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Diversity

Community, Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Social Media, Women in Tech

Don’t tweet in a bubble: why & how to diversify your feed

Birds of a feather tend to flock together, but that’s why they call them ‘bird-brains.’ Here’s how, and why, to diversify your Twitter feed.

Twitter Stats & Social Facts

Tech doesn’t just have a diversity problem in the workforce – tech workers and leaders often live in an online social bubble of, well, men. Mostly white men.

When the echo chamber of our tech community continues into our online social communities, it’s too easy to find yourself in a homogenous bubble that is so large and opaque that it eclipses the world outside of it.

And that is dangerous to us as people, as world citizens, as tech makers and users.

Yes, the Twitter feed diversity problem is real.

Not-so-fun fact: Elon Musk didn’t follow a single woman on Twitter until October of 2016 – and only then because a Motherboard article called him out on it. Musk isn’t alone. The Guardian looked at the Twitter accounts of several male tech leaders and found that they followed between 2 and 11 times as many men as women. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, for instance, followed 238 men and 29 women at last count (also in 2016).

And that’s just the male to female ratio. They didn’t even touch on people of color or the LGBTQ communities.

When you consider that most founders of tech startups in America are white, and the average white American only has one black friend (75% of white Americans don’t have any black friends), it’s clear that not only do most of us in tech live and work in our bubble – we’re so far in it that it’s hard for some to imagine how to climb out.

I suggest starting to diversify your life and work by inviting in different ideas and opinions on Twitter. No, it’s not going to fix the diversity problem in tech or lead to world peace. But at least it’s a start.

How can you diversify your feed?

As with making most changes, awareness is the first step.

Check yourself

It’s easy to look at the list of people you follow on Twitter and feel fairly satisfied that you do have a diverse group. The human mind is funny that way. We see what we expect to see. Try this app, Proporti.onl, to see how your feed really stacks up. If you’re surprised by your results and feel like you’ve got a long way to go, that’s okay – I’m still working on diversifying my feed, too!

Consider all types of diversity

Diversity doesn’t just mean ethnicity or the spectrum of LGBTQ – it’s also about cultural diversity. People who believe, think and act differently than you. That isn’t to say you should befriend people who don’t share (or who are actively against) your core values. But try to recognize and respect other ways of being.

Don’t just add – listen

James Governor, co-founder of RedMonk, wrote about his effort to diversify his Twitter feed and made a very important point:

It’s not enough to add people who are different than you – you also have to listen to them. And that’s not always comfortable.

“You will certainly find yourself challenged. […] Question your assumptions. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be smarter for it, and learn crucial lessons in empathy. Sometimes it’s the little things.”

The benefits are worth the effort. When you listen with an open mind to what different people are saying (and yes, complaining about) you gain insight into how to treat people with more sensitivity and communicate more effectively.

As James Governor also says, “following a broader range of people means that suddenly – surprise! – it’s a lot easier to find amazing speakers for tech events.”

Perhaps, most importantly for us in tech, this is an exercise in empathy. When we have empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – we build better products, better user experiences, and better relationships in and outside of work.

Not sure where to start? Here’s my shortlist of diverse voices who are sure to add unique, smart perspectives to your feed

Books, Community, Diversity, LGBTQ, Marginalization, SaaS

Summer reading list for building your community 📖


It’s exactly the right time to hole up with a good book.

There’s nothing like spending a quiet summer Sunday morning reading by the pool, in the park, on the beach, or in the hammock in your own backyard. I take a highlighter and pen with me because I’m usually reading business books, but that doesn’t take away from the pleasure of being outdoors and letting your mind wander across the pages.

Lately, I’ve been reading several really good books about building communities and thought I’d share them with you.


Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities
by Richard Millington

Buzzing Communities was written in 2012 by FeverBee’s Richard Millington, whose work on community building is outstanding. In fact, he’s even inspired the topics of one or two of my newsletter missives! It’s a quick read at 300 pages, and that’s because there is very little fluff. You might run into trouble trying to highlight ‘the good stuff’ in this book because there’s just so much of it. He covers community strategy, growth, content, moderation, influence and relationships, events and activities, business integration, ROI and UX.


Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities
by Amy Jo Kim

Community Building on the Web came out in The Year 2000 (eons ago, right?), but the core of what makes communities work hasn’t changed since, oh, year ONE, so it’s still on target when it comes to the basics. I enjoy reading the insights in here about how the early communities, like Yahoo, iVillage, eBay and AncientSites attracted and retained their followings. You’ll basically meet the grandmamas of the communities we know and love today, and you can see how what worked then has evolved into what works now. Think of it as a history book.


The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation
by Jono Bacon

Jono Bacon is a highly respected consultant on community strategy and this book is almost like hiring him to tell you EVERYTHING. Almost. He goes over how to recruit and motivate members to be active participants and how to use them as a resource for marketing and fresh ideas. All while making your community a resource that helps them do their work faster and easier. He also goes into how to track progress on community goals, and how to handle conflict, two thorny issues in community management that can never get enough page time in my books.


The Body is Not an Apology
by Sonya Renee Taylor

This is my favorite book of the year so far! And its message should be at the core of all communities. 💗

Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies. The Body Is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems.

World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world–for us all.


Connecting to Change The World
by Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, John Cleveland

Nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are under increasing pressure to do more and to do better to increase and improve productivity with fewer resources. Social entrepreneurs, community-minded leaders, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropists now recognize that to achieve greater impact they must adopt a network-centric approach to solving difficult problems. Building networks of like-minded organizations and people offers them a way to weave together and create strong alliances that get better leverage, performance, and results than any single organization is able to do.

While the advantages of such networks are clear, there are few resources that offer easily understandable, field-tested information on how to form and manage social-impact networks. Drawn from the authors’ deep experience with more than thirty successful network projects, Connecting to Change the World provides the frameworks, practical advice, case studies, and expert knowledge needed to build better performing networks. Readers will gain greater confidence and ability to anticipate challenges and opportunities.

Easily understandable and full of actionable advice, Connecting to Change the World is an informative guide to creating collaborative solutions to tackle the most difficult challenges society faces.


Fierce Loyalty
by Sarah Robinson

Building and sustaining a fiercely loyal community of clients, customers and raving fans is critical for success in today’s turbulent marketplace. Organizations, both corporate and non-profit, that are thriving have discovered a secret – the underlying DNA shared by all wildly successful communities. Fierce Loyalty unlocks this secret DNA and lays out a clear model that any organization of any size can follow. Business strategist Sarah Robinson helps you break down the process and gives you clear, specific steps for creating and maintaining a fiercely loyal, wildly successful community and put it squarely in the center of your business plan. Drawing on her own extensive experience as well as her research into the inner working of some of the most successful communities around, Sarah de-mystifies the process and gives you exactly what you need to make Fierce Loyalty happen in your organization.


Systems Thinking for Social Change
by David Peter Stroh

Donors, leaders of nonprofits, and public policy makers usually have the best of intentions to serve society and improve social conditions. But often their solutions fall far short of what they want to accomplish and what is truly needed. Moreover, the answers they propose and fund often produce the opposite of what they want over time. We end up with temporary shelters that increase homelessness, drug busts that increase drug-related crime, or food aid that increases starvation.

How do these unintended consequences come about and how can we avoid them? By applying conventional thinking to complex social problems, we often perpetuate the very problems we try so hard to solve, but it is possible to think differently, and get different results.

Systems Thinking for Social Change enables readers to contribute more effectively to society by helping them understand what systems thinking is and why it is so important in their work. It also gives concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning without becoming a technical expert.

Systems thinking leader David Stroh walks readers through techniques he has used to help people improve their efforts to end homelessness, improve public health, strengthen education, design a system for early childhood development, protect child welfare, develop rural economies, facilitate the reentry of formerly incarcerated people into society, resolve identity-based conflicts, and more.

