Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

How can I increase my productivity?

This post too has its origins on Quora, so I recommend you check out the other answers on the thread. And, if you like my answer, consider voting for it. But, I digress. Here are some tips on enhancing productivity.

I agree with a lot of salient points that Yishan Wong raises, esp. batched email / IM processing, but I guess it’s effectiveness also depends on what kind of role you find yourself. For someone in Public Relations that just may not work out.

That said, I think there’s one simple approach that hasn’t been explicitly called out, that could truly make a difference:

1. Singletasking:

I was alerted to this through a post from Caterina Fake (…). It’s worth repeating here.

  • Start work rightaway each morning
  • minimize interruptions, feed reading, chat / IM
  • maximize working on one thing at a time
  • use phone or in-person visit for roadblocks or questions (not chat)
  • send email anytime
  • check email only at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm
  • no email evenings or weekends
  • focus on 1 – 3 activities each day
  • stop work at 6pm no exceptions

Some of these remind me of Yishan’s tips. Also, if you’re brave enough to jettison email watching, I’d recommend saying so in your email signature in case people wonder why you haven’t responded yet. Again, depends on the precedent you’ve set.

2. Paper rocks!

I think just getting your tasks down on paper at the start of the day (maybe the prior day) helps keep in context the “why / high level picture” behind the numerous tasks you find yourselves doing each day.

Increasingly I’ve found Google Docs an effective replacement for my moleskine and saves me the trouble of figuring out a way to destroy the old notes. I break down my To-do page into the following cascaded task sets:

  • Whiteboard: As soon as I get to my desk each day, I write down the 3 – 5 urgent tasks I know I need to complete rightaway.
  • Today: Everything besides the 3 or 5 key tasks that also need to be complete today.
  • Next: This is unlikely to be complete today but needs to happen to achieve milestones for the next week. So, if for e.g. I need to make a decision on finding a web dev consultant by next week, I may need to fire off a bunch of emails with project requirements and that may need to happen tomorrow.
  • Weekend: Every once in a while, I remember something I need to buy at the groceries that I don’t want to lose track of. That goes here.

I also use separate browsers to compartmentalize my work units. Chrome full-screen for all google apps / work email, etc. and Firefox for all my browsing needs (as a blog editor, I need to do a ton of research online – Techmeme, etc).

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Rumors of Quora’s death are greatly exaggerated

I’ve already blogged about Quora and would recommend you try out the service to help you come to your own conclusion.

Also, I’ve responded to a similar thread on Quora. Please up-vote if you dig the answer.

In the meanwhile, thought I’d help debunk some of the assumptions that Vivek Wadhwa makes about Quora without having tried the service. While, on the one hand Vivek Vadhwa’s TechCrunch post raises a few pertinent issues (I’ll address a couple of them below), on the other hand, he hasn’t tried Quora yet which completely robs his post of all credibility.

Here goes…

All quotes below are Vivek’s from his TechCrunch post : Why I don’t buy the Quora hype

Quora’s not the next big thing

But I just don’t believe that Quora will “rule” or become anything like Facebook or Twitter.  It has been a very nice private club; but it’s not for the general public.

Now, Twitter and Facebook in my opinion are two completely different services. I look at Twitter as primarily an information network, while Facebook is a social network. Quora has the trappings of a bigger information network than Twitter (key is that Quora’s set up to structured content on a slew of scalable topics, something Twitter cannot do today). I just think, conflating the two is erroneous and misleading.

Quora’s silly

Some of the discussions have been very informative; some, completely misinformed.  Some questions are of general interest, such as: Will there be a tech sector crash in the near future?; some are obscure: Who are the most successful entrepreneurs with Iranian roots?; some are just plain silly: How much does Netflix spend on postage each year?

I recall similar conversations when Twitter “hype” was doing the rounds (maybe we’re still hyping Twitter). While anyone who tried Twitter at events or conferences would rave about it, others took time to understand it. And, frankly Twitter was not something you could understand by listening to your friends ramble on. At the end of the day, there was a learning curve and you had to use the service a few times to get it.

