About KeithSpiro

Business strategist and community builder. Corporate and SMB leadership experience. Applies professional photojournalist background to deliver business results. Takes action for people and organizations that can make a difference.

Two mountains, Two mountaineers, One Extraordinary Moment

Two mountains, Two mountaineers, One Extraordinary Moment. Dan Szczesny and Ed Webster.

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Here in Maine, we all know Ed Webster who got his start climbing trees in Lexington Massachusetts. His lifelong love of rarified views from the top includes 7 Himalayan expeditions 3 of them on Mt. Everest. It was his 1988 ascent of Everest for which he is best known in the climbing community and beyond. Long before the world began to examine the ethics of large heavily equipped climbing expeditions Sherpa guides and bottled oxygen, Ed and three others did the unusual. They formed a small climbing group and sought out a new route to the top without use of radios or local guides. Their expedition is recounted in Ed’s book, Snow in the Kingdom, My storm years on Everest. These days Ed shares his love of climbing with the next generation of climbers through his programs and lectures at schools and libraries from his home base of Topsham and Harpswell Maine. I met him years ago at his lecture and book signing at the Topsham Library. He’s one of America’s best known mountaineers.

That very same Topsham library recently hosted Dan Szczesny in the first Maine stop of The White Mountain book tour for one of America’s best known mountains, Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Dan’s book, The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture began as a concept focused on the mountain but it expanded rapidly as he allowed the quest to be shaped by the many people personally touched by the mountain. The journalist/reporter side of Dan kicked in and the finished product presents an extraordinary cast of characters and their association with the mountain.

That they would meet each other face to face was inevitable. The two men share common paths as touring authors and lecturers with a strong desire to share the love of “their” respective mountain. And those two mountains couldn’t be more different. Everest, inaccessible to all but a few.  Mount Washington, accessible by foot, car, cog railway and snow coach in the dead of winter. World famous, the cog railway has been a tourist attraction since its 1800’s endorsement by then President Ulysses S Grant. Mount Everest has its own share of legendary stories.

While Ed Webster was celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Everest climb, Dan Szczesny was on his way to celebrating the 3rd printing of his book. And so, when I saw Ed heading over to Dan’s table after the talk, I knew we were about to experience one extraordinary moment in Southern Midcoast Maine.

Ed Webster & Dan Szczesny at LL Bean photo by Keith Spiro

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Dan Szczesny & Ed Webster signing each other's book. photo by Keith Spiro

one extraordinary moment – as each inscribes their book for the other.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 edition of The Cryer.

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Winning at Facebook

banner B&M winning at facebookThe White Mountain came to town in the shape of Dan Szczesny’s winter book tour. I’ve seen many different attempts at doing business on Facebook and we’ve all seen those noxious notes that “others have boosted ads like this” and heard the many negative comments ranging from naivety to manipulation when it comes to Facebook. Who hasn’t seen those awkward desperate pitches trying to grow followers. Well, imagine instead, building a community of real connections and not spending money “boosting ads.” How about not even creating or spending money on ads? This is not about instant success but rather allowing the right audience to build and follow your every activity that is relevant to your project. With Dan, this has been a multi-year build up, from the concept, to the writing, to the launch phase of his book. What started out as “365 days of Mischief & Adventure on Mt. Washington with author @danjszczesny” turned into “The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture” by Dan Szczesny published by Hobblebush Books.

“Over the course of one calendar year, journalist Dan Szczesny explored the history and mystique of New England’s tallest mountain and found” … a whole lot more than just a 6,288 foot tall rock pile;  With video and daily missives he built a team of cheerleaders & advocates for his book, making all of us part of the fabric of this story. What started out as an exploration of a mountain quickly became a focus on the people and stories connected to the mountain.  In connecting via Facebook and in real life, Dan created champions across a widely dispersed geographic area. The book tour had all of us cheering him on no matter where in the world you resided and Facebook was the platform he used to maintain his human to human connection.

photo of Dan Szczesny at LL Bean by Keith Spiro

A full house turned out at LL Bean’s Discovery School event for Dan

For Dan, the power of Facebook was the power of a few to share the message of stories in the making with a few more people, ultimately linking many friends of friends who chose to follow and sometimes guide Dan to another part of this adventure.  His ability to practice his writing craft daily as he shared snippets of his life as husband, father and author/explorer, as a person and not as a page, has been central to his success. His influence as a writer and storyteller grew as one real connection after another joined in.  The amazing part of all of this was the rather easy opportunities to meet some of the real live characters whose stories appeared in the book. They appeared in person at talks and book signings along the way. Dan shared thoughts, short stories and musings during his work in progress and the stories and opportunities for more stories continued to grow.