The result is a highly readable, effective guide to understanding systems and using that knowledge to get the results you want.


Quiet – The Power of Introverts
by Susan Cain

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts (including me!). They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.


If you run across a community building book I should read, please let me know. 📖☕

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Community, Curation, Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Women in Tech

Delightfully unconventional women-written newsletters in marketing & tech 💌

I’m subscribed to more than one-hundred newsletters – not kidding, I’m a curator. It’s my passion. There are so many newsletters out there for marketers right now. Nearly every startup and entrepreneur in the field has a newsletter to offer. Of course they do. We’re marketers. We know newsletters work as part of our long and glorious sales funnels.

These women-written newsletters are on my can’t-miss list. I try to read them every time. I look forward to reading them, because each one not only has immediately useful value to offer, each one is really fun to read. And, their perspectives are refreshingly unique and unconventional, because these women think deeply about their subjects and don’t shy away stating their opinions.

I love that.

Also, fair warning: I added my own newsletter at the end. It’s all about building communities around SaaS products, and if you’re into that, then hopefully it will make *your* can’t miss list.

Marketing

WordWeaver // Alaura Weaver
I’ve included some of the best copywriters in tech on this list, but what sets Alaura Weaver apart is her unique story-fueled content and copywriting, as well as her commitment to only work with businesses who are legitimately trying to make the world better in some way. Her newsletter is tightly packed with insights into how to use storytelling and powerful language to create human connection that helps businesses sell and grow.

Inkwell // Autumn Tompkins
Copywriter and editor Autumn Tompkins focuses on copy, content, and editing for artists and creatives – a notoriously difficult industry, both to work in and to write for. She brings the stories behind the art to vivid life, attracting clients and building relationships (that attract more clients). Her newsletter includes her best tips for writing creative and effective copy, and it’s so good, that a lot of other copywriters I know read it too.

Copy Hackers // Joanna Wiebe
Joanna Wiebe made a commitment early on to give away her very best information. It’s how CopyHackers began, and why it’s become the go-to resource for professional copywriters interested in honing their craft, or getting a quick refresher on what headline copy works best. Each newsletter she sends contains a mind-blowing insight that you can use right now – it’s how she ‘trains’ us all to open every one of her emails. They’re always so good. Also, notice her writing style. She keeps you hanging on…

Every…

word.

Forget The Funnel // Claire Suellentrop & Gia Laudi
Forget The Funnel is for marketers at product-first tech companies – it’s a weekly series of free, 30-minute workshops designed to help tech marketers “get out of the weeds, think strategically, and be a more effective SaaS marketer.” These 30-minute workshops are not fluff, and you can tell that by their impressive list of workshop leaders, like Talia Wolf, Joanna Wiebe, Ross Simmonds – and oh yeah, me. Really didn’t mean to plug myself, but you’ll see me on the list, and I didn’t want this to get awkward…

GetUplift // Talia Wolf
If we’ve spoken for more than 5 minutes, I’ve probably mentioned how much I LOVE Talia’s newsletters from GetUplift. That’s how much I talk about this conversion optimization newsletter! I’ve used these as inspiration for my own writing more than once, because her writing style is so personal, so fun, so interesting and always informative, pulling insights from her own experiences (which ensures the content is always fresh).

Katie Martell
Unapologetic marketing truth-teller Katie Martell will be the first to tell you – in a bright red banner across her home page – that this is “the world’s best newsletter about marketing, business, and life.” She’s got some stiff competition there, but I won’t argue. This curated newsletter is really good.

Yeah Write Club // Kaleigh Moore
Copywriter Kaleigh Moore’s first newsletter was A Cup of Copy, which included beautifully-written advice for new and seasoned copywriters on writing better copy, and on building a writing business you love. Her Yeah Write Club is completely different – it’s interviews with working writers at the tops of their fields, book recommendations and even writing opportunities. I love both, but those interviews are fabulous.

Strictly Tech

Sarah Doody
Sarah Doody is an entrepreneur, UX designer, consultant, writer and speaker. Her weekly UX newsletter is a compilation of her personal experiences in UX design, curated articles, UX tips and prompts to get UX teams talking.

Femgineer // Poornima Vijayashanker
Femgineer promotes inclusivity in the tech industry, which is already pretty great (and much needed). The newsletter is an outstanding source of inspiration, practical advice and free weekly lessons for people of all backgrounds learning tech.

MarketHer // Jes Kirkwood
MarketHer helps female tech marketers grow their careers, and the newsletter (hover over the pop-up chat on the bottom right to find the Subscribe button – it’s a little hard to find) shares real stories from women working at companies like Eventbrite, Glassdoor and HubSpot.

Product Talk // Teresa Torres
Product Talk is all about product development – from learning much-needed insights about your customers, to conducting experiments and measuring their impact. It’s not strictly a newsletter, but subscribing will ensure you get their latest posts in your inbox, and they’re all really good.

Women in Product
Founded by senior women product leaders in Silicon Valley, Women in Product is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in product management. Not only can you subscribe for their news and updates, they also have a Facebook community with over 9,000 members (of which I’m one).

Women 2.0
Women2 is focused on closing gender gaps and increasing diversity and inclusion in tech. Their articles often focus on female-founded, early-stage companies, as well as “the future of tech and startups.” One glance at their home page lets you know what kind of content you can expect – topics like “speaking out about equal pay” and “an introvert’s guide to collaboration.”

Whackadoodles // Emma Siemasko
Written by a content marketing specialist, Whackadoodles isn’t strictly about content or marketing; it’s more about living a better business life. It’s a great read for writers, marketers and entrepreneurs.

Other

The Good Trade: The Daily Good
A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.

And…mine:

Sunday Brunch by Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

My newsletter is strictly about building online communities, in places like Facebook groups and Slack channels (to name but two), around your SaaS product and brand. Communities help promote higher lifetime value, lower churn, happier customers, and – my favorite – customer success. But it’s not enough to just invite people to join. Creating a genuine sense of community is a little more complicated – and that’s what my newsletter is about.

Subscribe below! Are you thinking of starting a newsletter? Let’s talk about what makes the BEST newsletters out there. Leave a comment and let’s chat.

Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Women in Tech

20 Women’s Stories on How They Learned to Set Boundaries

I didn’t realize until my late 20s that boundaries were a “thing” you could set. That you could tell someone “no.” Then it took several more years for me to actually start doing it, and only because I was forced to as a result of people hurting me and losing my trust — not because I’d finally gained the ability to set healthy boundaries all by myself.

But we all have our teachers, and those were mine.

Now, in my mid-30s, I can honestly say that I set boundaries.

But I still feel guilty about it.

Someone recently asked me for advice in working with one of their clients, and probably for the first time ever — I declined.

I honestly didn’t have the time. I’ve barely kept up with my own clients in recent months. As much as I love helping people — it’s who I am — I’ve come to a place in my personal and professional life of max capacity. For my own mental, emotional, and entrepreneurial health, I have to say no to things I’d otherwise do without a second thought.

I did feel bad about declining. But I also got over it. And I found that it’s less stressful to say “no” than to sign up to do one more thing on an already toppling list.

As a woman, especially, I think many of us have been socialized to say “yes” and be “nice” and “volunteer to help” when we don’t feel like it. Unless we have a really good excuse, like a broken limb or a fever above 103. That’s how I feel, anyway.

And it shouldn’t have to come to that! Someday, I hope to say “no” without guilt, just because I’d rather spend my day taking pictures of flowers and trees, or scrunching my toes in beach sand.

Today, I’d like to have an honest, open discussion about being a woman and setting boundaries. I asked 20 women to tell me their thoughts on boundary setting. Maybe you’ll find some tips you can use. Maybe you’ll just find camaraderie (because none of us are boundary-setting experts).

And hopefully you will find a bit more strength — because after reading what these women have written to me, I know I have.


