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Amy Vernon: business leader showcase

What tools do business leaders use to stay ahead of the pack? How do they balance work and family? How did they come to be so well known? Today we talk to Amy Vernon for her take on how she got to where she is now.

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Amy Vernon, Social Marketing

Amy Vernon, Social  Marketing

Business leader showcase

In an effort to improve our own professional lives, we often look to business leaders for inspiration, as knowing how they tick can help us to understand what makes a great leader. Amy Vernon is the GM of Social Marketing at Internet Media Labs, and is a well known industry leader in the social media field. A former journalist, Vernon is known for her keen insight, her wit, and for unveiling problems most people never even see.

She has over 67,000 subscribers on Facebook and over 20,000 followers on her personal Twitter profile, but in the interview below, it is heartwarming to see how a real social media expert keeps her focus on her family.

Tell us about yourself and your work.

I’m general manager of social marketing for NYC tech startup Internet Media Labs. That means I deal with overall social marketing strategy for our company and our clients, as well as day-to-day operations on some accounts. I coordinate our blog and relationships with other companies that provide services and resources we don’t. I do hardcore QA on our own products, as well. I tend to work the tools I use very hard.

Walk us through a typical day in your life.

I wake up about 6 a.m., usually when one or more children is bouncing on me for “Operation Wake Up Mommy.” After herding two boys around to get ’em ready for school and they’re dropped off, my husband drops me off at the train and I head into Manhattan. In between, I’ve already begun checking my social accounts and the resources I use to find content I share – Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Triberr and Plugg.io. I start scheduling shares of some of that content, otherwise I’d barrage my followers with a dozen links all at once. I prefer to spread them out throughout the day.

Once I get into work in Chelsea, I’m basically going back and forth between my social accounts and client accounts all day, as well as writing or editing blog posts, meeting with current or potential clients, and putting our products through their paces. SeeS.aw, which is in public beta, visualizes your social feed and enables you to find the best content from it. oneQube, which is in closed beta, helps you find relevant people and conversations.

I’m a pretty hardcore product tester, so I tend to surface unexpected problems, as friends of mine can attest to. I once got an error message on a friend’s product that said merely, “Oh, crap.” The engineer knew exactly what it was, but said I wasn’t supposed to be able to get that particular message.

On days when I don’t have an evening event, I try to get out of Manhattan by 6 p.m. or so, so I can spend some time with my boys before bed. After bedtime, I have my laptop on and continue working while I watch TV with my husband. If I have a nighttime event — which can range from New York Tech Meetup’s monthly showcase to a social event with Girls in Tech or New York Tech Women —  I may be in the city until 10 or 11 p.m., take a train home, stay up a bit longer working and then go to bed.

Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?

Born and raised on Long Island, went to school at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburbs, then lived in South Florida, outside of Phoenix, Az., and in Westchester County, NY. Now I live in Elizabeth, N.J.

How did you get into your current career?

I was laid off after 20 years in newspaper journalism. I’d gotten into Digg, StumbleUpon and other social media sites to help drive traffic to our newspaper’s blogs, and that set me up well for a post-journalism career. Basically, the day after I was laid off, I had my first contract for consulting.

What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?

That’s tough. I feel as if I don’t do a particularly good job at that. But if I had to point to something, it would probably be that every night that I’m home before the boys’ bedtime (I have two young sons), that time until bedtime is “family time.”

What keeps you up at night?

Oddly, I sleep pretty well. When I do have problems, it’s usually work-related. Something I forgot to do, or something I just thought of doing that I’m really excited about.

If you could spend one day in the life of another industry leader, who would it be?

Gini Dietrich or Shelly Kramer. Can’t choose between them. (Fight it out, ladies!) They’re both totally the tops – and good people, hard-nosed, hard-working, funny as heck, smart, and NICE.

At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A newspaper reporter.

What about you would most people not believe unless they knew you?

I was SUPER-shy as a child. Had major problems talking to people I didn’t know. Sometimes even people I did know.