Even TechCrunch commented on Twitter’s adoption cycle, Curiosity, Abandonment, Addiction, 1.5 years ago. Now, replace Twitter with Quora and assume a steeper learning curve.

I’m still befuddled Vivek chose to write an entire rant without ever trying the product. And, I’d like to add that the inherent silliness he finds in Quora (something Twitter was also accused of) is what adds to its interestingness (and is basically how Quora’s members socialize). Frankly, that’s one of the ways Quora can cross the chasm into becoming a more mainstream knowledge site vs. catering just to professors, technologists, and VCs.

Quora’s growing because of bloggers

Quora’s membership is growing largely because of the attention that TechCrunch has given it (including the Best Startup award).

Not sure if that’s rooted in facts. Earlier this year, many people noticed a spike in Quora activity. I suspect it has more to do with Quora tweaking their “Trending Topics and Followers” widget than any attention from one individual blog.

Now, of all the things that Vivek threw at Quora, there were two nuggets that deserve further attention. Frankly, Quora is fighting one of these two and I’d urge them to give some thought to the other problem.

Issue #1: Fighting Noise and maintaining quality of answers

But I believe that the excess hype is destined to make Quora a victim of its own press.  The quality of answers will decline.  The people whose opinion I value, such as Quora’s #1 respondent, Robert Scoble, will simply stop posting on the site when they get drowned out by the noise from the masses.

Frankly, Robert in my opinion is not your prototypical Quora user, but it’s rather folks like Yishan Wong and Marc Bodnik, non-bloggers who continue adding their $0.02 on topics they have direct experience in that makes Quora fascinating. It’s this long tail of knowledge that Quora is hoping to tap into. These folks are the ones who could make Quora a success, not bloggers.

That said, there’s a problem of noise and quality loss that Quora will inevitably face and that’s something they are gearing up to face. Here’s Charlie Cheever who just wrote a blog post a couple of days back on that topic. Interestingly enough, Quora is taking a Wikipedia approach to fighting noise, enlisting the support of their biggest users.

To start, we’re focusing on question and answer content quality, and after we get those under control, we’ll turn our attention to topics.  We expect that some of these efforts will be pretty successful and some will be dead ends.  After this round of things, we’ll come up with new ideas and try those until the system works in a scalable way.

Issue #2: Fighting Anonymity

It claims that the site does not allow anonymity.  But you can easily sign up for a Quora account with any of your Twitter accounts (you can create as many of these as you want—with fictitious names).  You can then vote down answers from people you don’t like, edit questions asked by others, and post your own views.  You can talk about your own products and services, and disparage others’; in other words, it is a spammers’ paradise.  How is Quora going to manage hundreds of thousands—or millions—of unruly users, when even the mighty Google seems to be losing the battle for spam?

My experience on Quora has been good thus far, but since Quora only allows Twitter or Facebook connect for their users, it makes it a tad more difficult for me to verify the authenticity of the person behind the comment. Yes, Facebook or Twitter are a good start but frankly, a short LinkedIn summary using LinkedIn’s API will authenticate my experience on Quora much more effectively (Disclosure: I work at LinkedIn and these are purely my personal ramblings).

The Next Twitter?

Quora isn’t going to be a Facebook or a Twitter. It is not likely to even catch up with the current market leaders in the Q&A space— and Yahoo! Answers (which both get more than 40 million unique visitors a month, compared with Quora’s meager 150,000).

Heck, Twitter wasn’t going to be the next Twitter. Predicting Quora’s future is futile and though I’ve tried and know how well the service works, I won’t make a random guess as to its trajectory. There are so many things that Quora needs to get right in order to scale their platform but predicting its demise before giving it a chance is a tad cruel.

p.s. Yes, I’m a sucker for link-bait.

Got thoughts on Quora, leave a comment. Here’s some rebuttal from other bloggers to Vivek’s post. I told you, I dig these smackdowns.

  1. Dare Obasanjo on Quora crossing the chasm
  2. Semil Shah (who originally blogged about Quora on TechCrunch) responds
  3. Robert Scoble started a Quora thread on this topic (of course!)

Filed under: Quora

Is the Press Release really dead?

No. Press releases are not dead… yet.