Tia Fomenoff, People & Culture at Thinkific

When did you realize that you can set boundaries?
still struggle sometimes with setting boundaries as it’s in my nature to want to help everyone! I have definitely been getting better about this just over the last couple of years — after nearing burnout many times I had to make decisions to not always say yes, and be okay with that. I can’t say I regret any of the times I’ve had to say no so far!

How do you set boundaries in your personal and/or professional life?
I don’t so much worry about this in my personal life — I find it’s easier for me to decide what’s important or not. If I’m ever put in an uncomfortable situation, whether at work or personally, I make sure to be direct, but kind and understanding, as early as I can now. When I was younger, I would often let comments or issues that bothered me slide off to the side instead of deal with them head on, because I felt that was easier. I know now that’s not true — that addressing your concerns quickly helps you avoid the negative snowball effect that can crop up because of unclear communication.


Val Geisler, Systems Strategist for Freelancers

I’m still learning to set boundaries and I find they get tighter the more I practice them. Running a business, being a mom, working online… all of these things required me to set boundaries.

However, I only actually set boundaries when I decided that my personal happiness and wellbeing was the main driver of all of those activities. If I can’t show up as my best self, I’m letting everything drop.

When I set boundaries I’m happier. I’m taking care of myself and, by extension, everyone around me.


Joanna Wiebe, Author, Copywriter, Creator of CopyHackers& Co-Founder & Head of Growth at AirStory

Actually my first reaction to your question was a chuckle — not sure I’ve learned to set boundaries or even realized they’re mine to set. I feel the need to justify my boundaries. As if others have more say over what I do than I have. Setting boundaries means saying no, and I still struggle with that in a major way. So I’m not sure I’ve arrived at a place where I know I can set boundaries. I need to work on that.


Kaleigh Moore, Copywriter

For me, setting boundaries is an ongoing process that I’m still working on. I have a lot of room for improvement.

In my personal and professional life, many of my boundaries are around my time. I’ve become much more protective of how I spend/invest my time — and with whom — so that I’m only doing things that I truly see value in. Often, that means saying no to opportunities, putting hard lines around my availability, and being less of a “yes” person in general. The power of no is incredible for establishing boundaries, and saying it more often has helped me become happier, healthier, and more sane.


Shayla Price, B2B Marketer

I set professional boundaries by stating and reiterating my expectations. In the work environment, it’s important to stay consistent in your actions. Someone will always test your boundaries. So, don’t waver to please others.


Crystal J. Allen, CTO of HausCall, Multicultural Media Wizard

As the CTO of HausCall, it was really important for me to create boundaries for my own sanity. Before I had a team of engineers, it was not uncommon for me to work around the clock on our product. In some ways, that can obviously be good for production — but as a manager, this can easily be a terrible habit to create. When I hired my team and realized how responsible I was for their career growth during their tenure with our company, I felt comfortable establishing healthy boundaries for their success and mine.

Using messaging tools such as Slack allows me to still stay on top of things without work requests, questions and concerns coming directly to my text inbox all the time. The ‘do not disturb’ has also had its fair share of value here!


Emma Siemasko, Founder of Stories by Emma, co-host with Kaleigh Moore of Ask Content Gals

I am REALLY anal and crazy about boundaries, in my personal life and in my business life. I realized I could set boundaries about a year and a half into running my own business (late 20s). I was super burnt out, THOUGHT that I maintained solid boundaries, but kept feeling bulldozed by clients. I just wasn’t very good or deliberate at managing my relationships.

One of the things I did was start creating processes that all clients had to follow. For example, I won’t work with a client unless they schedule a 15 minute call with me first. It seems small, but unless I get the client on the phone, I won’t know if they’re a good fit or if the project is a good fit. It’s also a quick compliance check– if they can’t follow my process at the very beginning, I probably don’t want to work with them. One of the other things I did was only take client meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and never after 4:30 pm. This means that I have “meeting” days but that Monday and Friday are reserved for quite working, or working no my own business.


Kristen Hillery, Editor of the InVision blog

Here I am in my early 30s, and I didn’t realize I could set boundaries until pretty recently. I’ve always equated being a good friend, teammate, and family member with doing whatever anyone asks of me. If someone needs help, you help. If someone’s having a get-together and invites you, you’d better be there. Saying no is rude, so never, ever say no. I think this is a common thing we teach little girls — always be polite and take care of everyone else before you take care of yourself.

The thing about that is that, eventually, you run out of energy. I realized this when I barely made it through the day without falling asleep, because I’d taken my neighbor to the airport at 4am that morning.

She’d texted me the night before: “Hey. Can you give me a ride to the airport tomorrow? At 4am?” Three grimacing emojis.

I said yes, of course, and I showed up at 4am on the dot with my trunk popped. She got in my car and said, “Wow! I can’t believe you actually said yes. My husband is mad at me for asking you because he thought it was really rude. But I told him you said yes!”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that the whole way back home. Why did I say yes? Well, because I thought I couldn’t say no. It was that simple.

The fact that even the askerwas surprised I said yes made me think pretty deeply about my personal boundaries and that they were basically non-existent.

Would saying no to someone result in something terrible happening?

Would it make someone swear me off as a friend? Of course not.

Others say no all the time, and it’s fine. I gave myself “permission” to say no to things I don’t want to do — things that won’t bring me joy or things that just don’t interest me.

It was honestly very difficult to start doing this, but I quickly realized that it meant I had more time and energy to spend doing things I loved. It’s so cliche, but life is just too short to waste your time doing things for the sake of doing things.


Sarah E. Brown, Director of Marketing, Service Rocket

I realized that work boundaries were important in my mid-twenties when I began doing consulting. Learning how to set healthy boundaries with clients and boundaries with others in my life in order to maintain balance as a sole proprietor was incredibly valuable.

In my personal and professional lives, I try to live by the rule of “full body yes,” which my friend Sue Heilbronner turned me on to. The idea is that if something doesn’t feel right on a cellular level, I don’t say yes to it. It’s kept me from some nice-seeming opportunities that I know weren’t right for me (perhaps at that time). It’s an ongoing practice.


Amy E. Dixon, Press Release Queen

I started setting boundaries when I realized I tend to be more loyal to my companies than they ever were to me. I’d been taken for granted and/or taken advantage of, and then tossed aside. I don’t know if I aged out of sucking it up, or stopped being afraid of owning my wellbeing.


Lauren Van Mullem, Copywriter for Coaches

I used to work late into the night and during weekends — and I’d say the most success I’ve had with setting boundaries is to stop doing that. But I’m not great at setting them across the board. I want to help everyone, as much as I can, as much as they’ll let me. For me, the #1 cardinal sin is selfishness, and generosity of spirit is the ultimate good. Recently though, a relative stranger asked me for help, and I gave her all the help I could, even though I didn’t really know her. That opened the floodgates to her asking me to do more and more things for her, and there was no reciprocation. This is not my first rodeo with a narcissist (I’ve been burned before — over-givers attract them like ants to a picnic!), so this time, I recognized the signs early on. And I shut off the giving. Funny thing — as soon as I set ONE boundary with her, she disappeared. Boundaries are magical things!


Whitney Antwine, Digital Marketing Coach & Keynote Speaker

Setting boundaries is a direct reflection of your self-respect; and for me, that came right around the time I turned 30. I made a conscious decision to work 8-hours a day, not keep work email on my phone, and commit to taking a lunch break every day. I still can’t help that feeling of guilt when taking care of myself over my business, but I understand its importance on my well-being. When I’m taken care of, I’m able to focus productive energy on my work.


Natalie Smithson, Digital Innovation Copywriter

I realized I had to set boundaries when children came along. I was fiercely protective over theirboundaries, and it took me a while to recognize I could do the same for myself. I put boundaries in place for my business, which in turn protected me and showed me how effective it is to use them. Now I’ll put up a boundary quicker than you can say ‘Could you just… ?’ and “No” rolls off the tongue with no effort at all.