In 2016, I signed on to be a sponsor and cheerleader for Dan’s as yet unnamed new work; a book about Mount Washington. The first edition was released at a launch party at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord New Hampshire in June 2018. The book is now in its third printing which would be unheard of for relatively new author and a small label using just traditional publishing practices. Dan’s experience as a journalist with his good eye and ear for special moments allowed him to become a participant or supporter himself within each intimate story in real time. Weaving history, legacy and current events, he created The White Mountain and continues to help us all rediscover the hidden culture surrounding Mount Washington.

How to win business at Facebook:

  1. Make your posts interesting to your readers (it’s not all about you)
  2. Be consistent; in your style, in your storytelling, in your frequency of posting
  3. Think like Ted Rubin – it’s all about people – Return on Relationship (#RonR)

Therefore:

  1. Be human – being a brand doesn’t cut it – you need a face – and not necessarily your own
  2. Interact with your audience- and yes – we  are an audience looking for entertainment
  3. Get out there and meet folks In Real Life – Facebook isn’t real – it’s just a tool.

Then and Now

Boston and Maine Connection – Then and Now

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Then and Now is both the title of the Topsham Library’s recent show of work by six Maine fiber artists as well as the title of this installment of the B&M Connection.

photo of Connie Bailey & Natasha Kempers-Cullen

Topsham Library gallery coordinator Connie Bailey with Natasha Kempers-Cullen

The show at the library’s Crooker Gallery was curated by Natasha Kempers- Cullen.  This was the first time founding volunteer gallery coordinator Connie Bailey, selected an artist to both exhibit and curate the entire show.  Being a founding member, partner or entrepreneur usually comes with a strong vision and sometimes difficult choice between “doing it your own way” and opening up to encompass the ideas and direction of others.  I congratulate the Topsham Library and Connie for the long term vision and implementation of programming and the confidence to grow and experiment – as every great entrepreneurial endeavor must – in order to stay fresh and relevant.

Kempers-Cullen, brought together Susan Mills, Arlene Morris, Kathleen Bird, Kirsti Sandoy and Jill Vendituoli and encouraged each artist to explore and display their own early works and more recent pieces.  Their show bios are an interesting discussion of motivation and growth in their medium of choice. From Jill Vendituoli’s  observation that “the needle has long been a part of a woman’s work” and “escape from the mundane activities of daily life” to Arlene Morris’ willingness to following art where it takes you “trusting you shall discover something” each artist had a strong statement of worth, of exploration and the fearlessness of an entrepreneur to just put it out there for the world to see.

These thoughts fit well in keeping with my long standing business theme that Art Makes a Difference. Art humanizes business. It can often simplify a message and get straight to your soul.  It is the modern marketing equivalent of “a call to action” just more deeply satisfying.  In fact, with art, you don’t have to try to rise above the noise. You and your most important messages and endeavors can be found in a more friendly way; more human; less technological.

Implementation is the most important and powerful force for the success of any enterprise. I have consciously chosen to submit my photography to the Cryer because Charles Crosby is driven by his need for ever improving representation – of images – of stories – that make a difference to community.  Then, way back in 1985, it started as a small one town newsy update. Color was like most other papers haphazard and sometimes muddled. Now, it has become a monthly compendium of activities and events in the Southern Maine Midcoast but the drive for better color, better centering of images and layout is what helps make it a success.

The Cryer champions high quality production from their vendor. This high standard supports the artist and showcases art in its best possible light.  They have given over much space to telling community stories and by direct mailing much of the print run, they insure the stories are seen heard and acted upon rather than leaving it to a chance pick up from the overflowing stacks.

The same attention to community can be said of Jim Howard’s Priority Real Estate Group.  Over the years, if you’ve been involved with non-profits, you’ve seen the generosity of PREG in its cash donations to area non-profits. Their long term community development  philosophy matches their business development philosophy.  They listen to the community, take action and give back to insure the least provided for, the hungry, the lonely, or homeless are watched out for and helped.

photo of people interacting and touching fiber art

We humans gravitate toward the tactile and the physical connection with others

This is a time of great change in how people get information, gather together in community and communicate with one another.  But despite all the technological advancements, most of us do best when we feel part of a community. The best businesses are those that recognize and honor these connections.

One Person Can Make a Difference

b&m nov banner onePersonMakesAdiffDo you need some inspiration right now? Do you despair that your voice can’t be heard above the well-funded highly divisive world of social media promotion and politics? Here are just two examples of individuals who have inspired hundreds to take tangible action and made a difference in their respective communities.