What inspirational quote has stuck with you the longest?

I tend to dislike “inspirational” quotes. Most of the quotes on my FB profile, for example, are from Midnight Run or 24.

So, in lieu of that, here’s a quote I really liked when when my first child was a toddler: “Our job is to civilize them, to teach them to say please and thank you, don’t spit and scratch and don’t pee anywhere you want. These are the jobs you have with a toddler.” — Dr. Harvey Karp

The reason I like that quote is because it oversimplifies, but in a way that isn’t oversimplified. At its core, that IS the job one has with a child. Sure, it’s not as simple as that, but it is, also. And I think we tend to overcomplicate most things in life and should step back sometimes and figure out what we really need to get done and do that. And that applies to a lot of things in life.

What tools can you not live without?

Actual tools/gadgets – my smartphones. I have an iPhone and an Android. I like each for different things, though my actual Android is a horrible phone (Droid X2). Between the two, I’m able to do most things I need to while I’m mobile. In terms of platforms/software/apps – Twitter app, Google apps that enable me to email from 6 different addresses via one mailbox, Card Munch, which enables me to scan a business card and then connect with that person on LinkedIn, and GeniusScan, which eliminates the need for a scanner.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. ginidietrich

    November 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Oh ha! I see the duking it out now! LOL! Couldn’t you just spend time with both of us? I mean, Shelly has the Chili Peppers and she’s more funny than me so she naturally wins, but I have Jack Bauer and I can cook like a celebrity chef (at least in my head).

    • AmyVernon

      November 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      @ginidietrich See? that’s why it’s so hard. Honestly, there were a bunch more ladies I easily could have named, too – Tonia Ries & Tinu Abayomi-Paul chief among them. Not Danny Brown , though, because I look funny in a kilt.

      • ginidietrich

        November 13, 2012 at 7:36 am

        @AmyVernon  And you’d have to stop shaving your legs.

        • AmyVernon

          November 13, 2012 at 9:38 am

          @ginidietrich Why do you think I wear pants?

        • ginidietrich

          November 13, 2012 at 10:16 am

          @AmyVernon LOL!!

  2. Tinu

    November 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Hi wife friend!
    There are some many fascinating things I know about you but one I didn’t know is that you were super-shy. Me too. I was that kid who cried when I met Santa. Did you ever cry meeting strangers?

    • AmyVernon

      November 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      @Tinu I didn’t cry that much, I just kind of melted into the background. I find it so hard to see you as shy, except that I know a lot of people feel that way about me, too. We were just late bloomers, eh? 🙂

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How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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How to temp test to see if a Master’s degree is really right for you

(EDITORIAL) Pursuing a Master’s degree is often part of advancing a career, but are you sure you’re ready to sink time, money, and energy into more education?

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Higher and further

“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are,” wrote poet Nikki Giovanni. “Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.”

Whether or not you’re looking to make a transition to embrace yourself and what it is that entails, or simply need to boost your career opportunities by dusting off your skill set, going back to college can simultaneously seem like a great idea and a risky bet.

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And both vantage points would be right. Jordan Weissmann, writing at Slate, notes that for the non-traditional student, graduation rates are nearly 20 percent lower. Completion rates are lower still for non-traditional students who are taking classes on less than a full time schedule.

So, for those of us who are intellectually curious, yet conscious of not wanting to sink an investment of time, money, and energy into an unproductive and unprofitable opportunity to improve, what are our options?

Timely ways to investigate are at hand

If you’re just in the preliminary exploration phase of what might be of interest, listen to or watch a lecture on the topic. With hundreds of sites that offer such lectures, it can be overwhelming to find a place to begin that’s both reputable and interesting.

That’s why the launch of Find Lectures is a boon to the prospective student. In one place, you’ve got a searchable catalog of nearly 26,000 free lectures, many 60-minutes or less, from TED, the Library of Congress, Talks at Google, and more.