Holly Wolf, Director of Customer Engagement, Solo Laboratories

I started setting boundaries when I realized that what I gave wasn’t reciprocated on any level. I used to put in long hours, attend events, go the extra mile, but when I asked to leave 30 minutes early, it was a big problem.


Caroline Zeichner, SEO Specialist at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm! If you’re negatively impacting your own well-being for the benefit of others, you’re just hurting yourself in the long run.


Coral Wulff, Onboarding Specialist at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

Beauty does not equal weakness and kindness does not equal naïveté. I give people the benefit of the doubt that they will be respectful, but the first time a line is crossed, there needs to be action/conversation on my end to ensure where the line lays.


Marijana Kay, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist

I don’t think I realized the importance of setting boundaries until I burnt out at a full-time job and realized I wanted to work for myself. Months after making that transition into running my own small business, my work life and personal life were spilling into each other. I had to draw a line to stop looking at emails at night and not let non-urgent personal matters creep into my working hours. I’m easily distracted, and that cycle was taking up all of my energy. Over time, I’ve gained the ability to block off time for work and put my phone and laptop down when it’s time to focus on my husband, family, friends and hobbies. It’s still a struggle, but I’m getting there.


Tracy Oswald, Leads with Love, Big Change Coach, Keynote Speaker

For me it’s about not rearranging my priorities to respond to everyone else’s “emergencies”. A lot of the time all we have to do is say “No.”. No further explanation is needed.


Alaura Weaver, Content & Story Editor for Inflectionpointradio.org, Copywriter

Your question got me thinking about how my lack of boundaries led me to getting sick with pneumonia and how our limitations are opportunities to create space in our lives. It took a physical and mental collapse to finally give myself permission to stop feeling like I wasn’t trying hard enough. It shouldn’t have to be that way.


Stefanie Grieser, Global Markets, Partnerships & Events at Unbounce

There’s this quote from Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self Esteem:

“People with high self-esteem have strong personal boundaries. And practicing strong personal boundaries is one way to build self-esteem.”

I think to set boundaries you have to know yourself really well and be confident in who you are. Sometimes you only really figure out who you are in your late 20s. I saw Michelle Obama speak and I forget exactly what she said, but she talked about the significance of being true to yourself and how that happens later in life.

I most recently went through an exercise of writing down my core values — which are: integrity, curiosity, adventure, passion and perseverance. I know that if something doesn’t align with those values, my boundaries are being pushed.


Thank you to all the women who gave their unvarnished stories of struggles and successes in boundary-setting.

How are you at setting boundaries? When was the first time you discovered that you could? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!


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My newsletter is strictly about building online communities, in places like Facebook groups and Slack channels (to name but two), around your SaaS product and brand. Communities help promote higher lifetime value, lower churn, happier customers, and – my favorite – customer success. But it’s not enough to just invite people to join. Creating a genuine sense of community is a little more complicated – and that’s what my newsletter is about.

Content Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Success, Diversity, Growth Hacking, Podcasts, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

#EveryoneHatesMarketers: 4 Vital Things To Do Before Marketing Your New Startup [Podcast]

“Today I’m joined by my guest Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, an esteemed SaaS consultant, customer service evangelist, writer and community moderator. Her work has been featured in leading industry media such as HubSpot, Moz, Copy Hackers, Forbes, Canva and more.

Nichole is going to walk us through the four things you need to do before you can start marketing your startup or new business. Founders tend to skip the basics of marketing foundations, and this crucial step can make or break your business. Listen in for Nichole’s four most important pre-marketing initiatives that you need to know for your startup or to refresh the marketing of an existing business.”

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The importance of marketing foundations
  • Growth hacking pitfalls
  • Customer development work
  • Resources to identify ideal customers
  • Creating your first value proposition
  • Filling success gaps
  • Recommended reading

Transcript on Everyone Hates Marketers


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Creativity, Diversity, Marginalization

Don’t Wait for the President to Make Changes – Bring About Change All Year

dont-wait-for-the-president

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found it harder to “not get political” than with this election. Can any two candidates be more polarizing? Can Facebook get any more fraught with zealously divergent opinions? I hope not. But, the election is still several months away, and friends – it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

In the midst of this political mire, it’s easy to forget that we actually have a lot of power to create the changes we want to see. Going to the polls isn’t the only way to vote – and one might argue it’s not even the most impactful. We also vote with how we spend our time, and with how we spend our money.

We also vote with how we spend our time, and with how we spend our money. Click To Tweet

Here are a few of my ideas for how we can bring about positive change in the tech industry all year.

3 Ways I Choose to Contribute to Positive Change

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve become more and more vocal about promoting inclusivity and diversity in tech – for people of color, transgender people, and every other marginalized population. But if you’re not the CEO or hiring manager of your company, you might feel like you have limited say in who gets hired or how they’re treated (or, if you’re a contract worker like me, you have NO say). My answer to you is this: Think outside your box.

Join Fund Club

Anyone can support marginalized people in tech at Join Fund Club. When you become a member, you get a monthly email with Fund Club’s new pick: a project, initiative, event or organization focused on diverse communities in technology. You commit to give $100 to the month’s selection, directly to the recipient project (no middle-men taking a cut). Make no mistake – it IS a commitment, and you don’t get to pick and choose who or what gets your money. But, from my experience, each project chosen has been pretty incredible. Example: CallbackWomen’s mission is to radically expand gender diversity at the podium of professional programmers’ conferences.

Sponsor Model View Media

Model View Culture is a magazine about technology, culture and diversity. In fact, I think their description of their latest issue says it best:

“In this issue, we deconstruct the rhetoric of imposter syndrome, cover the implications of artificial intelligence for queer and trans people, and critique claims behind the 3D printing “revolution.” We look at the cost of the Lean In industry on women in tech, and ponder bots and digital dualism. Plus, unpacking the mythology of indie success in the games industry, and a new organization focused on trans women in software.”

And that’s just ONE issue! You can see why I’m excited. You can support them by purchasing a print subscription or digital subscription, or you can donate a subscription for someone who can’t afford it.

The fact that it’s interesting and well-written is Model View Culture’s biggest selling point – but how does supporting it create positive change?

For this, I go to Becca Edwards, Strategy Director at Rallio, who contributed some words of wisdom on the power of awareness.

“I think awareness is key to bringing about change. A friend or mentor pointing out where you can improve and you taking the time to absorb their criticism. Maybe it’s awareness that there can be a better way. Or that an action or mentality affects more than just you. Or that you’re loved and worth love, no matter what you are or what you do, and that you have a safe space to change. That’s when I would evaluate what I’m doing and take complete stock of the situation. I’m a reader, so I’d look for research and writings on the thing I need to change to get a better understanding of it. After that, it’s setting goals (starting with small steps) and reasonable expectations for meeting those goals.” 

Support Projects on Patreon

Without art and creativity, where would the tech industry be? Probably in someone’s garage, or in an uninspired office park. You don’t have to code to be in tech – and you don’t have to have an aversion to numbers to be an artist, writer or creative. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform, but unlike Kickstarter, the goal isn’t to raise one large lump sum, but to fund creators who create a stream of smaller projects. It’s more like a paid subscription. For $2-$7 a month, you can help support someone’s work and get regular “rewards.” Another difference – you get the goods before you pay, which, if you’ve been burned by Kickstarter projects, is a nice thing.

There is a huge range of artists and creative projects, from Cosplay to independent journalism. One project I find interesting is Egyptoon, an Egyptian cartoon on YouTube that presents social and political issues and current events in Egypt and the Arab world with humor and sarcasm.

Then, with a decidedly more techy bent, there’s Why I Need Diverse Games, which sponsors attendance at gaming conventions, promotes game creators who make diverse games, and highlights the work of underrepresented people in the games industry.

