2014 Year in Review

2014 Year in Review
A few days ago I shared my compilation of posts from Conversation Agent on Google+ with the following line: Admittedly, my preference is for looking forward – also why I tend to spend little time resting on my laurels.

Someone asked what laurels are.

Figures of speech are one of the ways you can tell whether you mastered a new language – do you get the nuances within it?

My doctoral thesis consisted of a translation of short stories by Richard Brautigan called The Revenge of the Lawn. Short stories leave little space for guessing from context, I learned. Especially when the author is using his own language to experiment with meaning. 

“Neck of the woods” is the expression that gave me the hardest time — for that expression alone I bought a dictionary of American Slang as I had been living here only a few months at the time. After looking it up I started experimenting with using it appropriately.

That's how we learn best: by using the knowledge we acquire in ways that create value. Even better when it is new and useful; execution matters. Modena is my neck of the woods, and I am reminded of how lucky I have been to call it that every time I visit and explore it anew. Because I am distant from everyday living, my enthusiasm and curiosity are not obfuscated by familiarity or habit.

This is the post I was not going to write.

I wrestled with it for days. It was missing the reason why. I found it today (more on that process in the next post.) The catalyst was a conversation about employee yearly reviews. I can probably guess your reaction to the mere mention of them.

Despite there being numerous reasons why we bristle and generally dislike the process, including it often taking the form of a series of check marks on a fairly predictable list of items, I can probably boil down to a feeling: of lack of satisfaction.

What makes the process difficult is one word – care. You need to have someone who cares about the person first. Once you have that, it (almost) does not matter how you conduct your review. Because the result is a deepening of understanding, which in turn creates a better environment for relationships to blossom. You need relationships to make work, well, work and work well.

When you care you also have a higher likelihood that you will hold information in your head long enough to string it together and form a picture. A review should provide you a picture that shows direction. Then you can look at that to be strategic in moving forward — which essentially means you can motivate next steps.

Employee reviews thus was the catalyst, yet not the reason why.

The reason why is doing the actual work of sorting and stringing projects together with results; and that must include how the work helped with growth, a necessary component of which is wisdom. Growth for growth's sake while interesting in a let's-see-what-we-can-accomplish kind of way, is limiting.

2014 Year in Review

I'll start with the most difficult one and take it from there as things come to mind. 

285 posts at Conversation Agent

This was not the most prolific year, and still I managed to write and publish 285 posts at this blog. With an average word count of 650, and lately tending more on the longish side, this is a lot of words.

Words do count, which is why I am only somewhat proud of what I authored in 2014. I know I can do better in three specific ways:

  • honing more into why what I am saying is important
  • providing more concrete examples
  • making the whole more cohesive

Directionally, I am starting to see a new path and I am very excited at the prospect. It needs better definition to anyone who is not in my head. That makes all of you. Which is why my appreciation for your time in reading is enormous. Thank you.

3 Talks at Major Conferences

After a fairly long hiatus – from International CES at the beginning of 2013 – I had the privilege of being invited to speak at three major conference in September 2014:

  • Content Marketing World (CMW) where I also had the opportunity to introduce a very strong lineup of speakers in addition to vising Cleveland, OH for the first time – the city was painted orange throughout the event
  • Inbound where I had the pleasure of witnessing the amazing community of partners and users HubSpot created since 2010, my last attendance prior to last year, and of reconnecting with long time friends
  • Search Marketing Expo (SMX) East where I had the good fortune of being on stage among some of the people I respect the most, reconnecting with the search community, and visiting with peers and friends in person

The theme is a lifelong one: and that is that relationships/people are very important to me and in person conversations are still the best way. Why I attended most of the events so I could meet new people, listen to other talks, etc.

This is also valid for teams and work – we can and do work virtually, however there must be mechanisms (and time) created for teams to get together on projects and informally as well.

Project highlights

This was a year of building – I am a builder. The focus being to lead clients’ digital strategy engagements to help brands connect with their customers by developing an integrated content marketing strategy, and a framework to support social discovery and customer engagement.

In practice, this meant:

  • Defining methodologies, standards, and policies for company content marketing services and strategies and approaches for social media
  • Recommending tools, resources, and tactics for successful executions
  • Devising the most advantageous action plans taking into account the optimization of existing strategies as well as resources available
  • Finding suitable tech/platform partners in support of higher effectiveness and accountability
  • Acting as strategy lead, mentoring colleagues, and presenting digital and social strategies and approaches to clients to support goals like customer acquisition and retention, mobile experience integration, message personalization based on platform and opportunity level
  • Authoring articles and sharing knowledge publicly and with clients

I enjoyed building product, devising novel approaches to client challenges, and helping define and shape strategies and am very proud of the work product I delivered throughout the year.

Two overarching themes that emerged for me: 1) communication should be part of brand and product/service marketing because it is integral to the experience; 2) collaboration should be a greater part of daily experience at work, this is still an issue for everyone.

Industry highlights

At first I thought it was because I had been learning about and working on online experiences and social and content marketing for so long that I take it for granted. Social in its current form has peaked. I do find the messaging space blossoming and have written a post that captures a lot of ideas on how fast this is moving.

Fred Wilson summed up my feeling well in his what happened post. The part on "sharing economy" really being about "renting economy" is spot on in my view.

I have felt the market very mature in terms of what is being shared in social networks and on most blogs – articles constantly retreading worn paths – and at the same time early days for how it all comes together as well as what these rudimentary beginnings of moving the same tactics into social.

Wilson's list is more technology business, his space. On the people part of business, machine learning included, how we put it all to use in a way that makes sense in addition to making life easier – that we are just scratching the surface on.

This is good news for me, because my focus always tends to be on framing the process of how things function, making the connections visible, removing friction from experiences, creating symphony and composition – a funny note on this is that I am a super good shopper for other people; I am very observant and see what style goes with the substance of someone (perhaps a second career?).

Final thoughts

On a more personal note, working in New York city has been a lot of fun. The energy that characterizes Manhattan in countless descriptions is particularly alive in the business community, no matter the industry and field.

While I had the opportunity to make new connections and deepen existing ones, in retrospect, I have not been at the level of connecting activity of years past. More making sense than connecting made this a transitional year for me.

Now the fun part: thinking about the next post on 2015.

[image source: iStockphoto]