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My love/hate relationship with LinkedIn

I check LinkedIn almost every day. It’s an incredible tool for keeping track of my professional network, and it’s partly responsible for changing the way I think about my career.

Thanks to connections cultivated through LinkedIn, conference speaking opportunities, job offers and important business connections have fallen in my lap. Maintaining my LinkedIn profile and keeping tabs on my professional network has been overwhelmingly beneficial to my career over the last decade.

The flipside? Almost daily, I get a random invitation to connect from a person I’ve never met. There’s no end to the list of people who want to break into the sports business, and every year, a new crop of graduates wake up in May and realize they don’t have a job lined up yet. Misguidedly, they’re firing off LinkedIn invites to random professionals without explanation and then wondering why no one’s offered them a job.

LinkedIn has also replaced the cold call for many technology vendors, especially in the crowded and burgeoning social media space. While I sympathize with their plight to some degree, an empty LinkedIn invite isn’t the way to introduce yourself.

Because I work for a professional basketball team, and spend a lot of time tweeting and speaking about social media, my name is out there, and people are interested in what I do professionally. My LinkedIn profile is the first thing that comes up when you Google “Peter Stringer Celtics,” so I’m an easy guy to track down. Amazingly, though, 95 percent of the invites I get from students, vendors and strangers are completely empty. There’s no explanation of why they want to connect, what’s in it for me, or how they even found me.

Networking

Meeting someone in person and just blasting them a random LinkedIn invitation are two very different things.

I ignore 90 percent of them.

If you’re not willing to take 60 seconds to explain who you are, or why you want to connect, why should I be willing to accept the invitation? Two minutes ago, you were a complete stranger. Now, in the parlance of LinkedIn, you’re a “trusted business contact” because you clicked button on my profile? That’s akin to walking up to someone at a networking event, making brief eye contact, not saying a word, handing them your business card, and expecting one in return.

#Awkward.

With the rise of social media, personal brands and bad advice, young professionals and students have little sense of networking etiquette. They seem to think that networking means firing off as many LinkedIn requests as possible to anyone you come across, whether or not you have met them in person, or can bring anything to the table in a potential networking relationship.

Taking just two seconds to send the empty, default LinkedIn invitation won’t help your cause. It certainly won’t create a meaningful connection, either.

I’ve written about doing real-world networking before, but it bears repeating. Attend networking events for the industry in which you’re interested, and use Twitter to track industry trends and get involved in conversations with both thought leaders and entry level workers in your industry. While it may be beneficial to be LinkedIn with CMOs at some of the big brands you want to follow, you’ll likely bear more fruit from developing relationships with your contemporaries across the industry. They’re more likely to have more time for and interest in connecting with you, and you’ll likely have a lot more in common.

When those in your industry are familiar with you from having conversations on Twitter, it’s a heck of a lot easier to approach them at events, meet them in person for coffee, or score an informational interview. Connecting on a digital level is one thing, but until you’ve made an in-person connection, your unlikely to benefit from a networking contact. After all, why should they vouch for your Twitter handle?

Do the work to make an in-person connection before expecting to connect with someone on LinkedIn.

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Working in the Sky

Until the last 18 months or so, the airplane was the one place where you had no choice but to disconnect from your digital life.

If you’re lamenting the introduction of wireless on most of the major airlines, you probably skew a bit crotchety anyway. Face it: on a cross-country BOS>LAX trip, how else am I going to spend six hours? I might as well get some work done.

Over the past few hours, I’ve listened to a less-than-pristine audio broadcast of the Milwaukee Bucks playing the Boston Celtics, followed the NFL Draft on Twitter, shot off a few DMs to friends on the ground in Boston, wrote some JavaScript and knocked out a few emails.

Oh yeah, I peaked at LinkedIn and Facebook, and I wrote this blog post.

Spotty would be a generous way to describe the Internet connection at 35,000 feet, and it costs $17 on Virgin America. That seems a bit steep, but in the end it’s probably worth it.

I’d say I was relatively productive. The work-on-a-plane experience in 2012 is a somewhat reasonable facsimile of being at my desk at the office. You know, aside from occasional turbulence and wafting jet fuel.

With my noise-cancelling headphones, tonight, it’s just me, my music and my MacBook — and 150 silent strangers floating somewhere over the Midwest. Thankfully, I can still surround myself with my world back on planet Earth.

There’s something to be said for taking a digital vacation and going untethered. But that’s what tropical islands are for. I’m totally fine with staying connected up in the air.

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Career Conferences Digital Marketing LinkedIn Marketing Networking ROI Social Media Sports Business Sports Marketing Vendors

10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers

If you work in a marketing capacity for a professional sports team, you’re a target. You’re constantly bombarded by calls, emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests from complete strangers who want to sell you dime-a-dozen virtual products that won’t increase your bottom line, and are largely built on hype.

