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Activism sells: Enacting change with your wallet

(EDITORIAL) Activism is all the rage and you can use it to sell products, but be warned: there are both pros and cons to it.

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Almost altruism

It’s no secret that we like to feel good about ourselves.

Phrases like “fair trade” can boost sales and egos, and the anti-Trump movement is pretty smug about its giant list of retailers and other businesses that carry or support Trump products.

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But when you realize this blacklist includes Amazon, you may be sorely tempted to get off your high horse and clamber back onto your well-worn Prime account. Free two-day shipping is hard to live without.

Pseudo activism

As we wrote, when Lyft responded to Trump’s immigration ban with a $1 million donation to the ACLU, #DeleteUber spread like wildfire and rideshare users patted themselves on the back for their conscious consumerism.

But all they did was trade in one convenience for another.

That’s the problem with the contemporary activism climate. When much of the activism and charitable giving is sourced through brands, all a consumer needs to do to engage with the issue is make a purchase.
There’s no real sacrifice – that fair trade coffee might be a dollar or two more, but you can afford it, and now you can count yourself solidly on the good guys’ side.

But when the decision to support a cause indirectly through a brand is a real inconvenience, as giving up Amazon would be for me, would that cause still see significant support?

This is a question consumers must ask themselves – and businesses may or may not adjust, according to the answer.

Hoping on the consumer-activism bandwagon

Regardless, the lesson in good business is there for everyone to see: activism sells, and fast.
More and more companies are going out their way to do good, but only if they can tell anyone who’ll listen how humanitarian they are.

This is not generosity for generosity’s sake.

Rather, this is a calculated business strategy that has recently been paying off big time.

And judging by the wave of grassroots activism sweeping through the country in the wake of Trump’s election, consumers will be in the mood to support activist brands for quite a while.

So how can your brand or organization ride the wave? Here’s an example of what NOT to do:

SNL knows what’s up. If you’re a snack brand with no connection to transgender issues, don’t try to suddenly turn your mascot into a transgender hero.

If your workforce is 5 percent women, spicing up your ads with demands for women’s rights misses the mark.

Exploitation is highly likely to backfire – social media whistleblowers are ramping up their outrage.

Follow your heart, not consumer reports

However, it certainly wasn’t evil for Lyft to (very publicly) donate money to a cause relevant to their business. They’re a company partially powered by immigrants, and they sent a lot of money to a good place.
If your business naturally lends itself to the support of a cause, like wage equality or workforce diversity, you have more options.

You can build activism into your business model – consider sending some percentage of your profits to a nonprofit that makes sense for you.Click To Tweet

You can also strategically use activism in your ads – but anything even faintly reminiscent of exploitation is an absolute no-no. If you’re going to incorporate activism into your organization, it should be nothing but natural and sincere.

#ActivismSells

Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Opinion Editorials

Who’s missing next to Zuckerberg as he testifies at the political circus?

(EDITORIAL) Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t testifying because of web privacy violations, this is all a political opportunity with a dash of regulatory salivation thrown in.

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Cambridge Analytica. The name of this company has become synonymous with a breach of your privacy. Several years ago, the company took advantage of a loophole that gave them access to 50 million Facebook users’ information. The story is convoluted, but the entire timeline is laid out here so you can see this is about more than just your privacy.

Today, Facebook has begun alerting users if their info was used by Cambridge Analytica to politically target them without their direct consent. But there is no recourse other than the sheer knowledge that your info was used. How novel.

Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg has headed to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about this situation, which we all know will turn into a dog and pony show filled with political bluster from both sides as they use their time to lecture and stump, and maybe ask a semi-informed question or two.

Why is Zuckerberg on the hot seat alone? Because they’re the biggest visible fish in the sea, so Facebook will be made an example of. Their entire business model is to make money off of your information, and they’ve been pretty open about that since day one.

But Zuck didn’t set the tone, Eric Schmidt at Google did. And social media platforms have followed suit ever since.

Think about it – you know that Facebook collects the data you insert into their walled garden, but Google manufactured your tv, all of your phones, Gmail accounts, and your home assistant, and it’s obvious what they’re doing with all of that data as it is mined and consolidated in a much less obvious way than Facebook. And it’s strange that Google hasn’t come up in any of these talks of collusion, given the depth of their data and lax requirements of advertisers.

That takes us to the overreactions of today – you know that all of you deleting your Facebook accounts aren’t really deleting anything other than your access, right? Facebook still retains the rights to your photos, posts, and past activity. Just as Schmidt noted above as it pertains to Google.

So your information was used to be advertised to. Nothing new to see here. In fact, it’s not even new that Facebook data could be used politically. Although Facebook seemed to turn the other way when this information was being used, they’re certainly no political virgins – Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said Sunday on Twitter of Facebook, “They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

So it’s not new that Facebook allows third parties to use your data. It’s also not new that the data is openly used for political targeting. So why is this call for Congressional hearings now that the toothpaste is so far out of the tube that it’s down the sink!?

