Dear Pandora, A Love Letter

Music is an incredibly social experience. That said, if music is a Ferrari then Pandora is a never ending Autobahn.

The Internet Age has brought so many advancements in business, social norms, communication and more. The music industry is certainly a primary example of incredible twists and turns, highs and lows, innovation and litigation as a result of the Internet. Social Media has been an accelerant, resulting in a virtual 24/7 mixtape.

Enter Pandora. If you’re not familiar with Pandora, it’s a live-streaming service that lets you enter in your favorite artists and/or songs. Based on those artists and/or songs, a virtual radio station is created for you. Pandora then plays music that either is the actual artists themselves or similar artists based on that style. For example, let’s say I enter Weezer, Foo Fighters and Beastie Boys. Pandora creates a “radio station” where the first song might be a Weezer tune or something like Modest Mouse or Linkin Park based on the profile of the music.

Behind the scenes of Pandora is the Music Genome Project. The Music Genome Project analyzes every song in its library for “up to 400 distinct musical characteristics by a trained music analyst”. According to, “these attributes capture not only the musical identity of a song, but also the many significant qualities that are relevant to understanding the musical preferences of listeners”. Cool stuff. It’s where the qualitative styles or artists and their music meet quantitative analysis. Pandora plays the music based on what you’ve entered and you can let Pandora know what works and what doesn’t by giving songs a “thumbs up” if you like or “skip” if it doesn’t work.

What makes Pandora such an immersive experience is the discovery. Every day you can discover new music you may or may not be familiar with. I’ve had my Pandora account for several years now and it continues to show me all kinds of cool stuff.

There’s a premium version of Pandora, called Pandora One which provides more opportunities to skip songs, higher quality and a desktop version of the Pandora App. Nice.

With the Pandora App on my phone, I take Pandora in the car, at the gym, at the office and more.

Is this a total endorsement post for Pandora? Yes, without question. It’s not often where a product or experience is so valuable and social that it’s worth sharing. This is one example. Get it, it’s worth it.

What are some of your favorite bands you’ve discovered on Pandora?

Nice Guys Do Finish First

I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Sr. PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville this weekend. It was a great experience working on the Caddie Committee. The duties were pretty straight forward in managing the bag room, ensuring the caddy bibs were in order and generally helping out the caddies with everything from Gatorade to lead tape.

The best part of the experience was the scorer’s area was next door to us and all players/caddies walked by us during the event. They were very cordial, professional and pleasant to be around. They appreciated what we were doing and made us feel at home. Very cool.

The one event that really sticks out involved the eventual champion Tom Watson. Coming down to the end of regulation play in the tournament, Watson missed a putt to win outright on the 18th hole. He finished up, walked into the staging area right in front of me and straight into the scorer’s room. Standing outside the room was his caddie, the official scorer for the group and the standard bearer, a sweet young woman who carried around the scoreboard for Watson and his playing partner all day. All were worn out, disheveled, from the intense heat and humidity of the day.

Watson emerged from the door of the scorer’s room a short time later and immediately engaged the young woman. “So I hear you’re going to Georgetown College in the Fall”, he chimed. He proceeded to chat with her for a good minute or so until finally a PGA Official who’d been standing there watching the situation added, “Mr. Watson, we’re ready to take you to the 18th tee”. It was such a cool moment. Here’s Tom Watson getting ready to walk into a playoff for the Sr. PGA Championship and he’s making it a priority to thank this girl for walking with them all day. He signed a ball, handed it to her and off he went to win a few moments later.

The special thing about the setting was that it was so genuine. Watson meant every word he said, as if he and the standard bearer were the only people at Valhalla.

It shows not only how much of a class act Watson is, it’s a testament to his success as a player and more importantly his character as a person.

Congratulations Tom Watson on being a champion in so many ways.

I know this blog is intended to talk social media design and strategy and I warned you about me and golf in advance. There is a story here for what you’re doing in social. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be genuine in your efforts in building communities and engaging in social business. People can smell a rat a mile away and trying to fake anything will do more damage. Be genuine. It’s a simple idea for social media strategy, life and golf. It’s why social media is changing the face of companies from small business to the Fortune 500. Those organizations that know themselves best and can be true to their consumers, be genuine in their dialogue and show a commitment to value and values will succeed in the long run.

