Wednesday, December 5, 2012

'Tis the season...to give back.

On Friday, my little girl will turn 4. (For the record, 2012 has absolutely been the fastest year of my life: hands-down, no question.) Though I love this time of year, I am desperately trying to figure out when I am going to bake four dozen cupcakes, finish my holiday shopping, and somehow manage to stay afloat at work for the next few weeks.

But...as crazy things are right now, I am carving out time on Friday to take C to Toys"R"Us, where in honor of her birthday and the season, we are going to be making someone's holidays extra bright: we are going to anonymously pay off someone's layaway. This genius movement was started by my friend Lisa Trosien, and I am so excited to be part of it. I am also really proud that C is excited about it, since we have been working to instill a desire to want to "give back" and help others. (She also wanted to know if she'd get a toy during our special trip. Ahem. But as I said, we're working on it!)

Anyway, I know that not everyone can go pay off, or even pay down, someone else's layaway. But since the holidays are nearly upon us, I urge you to think about the true meaning of the season, and consider how you can make a difference to someone else during the next few weeks. Maybe it's shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor (yes, I'm holding out hope for a white Christmas). Maybe it's delivering a batch of cookies to the family down the street. Maybe it's just smiling and holding the door for someone juggling an armful of packages. Whatever it is, remember that even a very small effort can go a long way.

I'm not sure whether this will be my last post of 2012...so just in case: Happiest of holidays to you and yours, and may we all find peace and joy as we close out the year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful.

I haven't been able to carve out the time to blog much this fall, but in the spirit of the season, I wanted to take just a moment and outwardly express my thanks for my wonderful family, friends, and colleagues. I am very lucky to have such amazing, smart, and caring people in my life, and don't often note my gratitude. So: thank you all.

And, I am also grateful (and beyond thrilled) that in the coming weeks, I'll be interviewing candidates for a Marketing Program Manager to help me take our marketing efforts to the next level. Yes, you read that right: after three years of being a one-gal show, my team is growing! Details are online here. If you know someone who has some serious social media savviness, is a great communicator, likes design work, and can hold their own in front of a group, please send them my way. Real estate/property management experience is a plus, but not required.

I'll keep you posted on my search...so very excited to start interviewing!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What makes an expert?

This week, I was scrolling through some of my new Twitter followers, and someone's bio read "Social Media Expert." When I clicked through to see some of her tweets, I noticed that she had a total of two tweets...and hadn't tweeted in more than a year. It's highly possible that this woman focuses her efforts on Facebook, or Pinterest, or Instagram, and she may be a superstar on those platforms, but in my mind, if you label yourself an "expert," that sets the stage for a certain level of interaction.

Unfortunately, it seems as though "expert" is becoming one of those overused terms that is usually self-assigned, and doesn't signify much. My daughter watches a show on PBS, called WordWorld, and one of the characters is a frog who thinks he's an expert in EVERYTHING. No matter what the topic, he always manages to pipe in, "I'm something of a ______ expert, you know." Now, whenever I hear someone call themselves an expert in social media, SEO, etc., all I can think of is this proud little frog. And terms like Social Media Guru/Master/Ninja/Rockstar? I'm a marketer, and I'm all for creative language, but enough is enough. If you manage social media, you are a Social Media Manager. Period.

What makes someone an "expert" in your eyes? Does it make a difference to you whether they've dubbed themselves as such, or whether you hear that term from others? I had some spirited conversations with friends on Facebook and Twitter on this topic, but think we may have just scratched the tip of the iceberg. I'm genuinely curious to hear what your take is.

PS - This doesn't include social media, but if you're curious to see what makes someone an "expert" in other categories, check out this infographic.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What's your truth, today?

I just got home from a much-needed hour on my yoga mat. I don't normally practice on Mondays, but thanks to a cold and some travel, I'd missed almost a week of classes. Suffice it to say that I was itching to get back to my usual schedule, both physically and mentally. Anyway, as we began the Hour of Power, our instructor said, "Every day is different. What's your truth, today?" And I had a light bulb go off. (For the record, this is very un-yogic. You're not really supposed to think about ANYTHING in class, never mind have a light bulb go off. But I digress...)