Lauren Van Mullem says she uses Patreon to support the work of a writer who traveled to Sweden to record the stories of Syrian refugees. For $2 per story, she gets a unique glimpse into the refugee situation from their perspective.

How Other Awesome People are Making Positive Change

Creating and supporting positive change is a team effort, so I opened up the question to some of my favorite people in the tech industry. But first, I ran across this post from Erica Joy that I’d love to share with you. My favorite sentence (because it’s hilarious):

The Bay Area is full of photographers. Throw a burrito in any direction in San Francisco and you’ll probably piss someone off for getting queso fresco on their brand new lens. 

And, my favorite part (because it’s pertinent):

Making sure diversity permeates all aspects of the business, voting with dollars to support other companies who value diversity, making diversity the first thought in the decision making process, all these things are how a company builds not only a diverse environment, but an inclusive environment.

With that in mind, check out what these people are doing – small scale and large scale – to make the world a little better and a little kinder for everyone.

Ashe Dryden founded AlterConf. She wants to bring about “critical cultural discussions in tech and gaming.” As the Twitter profile for AlterConf notes, “We’re moving the diversity conversation beyond 101. Coming to a city near you!” Check out the many ways you can participate to support AlterConf.

“My favorite charity is Give Directly. It’s a very data-driven and research-backed approach to maximizing financial contributions to improve people’s lives. Being the contrarian that I am, I also love that it works so well despite so many people disbelieving and fearing its impact.”

— Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz

“1. Get involved with organizations that encourage women/girls and people/kids of color in STEAM subjects. See some groups here.
2. Join HandUp and support unhoused neighbors.
3. Volunteer. Find opportunities here.
4. Continually inform yourself about unconscious bias, privilege, and being an ally instead of expecting lesser-privileged people to educate you. 
5. Talk to others about unconscious bias, privilege, and being an ally often.
6. Speak up when you see discrimination, but use your privilege to make room for lesser-privileged voices if they have the energy to say something.
7. Make it a point to expand your circle of contacts to people you don’t normally mix with.
8. When you mess up, apologize for the hurt caused and don’t focus on your own intent.”

— Michelle Glauser, Advocate & organizer of underrep-ed people in tech

I recommend expanding your social network among marginalized people (especially queer/trans people) and spending time donating money to them when in need and also doing rideshares/car pools to help get them to informed consent clinics for hormone therapy. QT people, especially the younger ones, have so many issues with finances due to homelessness and general poverty and are also gatekept from HRT due to ridiculous and transphobic standards that are found at any clinic that is not an informed consent one.”

— Ramona KnivesRamona Vs. Cis People

“There has perhaps never been a more important year in America to join, help spread the word about, and support TurboVote. Go beyond your own vote to help bring about change.”

— Raju Narisetti, Senior Vice President, Strategy, NewsCorp

A lot of times when people think of change, they think way too big instead of focusing on the micro-interactions we have with people and the change we can bring through 1-on-1 relationships. I personally know that change won’t happen overnight but I personally commit to providing a positive influence and educating people on a daily basis through my personal interactions.

This also means going out of your way to make time. I try to take at least 30 mins – 1 hour each day to personally mentor or provide guidance to those who need it. Also make sure that your avenue of change is something you’re passionate about. It’s much easier to be dedicated to making change when you’re passionate about what you’re doing. We all have issues that matter more to us.”

— Everette Taylor, Entrepreneur & Marketing Executive

“For me, creating positive impact is about making time to help people in our everyday lives. It’s all about the small things for me, but one big thing I’ve done is co-create the Copy Muse Collective, which helps newer writers learn the ropes of freelancing from established writers. I had a tough start as a content marketer, and I’m passionate about making that path easier for others to follow so that more women can define their own career paths outside of male-dominated spaces.”

— Lauren Van Mullem, Founder of Truer Words


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Content Marketing, Diversity

Influencer Marketing: I’ve got a bone to pick with you – wanna meet me outside? by @NikkiElizDeMere

influencermarketing

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Joanna Wiebe has this great formula for writing compelling posts. As she puts it, “pick a fight.” Well, there’s been a battle brewing between me and one marketing idea for a very long time: Influencer marketing. It’s hotter than a June bug in July right now. Everyone’s talking about it, and almost everyone’s doing it.

The idea behind influencer marketing isn’t a bad one altogether.

Some have described it as “the opposite of authority marketing” – instead of you being the one drawing people in with your charm and expertise, you’re instead courting others who have already built up their authorities in your niche (or related niche) and asking them to introduce you to their audiences (preferably with a glowing review, or an anchor-text heavy guest post).

A more succinct definition from VisionCritical: Influencer marketing is the practice of “engaging and partnering with people deemed to have online clout.” Bloggers, internet personalities, celebrities and industry experts are all fair game.

The promise?

“Companies expect that influencer marketing will drive sales because bloggers are able to expose the brand to a captive audience and increase brand awareness.” – Elspeth Shek, “Influencer marketing’s big, bad problem, and what companies can do about it,” VisionCritical

So, best case scenario: Your influencer has a large, highly engaged, niche-specific audience that will listen to *anything* s/he says, and buy whatever s/he recommends.

Some influencers have that much power. If you’re a new perfumer and you get Dita Von Teese’s public endorsement? You’ve got it made in the shade. Why? Because her audience is devoted to the point of being fanatical, and she has won their trust through her own integrity of only supporting brands (and scents) she genuinely loves.

But, most influencers don’t have that much sway. They may have large followings, but maybe half are active, and the other half are “lurkers” (and at least one technology researcher and strategist, Alexandra Samuel, contends that “lurkers” are not only less likely to comment and engage, but also less likely to follow recommendations).

Still, the potential benefits of winning an influencer over to your cause are big, juicy, and understandably tempting, spawning a million-and-one articles about how to do influencer marketing. This article  isn’t one of them.

This article is about whether you should use influencer marketing at all, and if you do, how you can benefit other people in addition to your brand. Yes, I could have titled this article “How you can use influencer marketing to make the world a better place,” but I’m not running for Miss America anytime soon.

Big Picture: How Ethical – not to mention effective – is Influencer Marketing?

“The voice of the customer has always been one of the most powerful concepts in marketing, and today’s social media platforms act as one giant megaphone for that voice.” – Kyle Wong, “The Explosive Growth of Influence Marketing and What it Means for You,” Forbes

The theory is that by choosing the right influencers with whom to partner, you’ll get an all-access pass into the minds and hearts of their audience (who is also your target audience). But first, you have to choose your influencer, and there’s a scientific approach to this called “influencer targeting.”

According to Forbes, the winning influencer targeting equation is:

“Influencer = Audience Reach (# of followers) X Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) X Strength of Relationship with Followers”

I’ve written about The Problem with Influencer Marketing before. My biggest beef is that because of the way influencers are chosen, only the voices that are already the loudest get amplified. Brands who pick influencers based solely on numbers ensure the people who already dominate the conversations continue to do so.

This is problematic when, as I found:

Of the “50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016,” published by Entrepreneur magazine, you’ll find that:

74% are male

86% are white

This isn’t only an issue of diversity in sex and ethnicity; it’s an issue of differentiation. When the same voices are retweeted by every brand’s social media, every brand starts to sound the same. And that means that, pretty soon, your brand’s social media will have all the impact of white noise. (Get it? White noise? Ha!)

But what if brands chose their influencers differently, and with a weather eye towards diversity?

What if we could change the way brands and influencers and audiences interact altogether?

Mirror, mirror on the wall – who’s the cloutiest of them all?

My theory: Truly effective and impactful influencer marketing can only be built on a foundation of trust, mutual respect, and mutual benefit. And, if you’re building your influencer “network” based on a formula, rather than making genuine person-to-person connections, you won’t have that.

