Never stop practicing: Why I started making Vine videos

The problem with moving up the ranks is you do less and less of the hands on work. In my most recent role, this really bothered me more than it had in the past. In previous jobs, I’d always had a hand (or more than that) of doing things regardless of what my title was. But all of a sudden, my new job was to go to a lot of meetings and drone on about policy and strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really good at that. I haven’t met a meeting I couldn’t cut in half and even when you can’t do that, I am perfectly fine in situations where we have to handle the business of tactics. It’s where I thrive.

I still like being connected to the work. I encourage my staff to come to me and talk about the things they’re building. I’ll often peer around in code and see how things are built. I want them to be excited about the things that are happening on the dev side and I made use of administrator rights to understand how the system worked because if everyone leaves, I felt like it was important for me to know how to keep operations managed.

That brings me to Vine.

One of the other issues with leading a digital media operation is how little time you get to actually play with the tools that we’re using. We didn’t use Vine much at my last spot, so this wasn’t the specific tool. It’s been around a while and I hadn’t had a real use for it. I don’t watch many despite friends who will often try to get me to watch them.

Sports fixed this problem for me.

As I spend my time on other things, my love of sports doesn’t abate. I just spend less time keeping up with the day-to-day of things. So that’s where a tool like Vine is really helpful. Whether it’s remembering a highlight, meme or something, I really liked how it was a way to stay connected to the action.

As a baseball fan, this was particularly frustrating because MLB teams aren’t the best at staying connected to Vine in-game as opposed to other sports (like the NBA) where you can get in-game Vines easily. It wasn’t a major league baseball game that drew me to Vine, it was this bat flip from a Korean game.

No one had made a Vine. As with many baseball highlights, I didn’t expect it would ever get made. Baseball has the 2nd oldest fanbase after golf, so the people who make Vines probably aren’t watching. Therein lies our conundrum.

Since that maiden Vine I made myself (which has looped 12k times since I posted it) I’ve dove back in a few times and have apps on my phone that make cutting Vines a lot easier. None of this is groundbreaking for those who spend their days doing this, but for someone who is social media savvy otherwise, being able to play with a tool that I didn’t use for work — just for myself — was the best way for me to get a handle on how to use it and developing tactics around it.

As more and more digital leaders elevate to the C-suite, executive boards and leadership teams, it’s critical for us not to lose sight of what got us here in the first place. Whether it was tinkering, developing, building and being brainy at 3am, maintaining your love for the tools and being willing to immerse yourself without a bottom line is the key to staying sharp.

What I’ve learned on Periscope

My record as a early adopter to most platforms is mixed. I had a twitter profile early on and then deleted it before coming back seven months later. In recent years, I’ve been on everything I can get my hands on, just to see how people are using it. Things like Posterous (RIP) actually helped me with my own desire to get words out. Tumblr I didn’t like at first, but after returning to it I found a place for it and managed to build a blog there with over 99,000 followers (albeit over 4 years.)

The problem with most tools is finding a place for them in your life. Ello had this problem. It’s fine, but without a community of people you can reach to, it gets exhausting to share without any feedback. If you’re doing it for a specific purpose — trying to write a book or just need to vent in a semi-public space — then it’s not as bad. But most people don’t have that kind of time.

So let’s talk about Periscope. For those of you who aren’t aware of Periscope or Meerkat — they are live streaming apps. You fire it up — Periscope only available if you have a Twitter account — and can begin streaming whatever you’re seeing.

I began using it in a taxi cab. It wasn’t really scientific, I just wanted to try it and dove in and did it.


I periscoped for screenshot for this post

After three weeks of doing it, I’m at over 4,600 likes which who cares about vanity metrics. But it has given me enough experience to post some takeaways especially since there are more and more institutions asking questions about how best to use Periscope to spam connect with their audiences.

1. Remember that most of the people you’re trying to reach aren’t there yet

You try telling the taxi driver or anyone else really about Periscope and you’re likely to get blank stares. People aren’t using it yet, so you have to remember this is the Wild Wild West of the app. Maybe you can get a few savvy folks to click, but it’s not a tool that you can use religiously to get people to watch all of the time because unlike television, it’s random and it’s all about getting people when they’re doing something else. Or just bored enough to tune into Periscope to see what’s happening.

So don’t view this gold rush as the panacea to your connection issues, it’s likely not.

2. Engagement is about showing people interesting things
When we went to the Seattle Aquarium, lots of people were interested and gave me likes for showing stuff they wanted to see. It was almost a guided experience for them. This kind of uniqueness can’t be bought. So if you have something interesting on your campus you want to show off that people might not get otherwise? Have at it.

Just remember this is an engagement tool, not an app simply to live stream because live streaming tools already exist and can provide much better quality. Periscope is used best for random, ephemeral things that you might not waste the time to get a real camera out to broadcast. So your spring concert probably isn’t a great candidate to Periscope. But having a student Periscoping the student section at a rivalry basketball game? Now we’re talking.

3. When people start leaving, I end the stream
Because it’s just a random event, I don’t tend to spend a lot of time broadcasting if no one is watching. If whatever I’m showing isn’t resonating, then I just kill the stream and maybe come back later. This is just the character of my stream, in part because I’ve been traveling a lot lately so it fit what I was trying to do. I suppose if I had a different pattern, there might be a reason to do it longer, but I haven’t seen any evidence that people start streaming back in at any real number once you start losing them.