Here are my truths, today:

• I try to be the best mom I can be to C, but sometimes the stress of daily life (mommyhood + marketing executive + nutty schedule + etc.) makes my patience and energy wear thin. When that happens, I have to remind myself that sometimes the days are long, but the years are oh-so-short.
• I have a VERY hard time unplugging. Technology is my dearest friend and my worst enemy, all at once.
• I spend way more time, energy and money (ahem) than is probably necessary on anti-aging products. And Lululemon gear, while we're calling a spade a spade.
• After nearly ten years of marriage, I can look at my husband and truthfully say I still love being his wife, even though he has what might be the loudest sneeze on the planet (annoying), and he thinks that clowns are amusing (terrifying). He is a great partner, and an excellent father to C.
• My life is nowhere near perfect. But I am pretty darn happy, most days — and I think that's worth celebrating from time to time. And that, my friends, is why I do yoga: it's a great workout, it almost always gets me out of my head, and though it probably sounds corny, it feels like a celebration of all that is right in my world. I feel amazing when I leave class, and I try to carry that mindset home with me. If all that weren't enough, yoga also reminds me that every day is a new day. Some days are good, some are not so good, but every day (and every breath, if you adhere to what yoga instructors say) is a new chance to start fresh.

What are your truths, today?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A whole new reason to love Sesame Street.

I watched Sesame Street as a kid growing up in the 1980's, and have always found Cookie Monster very entertaining. (After all, who doesn't secretly dream of chowing down on cookies and not caring about where the crumbs fall?) But a new Sesame Street parody of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," featuring my favorite blue Muppet, takes this love to a whole new level.

With a catchy refrain, "Hey, me just met you, and this is crazy, but you got cookie, so share it maybe," it's fun just to listen to (and totally kid appropriate, if you have little ones). But the video itself is fabulous. I'm not sure what part I love more: the musicians playing toy instruments, Cookie Monster chasing treats around the office, the dance routine, or the sweet ending. But it's all hilarious, and definitely worth a watch. And, in the four days since it was originally posted, it's generated more than 4.5 MILLION views, and 44,000+ likes. (I have a sneaking suspicion that a huge number of those views/likes are from nostalgic Gen X'ers, like yours truly, but that of course is just a hunch.)

In any case, that many Cookie fans just can't be wrong. Enjoy!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Something's got to give.

Hamster wheel Hi. My name is Sara. And I've been really terrible about writing on this blog recently.

In my defense, the last few months have been extremely busy, both personally and professionally. Not a good excuse, I know, but sometimes, something's just got to give. And for me, unfortunately, that "something" has been finding the time to write. I know that people say, "When you really want to do something, you can always find a way," but truthfully I feel like the only way that might happen is with a fairy godmother, who generously grants deserving people a few extra hours in the day (a girl can dream, right?).  All kidding aside, one thing that I know about myself is that I am happier and more grounded when I have time to myself to think — which for me also includes time to plan, process, and write — and not having that time makes a hectic lifestyle seem even more so. It's a vicious circle: I get stressed because I don't have time to myself to think, but I can't think about it because there's too much else to take care of. Rewind, repeat, and repeat again.

Next week is the NAA Conference, which is both incredibly hectic (we have our annual company meeting while at the conference) and a lot of fun (see previous; plus I get to see many of my industry friends, which is always a treat). This year's conference is in my hometown of Boston, which means I can spend more time thinking, and less time traveling — a huge perk. Once we get back, I hope things will have calmed down a little bit, and I can get back to "thinking" and writing on a more regular schedule.

In the meantime, if you happen to see a fairy godmother flitting around, could you please send her my way?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What you say matters.

Reputation It's been just over a week since I returned from the AIM Conference, where the focus was Customer First. There was a huge amount of attention paid to online ratings/reviews, reputation management, and dialogue with customers via social, mobile, and other channels. The conference made me think a lot about both professional and personal reputation, and how they're shaped not only by what others say about us, but what we say do and say in return.

