How high is the reboot bar for IABC?

Every time I hear about IABC these days, I suffer a continuing feeling of sadness.

The news this past week about the professional association for communicators does little to change that feeling where that news is all about financial loss (again), leadership issues, and an unclear future.

On June 4, long-time IABC commentator David Murray – often seen by IABC’s leadership as its nemesis by asking questions the leadership don’t like being asked, never mind answering – published a guest post by former IABC Executive Director Julie Freeman on the state of IABC’s financial affairs as revealed in its 2013 financial statement that Murray says was leaked to him a month ago.

Freeman took the helm at IABC in 2001 in the wake of a previous financial crisis. She left IABC in 2011.

And IABC critic Jack O’Dwyer posted a stark report on June 5:

International Association of Business Communicators lost $529,073 in 2013 as revenues dipped $692,486. A loan of $250,000 was taken to fund a new website.

[...] Revenues declined 10.8% to $5,666,483 from $6,350,927 in 2012. Net assets declined 43.7% to $680,013 from $1,209,086. Its deferred dues account, representing services owed to members over the course of the dues year, was $1,499,364 or about half of dues income of $2,917,858.

Julie Freeman’s post summarizes the key financial metrics in the financial statement and continues by setting out eleven specific questions she says IABC members ought to be asking at the association’s AGM on Tuesday June 10 during the 2014 IABC World Conference taking place in Toronto, Canada:

    1. Where did revenues fall short of budget and why?
    2. What were IABC’s major expenditures in 2013? How did these expenses serve members?
    3. General and administrative expenses increased 56% in 2013. What was the reason for this huge increase in expenses in this area?
    4. Board expenses increased 25%. Faced with declining revenues, how can the Board justify this increase?
    5. At the end of 2013, IABC’s cash and cash equivalents were $42,172, a decline of $495,117 from 2012. Does IABC have sufficient cash to make its debt payments and pay ordinary operating expenses in 2014? How will it do so?
    6. The Consolidated Statements of Financial Position (the Balance Sheet) includes Intangible Assets of $552,067. What does that include? How was that determination made?
    7. Several years ago the IEB approved establishment of an operating reserve and a special project reserve. How much should be in each of those funds? How much is currently there?
    8. What is the contract dispute related to the website development? How can members be assured that new web developer will not have the same issues? When can members expect a new website?
    9. What impact will the association’s current financial position have on its ability to recruit a qualified Executive Director? What is the status of that search?
    10. What is the current IABC membership? How does that compare to prior years?
    11. What is IABC’s current financial situation? What is the IEB doing to ensure that IABC will finish 2014 with a positive net? And will it keep members updated about finances before June 2015?

In my view, these are reasonable questions under the circumstance, ones I would expect members to receive credible answers on without obfuscation, fudge or dodging, and in a spirit of genuine openness and transparency.

Will that happen? Well, we’ll see on Tuesday although incoming IABC chair Russell Grossman offers a sense of optimism about this and what the new Executive Board will be doing in the nature of his response to Freeman’s guest post on David Murray’s blog in a comment to it, even if that response contains a few thinly-veiled barbs directed at Julie Freeman.

A key comment in that response:

[...] IABC’s International Executive Board is focused on creating alternate business models as part of our 2014 – 2017 Strategy (which has been open to member consultation during the last year) and our new Executive Director, when onboarded, will also be required to focus on short-term revenue generation as a primary objective, to help us make up the difference on lower income from membership dues and conference income.

Finally, the one thing we continue to need to get better at is, ironically, communication.

Our member communication is now much better than it was – and thanks to our hard working staff for that. The journey continues however – there is way more to go – and I personally am committed to further and rapid improvement.

Ah, yes, a search for a new Executive Director – the role Freeman had – in the wake of the awful debacle surrounding Chris Sorek whose short-lived tenure ended when he quit that role in May 2013. The good news is that one has been found and hired – Carlos Fulcher’s appointment will be announced at the Toronto conference.

Given that I’m not an IABC member, you may wonder why I’m writing this post.

I used to be an IABC member. Indeed, I was a member for 23 years – an accredited member (ABC) for 19 of those years – until November 2012, and served the association and the profession in a wide range of volunteerism roles during this time.

