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Why Even Enterprises Need to Be Concerned About Mobilegeddon

  
  
  

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Whenever Google changes its search algorithm, the Earth seems to shift a little. The search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and strategies that marketers deploy to ensure their sites remain highly ranked are forced to move like tectonic plates. If they don’t move in the right direction, the whole foundation of a company’s SEO program could crumble, leaving their site off of Google’s page one rankings or, worse, blacklisted.

Certainly, the ground shook a bit this month, when Google adjusted its search algorithm to give more credence to mobile-optimized websites for people searching on their smartphones. The adjustment quickly gained the moniker “mobilegeddon” – which pretty much gives you a sense of how people feel about this change. As such a name hints, consternation, and a sense of panic followed the change, as marketers sought to figure out how this latest change would impact their Google rank. 

In order to better determine that, it’s good to know the facts. First, this update only impacts results on smartphones, not tablets or laptops. Second, it applies to individual pages, not entire websites (so, in theory, you could have one or two pages that, in Google’s words, are “mobile-friendly,” which could rank higher than the rest of your non-mobile optimized site).

Also – and this is important to note, so as to quell much of the agita – Google writes:

“While the mobile-friendly change is important, we still use a variety of signals to rank search results. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal -- so even if a page with high quality content is not mobile-friendly, it could still rank high if it has great content for the query.” 

In other words, even if your site is not optimized for mobile, you still have a very good chance of ranking highly if you follow some of the other guidelines that Google uses to determine its rankings – especially high quality content. It’s important to note that this is not content that is stuffed to the max with keywords or links; this is content that’s relevant to a subject matter or product, highly readable and engaging, and that users will find interesting and informative.

That’s not to say there isn’t reason to worry, though. Google notes, “if your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google search.” 

The problem is that, according to TechCrunch, nearly half of the Fortune 500 do not have mobile-friendly websites. Simultaneously, the number of searches done on mobile devices now exceeds those completed using a traditional PC, as the following comScore chart illustrates:

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Given these numbers, it’s clear that companies of all sizes and in all verticals need to optimize their websites for smartphones. Those are the devices that people are using to find information – not just about mom and pop stores, but about products and services they can procure for their companies.

While the cynical may say that Google’s change is meant to spur more ad revenue from mobile search – and they would certainly have a point, since that’s where the company makes most of its money these days – it also signifies a catering to consumer preferences. For many people, their iPhones and Android devices are the most powerful computers they currently have, and they love using them for just about everything. Companies need to become aggressive and focused in regards to their mobile optimization strategy, or risk being nowhere to be found.

Pete Larmey

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Ask the Influencers: Tom Temin, Federal News Radio Broadcaster

  
  
  

Tom Temin Federal News Radio

Tom Temin, writer, broadcaster, speaker, Federal market consultant and publishing consultant in his spare (!) time.

I caught up with a long-time friend and colleague who's name in our community needs no introduction: Tom Temin. I asked to interview him for one of our Ask The Influencer interviews. I've watched Tom as he's grown his accolades and career over the years, and I thought I would share some insights from my interview with him. 

SBX: Tom, you've been a part of this community for years and have built a great reputation as an influencer in the Federal community. How did you get your start?

TT: ​I spent 30 years in business-to-business publishing, and the longest single stint was Government Computer News (GCN). The owner back then transferred me here to D.C. in 1991 from Boston. Later The Washington Post bought GCN and some other properties so I ended up being the editorial director of GCN and Washington Technology. My first job out of college was at a small weekly newspaper in New Hampshire starting in 1977. It's still published and somewhere along the line bought out the competitor. ​

SBX: Tell me more about what changes you have experienced in the media landscape, and how do you think it will continue to evolve? ​

TT: The media landscape is tough to recognize relative to 10, much less 20 or 30 years ago. The internet didn't just change the delivery mechanism, it changed the economics. ​High quality controlled circulation, editorial staffs sufficient for solid service journalism, and the craft of print -- they've all gone out the window in many (not all) B2B fields. What's replaced them is not necessarily better. I feel more herd stories are published, more items based on handouts, less in-depth service. It's a matter of revenues and editorial budgets. When I joined GCN we had 26 full time editorial staff members putting out 26 tabloid issues per year each with 60 to sometimes more than 100 pages. I launched a monthly in 1986 with nine full time editorial staff and a hefty budget for columnists.

I see less distinction among true reporting, opinion, and corporate messaging disguised as non-commercial commentary. More writers want to brand themselves as opposed to building the strength of the title. It all adds up to way more information to consume, but it requires more discernment by readers.