Who do you think is doing a good job of being genuine in the social media experiences today?

What I Wish I’d Known in College

Jason Loehr, circa 1997Some of the most rewarding work I’m involved with is my role on the Advisory Board for WKU’s School of Journalism, specifically the Dept. of Advertising. My man Cliff Shaluta runs the show and has been a mentor and friend for a long time. He continues to fight the good fight for bringing the best possible education and experiences for students amid the political bs that challenges higher education.

Recently, I was asked to come back to campus to talk with the Ad majors and faculty about my experiences in the “real world”. It’s a super cool opportunity anytime they ask and I’m always quick to respond.

During one of the Q&A’s, had an interesting question on “what would be the three things you wish you’d studied or done in preparation for your career experiences”. Good question. I don’t remember exactly what my response was, but here are my thoughts as a follow-up:

1. Finance – Math is hard. Working with financials is such a critical task, especially in leadership roles. The concepts of budgets, forecasts, pro forma’s, etc. are all skills I was able to learn and adapt, especially with my MBA studies. The practical experience of trial by fire worked for me, it would have been even better to have better experiences in my undergrad studies.

2. Psychology – The basic details of a Psych 100-style class are great, taking it a step or two further would have been even better. I’m fortunate to have focused in this space recently during my times in healthcare, especially behavior change, engagement, human factors, etc. In undergrad, it may not have had the impact, but the exposure and interest would have been beneficial. The approaches and tactics of psychology are key building blocks to much of the work in experience design, engagement strategies and more. It’s been written in articles from the NY Times to Gallup that successful leaders, especially CEO’s, have a great appreciation and knowledge of psychology in their ascent up the corporate ladder.

3. Sales – It’s one thing to sell ideas and concepts to peers or others inside organizations. It’s another level altogether when it comes to selling a product or service, more importantly in selling the greatest product of all, yourself. In my career transitions between client and agency work, the pressure, environment, tactics and general experiences with sales have been diverse and powerful. I’m very grateful for that diversity, adding to that experience in undergrad years would have been even more helpful.

I did leave the students with one quote that I’ve reinforced to my teams over the years. “It’s not about the what, it’s about the how”. Too many times I’ve seen great ideas and good answers to questions fall on deaf ears or backfire altogether because of a failure in how the information was communicated.

It’s such a competitive market right now for jobs and talent. Experiences are important, especially coming out of college. Being able to take on any experiences while in school is extremely valuable, being able to hit the ground running. Two other things I mentioned to the students were to spend time learning about emotional intelligence and to not jump straight into grad school. Emotional intelligence is important to help with working in teams, leading and especially in dealing with the corporate world. Grad school was so much more valuable to me after experiences in my career. I found myself applying what I learned on a regular basis. Without that experience I just don’t see as much impact.

Very rewarding stuff. I’m sure there are other things that come to mind. What else am I missing for these future leaders of tomorrow? Add your comments in.

The Buttons Facebook Needs…

Facebook is a cultural phenomenon and the key conversation in social business. Its role in design is also changing strategies and approaches across experiences, offline and online. Of particular significance is that cute little thumb icon and those four little letters, “like”. People like lots of things. According to sites like, over 70 million people “like” things every day. Ironically, one of the most “liked” things is actually Facebook itself, with over 35 million fans. Data is still rolling on the effectiveness of a “like”, especially with regard to ROI. Facebook continues to introduce innovative ways for business to measure success, including an updated Insights dashboard last year.

We know that Facebook “likes” business and business “likes” Facebook, but what about design? Mark Cuban had a fantastic post last year on design and the “like” button. Mashable also had its own perspective recently on the impact the “like” button is having across the Web. Here’s my own spin… the buttons that Facebook needs but doesn’t have today. Here’s a few:

Dislike. This one is pretty obvious but is really needed. Even a simple thumbs down as an alternative to the thumbs up. I’m not trying to spread Hatorade across the Internets, it’s more of providing a forum for the other side of positive feedback, especially for businesses.

Love. Anyone who has checked out Seth Godin’s work on permission marketing, knows there’s levels of engagement, especially between a brand and a consumer. Like may be a good measure in that relationship, but there are those consumers as you move up the engagement curve that want more. Godin refers to these at the “Intravenous” level. They’re chips are all in. For those consumers, it’s not about like, it is about love. I may “like” Camping World and TaylorMade Golf but I “love” the Budos Band and Adriana Lima, nice.