Here are my new and improved formulas for your consideration:

influencer

influencer2The only kind of brand/influencer relationship that works in the long-term is one that is not just mutually beneficial, but mutually supportive. I’d like to see brands, marketers and entrepreneurs create circles of authentic relationships that support each other – which is actually far easier than cold-Tweeting influencers with variations on “Hey, can I use you to sell our product to your audience? KThanks!”

In short, Building trust with influencers requires not having the attitude of “What can you do for me?”

Let me share with you one of the nicer requests I’ve received. She starts out great, with lots of compliments (compliments will get you almost anywhere), but her message missed a vital component. Can you guess what it is?

Hi Nichole,

I’ve read your article on “Truly Awesome Tactics to Gain Traffic from Twitter” on Moz and found it very interesting and inspiring.

I especially like your point about storytelling and writing clickbait headlines.
We operate in the Tech/Business space as well, so I’m sure we’ll be able to collaborate.

We’re currently looking to increase our brand awareness, and I really like the quality of your article, I thought I’d reach out to you personally.  Do you think it would be possible to mention [company] on one of your articles on Moz?

We’re a business software directory specializing in the software reviews and deals. You can check out blog to get an idea about the type of topics we cover, here.

I’d be happy to hop on a call for a quick introduction. 🙂

Thank you so much in advance!

Honestly, I get so many similar requests that my responses have become downright terse.

Hi [Marketer], thanks for reaching out, but that doesn’t really sound like a collaboration, and I can’t think of any articles that I’m writing soon for Moz in which “software reviews and deals” fit.

Regards,

Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

I love to collaborate with great brands, but let’s check that dictionary definition: “to work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. Synonyms: Join forces, band together, ally.”

Essentially, help each other. This marketer had a firm grasp on how I could help her, but had nothing more meaningful to offer me that a little sweet talk. I like compliments as much as the next human being, but c’mon. And I’m not talking about financial remuneration, though offers are always appreciated. I’m much more interested in forming real partnerships with genuinely good, customer-centric businesses.

And that typically doesn’t result from an unsolicited private message from a marketing department.

Yet this is what influencer marketing encourages: People reach out to influencers without building real relationships, without any real connection, and asking for a one-way exchange.

“The best way to approach someone in demand is to not approach them! In general, this feels like a shortcut, but it’s not. The opportunity is to create your own sphere of influence, curate your own content, lead your own tribe… it might take longer, but it doesn’t put you at the mercy of the delete key.” – Seth Godin

What I would like to see instead is this:

Brands increasing their brand awareness the right way, by practicing customer success, creating delight, and building an army of brand advocates who will spread the message for them.

Essentially, we’re turning the idea of an influencer on its head.

Instead of reaching out to an established “influencer” – brands can make their own through empowering their most enthusiastic users. Then it’s not based on numbers; it’s based on passion, existing trust, and an existing relationship that will only continue to strengthen and grow.

And if you must have influencers, I recommend this:

  • Choose people based on who you, personally, would love to get to know;
  • Look for voices that are outside of the mainstream (but who still have passionate, engaged audiences);
  • And forge a genuine relationship with them.

Their audience and yours will respond far more positively to authentic relationship-building than a clearly transactional plug. Trust me on this.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Diversity, Women in Tech

Women in Tech Spotlight: Creatrix Tiara (@creatrixtiara)

Creatrix-Tiara

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Writer, performer, producer, researcher, presenter, artist, provocateur, deep-thinker – and dare I say badass – Creatrix Tiara is one phenomenal woman in tech. Her projects act like a galaxy of ideas orbiting around the sun of social change.

One planet might be debunking Ello’s privacy manifesto. A star cluster might be the numerous articles she’s written on topics like pop culture pagans, examining the surprisingly cross-cultural phenomenon of storing sewing kits in cookie tins (who knew?), and pointing out that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. isn’t far-fetched (it’s already happening).

What does this have to do with tech?

Tiara is one of those rare, wonderful people who take the way we define “tech” and stretch it, re-shape it, and make it better. This isn’t just my opinion. She was invited to the White House LGBTQ in Tech Summit in 2015; she was part of Al-Jazeera’s invitation-only Media in Context Hackathon in 2014; and she’s worked on website content and social media for organizations including Global Fund for Women’s IGNITE project (about women in STEM). Whatever her projects may be, most bridge the very wide gap between art and science, creativity and code, and make the rest of us question why there’s a divide at all.

I asked Creatrix Tiara to talk about tech as a means for social change and got so much more. I’ll let her take it from here in her own words.

Thanks for reaching out. What a pleasant surprise!

So about me: My background is largely in the intersections of arts, media, tech, education, activism, and community cultural development. Unlike most “people in tech” I’m not much of a programmer or even a visual designer, though I have been tinkering around with code since my classes in Pascal when I was 8-9. Rather, I create, educate, and build community online: whether through highly successful blog and social media projects, moderating and managing online communities, helping people figure out best practices for social media, or using social media and blogging as a creative medium as well as a social justice outlet. I grew up on the Internet; it has been integral in so much of my life, from my educational pathways to my careers to even my love life – I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without computers and the Internet, especially as an isolated kid growing up in Malaysia.

I’m really big on the use of technology to create, build, and maintain culture, as well as looking at ways that the tech world can better co-exist with other realms rather than assume it’s solely important on its own. For example, I wrote a piece for Model View Culture’s Quarterly about breaking down the arts/tech divide, after being frustrated at the tech-antagonism of my artist peers as well as techy people thinking I’m only good for marketing. I also co-created the game Here’s Your Fuckin’ Papers, which is kind of a parody of Papers Please but shows the tedium of the immigration process from the POV of the applicant – using minigames that are deliberately difficult and mind-numbing to make a point. We (ironically) won the Diplomacy award at the GXDEV Game Jam.

My other areas of interest are:

Ways that cultures and communities are built on the Internet. One of my biggest avenues into tech was fandom – as a teenage fangirl, I learned how to create/code/design/host websites, design graphics and digital art, build & moderate online communities, and even work with social media long before “social media” as we know it was a thing (e.g. Diaryland or Livejournal). I was doing some research into the ways that fandom becomes a gateway for young people to learn and teach themselves particular skills, including techy skills like coding or design, and heard from a lot of fans young and old about how they too built skills in HTML, media editing, or even games development thanks to fandom.

* On a related tangent, mostly in my mind because Homestuck just ended its 7-year run I am super SUPER fascinated by how Homestuck in particular references and uses geek culture to build a sprawling creation myth based around video game conventions. It’s like a time capsule of 90s-Contemporary Millennial culture: data structures, programming nerdery, Con Air, Neverending Story, Pan, Vine, Instagram, Trillian, AIM, god there’s probably a ton more references and allusions in there that’d make sense to anyone who was a nerd of some fashion in the last 30 years. There’s actually a small group of us with similar interests in the academic side of Homestuck getting together to create AcademicStuck, and we’re hoping to experiment with the whole notion of academic writing & publishing throughout the process – so if this appeals to you come join us!

Tech as a means of social change, centering on the needs of marginalized people. Firstly, omg, I am SO TIRED of “disruption” and can’t stand for-profit companies that try to market themselves with “manifestos” and promises of “revolution” (ahem Ello).

But anyway – while I am frustrated at my social justice peers for being just as antagonistic to tech as their artist peers (often one and the same) I can understand why they’re frustrated – it’s because tech culture is mostly dominated by straight/White/cis/guys who think only the concerns they personally face are important to fix and who are very parochial in their mindset.

Last year I got a lot of press for co-founding Screet, a proposed app for on-demand discreet delivery of sexual health products that was going to be feminist and queer-centric. People LOVED the idea, and I got some momentum from it, but due to visa issues I had to leave the US and drop the project. Hopefully it’ll start up again – the response to it, including by typical white-dude investors, showed that people are more than willing to support apps made by and for marginalized folk.