SBX: Tell me more about Federal News Radio, what kind of stories you cover, and what guests you are interested in having on your show? ​

TT: Federal News Radio is unique in bringing together a full featured web site and a real broadcast medium and the ability for visitors to play back the on-air interviews online. Although the broadcast is, obviously, local (although at night you can pick up our AM signal in Helsinki) the product is national. For my show, I try to do any of several things. We follow up on the news with interpretation by subject matter experts who may be in government, industry, or think tanks. We try to highlight federal programs from which others may learn and gain "take home pay."​ We illuminate parochial topics like federal pay and benefits, procurement, IT, congressional matters, oversight, budgeting, and program management. Because it's a spoken medium, we bring the human side through the voices of the people we're interviewing. I also try to bring a light touch with an occasional bit of humor so people will enjoy listening.

SBX: Tell me more about Tom Temin, what you like to do in your spare time? ​

TT: Anyone who meets me learns within five minutes that I am an avid, if somewhat slowing, runner. I also have an active free-lance writing business, doing white papers, speeches, blogs and other materials for some of the technology companies. My wife and I are empty nesters -- grandparents. I have many interests outside of work, probably too many.

SBX: How about your biggest pet peeve? ​

TT: Sometimes federal officials are walled off by their public affairs offices. I sense many of them are frightened by the prospect of a broadcast interview, but, honestly, I don't try to trap or embarrass any guest. I reject suggestions from companies that are ​strictly self-serving. And don't pitch the same guest for every topic.

SBX: What advice can you give our readers on how to best work with you?

TT: ​Just the basics. I like ideas with a news or current events hook, with what the benefit will be to a federal employee and contractor audience. I don't know everything, even though it sounds on the air like I do. If you've got a story or a little-known angle, I'm glad to consider it. If I learn something from the guest, I figure my listeners do, too. I'm not pre-prejudiced about the source of an idea. If it's good, it's good. I do also write a weekly blog ( http://ttemin.wordpress.com ​)​ which is also published at federalnewsradio.com, and I'm open to ideas for that. ​

Thank you Tom, and a belated Happy Birthday to you too! See you around the beltway!

-- Elizabeth Shea @eliz2shea

Don’t Miss the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit

  
  
  

The Mid-Atlantic Marketing (MAM) Summit is back in DC this May to bring the region the latest and greatest in marketing, technology, communications and media. For a full day on May 8, 2015 at the Gannett USA Today Headquarters in McLean, VA, hundreds of top marketing executives and professionals will converge to discuss topics ranging from mobile, social media and multi-platform campaigns to online video campaigns, experimental advertising, and B2B.


SpeakerBox will be joining in on the action as an official strategic partner! What the heck does that mean? It means our very own Elizabeth Shea will be moderating a panel focusing on B2G marketing, which will take place at 10:30 AM. Panelists will include:

  • Marie Russell, Director, Federal Marketing, Juniper Networks
  • Lesley Rogers, Federal Marketing Manager, Acquia
  • Lisa Sherwin Wulf, Director Federal Marketing, SolarWinds
  • Stacey Piper, Vice President, Federal Marketing, ICF International
At 3:15 PM, Shea will also be participating in a panel focusing on “The State of Advertising and Marketing,” moderated by Cary Hatch, CEO & Brand Advocate for MDB Communications. She'll be joined by: 
  • Greg Kihlstrom, Founder & CEO, Carousel30 and President DC AdClub
  • Eileen Bramlett, Vice President of Marketing Worldwide ERC and President of American Marketing Association DC
  • Linda Kempin, Managing Director, Art of Digital Prominence and Vice-Chair of Marketing Executive Networking Group (MENG) DC Chapter

Additionally, if you’re a SpeakerBox blog subscriber you’ll get a first hand account of event highlights as our on-site team live blogs sessions and delivers them to your virtual doorstep as they happen. If not, no worries, you can check back here or subscribe in the upper right hand corner.

For more information about the event, agenda please visit http://mamsummit.com/ or to register, click here

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Customer Service in Government: Advice from the Experts

  
  
  

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Friday’s FedTalk radio show on Federal News Radio focused on customer service initiatives in the federal government.  Panelists Dave Lewan, VP at Foresee, and our client Abby Herriman, Senior VP of Delivery and Innovation at HighPoint Global, shared their thoughts with host, Jason Briefel.

When asked to describe the current customer service landscape in government, Abby mentioned that there are “pockets of greatness” at many agencies. She is starting to see cultural change within some agencies, where the majority of the employees are aligned with the mission of the agency and key customer-facing employees are empowered.  These groups are truly focused on improving the overall experience for citizens. But, she says there are still a great number of customer service groups that are just checking the box by simply having a service team in place that can respond to incoming issues.