Terminator. We know an important role of YouTube, Facebook and other social resources is to introduce new ways to destroy time throughout the day. What better way to help out your network than calling it out in advance by marking it with the “terminator”. This way you can aggregate all of your time-destroying resources into a single feed. I realize it may just be easier to follow Charlie Sheen’s Twitter feed, yet this would be a great complement.

Skittles. This one has two strategies. One, “skittles” is one of my favorite words. I see the opportunities for a “skittles” button in showing your appreciation for things that are cool or different in interesting ways. Tag that cool photo or piece of digital art from Huck Gee with some “skittles”. Two, let the brands create their own buttons. Facebook embraces open-source, so why not open it up to the very brands that using it as a platform. The idea of integrating Facebook deeper into existing Web experiences continues to be a focus for Facebook. Maybe this is a next step to explore.

We can’t get too crazy here. The user experience of Facebook is already challenging at times and we don’t want to make it more unusable. Still, a little can go a long way toward more engagement and integration of Facebook into the Web.

So there’s a few buttons to consider. What do you think? Any buttons you’d like to see added to the mix?

What the Fortune 500 Can Learn From Shaquille O’Neal About Social Media

Few people on this planet are “larger than life” both figuratively and literally. One person that fits the bill is Shaquille O’Neal. From bursting on the scene at LSU to his acting in Blue Chips, Shaq has been bringing smiles to fans everywhere. Now, he’s found the perfect fit. Welcome to Shaqachusetts. His arrival in Boston resulted in a starting lineup of 5 All-Stars. Pretty cool. He’s made his mark in Beantown through his visibility, accessibility and embracing of Boston, all tracked live and in person via social media.

With almost 3.5 million followers, @THE_REAL_SHAQ is a force to be reckoned with among all of Twitter.

Why all the followers? Why all the hype? What can a Fortune 500 or any corporation for that matter learn from this?

Part of this is context that just won’t fit period. Shaq is a human being who is visible, a celebrity, sports star, etc. which a corporation cannot be, unless your Apple. Still, there are things to learn from who he is and what he does. They’re fundamentals that make social media work, Shaq provides a great perspective to show them in action. Here are some key points to consider when working with social media, especially at the enterprise level.

1. Be Genuine

This is where the corporate “task forces” and “steering committees” can get wayward. I’m a firm believer that social media is changing the face of corporate America because it forces conversations that previously went unlooked, avoided or simply unknown. Companies (especially as they scale in size) will thrive when they can get over themselves and get real. The faster organizations embrace the idea of learning who they really are, the better they’ll be able to reflect it in their brands. Social media externally is one thing, but it’s got to start internally. Social tools can help accelerate that. Shaq is a great example of my own personal mantra, “take what you do seriously, not yourself”. Away from the court, you’ll see Shaq as a human statue in Harvard Square or conducting the Boston Pops. On the court, it’s all business for his team. All of this is on display on Twitter, YouTube, etc. Yes, he may have outside help in managing his digital presence, but it is done in a genuine and consistent approach.

2. Be Timely

Its well known, social media has a very low barrier to entry with a significant requirement to be timely in the conversation. The concept may be basic, but it’s often neglected: be timely in your social media interactions. NBA rules aside, Shaq does a good job of giving enough behind the scenes in a close to real-time format to be on-point. Don’t turn your social efforts into a editorial calendar, remember it’s an ongoing dialogue, a conversation with your audience(s). It’s perfectly cool to outline topics of interest and regular contributions. However, remember to have the flexibility to turn on a dime without disrupting the overall experience.

3. Create Value

At the end of the day, the entire organization and operation cannot lose sight of how and where they create value. Social is no different. Don’t forget to look through the eyes of your consumer’s point-of-view. Ask from their perspective “What’s in it for me”. With Shaq this is certainly easier because of his celebrity. At the core though is demeanor and genuine approach which as a fan or follower makes it a great experience to step into the world of Shaq.

Don’t overthink your approach. Balance that with intent. Being intentional is always a good filter, that “common sense” test as a first line of defense.

Shaq’s but one example.

Who do you think does a good job of knowing thyself and manifesting it through their strategy in digital and multi-channel as a person or company?