You don’t just dismiss a 23-year association, a belonging, with a group of people whose values you believed in and whose professionalism and friendships you admired, no matter what’s currently going on. I still care enough to devote some time and thought to writing this post which, if nothing else, will serve as a personal bookmark on my website along with the other things I’ve written about IABC over the past decade.

Organizations can (and do) go through crises – just read the business pages on any day. I recall the part I played for IABC in a crisis in Europe when I took on a rebuilding role as Director of the then Europe/Africa Region in 2002, a role I fulfilled until 2004. It’s the kind of task that requires you to have a  pretty thick skin, frankly, a clear belief in the heart of something (IABC in this case), and clear vision if you work with similar believers as I did at that time (notably, IABC members like Barbara Gibson, Marcus Ferrar and Allan Jenkins; and staff leaders like Julie Freeman and the team at the San Francisco headquarters).

So I trust that the AGM on Tuesday also serves the higher essential purpose of uniting voices – unlike last year’s  town hall meeting, although I believe the circumstance aren’t exactly the same today – perhaps taking a literal embrace of the slogan of this year’s conference:

  • Engage
  • Transform
  • Ignite

I hope that reboot bar I mentioned isn’t set too high.

It’s still about connecting people

The Web 2.0 song

A serendipitous moment last evening on Twitter when Charlotte Beckett tweeted “Do you remember that great video explaining Web 2.0?”

I knew immediately what video she was asking about as I’d referenced it recently in a client presentation – it was “the Web 2.0 song” created by Nokia in 2007 when the term “Web 2.0” was at the height of widespread use as an effective method of explaining the rapidly-evolving online landscape of connected services that enabled people to talk and share things in new and interesting ways.

It was a landscape that was nowhere near mainstream. It was still the time of early adopters and experimenters.

How different we are today when everything to be known about the social tools and channels that form a big part of what we now call “social media” seems to be known by everyone (which is not the same thing as knowing how to be really effective in using them).

So for old times’ sake, here is that video from Nokia, “the Web 2.0 song“:


La chanson du web 2.0 par NOKIA by buzzynote

Tools and channels may change but one thing is constant – it’s still about connecting people.

Customer disservice from Virgin Media

Technical stuff

I thought I was over writing posts about ineffective customer service, the kind of thing that was pretty common four or five years ago.

The type of customer service that revolves around call centres and staff that, while friendly and polite enough, either couldn’t move outside their scripted processes, and/or didn’t have accurate information, and/or different call centre people had conflicting information.

The type of poor customer service from Virgin Media that I’ve written about in the past. (There’s worse if you remember Virgin Media’s predecessor incarnation, NTL, and ntl:hell from the early 00s.)

Sadly not the case as far as my experience with Virgin Media yesterday and today is concerned. And, equally sadly, it seems the scripted responses have now made it to their Twitter account.

  • Incidentally, if this type of content in my blog isn’t of interest to you, then please by all means choose something else to read or share. Might I suggest “Instagramming NYFW,” looking at what fashion brands are doing with Instagram and some great ideas for marketers.

Here’s a concise chronological timeline of what happened yesterday:

  1. On May 16, broadband internet and cable TV services went offline at about 3pm according to my wife. She called Virgin Media’s 150 support number and, summarizing it all, she was told that: a) there’s a service fault in our postcode area, b) engineers are working on fixing it, and c) full service will be back but potentially not until about 11pm.
  2. I got home at about 6.30pm – still no TV or broadband. I called 150 to get an update.
  3. I drilled down the voice response menu system and chose ‘TV fault’ – there is not a choice to talk to a single person about faults on more than one service.
  4. The service agent I speak to is polite and helpful; he asks me to reboot the V+ box which I do. TV screen then says ‘digital TV service will start soon’ or words like that. Agent tells me all will be fine in a few minutes. But those few minutes turn into six minutes or so: clearly something’s not right.
  5. Agent agrees and tells me he’ll book an engineer to come on Monday, between 8am and midday. He says the service may be offline until then, but the engineer will fix things. He asks me for my mobile number, saying the engineer will text me on Monday morning to say what time he’ll be here. And if service does come back before then, would I call and cancel the engineer (which I agreed to do). He then offers to transfer me to someone I can talk to about the lack of broadband service.
  6. So I get another service agent, equally polite and friendly, to whom I recount the story once more. He asks me to restart the Virgin Media superhub modem, which I do. To no avail – not all lights light up and the agent says he can see on his screen that no internet service is reaching my property. So he says the engineer who’s coming on Monday will fix it.