4. Showing faces + talking helps unless it’s a truly captivating event
People want to see people. So if you’re not talking or narrating what’s happening, then you need ot be showing something compelling enough to hold people’s attention. I think people just want to reach out to the universe and Periscope gives them a way to do that. So indulge.

5. Ask yourself why

I say this all the time with any platform. Understand your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. I think experimenting is totally cool, but if you’re going to invest energy and institutional resources with this, understand what you want to accomplish from it as you do it at the very minimum.

So if you’re considering Periscope, DIVE IN. The more people on the network, the more interesting it’ll be. Let your students play around with it for a day and see what they come up with. Or just test it out yourself.

While it’s not likely that anyone will initially be watching, you will find yourself trying things outside of the box that you might not on a different platform.


Scheduling meetings for new managers

Scheduling phone calls is one of those tasks that no one really ever covers. It’s not a covered in orientation manual for most white-collar jobs and you’ll surely never have a class on it in college. While it can generally be filed under “time management,” the studies on how much time people spend dorking around on Facebook at work should give some indication that even the best among us have a hard time setting priorities daily.

As a digital guy, calls from vendors could almost take up half your day or more if you allow it. There are no shortage of people trying to sell you a tool that can make your office, personal life, team or otherwise more productive. You get pretty good at either ignoring those calls or taking them in moderation, but what happens when your own clients — or prospective ones — inside the organization want your time and ask you to “check your calendar and schedule a time.”

For most newbie managers, this usually means a fairly wide open Outlook calendar save for recurring meetings. When you can pretty much meet “whenever” how do you decide where and when to schedule? I had to come up with a strategy for this on my own over the years and while it’s hardly foolproof, it’s worked for me.

Pick your set of preferred “meeting days”

Establish an informal set of meeting days. Remember you have other work to do and blocking too many random assortments of meetings will throw off your momentum at times when you really want it.

Mondays are almost always busy with people catching up from the weekend. Depending on the office, recurring meetings happened during the mid-week, leaving days like Thursday and Friday fairly open. Of course, a lot of people like taking Fridays off so it’s not foolproof, but it’s a good day — especially in the morning — to catch people heading into the weekend.

Obviously there will be conflicts, so you should be flexible and use discretion. And I’d strongly advise against telling someone, “I only schedule meetings on these three days,” because it won’t sound as task oriented as you think it does.

Set aside designated meeting hours

Come up with hours when you’re most productive during a day and block off portions of those hours where you won’t schedule meetings. In most places, lunchtime is at least protected time. Outside of that, the first hours of the morning can be full of meetings that sink your whole day. While it can be unavoidable, as a new manager you’re usually not thrust into this huge buffet of meetings from the start. Value this period of time, because it won’t always be this way.

After a bit of time scheduling meetings, you’ll decide whether you prefer morning meetings or afternoon meetings. With that knowledge, you can plan accordingly and try to steer people towards what makes the more sense for your productivity. I tended to prefer afternoon meetings across a campus, because it gave me a chance to get out of my seat and interact with actual humans. Morning meetings can be good too, especially if you’re trying to itemize things to bring back to your own team and check off a list.

Ask other people to give you three times that work for them

I’m a big believer in being a steward of people’s time. The best way to do this, is often to let people check their own calendars and make something work for them. Usually — but not always — there’s a time that works and you’ll be able to ride with it.

The problem is when there are lots of these kinds of meetings and they overlap with things you’re doing. It starts to make sense to apply your rules from earlier to make sure you’re not setting yourself for failure by having a ton of meetings at 1:30 when you’re most productive for whatever reason.

It’s up to you, but once you find a way that works for you, stick with it.

Don’t say “anytime will work.”

Saying this is usually borne out of a desire to be accommodating, but it doesn’t get received that way by most people. The most generous interpretation is you’re trying to be helpful. The least generous is “she must not have enough to do because I tried to schedule a meeting with her and she said anytime was open.” Be cognizant that not everyone is your champion and some people are actually judging your meeting scheduling tactics to reflect back how much work you’re actually doing; even if the two have little relation.

Be tactical about scheduling, all while remaining your flexibility. And unless it’s your superior, don’t feel inclined to give someone unsolicited details about the contents of your calendar. It doesn’t seem like it should matter, but in some companies it can matter quite a bit.

You don’t have to take every call

This is another area where your mileage will vary depending on where you work. But unsolicited phone calls can take hours off your working day, through people who ask for a few minutes and end up spending a lot of time getting the point. Sometimes, it’s just a necessary part of doing business and the job. Other times, it’s people who you don’t know trying to make a pitch you’re not authorized to approve even if you were somehow persuaded.

As a new manager, it’s not always easy to say “no” to people. Or you feel like you need to chase every lead down their rabbit hole to see where it goes. Chances are, you probably don’t. Often the best way to deal with these unsolicited emails and phone calls, is simply let them go unanswered initially. Maybe you’ll answer later on, but preserving your own sanity and workflow is better than breaking your concentration on someone who essentially jumps in line without a warning.

Once you’ve received their voice mail or follow-up email, you can reply and schedule them just like anyone else if it’s something worth pursuing.

There’s no hard and fast way to figure out meetings. Meeting creep is a big part of the office life and if you’re in a place where it’s fluid or lacking structure, the best thing you can do is create parameters to make your own work life more effective and productive.

Test different models and figure out what works best. Obviously not every one of these scenarios applies to every person in every industry, but there are a lot of people who I’ve talked with over the years who were a lot like me early in their careers and didn’t know where to look for meeting discipline.

Hopefully, it’ll make your days a bit more productive.