Sadly, politics. Because this time it benefited someone that’s popular to hate. But the result will have nothing to do with politics at all.

People under 30 never lived a life with privacy and can tell you that they know it doesn’t exist – and if it’s gone, it’s still on a social media company’s servers somewhere. And if you take a quiz about what kind of bread you are, you know that your info is going to be used for something, because we all know that if you don’t pay for a product, YOU are the product (that’s an old line dating back eras). This is what politicians intend on legislating, good or bad.

Sure, Zuckerberg is the target of the hearings because of the Cambridge Analytica situation that benefited Trump instead of literally anyone else on the planet, but again, he’s flying solo because he’s the biggest fish in the social media sea.

And he should not be in the hot seat alone.

Jack Dorsey should be sitting next to him. Steve Huffman should be sitting next to him. Reid Hoffman should be sitting next to him. Eric Schmidt should be sitting right behind Sundar Pichai.

But it’s more than that. If Zuckerberg is on the hot seat, so should every company that ever uses your data without your direct consent or complete understanding. The politicians and talking heads are all dominating the airwaves right now screaming about privacy, and stomping around that it must be addressed (again, they’re over a decade late). So why not force the auto insurers that use your smartphone info, or health insurers that can use your smartphone activity to indicate your activity levels (and duh, insurability). Why not the fitness apps that report user locations to the public, accidentally unveiling secret military bases? Why not television manufacturers for using data above and beyond what cable knows (like app usage), selling that info to the highest bidders?

Try to tell me this is about privacy. It’s not. So let me tell you where this is going.

Zuckerberg’s flamboyant “let them eat cake” attitude is something the tech world is used to, but politicians are not. What’s at stake is the very nature of Facebook. What are they? How can politicians regulate them? How can they protect users based on the marginal information they kind of understand and kind of don’t?

The bottom line is that they’re asking if Facebook is a media company, a moniker they’ve brushed off for years. That’s where this is going. And they are a media company. Because they are, but are not legislated as one, politicians have set a trap for ol’ Zuck.

And he shouldn’t be alone testifying. He should have a litany of counterparts at various social media companies up there. But their first step is to pin him with being a media company so they can simply regulate the rest.

We’ve cheered on and red flagged both sides of the social media boom since before it began, but watching people not in tune with technology fumble over regulating it is simply bad for business.

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Opinion Editorials

How top performers work smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.

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Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.

Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.

Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.

Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.

Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.

When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.

Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.

Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.

By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.

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Opinion Editorials

The real key to working smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all heard that we should be working harder, not smarter, but how does one go about doing that aside from a bunch of apps?

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I know you’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” but what does that mean exactly? How do you work smarter?

A new book by Morten T. Hansen attempts to answer the question. “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More” was released at the end of January. Hansen found 7 different behaviors outside of education levels, age and number of hours worked. I’d like to take a look at a couple of the things he recommends. Read the book if you want to know more.

Let’s continue on by addressing the 10,000 Hour Theory of Expertise. Under this principle, it’s thought that if you spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill, you’ll become world-class in any field. The Beatles are thought to have used this theory to become one of the greatest bands in history. But it’s not just about practicing until your fingers bleed or you can’t stay awake any longer, it’s really about pushing yourself in an area.

Although it has been argued that this theory doesn’t necessarily apply in business or professions, there’s something to be said about deliberate practice.

When it comes to working smarter, no, you don’t need to spend 10,000 hours in the workplace to get better at your job. But you can put some of the principles of the theory in action:

  • Pick a skill that you need to develop. There’s no way you can work on every skill at the same time. Just choose one to focus on for three months, or six months. Review your performance now. Have a benchmark of where you want to take that skill.
  • Carve out time to work on that skill. Spend 15 minutes a day doing something that helps you get better. You know the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice.” You’re going to have to find ways to practice.
  • Work on specific elements of a skill. Typically, the skills we want to improve involve a lot of smaller things. Take a good presentation. You need connect with people, have a good outline and learn to have diction and tons of other things. Work on one thing at a time. ?I used to have a real problem with looking at people when I was giving a presentation. For quite a few months, I made it a priority to be conscious of making eye contact. No matter who I was talking to, the cashier, a patron at the center where I volunteer and even my neighbors. It’s much easier now for me.
  • Get feedback. You may believe you’re making progress, but others may have a different vantage point. Find a couple of good mentors who can really evaluate your performance and offer constructive criticism.

Repeat until your skill-set grows.

To get better, you need challenge and practice. Believe me, you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Get up, dust yourself off and keep practicing.

Competence in a particular area goes a long way toward working smarter.

But wait, there’s more – the discussion continues in part two of this series, keep reading!

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