Despite losing their relevance, they’re still alive for one reason – the distribution system, aka the press release wire services (Quora thread: Which press release wire services are popular and why?) – a well established / adopted system for dissemination of press releases to a large number of news outlets world-wide that scales well.

For e.g. the Business Wire. Here’s how it works (Source: Wikipedia)

Business Wire is a company that disseminates full-text news releases from thousands of companies and organizations worldwide to news media, financial markets, disclosure systems, investors, information web sites, databases and other audiences.

The company distributes news via its own electronic network,
NX, developed by its in-house tech team using XML/NewsML. It also has carriage agreements with major news agencies, including the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Reuters, Thomson One, and some 60 regional news agencies to deliver content directly into their newsroom editorial systems.

The only other way you distribute press releases is to email them directly to journalists, but in that area the blog post with multimedia elements, near real-time updates and the ability to make edits after publishing, etc. has got them beat.

Speaking of corporate blogs, their strengths include their ability to target the long tail of niche audiences (think TechCrunch for tech, Engadget for gadgets, Huffington Post for politics etc.) way better than press releases. There are also numerous other benefits like SEO (which press releases try to mimic), the social aspect of corporate blog posts (commenting, building communities who care for the product), and most importantly the human element (a post from a the product manager who created the feature vs. a corporate template that announces it with a quote) makes corporate blog posts way more effective.

At the end of the day though, news is most effectively shared through a trusted relationship network, whether it’s in the blogosphere or in the news world.

Vote up my answer on Quora

Filed under: Social PR

How do you stay productive on social media sites?

As a social media manager, it’s my job to monitor and track conversations related to “linkedin” as well as engage with the community when appropriate. This, in addition to more strategic global social media strategy, editing and managing content creation for the LinkedIn blog and select marketing projects at LinkedIn.

So, very quickly you learn that there’s only one way to prevent you from drowning in the chaos that’s coordinating multiple social media accounts (in my case, editing the linkedin blog, managing our twitter accounts – @mariosundar, curating @linkedin, and @linkedinnews) – with a lil help from TweetDeck and a simple ritual which I described earlier in How can I increase my productivity? – @singletasking.

Here’s how you stay productive while managing or dabbling in multiple social media accounts or social networking sites:

1. Be clear on your goals:

Why do you use Facebook or Twitter. In my case, LinkedIn and Twitter are sorta job requirements, and with Twitter – as you can imagine potentially distracting.

So, I outlined what my 3 key goals with Twitter were:

  • Identify breaking news on LinkedIn as it happens and engage with our users should they have questions / I have a partner in crime, from our customer service team – Derek Homann, who does a terrific job supporting the customer service goal.
  • Be the source of LinkedIn related news through the LinkedIn blog and use that as a means of engaging with our community of users on product news
  • Amplify the conversations coming from within LinkedIn (for e.g. sharing tweets from folks who work at LinkedIn, when its relevant to the  conversation)

Now, all I needed was a tool that lets me monitor Twitter real-time, slice and dice that information as fast as I could, respond to high-priority items and get outta there. Enter TweetDeck.

2. Find the right tool to help accomplish those goals:

I think Seesmic may be a credible alternative, but I found Tweetdeck as a young Twitter user and there’s no turning back. Here’s how Tweetdeck helps me stay productive in line with my key goals mentioned above.

  • Track Smart: I have a column on “linkedin” related tweets as they come in real-time (I love the ability to filter tweets by specific keywords – so show me all “linkedin” tweets except for the ones that say “Jobs” for e.g.) This way, every time I check in, there’s a manageable amount of tweets that I can sort through after cutting through the spam.
  • Schedule tweets: Given that Twitter works best real-time, I automate relevant tweets every time we publish a new LinkedIn blog post. In addition, I schedule separate tweets including the name of the post author a couple more times – each time adding some value to the reader and surfacing the people behind the organization who are communicating with the end user.
  • RT Smart: I also use the column on my linkedin colleagues (see below) to find appropriate tweets to RT through the @linkedin Twitter channel.

