketing your expertise is way easier

There is a new way of marketing that is so much better than the old way. Call it the Web, social media, blogs, Twitter, or the combination; it means way more reach, automatically, if you do it right.

Consider the comparison, now vs. then: I lit out on my own as a business planning and market research expert in 1983. I had my credentials, of course, including academic degrees and a fancy title with a brand-name consulting company, plus some published works. But how did I make myself known? Word of mouth from clients who’d worked with me as an employee, yes. But from there it was a struggle to get my articles into magazines, my self onto the podium at the big trade shows (such as Comdex), and to finish a couple of published books on my main subject matter.

Today, in comparison, successful experts build their business by a combination of useful blog posts, active mini-blogging on Twitter, ebooks, and work with Facebook and LinkedIn. Do you see the pattern there? The gatekeepers are gone.

Where it used to be important to validate your expertise by getting through the gatekeepers in corporate branding and publishing, nowadays can’t you validate your expertise by making good sense on your blog? Believe me, that’s so much easier than the old way of publishing, speaking, and giving seminars.

Benefit 2: Acceptance is based on expertise more than setting

I posted this related thought on this blog Tuesday, about how clients can get better value from a one-person business with no overhead. Who does the work? The client is much more likely today, compared to 20 years ago, to accept and even approve of the fact that you’re on your own. Not having a company around you is no longer cause to wonder what’s wrong with you.

Benefit 3: With gatekeepers devalued, it’s the work that matters

And then there’s this last thought, which I hope is true: today we judge experts by their work, meaning their writing and speaking (and tweeting), much more than we used to. Today an expert’s work is more immediately available, and with less distortion through gatekeeper filters, than ever before. Isn’t it?

How do you evaluate a guru ahead of time? Usually the about page and the content of the blog. There’s less interference there. Back when I started, it took getting through magazine editors to get published, or event managers to get a podium, or joining or creating a company.

Do you frown on an ebook because it wasn’t published by a name-brand publisher? Do you mistrust a blog because it isn’t in a major business publication? Not so much. Am I right?

And the warning?

The bad news is the other side of the good news: It’s the work that matters. Today you have to either do good work or settle for clients you can fool. It was easier back then to hide mediocre work with a company around you, or an editor of a magazine to rewrite it. Today, if you claim to be an expert, you’d better create some content to back that up. Transparency is cool when it’s a bright and beautiful looking glass that highlights and spotlights you. It’s not so nice when it’s a magnifying glass that’s going to burn you like an ant in the backyard on a hot summer day.

(Image: Freshpaint/Shutterstock)