Just recently in Bath, Maine, my favorite City of Ships, Fred Hersom pulled a few friends together in what became a celebration of the Mid Coast Hospital’s ALS Clinic. In Fred’s words, “all I wanted to do was raise awareness of the clinic and the devastating disease that ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is.”  Because Fred & Sally have touched so many of us (myself included) with their friendship and generosity, a standing room only crowd came together to support the people affected by ALS and to put a stake in the ground supporting the Clinic which began in 2017 “as a joint collaboration of Mid Coast Medical Group–Neurology and Mid Coast Hospital Rehabilitation in partnership with the ALS Association of Northern New England.”

This is the only ALS clinic in Maine. Mid Coast is a not for profit hospital and their commitment to this clinic brings together in one place evaluation and treatment by specialists in neurology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech evaluation, and social work with support from the ALS Association. Everything in one place without having to travel as far away as Boston!  Those few friends turned into several hundred people inside and outside the building working together toward a goal and having some fun at the same time. And though sadly Sally passed away on November 16th, we all remember her and that night the community came together.

Boston on the other hand is a big city full of life science organizations and large hospitals. Easy for a small organization to be lost in but just a month ago Dave Bjork accomplished his long held dream of getting a few biotech companies together and they created The FRAXA BioTech Games held on the lawn in front of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here, 40 teams of not yet household names in the life science space brought together more than 150 friends, vendors and employees to celebrate and to raise awareness of this lesser known disease called Fragile X. One gene (FMR1 if you want to know) shuts down and it’s Fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common inherited cause of autism and intellectual disabilities. FRAXA, a non-profit organization puts better than 90 cents of every dollar raised directly into research. But these games brought together researchers, marketers and entrepreneurs who got a chance to learn about each other’s work and perhaps scout out the next serendipitous breakthrough.

Dave is a research evangelist who I have had the pleasure of working alongside on several research funding causes over the years and today he is Director of Community Relations at FRAXA. Fred and Sally were among the first people to introduce themselves and welcome me to their community with a pint at our friendly local Byrnes Irish Pub.

What they share in common is a deeply felt sense of gratitude, friendship and concern for their community along with a willingness to reach out and help wherever needed. Each raises the level of awareness to a point where one person’s action gets multiplied by hundreds of others who join in and bring success to a goal.

These folks create relevant conversations opening new pathways to discovery of a clinic, a medical protocol or a research opportunity that can help a person at the time they need this help the most. They raise awareness of devastating diseases that create members of a club nobody wants to belong to.

Big City versus small city, it still comes down to an individual taking action to raise awareness and make the difference. In both these examples, social media amplified both the message and the call to action. Word of Mouth increased the number of friends or colleagues who came out in support. And, most importantly, anyone involved could see the incredible cross-section of generations and cultures coming together in one place at the same time to make a difference.

I started 2018 with this column talking about Business Art and Technology and how getting all three working together can amplify the positive. My #BAT2018 recognition has gone to institutions like Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor and MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in Cambridge Massachusetts. Today I recognize individuals like Fred and Sally & Dave who make that same type of difference every single day. Sláinte – to your good health!

Do Me a Favor -Facebook

Boston and Maine Connection – Do me a favor, Facebook.

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If you are reading this article, do me and yourself a favor and share it with 26 friends. Quickly. Please. I want to make myself feel better that my voice is heard. I know that some 60,000 views per month are possible – that’s what my publisher tells me. I want this to go viral.  I want to trick Facebook’s algorithm into promoting me, me, me…

“If you are reading this message leave me a quick comment, a “hello”, a sticker, whatever you want, so you will appear in my news feed!  Otherwise Facebook chooses who to show me and I don’t need Facebook to choose my friends!”

This story line in various forms has been circulating around Facebook since the first of the year when Facebook announced changes to its algorithm and individuals, brands and their social media guru’s scrambled to make sense of what that meant.  As a student of marketing and communications, I can tell you that it really doesn’t mean a whole lot – to anyone.  Google reportedly changes its search algorithm more than 600 times a year. That is more than once a day, and there have been some ten major updates in the past couple of years. I think it unlikely that they or any social media platform wants any of us to figure it out when we are the product being sold.

Take a minute and think about this. In the old days newspapers put the best headlines “above the fold”  to catch your attention. TV news had lead off stories with “more details to follow at 7pm” when everyone tuned in to one of the big three network stations. Well today, the big three are Google, Facebook, and (name your own third favorite platform here).  If the platform is free for you to use, then you are the product being sold. That is, the information about your likes, dislikes and shares are incredibly rich data to be parsed and used as bait for someone to pay to reach you.

