My First Social Media Foray in 1993 – General Mills, Fingos and H. Brewster Atwater

While looking through old files last week, I stumbled across a file that documents my first exposure to social media.

In 1993, General Mills introduced a new product called Fingos – a cereal product that you could eat with your fingers and on the run.  Unfortunately, the product was a little ahead of it’s time and it flopped.  There was also an issue with the product name.  I am a 3rd generation Hungarian and knew that “fingos” means to pass gas in that language.  The issue was even mentioned in Michael White’s “A Short Course in International Marketing Blunders”.

Being a General Mills shareholder and that I used to live in the shadow of their corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, I decided to write a somewhat tongue-in-cheek letter to H. Brewster Atwater who was the Chariman and CEO of General Mills at that time.  I got a very warm and humorous reply from H. Brewster and some free coupons to try Fingos.

When I look back on this event, this probably turns out to be my first foray into social media and having a conversation as customer/shareholder to a company.  While the technology has changed (I faxed my letter and received a reply via mail), the process has not changed.  Today, I would probably blog about the issue, discuss it on a forum or tweet about it on Twtter.  But in the end, General Mills did the “right” social media thing, and both listened to and acknowledged my comments.

As I was writing this post, I did a quick search for a General Mills corporate blog, product forum or wiki and was not able to find anything – so surprisingly, the General appears to be stuck in the 1990s like 88% of the Fortune 500 and is still at the social media starting line.

In any case, I know you’ll find my exchange with H. Brewster Atwater to be amusing and ‘fun’.  Just think how much better this would have played out in a corporate blog!

Here is the original letter I sent to H. Brewster:

My Letter to General Mills - June 1993

And here is a copy of his reply:

I’m so glad to have found my old files and have enjoyed this trip down ‘memory lane’.


In Search of Eagles

I happened to see this request on the National Eagle Scout Association (NESA) website today.  Being an Eagle Scout and a new Cub Scout leader, I knew that I had to send a letter to Connor.

Hi! My name is Connor and I am a Bear in Den 1, Pack 293 in Spring, Texas. I am writing to you because this year is the 100th year of Scouting. To celebrate, the boys in my Den are writing to Eagle Scouts across the United States in the hopes that we will receive 100 letters back.

Here is the letter I sent to Connor today:


September 26, 2008

Dear Connor,

I am writing to you because I saw that you were looking for former Eagle Scouts to share their favorite memories. Your request made me think about Scouting again as my second grade son Henry is starting out in Cub Scouts this year and I’m going to be his Den Leader.

I was a Boy Scout in Troop 1666 in Oregon, Ohio and received my Eagle Scout award on May 12, 1976 in the Bicentennial Year. My certificate was signed by former President Gerald Ford who was also an Eagle Scout. I’ve enclosed a copy of my Eagle certificate and a picture of me with my brother at my Eagle Scout ceremony. You can see the Eagle pinned on my shirt pocket. I also thought you should know that I almost didn’t make Eagle. I progressed rapidly to Life Scout and held that rank for 2 years before becoming an Eagle Scout. My Dad pushed me to finish up the requirements and I am so glad he did as it would have been a shame to be so close and not finish.

My Brother Gary and Me at My Eagle Ceremony

I had a great time in Scouts and have many memories. My memory from Cub Scouting is the first time I participated in the Pinewood Derby. My car wouldn’t go down the track and I remember being very upset about it. What I learned is that it was more important to spend the time with my Dad then worry about how my Pinewood racer performed.

In Boy Scouts, my favorite times were mostly around the campouts I attended. I remember Camp Igloo in February (outside), our local Boy Scout Camp (Camp Miakonda) and summer camp at Camp Pioneer. I also had the special fortune of going on two Boy Scout High Adventure trips. I got to go to Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico when I was 15 and to the Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base in the Boundary Waters International Park near Ely, Minnesota when I was 16. Those two trips were the pinnacle of my scouting career and made all of the effort I put into Scouting worth it.

I have also copied a picture of my son Henry and me in our new uniforms. We are members of Pack 713 in Manhattan Beach, California. Our Pack is notable as a Cub Master from our pack founded and held the first Pinewood Derby in 1953. Henry is so excited to be a Cub Scout and our first campout is next Saturday, and we get to spend the night on the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego.

Good luck with your project and best wishes on your scouting career!

Yours in Scouting,

Tom Humbarger

Are You Boring on Facebook?

Is your Facebook page a barren wasteland?   Does your Facebook page show you as boring person when you’re really not?    Do you have boring friends on Facebook?  Do you want to do something about it?

