Social Media, Business And My Cat

"Let's talk about your photo fixation!"

My Cat (©2016 – Clarence Holm)

Although I do not often blog about my insurance career, I felt the subject of a meeting that occurred a few days ago with a marketing representative of a large property casualty insurance company was worth sharing.

Although I am basically retired, I do work with an agency part time (a few hours a week). My job includes writing insurance information for a website, working on computer issues and performing some basic marketing tasks. This week I sat in on a meeting with a company where the representative was speaking about social media and how their company offered great resources that we and our agents could use to build social media presence.

The resources she was referring to were a large amount of prepared content, which could be used on social media sites including our business websites, Facebook pages, Twitter posts and Linked In messages. It was all high-quality artwork and had articles that we could copy and post under our business name. By doing so, the representative suggested we could build a positive following that would result in more business. The rep stated that the company had social media experts writing and designing this content and they knew all about how to make social media successful for us.

What Absurdity!

I was shocked to hear a company representative suggest that I could copy and paste myself to social media success.

Before I rant, let me share some of my background. Early in my business career, I managed a Radio Shack during the time period the first personal computers hit the market. I cut my teeth on the TRS-80 and was intrigued enough with the technology. When I returned to college to complete my degree in English, I decided to take to some computer science courses (this was around 1980). During those classes, I learned programming (FORTRAN and Basic) on the North Dakota State College mainframe computer system. It was back in the days of computer punch cards and readers. At the same time, my brother in law was a graduate assistant in computer science at another college campus in a different city. We realized we could leave each other notes buried in the REM statements of shared computer code uploaded to the State’s University Computer System. It was a rudimentary form of social media (A very early forerunner of a bulletin board.) After graduating I worked for a number of businesses and cut my teeth in sales and marketing. I continued my interest in computers and was an early adaptor of email and websites. I used my knowledge of computers in my insurance career and went on to be recognized as an “Agent of the Year”  for a large insurance company. I also served for a number of years on another company’s national advisory council. Working with a multi-state insurance group, I introduced email concepts and procedures to hundreds of insurance agencies. I was privileged to have had a ringside seat in the growth of business marketing on the internet.

So it was surprising to me to hear a company representative be so completely naïve about electronic marketing in the year 2016. I was half expecting to hear about an emerging “Y2K” problem! It was disappointing to me to listen to a presentation that promoted social media success by foisting canned content on followers and representing it as fresh professional advice on Twitter and Facebook.

Never Tweeted

Of course, what should I expect from a company representative, who is probably not allowed to have a thumb drive for fear that company data might be stolen and are scared to death of the mention of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA). I’m sure they report to company lawyers who must approve all written communications.

I should have known that corporate structures are not fertile ground for social media expertise. In fact, when I questioned the representative she confided that she had never tweeted and wasn’t involved with Facebook or blogging. In fact, she had never seen a tweet and has certainly not kept up with the Kardashians. Yet she had been sent out on the road to give advice to agents on how to run a successful social media campaign.

The whole meeting brought to mind the words in Matthew 9:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”

The goal of social media is to communicate quickly and informally. The goal of corporate structure is to issue a scripted precise uniform message.

Not Exactly Viral Stuff

While arcane insurance law might not be a page turner for the general public, there is plenty of good insurance information that would be of interest to friends and family. While most of my relatives don’t want to get caught listening to me expound on the merits of higher physical liability limits, I do get phone calls on what to do after hail storms damage their roof. And while insurance will never have the same cache as a cat video, who’s to say an insurance blog couldn’t have the following of the car maintenance guru’s “Click and Clack”

But that success will never happen if all the industry does is endlessly ask agents to spit out homogenized articles. It would be much better if insurance companies would follow Justin Bieber, view a Vine and post a cat picture.

Social Media Haiku

passion shared with friends
rarely wasted as a gift
nighttime croak of frog
-Clarence Holm

Goodbye Old Friend

Radio Shack

Glancing through the paper today I noticed a small article in Business Insider announcing the closing of 1784 Radio Shacks by March 31st, 2015 due in part to an agreement with creditors involved in the Tandy Corps bankruptcy.

To me this is very sad news as I have personal history with the company. I was hired as a sales clerk in 1977 and was later promoted to be the manager of store #6152 for the Tandy Corporation. It was my first taste of corporate life and it was an “electric” experience.

For those of you not familiar with Radio Shack, it was a toy store for nerds, where pocket protectors were required as were talks of the merits of filtering circuitry on unregulated 12 volt power supplies. It was a place to grab rolls of 60% lead solder to go with the “cap” you just replaced on the neighbor’s radio. In 1977, miniaturization was just beginning and many devices still had tubes. Strange pieces of plastic called transistors and diodes with tiny wire hairs were being introduced for use on circuit boards. There was talk of logic boards and miniature circuits, that could control relays and switches with preprogrammed instructions.

I rapidly climbed through the sales ranks of Tandy. It was a company built on marketing. Many remember coming in monthly for a free C, D, or 9 volt battery, it was called the “Battery Club” and we punched the members card for each battery provided. The other method of Tandy’s marketing was their obsession to get the address of every customer that came in the door, so we could send them a sales flyer. People hated to give out their address because they knew we would end up putting them on our mailing list multiple times, but the company loved it and tracked employee’s efficiency in obtaining those names.