And that was that. A weekend awaiting us with no broadband internet and no cable TV. We have alternatives if we choose, eg, mobile phones that can act as modems, Freeview TV and, of course, an extensive DVD and Blu-ray library.

But when I awoke this morning, I saw the broadband service was up and running again, as was the cable TV. Hooray! I thought about cancelling the engineer’s visit for Monday so I logged in to my account on the Virgin Media website.

And see straightaway that no engineer is booked!

You don't have any engineer appointments

[Read more...]

With Nomad, you’ll always find juice

ChargeCard

The bane of contemporary mobile life is your smartphone running out of juice sooner than you expect (what many would undoubtedly see as a classic ‘First World problem‘).

It usually happens to me at a conference or other event when I’m using my device a lot for tweets and pics and sharing them online, and there’s no nearby power outlet; or, more typically, I don’t have a charging cable with me that I can plug into a PC’s USB port.

So when the good folk at Nomad in California asked me if I’d like to try out their ChargeCard and ChargeKey micro USB cables, I was more than happy to say yes. Here’s what each device is –

  • ChargeCard: A thin smartphone cable in a credit-card-sized format casing that’s designed to fit into even the slimmest wallet.
  • ChargeKey: A key-shaped smartphone cable that fits onto your keychain.

They work like normal cables for charging the battery and syncing your phone – in both cases, you plug one end into a computer’s USB port and the other end into your mobile device. There are versions for iPhones and for other devices that use the near-ubiquitous micro USB standard connector (almost everyone else). As all of my mobile devices are Android, I chose the micro USB versions.

The package from Nomad arrived just before Easter so I’ve had a chance to try out both devices. They work better than I expected.

As the photos here show, you plug the micro USB connector into your phone, and the end of the charging cable into a USB port on your computer.

ChargeCard

Above is the ChargeCard connected to my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, plugged in to a USB port on the side of my Toshiba laptop.

As you can see, the cable connector plugged in to the laptop’s USB port looks like (and is) a very flexible rubber-and-silicon material that’s built in to the more rigid hard plastic of the credit card-sized casing.

Below is the ChargeKey on a keyring with my car key.

ChargeKey

As the ChargeCard image above shows, the connector part of each device is amazingly flexible – here below is what the ChargeKey looks like with the S4 connected to the laptop’s USB port.

ChargeKey

Note how twisted the connector cable is. It’s designed to cope with that, Nomad says, and it connects and works fine. It’s an issue you encounter with many mobile devices and charging/sync cables where each connector only fits one way, so you can end up with some contortions such as you see here.

At least part of the equation will be fixed as and when the new reversible USB connector standard makes its way into the cables and connectors we’ll see and use in the coming years when new reversible-connection USB ports get built in to PCs and other devices.

I’ve now ditched all but one of the USB cables that had homes in my various bags and that usually got tangled up in something. Having one is for the time when you can’t use either of the Nomad products – no flat surface, for instance, or it’s just too awkward, so a long cable may well serve you better.

For me, by far the most comfortable-looking of Nomad’s two devices is the ChargeCard. But both are very good and would likely serve different needs. I’m not sure keeping the ChargeKey on a carkey ring such as I have is best – it’s a bit awkward aligning the various devices on a table. I find the ChargeCard to be a better bet for that.

Still, both of these devices are really great. Did I mention sync? Not only do they charge your device, but also they let you synchronize data on your device with what’s on your computer, if you have it set up for that and if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise, they’re devices that enable you to charge up your battery – and very good ones for that purpose.

The built quality is outstanding, a best-practice example of innovative design and manufacturing – and great examples of the kind of flexible wearable technology that’s beginning to emerge: imagine the wiring within the twistable connector in each of Nomad’s devices that does its job no matter how twisted the connection, so to speak.