Coincidentally, over the past several days, I've read two very timely articles concerning reputation management, and the responsibility that comes with having an audience — both physical and virtual (i.e., a following on social media). Peter Shankman's post, "No, you cannot 'borrow my audience'," was written after a PR person asked to "borrow his audience" for purposes of pitching a new product. As part of the post, Mr. Shankman explains the value he ascribes to his audience, which he has built over years of work. There were a few key sentences that really jumped out at me:
Having an audience is a privilege, not a right. (...) We’re born as free people with certain unalienable rights, but guess what — having a bunch of people who will listen to you (...) is NOT one of them. You have to EARN that.
Additionally, an article recently appeared on Forbes.com, entitled "Yes, What You Say On Twitter Actually Does Matter." Erik Kalin writes (bold emphasis mine):
Here’s the thing, if you say something in a public forum like Twitter, you aren’t granted immunity from public scrutiny just because it’s Twitter. There is nothing magical about writing in 140 characters or less that shields you from your own words. If I say something stupid or controversial on Twitter or if I write something on a blog or if I shout it in the town square it makes no difference. I’m doing it in public and I can’t complain when people respond.
Communication isn’t just about speaking to one another in person. It’s not bound to real life interactions. Meaning doesn’t evaporate when pixels are involved. (...) (B)efore saying something controversial on Twitter, that might require clarification or that might reflect poorly on your organization, remember that although you are on the internet, your words still matter. You are responsible for them.

As I mulled over the conference and these articles, I was reminded of something very important: both businesses and individuals have "audiences" in some way, shape or form. Not everyone has an audience of thousands, but thanks to social media and the ubiquity of ratings and reviews, everyone is an influencer. Don't believe me? Do you have a Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media account? Are you a Yelp-er? Have you ever posted a review at any e-commerce site? Commented on a blog post? Complained or raved about some service/experience to friends or family? Responded to an online review? If so, congratulations: you have an audience. And, by virtue of social media, you also participate as a member of seemingly countless other audiences.

For better or worse, word of mouth has changed. There are online conversations going on all around us, everyday, that inform and change our opinions. This goes not just for businesses but for individuals, too: our personal and professional reputations depend on how others perceive us, and everything we do either helps to build up or break down that reputation.

The point? The pen (tweet, post, etc.— insert your communication tool of choice) is most definitely mightier than the sword, and here's the kicker: your actions can shape not only what others think about a certain subject, but also what your audience thinks about YOU, or your business. Social media has forced us to own what we say at a whole new level, and dissent should be considered par for the course in any healthy dialogue. But the next time your fingers are itching, or your mouth is twitching, stop and think: Is this important for me to share? Is it useful? Is it constructive? Am I responding appropriately to the situation at hand?

If you can't answer those questions in the affirmative, think twice before you hit "post." Maybe you need to re-frame your comment, or maybe you need to simply say nothing at all: just because you can say something doesn't mean that you should. Mr. Shankman is so right: it is a privilege that others value what we have to say. Speak thoughtfully, be professional, and take responsibility. Your "audience" (customers, contacts, friends, extended network—whomever your words touch) depends on you. Don't endanger that relationship.

And sure, you can delete posts—but like an elephant, the internet never forgets. Someone, somewhere saw what you wrote before you had a change of heart. Mr. Shankman notes, "Audiences today are mobile. They can go anywhere, anytime." Are you/your business communicating with your audience in a way that makes them want to hear more? Do your words and actions support how you want to be perceived?

Social reach has infinitely more power behind it than any megaphone, which means it's more important than ever to think before we speak. Words can be taken out of context, meanings can be misconstrued, but at the end of the day, what we say still matters—pixels or no pixels. As Mr. Kalin so succinctly states, "Social media is a tool, for good or ill. How you use that tool is up to you."

Our reputations depend upon it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Phoenix-bound!

Conference season is starting up again, and it's time for one of my favorite industry events: the AIM Conference!  This will be my third time attending, and I'm thrilled to be presenting this year—we'll be covering "Social Media and a Great Customer Experience" bright and early on Friday morning. Jennifer Staciokas, Vice President of Marketing at Lincoln Property Company, and I will both be making short presentations, and then my good friend Israel Carunungan, Director of Marketing at Greystar, will be leading a panel discussion. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope we'll be able to provide everyone with some good insights. With 42 Facebook pages launched over the last six months, I can say that we've learned pretty quickly what works...and what doesn't.