Adding 3 – 4 noiseless columns helps me focus on what matters. Currently, my Tweetdeck has 4 relevant columns: the “linkedin” column, and three twitter lists – folks in social media whose blogs and work I admire, my favorite LinkedIn peeps, and a high-quality stream of relevant breaking tech news (a Twitter list I curate –…).

I do not check my own Twitter feed @mariosundar since it’s too noisy.

3. Check it only at certain times of the day:

Once you pick your signal streams, as Singletasking suggests, open TweetDeck only 3 times a day. Yes, I’m guilty of checking it more times, but I’m trying to bring it down to 3. And, therein lies the key to being productive on social media sites.

Know why you’re doing it, plan accordingly, and stick to the plan. Done.

Vote up my answer on Quora

Filed under: Miscellaneous

In the News: Why Quora? Why Now?

Another month passes, and here are a couple more leading publications – Mashable and Ragan – who quoted some of my thoughts on social media, both of which came about through my participation on Quora.

So, if you’re serious about building your expertise online and sharing that with the rest of the world. Start sharing on Quora or start a blog. But I digress…

1. Ragan Communications / Matt Wilson: The Big Quora Question – What’s it good for?

Matt Wilson from Ragan, reached out to me after reading my answer on five stages of Quora adoption for professionals.

Most of my quotes revolve around my usage of Quora and my thoughts on it being a disruptive force. I truly think Quora is the alpha-information network and frankly, I have an upcoming post on how it poses a competitive threat to a whole slew of information based companies. In the meanwhile, dig this…

Still, a growing group of social media experts and communicators say Quora is and will be as useful as Twitter.

“I think those who ignore it as a flash in the pan are rather short-sighted and unfortunately don’t see the big picture,” says Mario Sundar, senior social media manager for LinkedIn, who blogged about how to get into using Quora. “They’re also probably the same folks who doubted Twitter when it came out first.”

Check out the entire article here.

2. Mashable / Erica Swallow: The Future of the Social Media Strategist

Interestingly, this was quite an amalgam of a post that Erica Swallow mined from Twitter, Quora and Mashable’s own social media community to posit three possible avenues for the social media strategist. Interestingly, this jumped off a paper written by Jeremiah a while ago for his agency, Altimeter.

Erica quoted from my Quora answer, on one of three potential career trajectories for social media strategists:

In large organizations, the need for an executive-level social media strategist who defines the role across different functional areas will become the norm… Kind of like what my good friends Frank Eliason (formerly at Comcast and currently SVP of Social for Citigroup) and Scott Monty (head of social media at Ford) do at their respective large organizations. Their cross-functional role helps define social media across the organization as it’s integrated more closely with all functional areas, projects, etc.

“This will become the career trajectory for social media expertise in much the same way a marketing manager evolves into a VP of marketing.

That and other awesomeness can be found in the post here.

Filed under: In the News, Quora

Got Employees? Then, you’ve got a social media problem.

Of course, I was being facetious with my blog post title. But, as someone who has written numerous blog posts educating companies on social media and given my experience at LinkedIn editing / coordinating blog posts from nearly 100 of my colleagues – a fact I’m especially proud of – this Quora question struck a chord with me.

How do you handle employees or bloggers with social presence that leave the company?

Given today’s fast job turnover rates, IMO, it is not in the best interests of either the company or the employee to tie their personal or professional brand/s with their company’s brand id in social media.

Let me give you three possible ways your employees represent their brand on social media sites along with potential pros and cons (Also, I’m gonna use Twitter as a proxy for social media in general):

1. @yourname (e.g. @robertscoble)

I think Robert Scoble was probably the first employee brand that was associated with a company brand (Microsoft) in a large manner. But I’m pretty sure he was Scobleizer even then (not Microsoft Scoble). I think since then he’s made a pretty good transition to owning his brand both at Podtech and at his current job at Rackspace. That said, Mini-Microsoft is another Microsoft related satirical blog brand that’ll forever be tied to Microsoft.

2. @companyname (e.g. @ComcastCares run by Frank Eliason when he ran Comcast’s customer service)

For those companies that like Zappos (Tony Hsieh) would like a person behind their branded twitter id – ComcastCares is a great example. Frank was the person behind the customer support Twitter id and once he moved on to Citigroup, someone else (Bill Gerth) took over the Comcastcares brand. In Customer Service, this is standard best practice.