But nearly everyone is on Facebook. That’s right. Facebook has 2.19 Billion monthly active users. You can find that out by just asking Google which by the way has a mere 40,000 search queries per second  equating to 3.5 Billion searches per day “of all the world’s knowledge.” So if you are one of those people who think if I follow you on Facebook I will see your post, think again. The system does indeed choose which people might be exposed to your post but that is not the same as seeing it. Do you have a Facebook business page or Linked-In Profile?  You can spend a lot of time and effort to grow the ‘likes’ and follows for your business or cause. But, you are still very much at the mercy of those pesky and ever changing algorithms.

I was at a meeting last month where several people were complaining that they had never gotten notice of previous sessions where the community was invited to voice their opinions. One of the organizers took offense and defended the openness and availability for input by stating “but we posted the event on Facebook.”  What a sad commentary on expectations vs. communications.  Facebook defines active users as “being online at least once a month.” Some folks are there nine or more times a day and just snickered when they read the previous sentence. But, remember, there are four generations actively pursuing information daily- each in their own way. While much information is pushed to us via our hand held phone like tools, there are still many who respond to tactile experiences.

Here are some useful thought starters for staying in touch in a better more assured way:

  1. If you want to choose what friends you want to hear from – reach out and search for them by name and Tag or Comment on something they’ve posted. You are more likely to connect than if you passively DSC_6074p headshotKSbestrespond only to feeds that are, well, fed to you.
  1. If you need fast results – pick up the phone. Those telemarketers and robo-callers do. But today, we can recognize a call from a known vs. unknown party. And yes, if you both have smartphones – by all means text message each other. Fast. Direct and still somewhat secure unless you’ve given your cell phone number out beyond your close friends and family connections.
  1. If you have a brand or business – think WEBSITE & EMAIL – your own!! But also think about your messaging and where your customers are. Reach them on social media but bring them back to properties that you fully control – like your own website, email lists and video channel. You want control over content- where it is and how it is presented. Don’t just take the easy path of Facebook live.
  1. Use a combination of print and digital communications
  2. Build your own email list– it is still the most effective and direct means of communication even if it is considered by many to be too slow
  3. Even slower but more deliberate – the US Mail is required by law to deliver to the addressee. Use it to stand out.
  4. When you go online – be sure to encourage your new friends to seek you out or permission you to reach them outside of the social media platform that has already changed how you access them in the time it took you to read this article.

Want more specific guidance? Call, write or email me about any of this via your favorite communication tool and just ask.

Sir Paul McCartney Beatle Memory Marketing #FreshenUpTour #BAT2018

B&M July McCartneyHave you seen the Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke video yet? James Corden’s Late Late Night Show from London has been doing a whole series on carpool karaoke with stars that has been great fun. But the one released Friday June 22nd with Paul McCartney was simply amazing in so many ways.

For Corden fans, the opening lines set us up to guess which star singer might be joining him in Liverpool but what followed can best be described as a lovefest between the Iconic Paul McCartney, his hometown and fans that transcend the generations. Catch it on Facebook from Paul McCartney’s Page and you’ll avoid the old style interruption advertising of old distribution channels. This 23 minute and 39 second video deserves to be watched without commercial break (shame on you Google’s YouTube) and banner ads popping up. McCartney’s Page presents it best.

Imagine driving around with Sir Paul and visiting his childhood home while reminiscing about his parents influence, the rooms where he composed songs and practiced with John Lennon, then driving along Penny Lane and dropping in on the Barber Shop and wrapping up with a small juke box style concert in a tiny Liverpool pub that had once hosted him to far less acclaim.

The video posted at 6am East Coast time and received an average million views per hour over the first three days; nearly 70 million views logged on Paul McCartney’s site as I wrote this. The YouTube version linked by other writers (with some 13 million views) is an inferior experience marred by commercial interruption. Something folks of that age would expect from the remnants of the big three TV stations. Avoid it and get the full seamless experience right from Sir Paul McCartney’s website or Facebook page.

This pathway of viewing the collaboration is simply outstanding in its attention to detail to the customer experience. Corden’s regular viewers are already stoked to roll with whatever zany experience comes their way and his particular audience is masterfully integrated into our online experience which serves to further amplify the communal enjoyment.

There had to have been a lot of backstage planning to pull this off but it was also obvious (let’s use the word transparent) that the barber showing photographs, the people walking down Penny Lane and the folks in the pub were clearly just lucky random everyday people who were in the right place at the right time. Transparency and authenticity delivered in an electrifying way and without commercial interruption.  Paul visits the house he grew up in for the first time since he left and James talks about his own grandfather –a fan who would have gotten a kick out of seeing this amazing video session unfurl.