If you're in the audience on Friday morning and have questions you'd like us to cover, please tweet me @sarasgraham. See you in Phoenix!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Marketing on Pinterest

Are you using Pinterest yet? I'm hooked, personally, but speaking professionally, we're so busy on Facebook these days that the other platforms are (temporarily) on the back burner. This great infographic from MDG Advertising gives a quick snapshot of just what and who is happening on today's hottest social site, with some tips for marketers looking to get started. Happy pinning!


Marketer's Guide To Pinterest: Pin It To Win It [infographic by MDG Advertising]
Infographic
by MDG Advertising

Monday, February 13, 2012

Figuring out Facebook for apartments

My friend, Mike Whaling (aka 30 Lines), just asked me to be a guest on his weekly podcast. The topic? Figuring out Facebook for apartments—a topic near and dear to my heart.

This should be a great chat, so please join us if you're able. More info can be found here. I'll post a link to the podcast after it's wrapped up as well.

UPDATE: here is the link. Enjoy!


Listen to internet radio with 30 Lines on Blog Talk Radio

Monday, February 6, 2012

So, what else do you do?

This weekend, I was at yoga, and this very nice woman started talking with me while we were waiting for the early class to let out. She followed me into the studio, laid her mat next to mine, and we continued to make small talk. Then out of the blue, she said, "So, what else do you do?"

I paused. I had absolutely no idea what she was asking me. What else did I do...when? I practice yoga three times a week, and when not at the studio, I'm usually working or running after my daughter, and sometimes both of those things at the same time (i.e., last week, when C had a fever that lasted FIVE DAYS). I said as much, and she said, "Oh! Wow. You're in great shape for working out only a few times a week."

As I was trying to figure out whether her remark was actually intended as a compliment, I learned that she was from Los Angeles. AHA! Though this might be a gross generalization, I tend to think that Angelenos have slightly higher standards of beauty/fitness than my native New Englanders: after all, they're living in the movie capital of the world, where personal trainers, plastic surgery and paparazzi abound. So for this woman to blurt out that I was in great shape? Most definitely a compliment. And the fact that she happened to say this one day after my 36th birthday, when I was looking in the mirror and contemplating whether my current routine was "enough"...well, gee. That was one serious ego boost.

So to my new friend Nikki, thanks. You don't know it, but you gave me a really nice birthday present. And to my yoga teachers, who always know just how to push me to the next level: you guys rock. Namaste.



Sunday, January 8, 2012

A very social 2012.

Happy new year, everyone. I don't know about your December, but mine flew. Between C's birthday and all of the Christmas-related festivities, the month just blasted by. And now...it's a whole week into 2012. I won't talk about resolutions (personal or professional), since there have been many eloquently written posts on that topic already, but I will tell you that our marketing strategy for the year ahead includes lots of social. Yippee!
  • All of our properties (save a small handful, based on recommendations from our regional managers) will be getting Facebook Pages by the end of Q1. I've been blasting ahead with this initiative (our pilot program quickly grew from three to six properties this fall), and am so looking forward to our next wave of properties going live. Overall, our on-site teams are doing a fabulous job managing their pages, and we've had very few hiccups.
  • We will soon be setting up a corporate Facebook Page for our company to share new developments, employee achievements, and more. I don't know whether we'll also set up a corporate Twitter account, but in the spirit of optimism, I reserved a name for us...just in case. ;)
  • We will (hopefully) be setting up a Pinterest page. I've been playing with Pinterest on a personal level for about a month now, and am loving how creative some other management companies and industry vendors are getting with this user-friendly platform. (If you're new to Pinterest, check out Weidner, Bailey Properties, and the Apartment Guide's boards to start.)
  • We will also be continuing to work on our online reputation management plan, which includes claiming all of our online listings, responding to reviews in a timely fashion, and starting to ask our residents to write reviews.
In addition, we'll be rolling out revenue management with a few test properties, and (fingers crossed) redoing our corporate website this year—a project which was originally slated for 2011, and was tabled due to other projects taking priority. It's going to be an incredibly busy, but incredibly exciting year, and I'm really looking forward to taking our company's marketing efforts to the next level.

What does your 2012 look like?  Here's to a happy, healthy, and productive year for us all.