3. @yourname/companyname (e.g. my good friend, Lionel Menchaca Jr. at Dell or his colleague Richard Binhammer)

This one’s tricky. I haven’t had a chance to chat w/ Lionel about this, but I hope he drops a line on this thread explaining why. This is when employees choose to take their company brand as part of their Twitter id (For e.g. @LionelatDell). But, if and when Richard or Lionel move onto some other brand, I’m not sure how this Twitter id can be transitioned. And, the bigger challenge is loss of accumulated followers or subscribers over time. Stay tuned for more.

[Update]: Richard from Dell, just left a comment explaining Dell’s policy on their naming convention. Thanks, Richard! Here goes:

RichardatDell and LionelatDell arose out of Dell’s policy on transparency on the social Web: You can find Dell’s official policy here.

The naming nomenclature is much easier than in the first sentence of all we do and say on the social web declaring that we work for Dell.

As for leaving Dell. I have no plans and am thrilled doing what I do.

Others have and the name either goes away or the account is transitioned with transparency.

My recommendation for Companies:

Since this question is aimed at guidelines for companies on handling employee brands that leave their organization, here’s what I’d recommend – “Be Proactive”:

  1. Define a set of social media guidelines for your organization. I’d actually urge you to bring in your employees or the more prominent folks who are already dabbling in social media to help you define these guidelines. For e.g. At LinkedIn, we had a series of brownbag sessions where we invited all employees to define these guidelines for themselves. I’ve compiled a bunch of best practices on my blog. Feel free to share –…
  2. Encourage all employees to build their brand on social media platforms. They’re gonna, whether you like it or not. It actually benefits them were you to share best practices on how to build their professional brand. Else, some of them may find themselves facing this conundrum –…
  3. Educate the rest of your employees on social media guidelines. While a very small % of your org is gonna volunteer to help define the guidelines, you wanna make sure the rest of the company gets to see what these guidelines are. Please spend time socializiating the guidelines over a few months. Leave room to edit as you receive further feedback from your employees. Key here is “Be Flexible”.

So, what’s accepted best practice (much like your owning your is to own your @name on twitter. Ideally, first name / last name since this one’s gonna be with you for a very long time.

Personally, I’ve always stuck with @mariosundar on Twitter and I own my domain – – thanks to WordPress‘ super-easy method of transitioning their URLs over.

I’d highly recommend the same if you contemplate building your professional brand in today’s social media world.

Filed under: HOW-TO Use Social Media

What’s the future of the social media strategist role?

This is yet another reason I love Quora. It’s the perfect writers-block-breaker! Just answered another question on the topic of tomorrow’s social media strategist role.

Check out my answer (reproduced below), which is currently ranked first on that thread based on votes from a few of my peers. Thanks, guys! And, please vote up my answer on the Quora thread if you dig it.

As a social media strategist myself (for over 3 years) at LinkedIn, here’s where I see this headed. I find the role evolving in two simultaneous directions as companies move away from the Wild West days of social media:

1. Seamless integration within existing functional areas: Social media expertise is getting integrated under the broader functional areas that it’s helping make more efficient. For e.g. I have always been a part of our corporate communications team as I’ve helped define and run our blogging, microblogging, and outreach efforts. I find a lot of what I do now seamlessly integrated within our PR and Marketing infrastructure, over the years.

The same evolution holds true for other areas that social media has transformed irrevocably – Customer Service (ask Lionel Menchaca Jr. or Frank Eliason), Journalism (ask Huffington Post), Global Marketing (ask Thomas Hoehn), etc.

In addition to my primary role in Public Relations and Web Marketing, I also interface with many of our other teams like customer service, internal culture (HR), business development, etc. when they have questions regarding social media best practices. Now, that element may disappear in the future as social media becomes more ubiquitous. I believe that’s what Jack Benoff and Marcy Mcclelland-Massura are referring to in the above thread.