The music is so full of love, joy and positive things and remains relevant today despite Paul’s original expectations of just a ten year run. But indeed, in times of trouble – these tunes still resonate today. That the whole escapade is part of one very high class new product (album) launch was taken fully in stride. In fact, being part of the audience makes us even more open to the experience. Yes, an experience, not a jarring commercial interruption.

Marketers and businesses take careful note here. This is what we, the consumer, expect from our internet interactions. A pleasant experience or a great one. A visit that shows the seller knows something about our likes and dislikes and insures that there is a fair trade for our time and attention.

When we arrive on the internet we want a fast seamless experience. We are not looking for a jarring interruption or disclaimers plastered all over the place. We don’t want you grabbing credit for a video viewed when it is mandatory (“your video will start after this ad ends” or “you can skip the video in 4 seconds”) the time it takes for someone to charge the supplier perhaps?  No thank you. Those are old rules.

The best brands and best creators of content know that the better they fit in to our experience the more we’re actually likely to pay attention to their message. We speak with our time, our attention and our money. Sir Paul’s #FreshenUpTour is certain to be a winner and clearly deserves one of my #BAT2018 awards for combining Business, Art and Technology with a good dose of authenticity fueled by wisdom!

Speaking words of wisdom – I’ve gone back multiple times now to share with friends this trip down Penny Lane and warm up to Paul McCartney’s new album. We laugh and cry and remember an all-around great experience and as a bonus, we’ve already been exposed to the new songs that are coming out officially September 7th.

Well done, Sir Paul McCartney who more than got by with a little help from his friends.

#BAT2018 Technology; the Third Pillar of Biz – Art – Tech = Success

Technology #BAT2018 –  the third of a three part series on success in business utilizing a focus on Business, Art & Technology.

When I launched this series, I stated that use of technology is no longer an option, it needs to be an integral part of nearly every action you take in running a successful business.  Technology itself, however, is just a tool – one that can be used for good or for evil. I had mentioned that we don’t have to be relegated to the role of being the product being sold, but we do have to be aware of how technology and in particular – gathered data – is used.

photo by Keith Spiro of high tech broadcasting towerOne can’t write a column today without acknowledging the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica uproar, the probable Russian interference with USA elections, and the driverless car running over & killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk. These headlines come screaming at you regularly from your favorite source of unverified internet social media mongering delivered straight to your handheld device.

We have also just witnessed the power of motivation combined with technology in March for our Lives, which like Me Too, and Arab Spring pay no attention to the old rule boundaries set up by the powerful or the bullies or the government functionaries that like things – just status quo.

We live in a time of technology distributed media and we can’t always be sure of the source or the selection process that delivers information to us. But we can be sure that much of our personal information is already out there. Those 50M compromised records in facebook are a fraction of the total information available to be gleaned. There are 1.5 Billion daily active users on facebook and if you check some of the permissions of your new easy to use tools – they often state that – while you may not give them permission to post for you – you do give permission for them to read your friends list – and addresses – Yup – one click of a button and you’ve just compromised MY privacy. Think about that for a moment. Then think about what your mother might have told you growing up – if two people know something- it is no longer a secret.

So the cat is out of the bag. There is little accountability but a grand free-for-all with your information which by the way- all of us willingly gave up in exchange for ease and access. There will always be a way to capture, sort and license information – there always has been it just wasn’t as precise and fast in the past.

Technology is just a tool and a means to an end result. Since you can’t always know if it’s a Mother Teresa or a Steve Bannon behind the tools, you need to choose your partners and suppliers carefully. If you are that business or organization gathering information and building a community of followers, you will gain credibility and open yourself to less risk of a Public Relations disaster if you are as transparent and consistent as possible. Technology Forensics will eventually identify the source or manipulation. It’s all data. It’s all waiting to be reviewed.

Whatever you do in life and in business, you will find a myriad of tools to help you. Information is only as good as the data collected and the same data can be bent or interpreted to serve many different points of view. We find that now in the everyday fights that break out between friends online. So, take the time to look around at who you’re connected to and what kind of community you want to build. With a mix of good business sense, some artist creative grounding to keep it human and the technology harnessed to be fully under your own control, you will be able to reach far beyond anything previously possible.  Own your own website and your email list. Carefully consider the tradeoffs of convenience vs building a base you can truly count on.

Want more ideas on how to grow your organization or your business ethically with stronger connections and less chance of your data disappearing or being misused?

Just drop me a line.