Countless companies are all selling the same vaporware solutions for problems that most teams don’t even understand, or frankly, don’t even exist. Because there’s a new headline on Mashable every day that tells us about the growing importance of social media, business development reps at vendors around the globe are relentless in their quest to reach new targets as they try to make commissions before their start-up goes belly-up.

The good news for vendors? It’s easier than ever to identify (read: stalk) brand marketing decision makers, as everyone’s got a LinkedIn profile, many of us have a Twitter account, and some even maintain a blog. (Oops!)

Cold Call Phone

Sports and brand marketers are accosted daily by vendors, especially in the digital space, all of whom seem to be selling the same thing.

The bad news? We may be easier to find, but we’re harder to reach. You’re all competing with each other for our limited attention. Our phones ring constantly. And your solution is not unique. I’ve probably been approached by 10 vendors in the last month with nearly identical products. If you’re like me, you don’t answer your desk phone unless the caller ID reveals a familiar name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely unsympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Being a salesman in the social media gold rush is a thankless job. Cold-calling people is no fun. Leaving voicemails is worse. But sports marketing professionals work crazy hours, even in the offseason. Our time is valuable. If we took every call and meeting, we’d never get anything done. So we have to be selective. In that spirit, here’s 10 tips for vendors attempting to pitch sports teams with their cutting-edge social media Swiss Army knives.

Do some research before you cold call. Don’t call a sports franchise with a million-plus fans on Facebook telling them that you can help them grow their social media fan base. Guess what? Big market teams–and even many small market teams–don’t need help with this. They’ve got fans all over the globe, and that fan base is already growing organically. Teams are unlikely to pay for growth when they can just watch the clock and watch their likes grow for free. You need a focused value proposition that you can succinctly articulate. Know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field, and prove you can generate some real world ROI, because we’ve already heard the same pitch from 20 companies just like yours.

Do some more research before you cold call. Don’t call trying to sell us a Facebook application if we’ve already got a Facebook application. Seems obvious, but it happens way too much. If you don’t have the time to check our fan and do some cursory research, why should we waste our time?

Our game schedule is available. Check it before calling. Calling at 4 pm on a game day is the easiest way to guarantee you’ll be leaving a voice mail. The front office is usually very busy on game day, and most of us are headed to the arena/stadium late in the afternoon. Every team’s game schedule is freely available on their website. Look it up. Pick an off day, or better yet, an off day when the team’s on a short road trip. Extended road trips = vacation days.

Keep voicemails and emails short and sweet. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch over voicemail in under 45 seconds, you need a new elevator pitch. Or try another elevator. Which reminds me, one of the best voice mails ever received at Boston Celtics HQ is from a vendor who introduces himself, then pauses, sneezes loudly (!), and continues on with his pitch for about 60 seconds. We listen to the first 10 seconds of this thing on speakerphone like once a quarter, and it always delivers the unintentional comedy goods.

“Hi, Keith…this is…EH…AH…ACHOU!…this is so-and-so and I want to tell you about…”

As for email, if you send six paragraphs, there’s no chance it’s getting read. In the age of skimming, who has time? Keep it short and sweet, and send a link for more info. Use a bit.ly link to track whether we clicked through. (Um, I shouldn’t be telling you this…)

If we don’t respond after multiple attempts, don’t continue to harass us. Trust me, we got your email. And your voicemail. And your LinkedIn request. And your Twitter mention. There’s no need to forward us your second unreturned email and ask if we got it. If we’re interested, we’ll let you know. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Don’t exaggerate who’s using your product. The sports business is a small community. Most people who work at a team have worked for multiple teams, or across different leagues, and we do plenty of networking. So if you tell us you’re working with other pro teams, and we’re actually interested in your product, you can expect us to place a call to those teams to get feedback. And if by “working with another team” you mean “gave them a presentation” or “had a conference call with them”, we’ll find out in short order.

Last year, one vendor actually showed me a product demo during a WebEx with content customized for an NHL franchise, and intimated that they’d built a solution for said team. When I followed up with the hockey team, they were shocked and told me they’d never heard of the company. Needless to say, that’s where my conversation with said vendor ended.

Go to networking events and conferences. If you really want to get in front of a sports marketing executive, go to a conference where they’re attending or speaking. You’ll probably be able to meet them in person, and if nothing else, have a beer and chat about your product. People at conferences expect to do some networking, so it’s much better environment to try to make a connection. That said…

Manners are important. Don’t interrupt when we’re talking to someone else. I’ve had this happen multiple times after panels or presentations at conferences. I’ll be speaking directly to someone after a session, and a vendor who’s in a rush to leave the conference with my business card will interject – because their time is apparently more important than that of anyone else – and give me their card, expecting mine in return.