The panelists did note that government citizen service faces a different level of complexity than their commercial counterparts. They agreed that citizens may have unrealistic expectations for service based on the superior service provided by some private sector companies like Zappos.

So what can government do to improve the customer experience given its limited resources and complex operating environment?

The panelists offered the following suggestions:

  • Understand the customer journey.  A citizen may interact with the government in many ways – in person, on the phone or through a mobile app. Agencies should research how their customers are seeking information and consider how to improve the customer journey. Understanding this journey helps put processes in place for the consistency of information at each stage. This lack of consistency is a common complaint from citizens. There are technologies available to track the customer journey and understand how many times citizens must interact with an agency to get the information they need.
  • Take small steps towards improvement.  With the customer journey information in hand, agencies can then start to address their biggest problem areas, be it the web site, the call center or something else.  However, both panelists were quick to point out that this is harder than it sounds.
  • Use technology but understand its limitations.  Great technology is available that can assist with data collection. Speech-to-text, for example, can provide insight into callers’ feelings.  But one does not need technology to know that comments such as “you people just don’t understand” or “you’ve got to be kidding me,” indicate frustration with the process.  Those in a service position should know what to do when they sense this frustration.
  • Translate data into action.  Measuring customer experience is hard but knowing what to do with the collected data is harder still.  This is further complicated because there aren’t yet standardized approaches for government agencies.  However, both panelists recommended that agencies empower citizens to self-serve where possible.  Can you improve the web site and any mobile apps so that citizens can easily help themselves?  This will free you up to spend your time in the call center with the most challenging cases.  As Abby pointed out, “the call you never get is the best measure of your success.”
  • Set metrics for continuous improvement.  Once an agency starts to see some success, raise the bar.
  • Finally, remember that change requires an agency-wide shift – not just an attitude adjustment of the customer-facing personnel.  Several agencies have hired chief customer service officers as the champion for the citizen experience, but real change requires shifts on many levels -- in hiring practices, employee KPIs, and budget allocations.

Want more information?  Here are some additional resources to start you on the process to improved citizen service:

- Katie

Top Mobile Thoughts and Predictions from Federal Leaders

  
  
  
Mobile Gov Summit pic resized 600Photo credit: FedScoop

Last week I had the chance to attend FedScoop’s 5th Annual MobileGov Summit. The event, which was standing room only, brought together top government and industry IT leaders to share current issues, trends, and best practices on how to create the next generation mobile government workforce. 

Although there were many great speakers, I’ve chosen to highlight a few and share what they had to say. 

The first speaker of the day was Deputy CIO for Information Enterprise at the Department of Defense (DoD), David A. Cotton. Cotton shared his thoughts on the DoD’s technology evolution. A few of the key points from his presentation were:

  • A Joint Information Environment (JIE) is the vision for the DoD.  With the JIE, the DoD is aiming to consolidate thousands of networks into a shared architecture, making the agency more secure, effective, and efficient.
  • Key areas of focus for him include: network modernization, cyber security architecture, enterprise operations, computing environment, enterprise services, mission partner environment, identity and access management, and mobility.
  • The Pentagon’s Joint Regional Security Stacks reduce the threat surface from 1000 points to 49.
  • The DoD, along with moving to a more Internet-based capability model with coalition partners, is also moving from one vendor to many vendors to ensure access to the best available devices.
  • There is a desire to move to derived credentials to allow for a more efficient and available workforce. The belief is that derived credentials beat Bluetooth CAC cards. At this time the process for credential identification is still very manual.
  • The DoD is working on the details of a BYOD policy and hopes to roll it out this summer.

The next government speaker was David Bray, CIO of the FCC. Bray talked about  “Charting Mobile and Cyber ‘Terra Incognita’: A CIO’s Perspective and Challenges.” A few highlights from his presentation include. 

  • In 2014 there were 2.3 billion mobile-broadband connections.
  • The mobile economy right now is $1.2 trillion and makes up two percent of the world’s GDP.
  • A lot can happen within one minute, including:
    • More than 48,000 iOS apps downloaded, and that number is only going to grow exponentially.
    • Per Intel Security, more than 200 new threats are identified.
    • The smartphone we all carry around with us has as much computing power as President Reagan had in the early 1980s at the Pentagon.
    • By 2022, there will be 96 zetabytes of data

Our next government speaker was actually wrapping up his last week working for the GSA. Sonny Hashmi, who had served as CIO of the GSA since May 2014, is starting a new role as managing director at Box. Hashmi used the opportunity to speak at Mobile Gov Summit to share his thoughts on thriving in the knowledge economy – the use of knowledge to generate tangible and intangible values. Some of the highlights included:

  • How we thrive in the knowledge economy is different than in the industrial economy
  • Continuous innovation is what helps us succeed, but we need to improve this process
  • The process improvement principles of industrial era economics are obsolete and antithetical to the knowledge economy
  • The consumer/customer value is king, instead of shareholder value
  • Instead of customer support, we’ll start seeing models of customer delight
  • Government needs to be careful to avoid the Blockbuster business model. Government agencies must make the switch to the cloud.
  • Successful organizations connect, collaborate and innovate. Examples he gave included Coke, Toyota, Zappos, Apple, Tesla and Starbucks.
  • Hashmi quoted Vanilla Ice and told those assembled at the event that it’s important to stop, collaborate, and listen….then design your future around the user experience
  • It’s important to identify and build for the “mobile moments” in your user’s journey map
  • Embrace “the Lego model.” Figure out the basic building blocks, and watch amazing things happen.
  • Build your geek army and learn to take effective risks

The next speaker, who raised the idea of a Mobile Gov Summit five years ago, also works for the GSA. Gwynne Kostin is director of digital government for the GSA and spoke about the exponential growth of mobile.  Some of the key takeaways from Kostin’s talk included:

  • The way we’ve been defining mobile has really been moving beyond the device – government data is available to the public anywhere, any time.
  • There has been an exponential growth of federal mobile apps since July – and there will be more than 200 by April 15
  • A great resource to check out for federal mobile apps is http://www.digitalgov.gov/
  • While not free, between 1999 and 2012 storage became 19,000 times cheaper!
  • The 2014 iPhone has more than 240,000 times the computing power of the 1977 Voyager I spacecraft
  • Mobile is part of an exponential convergence of computing power, storage and the cloud
  • Kostin cautioned against working in a silo and doing things by yourself, saying that “the crowd has answers.”  
  • She made a big push for an open approach – saying it’s critical for the government to make sure their systems are open and that their data is open
  • On that same line of thought, Kostin stated that systems need to be designed to get data out, not just put data in
  • Lastly, she cautioned that short term metrics distract from longer term impacts

Last, but not least, the day concluded with Associate Administrator, OCSIT/18F & Chief Customer Officer at the GSA, Phaedra Chrousos. Recently named one of FedScoop’s Top 50 Women in Technology, Chrousos talked about meeting customer needs with mobile. FedScoop did a nice wrap up of her discussion, which she opened by telling the crowd she wanted to call “It’s Not All About Mobile.” Below are just a few of the highlights.

  • Chrousos cautions against groupthink and explains that her reason for saying it’s not all about mobile is because a mobile app may not always be what you need
  • It’s important to create what is right for your customer rather than build for the trend – and that may mean a website built based on responsive design vs. a mobile app
  • Chrousos highlighted a few government agencies that are doing mobile right – and designing for their customer. A few of those apps include:
    • The Department of Transportation’s SaferRide, which is designed to help drunk people get home safely
    • The US Census Bureau’s Pop Quiz app, which tests your knowledge of the US population
    • The VA’s PTSD Coach app, which helps veterans learn about and manage their symptoms
    • The Department of Energy’s LanternLive, which allows users to find critical information during power disruptions
    • Chrousos also highlighted a few things to keep in mind when designing for mobile:
      • It’s important to keep the customer concept top of mind as government looks to apply mobile innovation
      • More and more data is on the way. The Internet of Things is only growing stronger and with it a call to action to innovate.
      • The lines between the public and private sector are blurring. Crowd sourcing and joint programs are the new “it” in IT.

All in all it was a great day full of fun, lively, and enlightening discussions. Were you there? What was your favorite thing about the 5th Annual Mobile Gov Summit? 

PR Pitching for Smarties -- A Recap

  
  
  

“Writers at the NYtimes.com, TheGuardian.com, and CNN.com report that they receive more than 38,000 emails a year – three times that of the average worker. And 26,000 of those emails are sent from people trying to get press coverage.”- Harvard Business Review

“Hey, 

I’m blank with blank and blah blah blah. We’ve got a really exciting new blah from blank. Blah is really going to change blank.

Thanks for your time,

Blank.”

That’s how a lot of journalists see media pitches, assuming they make it past the spam filter that’s been implemented specifically to reject these hackneyed pitches.

The media are constantly changing; the media pitch should be changing too. Conventional methods, like email, don’t quite work anymore. Journalists know traditional, jaded PR pitches when they see them and are quick to hit the delete button.

To get an answer now, to really engage, you’ve got to be creative talking to journalists. So how does one pitch effectively in this multi-media, multi-channel age?