2. The emergence of an executive level social media strategist role: Kind of like what my good friends Frank Eliason (formerly at Comcast and currently SVP of Social for Citigroup) and Scott Monty (Head of social media at Ford) do at their respective large organizations. Their cross-functional role helps define social media across the organization as it’s integrated more closely with all functional areas, projects, etc.

And, this will become the career trajectory for social media expertise in much the same way a Marketing manager evolves into a VP of Marketing for e.g.

The challenge is that the “social media strategist” term has become a catch-all for so many diverse (in many cases ill-defined) roles that confuses the layman. Plus, companies themselves are slowly but surely learning how to integrate such expertise into their organization.

To recap, I see social media being integrated more closely into organizations (large and small) as they realize its undeniable benefits. And, in large organizations the need for an executive level social media strategist who defines the role across different functional areas will become the norm.

Once again, thanks to my good friend Jeremiah Owyang for shining the spotllight on an evolving corporate paradigm.


Filed under: Best-of, HOW-TO Use Social Media

5 Stages of Quora adoption for Professionals

Update: Aliza Sherman (Web Worker Daily) has a similar post on using Quora at work. Must-read.

Quora seems to be blowing up since the beginning of 2011, but it’s still early-stage enough to benefit you as a professional since you now have the attention of a small group of professionals with expertise in your area of interest.

Here are my recommendations on Quora adoption for professionals (based on my usage). If you’ve used it any differently, feel free to comment:

  • Stage 1: Follow topics of professional interest:

Much like the first step in social media adoption, stage 1 is always to “Listen”. Quora helps you find and follow your topics of interest through connections you already follow (hence the Facebook connect integration; asking you to suggest topics of interest to your friends on Quora is yet another hat tip to a Facebook innovation – making introductions to friends).

To this end, Quora has a well tuned “Trending Topics” module that does a great job of surfacing content and people you may know. I suspect this may be responsible for the sudden spike in people following you on Quora these days.

As a professional, the easiest way for you to benefit from Quora would be to start following your current area of expertise (your job), whatever it may be. The easiest approximation would be to find on Quora, specialties you’ve listed on your LinkedIn profile (Disclosure: I work at LinkedIn)…

As, my colleague, Russell Jurney suggested:

I’d really like it if Quora extracted my expertise from on any topic from my LinkedIn profile. Short of that, OAuth me in from LinkedIn. #in.

  • Stage 2: Follow your colleagues on Quora:

You may find your future mentor on Quora, but to get there you’d want to first follow people you work with.

Since it currently lacks a LinkedIn integration, I’d recommend you finding your peers through the “Invite Contacts” icon that you find on the right side of the Quora homepage.…

  • Stage 3: Follow breaking news in your field of expertise:

While stumbling upon threads of interest, don’t forget to check out the tags highlighted on top of the thread. It’s a great way to stumble upon and follow breaking news topics in your field of interest.

For e.g. I stumbled upon this thread on the Goldman Sachs Facebook investment via Dave McClure and then with a simple mouseover gesture was able to follow that breaking news topic: Goldman Sachs Investment in Facebook (2011).

Goldman Sachs Investment in Facebook (2011): What will Facebook do with their $500m financing from Goldman?

  • Stage 4: Break news in your field of expertise:

Quora also makes bloggers out of professionals – any professional – who’d like to document their expertise on the web, but in a light-weight way. In that respect, it’s kind of like an extension to your LinkedIn profile / resume.

While, answering questions on quora don’t forget to tag individuals you’ve worked with or link to similar questions or topics . All you’ve to do is hit @ and it gives you an auto-fill drop down of topics, questions, people you can select from.

Also, Quora is good at surfacing your unique exploits at work that don’t necessarily translate well into a resume. These are tips and tricks that’ll be helfpul to your peers when they’re working on similar projects. Think of it as building professional capital / karma. Take these questions for e.g.

What Is It like Working At X?

  • Stage 5: Ask a question:

This is probably the most advanced stage of Quora adoption – one that I haven’t gotten to yet. But, the good news is you can get a ton from quora without ever asking a question. See stages 1 through 4.

This is how I’m using Quora professionally and am now at a point where I feel compelled to check it every day. Do you use Quora as a news source or do you use it professionally?

Filed under: Best-of, Quora