For those who want more than just an exploratory conversation about a topic, there are multiple colleges and universities who have opened MOOCs, or massive open online courses. MOOCs, many of which are free, can be found for an almost unlimited number of courses, with some leading to degrees, while others allow you to get the knowledge, information, or skill, albeit with no degree path following.

EdX and Udacity

An example of the different types of MOOC providers can be found by looking at EdX and Udacity.

EdX, a consortium of colleges and universities banded together to offer generally free courses on a wide variety of topics, includes such providers as MIT, Harvard University, Boston University, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth College, among others.

Founded through a joint effort between MIT and Harvard in 2012, EdX currently sees more than 7 million students taking one or more of the over 700 courses that are currently offered.

In an online environment, the EdX courses feature weekly learning targets, which are taught using a blend of online video content, electronic textbooks, and interactive learning exercises, including collaboration with other peers taking the course through online discussion forums. While the majority of the courses are free, students who choose to take courses to complete an EdX Verified Certificate do face varying fees. All students who choose to audit courses can do so at no cost.

Udacity is similar, yet different, in their approach. As with EdX, students take online courses that feature a blend of online video content and peer-to-peer collaboration, but Udacity courses are aimed towards those seeking skill development in computer sciences. As such, one sees that the courses are developed through partnerships with tech businesses such as Google and AT&T, as opposed to varying universities. Initially created as an extension of free computer classes at Stanford in 2011, the Udacity courses offer a trial enrollment period, after which course continuance costs varying fees per class.

The Udacity brand has focused on creating skill development and certifications that are recognized within the varying branches of the tech industry.

In an attempt to expand the reach of their offerings, in 2014, Udacity partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology to offer a MOOC degree in computer science at a price point of only $7,000, significantly lower than other similar Master’s programs.

A great dip of the toe

As you stop and think about how to take advantage of the new world, it’s okay to be hesitant, and even scared. You’ve got to find the sweet spot in finding or enhancing your career, with skills that are necessary to do so, and realize a return on your investment in time, money, and satisfaction quickly.

It’s important to do the things that we love, that are emotionally rewarding and financially remunerative, but we also realize that we live in a world, especially for the mid-career professional that is hesitant to allow a great deal of time to make that investigation into how to do so.

Using these tools, combined with self-reflection, can help you make the most of that time as you consider what’s out there for you, just waiting.

#Education

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If you want to hire your top pick, studies say quit stalling

(BUSINESS) Waiting for more than a month to make a final offer may mean that you’re missing out on the valuable candidates you really want to hire.

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The phrase “Slow and steady wins the race” may describe your optimal strategy in some departments, but according to a study by 3Gem, hiring isn’t one of them. If you’re waiting more than a month before deciding on a new hire, you’re most likely not getting your first pick.

The study, conducted via 9,000 employees, determined that around 67 percent of employees had passed on their first job choice because they didn’t hear back from an employer before a second opportunity arose. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t stick around for a job if the hiring process took more than a month from start to finish.

If your ears are burning, it may be time to change your hiring tactics.

This isn’t to say that you should rush into hiring; your recruiting process deserves time and ample consideration. However, taking more than a few weeks to go through the process of starting recruiting, meeting applicants, and making your final offer means that you’re both missing out on top-notch talent and wasting the time of countless potential recruits.

Consider your applicant pool: the majority of your options are either currently unemployed or heading in that direction (volitionally or otherwise). Few people can afford to stay unemployed for more than a month, meaning that any option, regardless of whether your business is the employee’s dream environment, starts to look better than your lack of a timely answer.

From an employee’s perspective, an application is as good as rejected if they haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks, and having no income during that period of time is suboptimal. Waiting for more than four weeks before making a decision, to say nothing of more than that—20 percent of the surveyed employees had experienced wait times of over two months—is unacceptable.

The math is simple: exceptional candidates have neither the time nor the need to wait for a response. If you place hiring over other activities during your recruiting bouts, prioritize the top one percent of your applicants, and make your final offer the second you’ve made up your mind, you’ll see an increase in in-house talent in no time.

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