I always try my best to prevent the interruption (even if I can feel the intrusive stare from a vendor who’s looking for a chance to interrupt), but it’s an awkward situation for everyone and leaves a terrible first impression. It also usually earns your business card a trip to the circular file.

Teams spend big money on players, and small money on marketing technology. So teams aren’t going to drop $20,000 on a social media tool that they didn’t know existed yesterday. Sports teams operate with lean staffs on leaner marketing budgets. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there willing to work with teams for free or nearly free, because being able to put a team’s logo in your sales deck is worth far more than the $20,000 you’re trying to squeeze out of us for your “must-have” social media solution.

Try to do a deal with the league. Many successful software vendors who have multiple team clients managed to convince the league office that their software is unique and valuable, and cut a deal with the league for all 30 teams to have access to their software. If your product is truly unique, and has scale, you might be better off trying to approach the league first.

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Finding Some Value in Klout

One of the craziest arguments I’ve ever had about social media was a conversation in which someone tried to convince me that someday, my Klout score would be more important than my credit rating.

The day a Klout score prevents me from getting approved for a mortgage or car loan, I’ll be inclined to agree. I’m confident that day is not coming.

I’ve never been a believer in Klout, the service that claims to measure your online influence by assigning a 1-100 score based on your activity across multiple social networks. For many reasons, their system is incredibly flawed, even as they’ve continued to tweak their secret sauce formula for evaluating influence. Their constant tinkering has resulted in drastic score adjustments seemingly without reason, and Klout often concludes that you’re influential about nonsensical topics about which you’ve never discussed.

Klout

Klout assigns a score to twitter handles in an attempt to measure people’s influence across the social media landscape.

While I’m glad someone’s trying to measure and quantify online activity, I think Klout is way off, even when it comes to two of their top ranking profiles, @BarackObama (91) and @JustinBieber (100). For instance, how in the world is @BarackObama influential about Drone Music and Homebrewing? Or, for that matter, even Fascism? And in what universe is Justin Bieber an informed commentator concerning Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust? Klout made all of these claims on Sunday, February 19 when I looked up two of their highest-ranking accounts.

Currently, Klout thinks “Gym” and “College” are among the topics about which I’m allegedly influential, despite the fact that I can’t remember ever tweeting about a workout or academics. The closest thing I can recall mentioning would be a joke about a Shake Weight ad.

I’ve criticized Klout for their misrepresentation of influence on numerous occasions, but they’ve yet to fix the problem. Clearly their system is inherently flawed. But with that said, after watching this interview with Denise Blasevick (@AdvertGirl) on MSNBC where she explains how to use Klout to a reporter, maybe there is some value to keeping an eye on the service.

Denise isn’t caught up in her Klout score either, but she does see value in monitoring the topics about which Klout thinks she’s influential, even if the service is dead wrong.

Her point is important, because if Klout says you’re influential about dogs, uninformed strangers would have no reason to believe it’s untrue. So from the standpoint of brand management alone, you should probably keep tabs on Klout’s perception of your social media activity. And if nothing else, it may help you keep track of the topics about which you actually are tweeting.

“If I want to be influential about something in my industry – if I have a Green roofing company – then I want to make sure I’m tweeting about things that are helpful in that industry and then people will see me as an expert,” Blasevick told MSNBC in the interview posted above via YouTube.

She also point out that Klout is an effective way for small business owners to connect with niche tweeters and keep tabs on the competition, as it ranks its top 10 tweeters by topic over the trailing 90 days.

It won’t be valuable for tracking influencers in broad topics like “social media” – it shows you the same 10 people you’ve already heard of – but for something more specific like Cosmetics, it could be a resource to connect with online thought leaders in the space.

Overall, I still don’t put much clout in Klout, but Blasevick’s outlook made me take a second look. It’s probably worth keeping an eye on, but I’m not losing any sleep over Klout’s claims about my influence, good, bad or otherwise.

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“I’ll Write It…And We’ll Do it Live!”

Broadcasting is probably not my strong suit, but I had the chance to try a little something different on Friday, filling in as a guest co-host on the weekly live webcast for Hubspot, an inbound marketing company in Cambridge, MA. Joining Hubspot CMO Mike Volpe for their live streaming “Marketing Update,” I took a crack at live broadcasting for the first time. And while I was given a format ahead of time for the basic outline of the show, for the most part, the show was pretty spontaneous, and in the proud tradition of Bill O’Reilly, Mike wrote it and we did it LIVE.

We covered a bunch of topics from the news of the week in social media in digital marketing, and spoke quite a bit about my role at the Celtics and how we attack social media. There’s a few laughs along the way as well.

I probably didn’t look at the camera enough, and my eyes just tend to wander when I talk in any setting, but overall I thought it went pretty well. Thanks to Mike and the team at Hubspot for allowing me to take part in the show. It was fun to do, and a pretty unique experience. We had a lot of fun with it, but I think Mr. O’Reilly’s job is safe for now.