Emphasizing other aspects of interacting with tech that don’t involve coding or visual design. For instance, writing gets really underappreciated, as does research/fact-checking. It all gets thrown under “social media management,” yet in my experience, when I’ve tried to find paid work for similar roles – using the Internet and social media to research, collect, curate, and educate people on particular topics – the only people who are even the slightest bit interested want social media managers to talk solely about the company.

Even some new-media journalism sites expect reporters to also be dab hands at programming – which means that a wealth of stories, information, and knowledge ends up going unreported because the best people to write about them don’t have enough technical knowhow (or interest) to code up an interactive infographic from scratch. But then you also have YouTube channels like PBS Idea Channel or Crash Course work, or even how Metafilter works when people make really deep multi-link posts: they’re both enabled by tech, they probably couldn’t exist without tech, but they’re not often thought of as “being in tech” because they’re mostly informational. (I highly doubt Mike Rugnetta or the Green brothers do any sort of coding to make a YouTube video, and the only code I have to deal with to make a Mefi post is basic HTML.)

Now there seems to be more recognition of online culture mostly through discussions of comment culture and online harassment, as well as the growing concerns about how online-based creatives should get paid for their work (especially when regular paying work that utilizes the same skills can be hard to find – see earlier rant about “social media manager” jobs) – and I’d love to keep that going. 

But, because we (women, human beings, creatives) aren’t just what we do professionally, I wanted to ask Tiara one more burning question: What brings you joy? Her response, well, I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

What brings me joy – there’s a reason my tagline is “signs up for anything that looks interesting”. I seek out or keep an eye open for opportunities and experiences that seem intriguing, whatever the field or topic, and try them out. Sometimes this leads to whole new career paths – for example, my foray into performance art started after taking some burlesque classes on a whim. Sometimes it’s purely academic: one time I got really into perfume design, read a ton of books about the perfume world, and did consider going into perfumery before I found out that I needed a stronger chemistry background. 

Sometimes it’s a dare – a dare from my dad to apply for Harvard’s MBA (he’s a HUGE fanboy) eventually led to me enrolling in HBX CORe, their new 3-month online business fundamentals course (analytics, accounting, economics). I sat for its final exam last week, and somehow, despite having far less direct business experience than my classmates, I’ve built enough of a reputation as a strong and helpful student that my classmates are asking me for help! Yet I probably wouldn’t have even thought about joining HBX CORe if it weren’t for my dad’s snarky suggestion.

The things I sign up for may seem arbitrary on the surface, but there is some kind of internal logic powering them. My therapist called this “following your developing question”: there’s something I’m interested in knowing, which leads to research and exploring that point of inquiry, and through that exploration I find some other branching point to continue on. 

Self-expression and identity is also important: how does this experience allow me to express and develop myself, and how does this experience allow me to change up who I am at will?

I think Creatrix Tiara says it best in the final paragraph of one of my favorite posts: Let’s Lose the Arts/Tech False Dichotomy Already, published in Model View Culture’s Quarterly issue #1, 2015.

“Let’s stop assuming artsy people and tech people are two separate groups. Tech and art should be holistic, creative, all-round ventureslet’s actually make them that way.”

That’s a message all of us in tech need to hear a lot more often.

Creatrix is always looking for more opportunities.

To follow her through all of her projects, check out her website and follower her on Twitter at @creatrixtiara.

Diversity, Women in Tech

Women in Tech Spotlight: Tiffany Mikell (@mikellsolution)

Women-in-Tech-Spotlight-Tiffany-Mikell

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“What programming does is allow you to build something that addresses a problem,” says Tiffany Mikell in a 2014 interview from Dev Bootcamp. It’s a philosophy she’s adopted on a much wider scale, creating and collaborating with companies that tackle difficult social issues by using technology and spreading awareness among the tech community.

As CEO/CTO of BSMdotCo and Technology Director of Trans*H4CK, Tiffany Mikell uses her experience in software development, education design, and tech entrepreneurship to improve access to education for adult learners and promote the work and needs of gender non-conforming communities.

I would argue that the nature of technology is to make possible what seemed impossible before. Tiffany Mikell takes this idea several steps further, for the people who need it most.

Tiffany Mikell’s current projects

With BSMDOT.co (formerly BlackStarMedia), she’s built technology and digital media tools to increase the accessibility of education for adult learners, including tools for virtual conferences, virtual hackathons, Twitter chats and virtual business courses. What sets them apart is the focus on building experiential environments that help students engage in distance learning programs.

AerialSpaces™, their flagship virtual learning SaaS offering, is being piloted by the White House ConnectHome digital literacy training initiative. ConnectHome made headlines in 2015 as a pilot program to give free or low-cost internet access to 275,000 homes in 27 cities, along with digital literacy programs like AerialSpaces™.

Then there’s Trans*H4CK, where Tiffany is the Technology Director. It’s a company devoted to creating open source tech products that:

  • Promote economic advancement and financial sustainability for trans, gender non conforming, agender and non-binary people. Since 2013, they’ve had more than 600 transgender developers, designers and aspiring coders presenting at their hackathons and helping to develop products.
  • Promotes attention to and improves services for trans people without homes, who are sex workers, or who are incarcerated.
  • Increases gender safety.
  • And support the overall well-being of the community.

Considering that non gender conforming people are unemployed at twice the national rate (4x for transgender people of color), are more likely to be harassed, discriminated against or fired from their jobs, and one in five transgender people in the U.S. have been discriminated against when seeking a home (one in five transgender people have also experienced homelessness at some point in their lives) – this is life-changing work.

A winding career path

Tiffany Mikell began her career in tech as many great minds seem to – by dropping out of high school. Of her brief stint at a Chicago public high school, she says “the lack of structure and other necessities, such as books, was hugely disappointing.” An autodidact both by nature and necessity, she didn’t let that stop her. She taught herself programming, enrolled in the i.c.stars program, took a 30-day JAVA boot camp and crossed her fingers that she would be hired by Accenture.

Five years later, not only was she an Accenture software engineer, she also devoted her time to the African American Interest Group – which put her back in Chicago public school classrooms as a presenter on her career in tech. She then helped launch Dev Bootcamp in Chicago, one of the first code schools of its kind that gives a complete software development program in 9 intense weeks. She says they had 150 students in their first class, only five of whom were black.

“It was a wakeup call for me because I believed it was all about access. If we can lower the access barrier to technology careers, make it a shorter experience than a 4-year computer science degree, then we would see an increase in diversity. But it has more to do with the culture of traditional educational spaces, and how people of color feel in those spaces. I started to examine the problem of how to create inclusive learning environments and an educational pedagogy that speaks to people of color, specifically.” (Listen to the rest of this interview here.)

That was when Tiffany and BSMdotCo Co-Founder Kortney Ziegler decided to focus their efforts on the technology of education. Her most recent project is creating a series of virtual collaboration tools to make online learning more engaging for all users.

It’s this winding career path that perfectly paved the way for Tiffany to become an “education disrupter,” finding ways to help people teach themselves skills – no brick-and-mortar classroom required.

I was happy to have a Q&A session with Tiffany to gain more insights into her incredible work.

How do your experiences in education vary and overlap with your experiences in tech?

As a self-directed learner, I’ve always rejected the idea that educational opportunities should be limited to classrooms and traditional institutions.  As a young independent scholar, technology was incredibly important to me as both a research and communication tool.  Later in life, the industry itself provided the creative autonomy and flexibility I’d come to demand in my career.  My curiosities and interests drive the projects I start and to which I contribute; very similar to the how I designed educational programs for myself.  Additionally, the constant learning required to stay relevant as a software engineer was ideal for my “always be learning” attitude toward life.    

What are some things that you’ve learned, and some ways that you’ve grown as a person, as a result of being the CEO/CTO of @BSMdotCo and the Technology Director for Trans*H4CK?