MarketWired brought together PR professionals Dan Ovesy, Michael Smart, and Martin Waxman with moderator Deirdre Breakenridge for a webinar on building great media and influencer relationships. Here are a few tips from each speaker on the broadcast:

First was Dan Ovesey, an account director at Edelman and 15-year veteran of the media and communications industry. He suggested that journalists are no longer looking for a story pitch, but rather a story package.

Don’t just tell—show. More than ever, journalists are exploring how words can be supplemented with other forms of media. You can help these effects by incorporating images and video clips in your pitch, in place of verbose language.

It’s about the story; not the data. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers and jargon of a story. Don’t drown in the data before painting the picture.

Relevant content builds relationships. Even if you aren’t pitching a story, sending useful information to a journalist can benefit you in the long run, opening doors down the road.  

Next was media pitching coach Michael Smart, principal of Michael Smart PR.

Refine your targets. Find journalists who cover the topic you’re pitching, but also find journalists who write in a format that fits your story. If you’re looking to place an interview, don’t pitch a writer who never uses quotes in an article.

React to their work. If you’re interested in pitching a journalist, take time to read what they’re covering. Furthermore, let them know you did. Reach out and tell them what you thought about their recent work.

Reframe your angles. Beyond your client’s intentions, imagine how the journalist’s audience will receive your story. Ultimately, the story ends with them. So build your pitch accordingly.

Last was Martin Waxman, president of Martin Waxman Communications and co-founder of three agencies.

“It’s all about the relationship, baby,” he says.

Stories. Pictures matter; stock photos don’t. Integrated pictures can add depth and meaning to a pitch. They can create a story. So get creative with both pictures and words when crafting your pitch.

People. Making something personal is more than writing someone’s name in an email. Connect with your targets: at events, on Twitter, or by commenting on their work.

Connections. Before asking for coverage from journalists, introduce yourself, build the relationship and provide value. Offer before you ask.

 

tl;dr

“GO BEYOND THE EMAIL”- Dan Osevey

Interested in learning more? Here’s the full webinar overview: http://www.marketwired.com/resources/pdf/pr-for-smarties

Women in DC Tech - Meet Shannon Turner, founder of Hear Me Code

  
  
  

Last year I attended and wrote about Tech Bisnow’s Trending 40. The event sparked an idea to continue the conversation on SpeakerBox’s blog.  I wanted to dig a little deeper into the experiences these women face as they chart their career path. I want to know how they became interested in technology, what adversities they’ve encountered, and what drives them day-in and day-out. 

The conversation of recognizing women for their leadership, contributions, and knowledge is happening, we’re even seeing change. FedScoop just announced their Top 50 Women in DC Tech for 2015, but the message and acknowledgment hasn’t spread far enough. So let’s get to know our fellow women in tech a little better. 

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Meet Shannon Turner, founder of Hear Me Code

SBX: What is the big picture vision that drives you? (Why do you do what you do? What’s your passion?) 

Shannon: The tech sector right now is only using half of its talent base. Women's voices aren't being heard, so whose ideas are being put into action?

I started Hear Me Code, a nonprofit that offers free, beginner-friendly women-only coding classes in DC because I was tired of being one of the only women in the room at tech events.  Worse than that, I always felt talked down to and wasn’t taken seriously. When I realized that it wasn’t just me, that every woman that I talked to shared this experience, I knew I had to create a supportive community for women. 

I see Hear Me Code as more than just coding classes: it’s an incubator for our skills and confidence; it’s a place where we can learn and grow together. 

SBX: What have you learned from being a leader? 

Shannon: A colleague helped me to understand that leadership is a practice, not a position. Leadership isn't something that's given to you, it's not a quality some people have or don't. Leadership is taking action when you hear that voice in your head saying, "this isn't right" or "this could be better."  Leadership is living by example and creating space for others to do the right thing. 

SBX: How do you remain agile? (When do you know it's time to pivot?) 

Shannon: Trusting your instincts can be helpful at first but eventually you're going to have to make decisions that are grounded in more than just intuition. To do that, you have to collect data, measure it properly, and be prepared to act or change course if the data show what you're doing isn't effective. 

SBX: What's more vital – having the right people on your team or the right processes in place? 

Shannon: Both are important -- if you don't have the right processes in place, it's hard to attract and retain top talent. A lot of startups, in particular, don't seem to value having strong HR departments or policies, which is a mistake. 

I also see a lot of companies placing a growing emphasis on "culture fit" which to me seems like a conscious decision to build a homogenous culture. If you can only recognize a talent that looks like you, you're going to miss out. 

SBX: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Shannon: I get to create all day long! In coding, there's never just one way to do something -- just like in writing, every coder has his or her own unique style. Coding is like solving a puzzle -- and I get to put my talents to work solving challenges. Coding is creativity and when problem-solving, you're only limited by your imagination. 