The idea of Facebook is to connect and share with others and if you don’t want to come across as a social media misfit, you need to actively manage your image.  As more and more ‘older’ people are using Facebook (older as in anyone not currently attending college), it is important to present a somewhat professional appearance on Facebook – especially if you are friending co-workers and other professionals.  It doesn’t really take a great deal of time to put forth a better image and the effort will definitely be worthwhile.

Here are a couple of simple things you can do to boost your Facebook image.

Add a Picture – One of the simplest thing you can do is add a profile picture.  It doesn’t have to be a glamour or professional headshot, but the picture should be a headshot that shows a bit of your personality.  I used SnagIt to create a headshot from a digital photograph.  Another simple thing is to update your picture periodically – like every several months.

And don’t let your Facebook picture look like this!

Make Sure Your Facebook Picture Doesn't Look Like This!

Is This Your Facebook Picture?

Complete Your Profile – You should complete the Info section of your profile as much as possible to show that you do in fact have a life.  Facebook lets you publish several website links, so don’t forget to add links to your corporate website, blog, Twitter page and LinkedIn profile.  I also updated the Education and Work section so it is similar to my LinkedIn profile.  If you are going to list your birth date, I would recommend not showing the birth year.

Link Your Blog to Notes – Facebook lets you import posts from one externl blog into your Facebook Notes.  If you have a blog, you must absolutely link your blog into your Notes.  If not, you could link to your corporate or favorite blog.  Check the Edit Settings on Your Notes to add the blog as shown below.

Share Interesting Articles and Content – I have posted 186 items in the last year – roughly 4 to 5 each week.  Every time I post, the posted item shows up in my Facebook Newsfeed so my friends see it and I can find it later.  For me, this is a great way to bookmark favorite articles, videos and other content that I want to be able to find again.  Social media is all about sharing knowledge with others and sharing interesting articles and links helps contribute to our shared knowledge.

The other great thing is that Facebook makes it really easy to share content.  I use the Firefox browser with the Facebook toolbar which has a Share button.  The are also Share on Facebook buttons that you can add in both Firefox and Internet Explorer.  You can also share links directly from your Facebook profile as noted below.

“What Are You Doing Now?” – Update Your Facebook Status Frequently – You should also make an effort to update your status frequently.  I would recommend doing it daily or weekly at a minimum.  I am an active user of Twitter, so I have installed the Twitter application in Facebook.  Once you set up this Facebook application, all of your Twitter updates will automatically pump into your Facebook Status.  For me, this is the easiest way to make sure my status is current.  And if you an active Twitterer, all of your Tweets will show up in your Newsfeed.

My goal is to convert just one Facebook profile from boring to wow.  Let me know if this tutorial helped and if you have any other quick suggestions.

Bridging the Gap Between Brand Strategy and Design

I found this great presentation on brands that Marty Neumeier from Neutron, LLC, put together recently.  Marty is also an author who has written several books, including The Brand Gap and Zag.

Marty’s presentation is visually interesting and worth looking at from a pure design standpoint.  It also encompasses 164 slides, but you can flip through it in about 5 minutes.

Marty starts out with a definition of brands by stating what brands are not:

  • Brands are not a logo
  • Brands are not an identity
  • Brands are not a product

Instead, a brand is what people (your customers) say it is.

From there, Mary segues into a discussion of the 5 Disciplines of Brand Building that include:

  1. Differentiate
  2. Collaborate
  3. Innovate
  4. Validate
  5. Cultivate

Finally, you can read more about Marty and his view of brands in this interview posted on the Neutron website.

My Favorite Videos From Web Expo 2.0

Web Expo New York was held last week and if you were not able to attend (like me), you can still watch most of what you missed on YouTube.  Here are favorites of the videos I watched this morning:

Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV talks about P&P – Passion and Patience – and says ‘shit’ a lot, but he is always entertaining.

Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals talks about high order bit, software and bloat.

And finally, tech columnist Dan Lyons (the Fake Steve Jobs) tells the story of how he created his Fake Steve Jobs and The Real Future of Technology.

Layoffs in a Web 2.0 World

Layoff Picture Courtesy of MSNBC Media

Is it possible for companies to adopt Web 2.0 practices when they layoff employees?

While layoffs are part of the natural business cycle, what can firms do to put a Web 2.0 spin on this unfortunate part of conducting business in today’s competitive environment?

Speaking from recent “Web 1.0” layoff experience, it is not a very pleasant experience and besides being more than a little inconvenient, it just sucks personally.  If management at a company facing a layoff problem really sat back and examined the process and implications, it sucks a whole lot more for the company.