Oh wow.  This is a huge question.  I often say that 1 year of running a startup is the equivalent to about 3-5 years in any other professional setting.  It’s amazing how much I’ve grown as a person since the almost 2 years since the launch of BSMdotCo (Formerly BlackStarMedia).  One lesson I’ve had to learn has been to guard my time/mental energy with as much force and intentionality as I do acquiring customers.  Both are equally as critical to my startups’ success.  In my role, I have to say No a lot more than I want to – I’ve learned to do so often and as the default response.  

What was the inspiration for @BSMdotCo and how does it bridge the B2B and educational tech worlds?

Because my cofounder Kortney and I both have extensive education and technology experiences – we wanted to explore creating accessible and inclusive learning environments for people of color specifically.  We started by creating an online learning model similar to that of General Assembly and/or CreativeLive —  for a specific niche of students.   

Although we built traction for our brand, we struggled to successfully monetize our “courses” – as the MOOC space has been saturated. We decided to structure our curriculum in a “virtual conference” format and had a MUCH easier time selling conference tickets than selling course access.  

We then began to evaluate technology that would allow us to broadcast an entire conference online. None of the products we tested served us well, so we hacked together an alternative in a period of 3 weeks.  

Our conference attendees and speakers alike were blown away.  We sold more tickets in the first hour after we opened the doors to our virtual conference center than we had in the entire month prior.  We received several requests from individuals and organizations interested in hosting their own virtual conference on our platform. It was one of our biggest moments of validation.

After months of experimenting, we’ve been able to not only create radical models for delivering education, but also develop a technology platform that is being used by our customers to shift the delivery of education in ways that matter to them.

What are some of the products that have been created as a result of Trans*H4CK?

Trans*H4CK has become the hub for transgender visibility in tech and entrepreneurship. Our hackathon and speaker series has traveled the country fostering visibility for trans* technologists. As a mini-incubator, we’ve launched dozens of new applications used across the globe; had over three hundred transgender developers, designers, and aspiring coders attend our hackathons; help secure tech employment for 15 attendees and helped to birth several startups and social enterprises: (Some of which are: Trans*Code (UK); TransTech SE (US); RadRemedy (US))

A sample of the apps developed at Trans*H4CK:

  1. YO Restrooms: Send a Yo to YORESTROOMS and find the closest gender safe bathrooms using REFUGE Restrooms data.
  2. Who Did I Miss: Simple to use form site that contacts conference organizers to encourage and recommend diverse speakers.
  3. An app that lets people bypass web filters to access sites about transgender issues and only transgender issues. Check out its feature in WIRED.

We also deliver technology education and product showcase opportunities on the Trans*H4CK {Collaboration} LOFT– a collection of virtual spaces developed internally and designed specifically for collaboration, sharing and building for the trans and gender non conforming community.  Recaps from recent virtual events can be found on our blog.

Who are some of the educational speakers that have been featured at Trans*H4CK and what ideas do they have to share?

Our speaker series has featured the stories of leading transgender executives, innovators, and emerging leaders–stories which were previously absent from the tech landscape.

Here are videos from the online speaker series which profiles transgender developers making important moves in tech and entrepreneurship:

  1. Lynn Cyrin, Founder of Quirrell
  2. Harlan Kellaway, Developer of Refuge Restrooms for iOs
  3. Dr. Vivienne MingScientist

What do you think others can do to help create spaces for transgender tech innovators and entrepreneurs? Are there other communities that we can support in addition to Trans*H4CK?

It’s critical that we support transgender technologists and their work financially.

Trans*H4CK and other communities like it are so important – what are some of the reasons that you think they’re important?

Shortly before deciding to start a company together, I had the opportunity to work with Kortney Ziegler as a Trans*H4CK volunteer when he brought the hackathon series he founded to Chicago. Although I’d spent several years working as a software engineer at the time,   I was blown away by the inclusivity and collaborative (vs competitive) energy felt during the 4 day event. I had never attended a tech focused event that was as warm and welcoming.  Trans*H4CK provides a safe space where individuals from all walk of life can bring their skills and life experiences to the exciting process of building solutions that matter to them through the use of technology.  Trans*H4CK teaches me every day that intentionality and empathy can be the catalyst for shifting the culture of entire communities in incredibly short periods of time.

How do you think the tech community can help amplify the voices of Trans*H4CK community members?

Attend our virtual events.  Engage with us on Twitter.  Support our organization financially.

Here are a few reads that were significant to Tiffany during the last few years while venturing:

  • How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston. I’m such a huge fan of Baratunde’s career. He too follows his passions and is able to bring such a unique and multi disciplinarian approach to digital innovation, problem solving and storytelling.  
  • The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman. Hands down one of the most useful business books I’ve ever read (and re-read).
Curation, Diversity

The Problem with Influencer Marketing by @NikkiElizDeMere

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Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Influencer marketing works. How? Influencers are people who are highly active on social media and blogs. They can be brand advocates and niche promoters. Most importantly though, they are people with loud online voices who other people listen to.

Influencer marketing leverages the loud-speaker like qualities of this group to, essentially, create word-of-mouth buzz about a business or product online. But it’s not all about buzz – as Jay Baer says: “True influence drives action, not just awareness.”

When you align with an influencer, you’re entering into a mutually beneficial relationship. You amplify their voice even more by promoting their blog or social media presence; they talk about your company or product. Consumers trust recommendations from them, more than from you, because they’re third parties. They have enough distance from your company to maintain objectivity, and they have enough cache with their audiences to where their recommendations are trusted.

You don’t have to adopt an official influencer spokesperson – the relationship is usually not that formal. Rather, influencer marketing often takes the simple form of trading guest posts, or even “you retweet me, I retweet you.”

It’s surprisingly effective.

But when you look at influencer marketing from a perspective of diversity, it’s not working so well.

Of the “50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016,” published by Entrepreneur magazine, you’ll find that:

74% are male

86% are white

As far as non-race diversity factors go for this group, they’re anyone’s guess, but I would venture to say that even this remarkably diverse list (you should see some of the other ones), is lacking in a diversity of perspective.

So what happens when brands embrace the same group of influencers, whose voices are already loud and out there, who come from relatively privileged backgrounds?

We get a whole lot of the same.

In the influencer version of “the rich get richer,” the loud and privileged are even more amplified, to the point where they saturate the conversation and drown out voices from marginalized groups.

Pretty soon, everyone’s Twitter feed in the same niche looks identical, because they’re all re-tweeting the same influencers, over and over again. Is there an echo on here?

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A suggestion for a simple solution

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I would suggest that if you’re using influencer marketing, consider sharing content by marginalized people along with your regularly scheduled programming. Then, you’re not leaving them entirely out of the conversation. Stumped for where to begin? I’ve got you covered – try these:

@AlterConf – “An evening of critical culture discussions in tech and gaming. We’re moving the diversity conversation beyond 101. Coming to a city near you!”

@FundBetterTech – “Pledge $100/month to fund tech projects by and for marginalized people.”

@ModelViewMedia – “A magazine about tech + culture + diversity. We tweet articles and news.”

@TransH4CK – “Creating tech for the transgender community & visibility for trans technologists and entrepreneurs.”

Ensuring people who already have massive followings get their messages out there is fine, but it’s not going to add any new insights into the conversation. When you include the intelligent, savvy voices of people we don’t traditionally hear from, you allow the conversation to reach its full potential, creating a richer experience for everyone.

But honestly, just connect with people whose work you love. And if some happen to be influencers, and some don’t, that’s fine.

Curation as a power-tool

My style of Twitter using is curation. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I’ve also found it to be a powerful tool for supporting, promoting, and amplifying marginalized influencers who deserve far more retweets than they get. For me, curation is a form of self-expression, which is why I share what I love – not what I think others will love.

Ultimately, diversity is so much more beautiful and interesting. Just check out some of the latest tweets by @Odyism, a fantasy illustrator who posted art for Black History Month on his feed.

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