SBX: What is the best piece of advice you have received as you've "climbed the ladder?" 

Shannon: Open source your projects. Show the world what you've done. I'm glad I listened because it's been a great way to "extend" my resume by having a large portfolio of side projects. Demoing projects, giving talks, and speaking on panels is not only fun -- it's been a great way to meet new people. 

SBX: What advice would you give young entrepreneurs? 

Shannon: Community is everything. There's a stereotype that great things are done by lone geniuses, but that's just a self-serving myth. Great things are rarely done alone. 

Find (or create!) a community and be sure to give more than you get. Nobody likes transactional relationships, so make sure you're not reaching out to people only when you need something from them. Cultivate real, genuine relationships built on mutual respect. Invest in other people. Help others to grow. There isn't a limited amount of success in the world. 

Jess post

SBX: How do you manage a work-life balance? 

Shannon: Work-life balance is a constant challenge. Running a nonprofit in addition to my full-time job means I have very little downtime. I have to take advantage of early mornings, late nights, and weekends in order to handle all of the logistics, improve the curriculum, mentor and train others, and work on my own side projects.

It's a lot of work. But it helps that my profession is also my hobby, so it never feels like work.

SBX: What aspirations are you working towards now? 

Shannon: Most of my time is spent building the Hear Me Code community -- training up students to become teachers and teaching assistants; improving the curriculum; creating new workshops; mentoring new developers; running classes and practice nights. 

Over 50 women who started as students have become teaching assistants and teachers, and several women have changed careers based on the skills they've gained.  They're mentoring one another, helping others to learn and grow.  They're running their own workshops. 

We just hit a major milestone of 1000 members, so I want to continue to grow the number of teachers and assistants that can support the community. 

SBX: What do you want your legacy to be? 

Shannon: I want to create a community of women that feels invested in one another's success; I want to create a community that is more than just learning to code, but about putting your talents to use to serve the common good. I want to create a community of women empowering women. I want to see the end of pulling up the ladder behind yourself. 

SBX: What is most interesting about the technology landscape today? 

Shannon: Affordable personal computing and user-friendly interfaces (not the command-line) were instrumental in bringing computers into the mainstream. The Internet has revolutionized everything it's touched, from how we communicate and connect to how we shop, and everything in between.  Making technology for the masses has changed our society in a massive way.  I see both open data and burgeoning coding literacy as the next two democratizing forces that will shape society on similar scales. 

SBX: What have you seen evolve since you’ve been in the industry? 

Shannon: When I was young, coding was very inaccessible. There weren't any online tutorials, and let's face it -- most learn-to-code books (then or now) are terrible. They're not written for beginners, they cover too much irrelevant material, and none are focused on practical applications. Most languages weren't open-source, and therefore if you wanted to code, you had to buy special software to compile and run your code. 

Most tutorials are still terrible, aren't written for beginners, and rarely focus on practical applications, but at least there's a lot to choose from. And free, open-source software and languages are much more common. 

SBX: Have you faced adversity in your professional life because you are a woman? 

Shannon: Yes, definitely.  Women are held to a higher standard than men. We’re told to “lean in” but when we do, we’re “bossy” and “pushy” and “aggressive.” We point out this double standard and we’re called “bitch.”  We say this isn’t fair and we’re called “emotional.” 

If you’re a man, you’re rewarded for all of those behaviors. If you’re a man, you’re never described in those ways. 

SBX: Have there been any advantages to being a woman in the technology industry? 

Shannon: Women in the tech industry have it tough -- and because we all have these shared experiences, there's a sense of shared identity and community that's emerged. The community I've found with other women in tech has been so supportive. It's comforting to know there’s a sisterhood that has my back -- and I have theirs. 

SBX: Do you think there is a level playing field among women and men in technology? 

Shannon: Gosh, no. I think the numbers speak for themselves. Women are entering the tech sector at lower levels, yes, but they're also leaving at higher levels. And the pay gap exacerbates the problem. The playing field isn't level and women are held to a much higher standard than men. And it’s stacked even higher against LGBTQ people and people of color.

SBX: What do you think needs to be done to make it more even?

Shannon: Sexual harassment and outright sexism are huge problems in the tech industry. Women face a dilemma: if we speak out, we're harassed into silence. We're the ones put on trial. Often, the fallout from speaking out is as traumatic as the incidents themselves.

Is it any wonder many women make a calculated decision not to share their stories? And yet women are punished for not coming forward as well. We can't win.

A good start would be to listen and believe women when we share our stories of times we've faced sexism.