A 70% name and address completion rate was considered a very good percentage. I was normally at about 60%. But one magical month, through some crazy clerical error, my store came up with a score of 100%. The company was ecstatic. My Regional Manager got a letter from Charles Tandy himself, congratulating him on his group’s performance. He in turn congratulated my District Manager who in gratitude promoted me to a better store. Everyone knew the percentage was baloney, but no one wanted to admit it. Unfortuantely the poor sucker who followed me as the new manager at my old store turned in a 25% completion rate on his first month (probably because the system corrected itself) and he resigned in disgrace. I had learned a key business lesson that has stuck with me over the years – Move fast when lightning strikes, because the tree it hit is normally on fire!

Radio_Shack_Tandy_TRS-80_Model_I_System

It was at the same time that Radio Shack released the TRS-80, utilizing the Z-80 processor featuring a mighty 4k of Ram. It ran on version of “Basic” developed by Bill Gates on which programs could be written and then stored on a cassette tape.

By 1980 it was the hottest computer on the market and competed with the Commodore 64 and the Apple computer, outselling them by a margin of three to one. The TRS-80 was being sold to businesses and schools.  Store managers hunkered down to try to learn how to run them. (Surprisingly, there was no instructional classes for the employees and we were basically told to ignore the computers and stick to selling CB radios) It was that type of attitude that doomed the TRS-80. Management never believed in the market and technical advances were shelved. Apple computer captured the youth with the introduction of a color monitor, despite the fact the computer had to be hooked up to the families color TV. (A monitor was not included with the first Apples and they burned up a number of family televisions with a burned in image of “Pong”!)

By the end of 1980 my career as a Radio Shack Manager was ending, caused by an excessively large stocking of stuffed black poodle radios ordered for a Christmas Season (They were featured on the sales flyer at 40% off the normal $12.99 price and I thought we would sell thousands). However the good news was, I had put 10% of my salary into the company stock purchase plan. Thanks to a 100% company match when purchasing Tandy Stock and a stock market that doubled the stock price, causing a stock split on three different occasions. I made enough money to go back to college and graduate.

Based on the experience I gained at Radio Shack and even though I took a few college courses in Fortran programing, I “knew” the computer industry was only a fad and could never be taken seriously. I took my college degree and went to work for the “hot” restaurant industry. Country Kitchen recruited me and taught me the value of a Bootlegger – a cheese and bacon hamburger with “Special Sauce”.

Luckily I still knew how to get customers names and addresses, so my new corporate career flourished and I quickly moved on.

Social Networking Has Gone Hyper

There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.
― George Bernard ShawMan and Superman

Imagine a world where every device is broadcasting a signal with a message that is tailored to your desires. A pop machine senses you are nearby and displays on a LED screen an offer of a Diet Dr. Pepper (your favorite). The parking meter identifies your car, checks national identity records to see if you qualify to park there and then reads the smart credit card in your wallet and deposits enough money to cover parking for a football game you plan on attending. Finally when you return home, the house lights go on, the garage door automatically opens and the television accesses Netflix with the latest movie you been seeing ads for that are programmed expressly for you.

In July 2014 Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. announced an always-on digital 6th sense named LTE–D. It uses include discovery services that will employ device-to-device technology to broadcast messages to receptive components in the immediate proximity, potentially offering exclusive values to nearby prospects.

This is not the future we’ve dreamed about; it is the reality of our age. All of these devices are available now or on the wish list of the neighborhood supermarket deli manager. It pretends to be just another means of marketing.

Every Move You Make, Every Step You Take, The World Will Be Watching You

As we descend into a digital version of The Truman Show, everything you hear or see is customized to appeal to your desires. Your normal becomes the standard! Suddenly your world is rosy and well ordered. It’s like shopping on Amazon where your desires are anticipated based on past purchases, or like Netflix – where viewing suggestion are offered specifically for you based on your searches and downloads.

This future, based on positive affirmation featuring your thoughts and deeds, offers the potential fragmentation of society into like social groups usurping the need of greater consensus. National identities may disappear, replaced by legions of digital tribes loosely affiliated to their preferred browsers, browsers that set the standards and rules as to what is truly important and relevant.

It appears digital freedom comes with a price and that price may be virtual enslavement.

Individuality and Growth

-Clarence Holm

– Disputing Saxon White Kessinger

If one subscribes to the philosophy that everyone is an individual, with different strengths and weaknesses, then one must also agree that if someone is considered replaceable they are not being effectively exploited in an organization.  In order to maximize ability, performance should constantly be adjusted to changing circumstances.

To achieve a consistent level of output, an organization can choose to be throttled to only allow the weakest piece of equipment to function at its maximum. While this might yield consistent performance, it will never allow an organization to exceed its governed potential.

Individual performance should run at different rates allowing for increased potential to be maximized. If a piece of the organization seeks to slow the process, rather than allowing deceleration, more resources should flow to that area to allow unrestricted production.

Successful organization should continuously identify choke points and work to enhance the weakest area. Growth is a symptom of an aggressive company, while stability, while at first glance, seems desirable,  signals a weak organization.

While some would point to the poem of “The Indispensable Man” where a man’s hand in place in the water as proof of concept. I would also remind you of the ostrich that puts its head in the sand to let the world pass it by.