So what is a Web 1.0 layoff? A Web 1.0 layoff consists of getting a call to your manager’s office, receiving a short but relatively meaningless explanation as to why you’re being let go, and getting a big fat envelope containing a bunch of information to read and sign. Then, you have about 30 minutes to clean out your desk and surrender corporate assets, computer, etc. to the HR representative. This whole process makes the former employee feel like a bit like a criminal or pariah – and while there may be some legal implications to the following this strict process, it doesn’t breed happiness and literally kills off most if not all loyalty an employee may feel for his former employer.

There are many bad thing about Web 1.0 layoffs.  For the employee, there is no closure, no chance to say goodbye to former colleagues, hold a final lunch and celebrate shared accomplishments. Instead, Web 1.0 layoffs are mostly“don’t let the door hit you in the behind when you leave.”

From the company’s standpoint, the impacts are even worse – but I don’t know of any companies that have taken the time or effort to analyze it.   In my case, they just let more than 3 years of corporate knowledge and training walk out the door when I was let go.  There was no chance or even request for me to do any knowledge transfer, hand-off existing projects, or provide a list of pending things that need to acted upon, etc.  I’m not saying that I’m irreplaceable, but I do have a lot of accumulated knowledge that would be hard for others to easily figure out.  Multiply that by the number of people laid off, and the accumulated knowledge is incredible and may even be irreplaceable.

Pete Blackshaw recently wrote a book titled “Satisfied Customers Tell 3 Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000” – which makes me wonder how many friends do “not-so-happy” former employees tell?

So what can employers do to become more Web 2.0 in their process?

Now I’m not an HR or Legal expert, but here are a few tips that draw on my community and Web 2.0 experience:

  • Be more transparent — Web 2.0 is all about transparency.  Definitely discuss the layoff internally and when it’s over, let the world know what happened.  Many companies try to hide the layoffs or are reluctant to discuss them.  But in the Web 2.0 world, people are going to find out so you might as well be up-front and announce it yourself along with the reasons and the steps you’re taking to help your impacted employees.
  • Share the pain — If you know a layoff is coming, let your employees know about it ahead of time.  Maybe they will come up with some creative alternatives to getting over this temporary slump.
  • Don’t do a big bang layoff — If at all possible, work with employees to transition their work over a several week period.  Sure their productivity may suffer a little and it may cost a little more in termination expenses, but most employees take pride in what they’ve done and want to make sure that transitions are smooth.  I’m sure the worry is that disaffected employees will sabotage operations, but I think the risk is pretty minimal here.
  • Introduce impacted employees to your network (borrowed from Phil Bauman) — The people you are laying off are remarkable employees and they deserve all the help you can give them to land on their feet as quickly as possible.  As Phil noted in his blog post:

Here are one hundred remarkable employees. We know they’re remarkable because we hired them. We’re having a tough time right now and we don’t quite know what to do with them. Maybe you or your connections do. Please do what you can because we want our industry to thrive and these people are our industry’s future.

Does anyone else have any other ideas about Web 2.0 layoffs?

January 2009 Postscript – While cleaning out my garage last week, I ran across one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons on the approach some corporations use to solve their headcount problems:

Dilbert - Solving My HR Problem

Dilbert – Solving My HR Problem

Looking for An Example Community RFP?

Is your company starting to consider a community initiative?

Are you wondering where to start?

Have you been looking for an example community RFP?

Look no further.

In the spirit of social media transparency, I have attached an example of an actual Community RFP that I used 2 years when I started the community process to develop what eventually became the Catalyze community.  One of the vendors who responded to our proposal noted that it was one of the most complete and comprehensive proposals that they had seen.

I made a couple of slight updates to the the RFP, but for the most part I would use this same RFP if I were looking for a vendor today.  Feel free to use the example as a template or to give you some ideas for your own request for proposal.  I have left blanks where there was proprietary information, but for the most part the template is generic.

There are two key sections in the RFP template:

1. General information

  • Purpose of the RFP
  • RFP communications
  • RFP timeline
  • RFP preparation
  • Vendor responses
  • Effective dates of pricing
  • Evaluation criteria
  • Right to reject RFP responses

2. Requirements

  • Community strategy
  • Infrastructure requirements
  • Functionality requirements
  • Ongoing management requirements
  • Technology requirements
  • Other requirements
  • Cost requirements

Click on the picture below from where I’ve posted the RFP on or on this link to access the RFP example.  On Scribd, you can view the document or download it in Word, PDF or text format – or share or send it to others.

Let me know if you find the RFP helpful or if you have any additions or comments.