SpeakerBox Unveils 9 Autonomous Vehicles for Inter-Office Transport

  
  
  
 

SBXCar

 

Earlier this week, SpeakerBox founder and CEO Elizabeth Shea debuted the first of nine autonomous vehicles she's purchased for her agency's headquarters in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Though expensive, the vehicles were deemed a necessity for helping staff members navigate the ongoing construction in and around 7900 Westpark Drive.

 

7900 WestparkLive surveillance image of 7900 Westpark (east tower view). Completion target: this month, plus or minus several years.

"No human being could survive this maze without a computer-piloted vehicle," said Shea, referring to the office complex that was recently renamed "Silverline Center" despite the notable absence of crosswalks connecting the facility to Tysons Corner.

"Each morning, we'll get a new email from Washington REIT outlining the building's temporary closures," explained account coordinator and reluctant cartographer Sally McHugh. "The emails say things like, 'try to avoid the north portico, and instead use the garden promenade on the southern terrace.' I have literally no idea what any of these things mean." 

According to Shea, computer-guided navigation was the only realistic option for deciphering the commercial real estate trust's cryptic and occasionally homicidal directions.

"About 90% of our office is blonde, so we were already facing an uphill battle," noted human and robotic resources representative Crissy Upston.

Crissy later added that SpeakerBox fan-favorite Kate Nesbitt was last seen two months ago on a debris-strewn second floor balcony and is presumed hungry.

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Entrepreneurial Spotlight: Fearless Founders

  
  
  

describe the imageLast night, I had the pleasure and honor of holding office hours at the University of Maryland's Digman Center for its “Fearless Founders” program.

The Fearless Founders program guides student ventures from idea to launch. Using lean startup methodology, you'll learn the strategy, frameworks and tools necessary to develop your business idea. This experiential program demystifies the venture creation process by breaking it up into three stages (Idea Shell, Hatch and Terp Startup), each with its goals and deliverables.

I've had a range of interactions with The Dingman Center and it's team, chiefly Elana Fine, Managing Director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Elana's and her colleagues at The Dingman Center are doing an amazing job of building a community that is cultivating entrepreneurship and successful student businesses from its university community.

Last night's topic was "customer acquisition" and I met with four interesting, student-founded businesses. All four teams are well on their way with their businesses and the two that are formally launched (so I can share details on) are:

Puzzable, which is a photosharing app that sends your image as a puzzle that your recipient gets to piece together to see what you've sent. You caption the image as well, so they can see the caption first to add a fun tease and element of suspense before you put the puzzle together. Gamification is obviously a hot trend, but what struck me as unique about the app is that most photosharing apps are all about immediacy (SnapChat, Instagram, etc.), and Puzzable intentionally slows the interaction down with the gamifaction, while still keeping it fun. I could imagine that this could be an upside for brands, who may also want to create photo puzzles of their own, to offer deals and engage with customers.

Bethany from Bethany's Organics was the first founder I met with last night. Bethany is working hard to make healthy food more convenient, honest, delicious and environmentally friendly. Her food products are created with students and other busy people on-the-go in mind and will also be perfect for the kids market. She gave me a sample of her "Crustless Creation," which is a crustless whole wheat sandwich filled with organic creamy peanut butter and grape fruit spread. I'm a huge consumer of protein bars (they were much breakfast and lunch today) and scrutinize their ingredients, so she had my interest immediately. I could also imagine all of my friends tossing the sandwich that she gave me into lunch boxes. The combination of convenience and good for you is rare, so I think she's got a great thing going.

The main reason that thought to blog about my mentoring sessions last night goes a little beyond a plug for Dingman and the student companies that impressed me. What was really exciting about the couple hours that I spent with these companies last night was the realization that the needle has really moved for university programs, like Dingman, and other community initiatives working to accelerate entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem.

I've held "office hours" and mentored startups for years now and it's awesome to see how much stronger the business ideas and founders are today. There was not one company that I talked to yesterday that had just an average idea or that I thought couldn't make a solid run of it with strong execution.

I think it speaks volumes about the momentum around startups regionally and nationally and is a tribute to the hours and hours of thoughtful work that people like Elana Fine have invested into building entrepreneurial ecosystems, as well as the community itself that is really pitching in and educating founders to create exponential value and quality output.

MindShare Meets the Press! Program Recap

  
  
  

The 2015 MindShare class kicked off this year with the first of eight classes, and members were able to Meet the Press! 

MindShare: Tania Anderson, Reid Snyder, Kasra Kangarloo, Elizabeth Shea Meet the Press: Tania Anderson, Kasra Kangarloo, Reid Snyder and moderator Elizabeth Shea

What is MindShare? Launched in 1997, the organization handpicks 50 to 60 CEOs every year from the area’s hottest emerging growth companies to come together in a private, intimate setting. Its mission is to help CEOs build long-term, sustainable companies by creating opportunities for growth, building a sense of community, and fostering teamwork in a professional environment.