I did wonder about how exposed the connectors are – how easily might they potentially suffer damage without covers? Nomad addresses that one in a credible set of FAQ on their website. So I’m reassured.

And I like Nomad’s philosophy:

[...] We’re focused on building simple solutions to simple problems, problems that shouldn’t slow us or you down. ChargeCard and ChargeKey are just the start of our modern, minimalist, mobility movement.

Nomad began as a Kickstarter-backed project, exceeding its fund-raising goal by a factor of more than three. It became fully funded in August 2012.

Nomad sells the ChargeCard and the ChargeKey for $29 each in the US, with discounted pricing on quantity orders and referring a friend. They also have an affiliate program (I haven’t joined that so no links here are affiliate links). There’s good news if you’re in the UK – as well as in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain – as you can buy either device from Amazon and get your purchase quickly.

Products that get you juice. What’s not to like?

Valentine expression

You're a fox

Today is Valentine’s Day, the day traditionally when millions of people express a feeling towards another via the mechanism of anonymous greeting cards they send.

Well, note the word ‘traditionally.’

The days of buying a printed Hallmark Valentine card and sending it through the post haven’t quite vanished yet.

But things are quite different today, both the methods of communication as well as what’s communicated. The rise of social media, the online sharing of ideas and creative thinking, along with the huge shifts in behaviours in terms of what people want and are willing to share as a Valentine expression, have produced as many different ways of sharing a feeling as you can imagine.

A few days ago, I received an email from Pinterest with some suggestions for Valentine greetings. Terrific imaginations at work on the board, something to appeal to everyone. The fox you see above is from that board, the pin that has attracted the most shares so far.

I did like this one especially, an elegant use of an animated GIF (if you don’t see it below, it’s here).



Then there’s good old satire for the contemporary age as evidenced in what’s on offer at someecards.com:

Valentine - Groupon

Valentine - Twitter

However you express Valentine’s Day today, have a nice day!

The mutual value of the conversation

2013 Annual Report

The stats helper monkeys have been busy, said WordPress in an overnight email telling me about “Your 2013 in blogging,” a concise analysis of this blog during the year as noted by the stats module in Jetpack, the uber-plugin utility for self-hosted WordPress sites.

It’s a concise portrayal of a range of metrics that are useful to know.

For instance:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 170,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2013, there were 260 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 2,598 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 9th with1,838 views. The most popular post that day was Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012.

I can get this information myself, of course, via analysis of the stats. But it was nice to see it expressed this way.

The Jetpack report also tells me which were the top five posts that got the most views in 2013.

attractionsin2013

  1. How to make your business card a smart card – June 2009
  2. How to secure your WordPress site against hacker attacks – April 2013
  3. Good example of a social media press release from ING – December 2012
  4. Prepare for goodbye Feedburner in October 2012 – September 2012
  5. Disney brings the second-screen experience to the movies – September 2013

As the report notes, some of these were written before 2013 but still got attention (views) from people, adding:

Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

A good tip, thanks!

The most-commented post in 2013, says Jetpack, was Don’t ignore social voices, Knight Frank #LostMyGiggle with nearly 130 comments including on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Of interest, too, is information on where visitors come from, ie, which sites refer them. According to Jetpack, the top three referring sites in 2013 were these:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. Google+

I knew this from other research, but it’s good to see it confirmed by another credible source.

And where in the world did these visitors come from? 193 countries, says Jetpack! Specifically:

Most visitors came from The United States. The United Kingdom & Germany were not far behind.

US visitors are, roughly, about 51% of all visitors according to other measures. But, as Jetpack says, it’s ‘most.’ I suspect part of the reason why US visitor numbers are high is that much of my content has been widely syndicated in the US for much of the past decade.

So a useful snapshot of some of the metrics about what’s published on this blog, what people came to read in 2013, and what they did when they read it.

It makes me think about the value of blogging, especially with a strong business focus that is the characteristic of this blog (not many posts or videos about cats here), a topic about which Euan  Semple had a very good post yesterday.

It makes me think about the exposure of my thinking to others as expressed in posts that stimulate them to refer those posts to their communities or directly add their own points of view, whether here or elsewhere across the social web: it’s all trackable and connectable.

That’s what I call a conversation. So I’ll keep going… :)