In other words, MindShare is an amazing group of new entrepreneurs who come together to learn, engage and network.

Each "class" features a different speaker or panel of experts, with topics including: raising capital, hiring the best talent, sales, marketing, and finance among others. CEOs who attend at least five of the eight sessions will "graduate," and join the 600+ alumni from the organization that continue to foster discussions and provide support for one another.

I have recapped several MindShare programs over the years, which you can see here

I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel of three local reporters who shared perspectives on what they look for in a good story, how to best engage, and tips and tricks for working with the press. Enjoy!

Panelists: 

Tania Anderson@tharbourt: tech reporter for Bisnow.

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Kasra Kangarloo, @techflashWBJ: technology and business reporter for the Washington Business Journal.

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Reid Snyder, @RRSnyder1: publisher from DC Inno .

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Here are some of the takeaways from their remarks: I am capturing the essense of what I took away; if I am misrepresenting any comments, the fault is entirely mine!

What kind of stories do you look for?

Tania: She is looking for interesting technology startup companies with a great story to tell...but there needs to be a hook. Bisnow does not cover product announcements, and Tania usually wants to include a visual element...she will often take her own pictures to support her story. Keep in mind they will never run a head shot nor a screen shot! 

Kasra: He writes about the local business community, startup companies that have launched or received funding, also covers the venture capital community. While he is tech-focused, he also won't cover a product announcement per se, but rather, he's interested in sharing the business side of a company's success. 

Reid: He is looking to talk to cool companies locally that are fast-growing, making a lot of noise and turning heads, and is not just technology focused. But the startup community here is strong, so he tends to be pretty entrenched within the technology ecosystem. 

How can we best approach you with a story idea? 

- The best way to start is to consider what would be interesting about your story for the beat or the reporter you are pitching. What would you want to read in a story? What kind of stories are being written, and how do you fit into those angles? Ideally you can demonstrate that you have read the reporter's work, so you aren't pitching a completely irrelevant angle. 

- Be short and sweet. Don't make them read too much to understand what your angle is. 

- Most people send emails; be engaging in the subject line, and NEVER just send a press relesae. Include 1-2 sentences as to why the release/angle is relevant to his or her readers. 

- All three said they read every email that comes in, which can be in the 100s every day, but they will probably only act on a few. 

What about the "exclusive?" Does giving the story to you first still matter?

- All indicated that they would want a good breaking story first (of course!). If they see that a lot of others have already written the story, they need to find a different way to write their story, or they may not write at all. If you really want them to write an article, consider giving it to them first. 

What about talking "off the record?" How do we handle it when we aren't yet authorized to tell the story? 

-  There is really no reason to be "off the record," since it usually just frustrates them if they can't use information for a story or give it proper attribution. That being said, if someone gives them "background" information on an industry, or a situation, that can be helpful and they'll respect the fact that you may not be able to provide your name. 

Other takeaways

- They all really like hearing directly from the CEOs. They understand that CEOs are busy, but if a certain reporter is really important to the company they should consider reaching out directly. It's a better direct connection, and all reporters want that relationship with the CEO. This doesn't mean there isn't a role for a PR or marketing person, they can make sure you are telling a compelling story and help you identify who the right reporters are, but think about doing some of the legwork yourself. 

- Never use a mail merge to pitch the press! They can see it, and they will often ignore it. Customize your communications to what they cover, what they want. 

- If you do have a nice story published, share it with your social media channels! Publications today rely upon links to their stories, and the analytics of what gets read. If you tweet the story, reference the reporter and they will often retweet on your behalf. 

- It was noted that some reporters' compensation packages are based primarily on the analytics of who is reading their work. So help them out! Share their good content. 

- You should always read the articles that a key reporter writes. Follow their stories, know their beat, so you aren't spamming them with news they don't cover. It may not be realistic to do this for every reporter on your press list, but the ones that are really important want to know you are paying attention. 

- Think of working with the media like you would approach a sales prospect. Nurture the relationship, sprinkle news to them from time to time to stay in touch, and if the reporter likes taking phone calls (not all do) then pickup the phone and call them. It's a good business practice to think about relationship development and not just pitching.

We know reporters are busy, and so we appreciated the time these three gave to us to help these entrepreneurs better understand how to work with the media.

Still want to learn more? Take a look at my colleague Sally McHugh's blog post last week where she shares highlights from a survey conducted by Muck Rack on how to work with the media, more great tips and tricks for successful public relations. 

Enjoy!

--- Elizabeth Shea @eliz2shea 

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