TEDxAustin 2013: A LOVE Letter

The event is tomorrow, and I cannot be more excited to connect, re-connect, and jump in headfirst into one of the most intense and immersive experiences.  It isn’t a secret that I’ve been a huge TED fan for years, but this year, this post isn’t going to be about the actual event.  It will be a LOVE letter.  A LOVE letter to all those who taught me so much during my tenure on the TEDxAustin production team.

Being on the TEDxAustin production team is no easy feat.  We are challenged regularly.  We’ve gotten so good at creating experiences, spaces, and connections, that many on the team should probably add miracle worker to their list of occupations.  Thank you to everyone on the team who contributes their time, energy, ideas, and hearts to this huge endeavor.  Photos by OutboxMail.

I’m quite proud of my TEDxAustin 2013 project.  Shawna Butler called with a question: how can we share the love?  One of the things that Shawna and I talk about frequently are LOVE letters.  When she says, “Write a LOVE letter,” I know the purpose is to connect, give thanks, and to show our appreciation to our partners.



I must give thanks, as well, to Shawna for teaching me about the art of writing LOVE letters.  She tells me often that I’m pretty good at it, but my unspoken response is that I learn from the best.  Thanks, Shawna.  Thanks for being the glue that keeps our TEDxAustin family together.

This project never had an official name.  I always just referred to it as the LOVE letters, and it came to me as I was driving to work, ruminating about our wonky phone systems at work.  I was to call Evan at Outbox to discuss an interactive way to integrate their products into our experience.  Somehow, the idea of mail, phones, and missing connections turned into this idea.  

My idea was to send LOVE letters to our sponsors.  I genuinely do love our sponsors – I’m pretty huggy around them.  The plan was to have our attendees write LOVE letters to them at our pre-event, the Tuesday prior to TEDxAustin.  I spearheaded the pre-event, so that was pretty easy. I invited a dear friend of mine, Lydia Fiedler, and amazing stamping queen to provide our materials.  And I had Outbox provide a “mailbox.”



After the event, Outbox created a video of these LOVE letters to be shared with the world.  We’re not particularly shy about our love and gratitude.  At the event, these letters were stuffed into badges at random, and our attendees were given the following instructions:

“We’re about to start the day with words of wisdom, nuggets of insight, and catalysts for inspiration.  As you go through the day, we also ask you to dive deeply into gratitude and share it in a letter that conveys appreciation to those who committed their time, talent, and resources to making this immersive experience a reality.

During our community catalyst event at TreeHouse, attendees were inspired to write LOVE letters. Through the magic of Outbox they’ve been digitally delivered and you can view these letters of LOVE at http://www.TEDxAustin.com.  

We invite you to share our love. If you find one of these letters in your badge, please personally deliver the letter to its addressee.  Spreading the love, as it were. Fearlessly.”



My wish for this project was to introduce the idea of LOVE letters – how can we show our love and gratitude to others.  Now that it is done (you’re probably reading this after the event), we have documented our love, encouraged others to share declaration of our love to other attendees, and then to connect with our partners.  Post event, we have videos and photos of these love letters to be shared far and wide.

Many thanks to Evan Baehr from OutboxMail, Lydia Fiedler from UnderstandBlue, Stacy Weitzner our TEDxAustin voice, and Shawna Butler for giving this oxytocin-filled project life.  My heart is full thanks to you.

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How to Turn Dealhound Email Subscribers into Loyal Ambassadors

Cross-posted at Trendline Interactive:

It should be no surprise that many email subscribers are in it for the deals and promotions. While you might not think that these types of subscribers would be championing your brand, you might want to open up your mind. Email acquisition through deals and promotion is an obvious extrinsic motivational tactic. Here are some tips to turn that into something intrinsic. Let’s start with defining our terms:

Extrinsic motivation for engaging in a behavior comes from outside of the person’s drive. The deals and promotions are a lure that come from outside (from a brand). Here’s an example: You take defensive driving. You really enjoy spending eight hours sitting at a desk listening to a lecture about checking your sideview mirrors. You engage in this behavior because you really want to lower your insurance rates.

Intrinsic motivation for engaging in an activity comes from within a person’s drive to pursue the activity for enjoyment of the activity itself. Here’s a familiar example: You really enjoy watch football games. You dream about being on the sidelines, sipping gatorade with the players, and dancing during every score. Your home is decorated in your favorite team’s colors: Green and Gold. You engage in these behaviors because you enjoy them.

Intrinsic motivation is much harder to develop and nurture. However, intrinsic motivation is more reliable, and it is honest. You’ll see better reviews and feedback from consumers who really do like your products as compared to consumers who tried your product because of a deal.

Motivations can change from extrinsic to intrinsic. I love to use the example that brushing our teeth as kids was probably extrinsically taught. However, as an adult, I would hope that most people brush their teeth for intrinsic reasons!

Here are 4 steps for turning that extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation.

1: The brand relationship begins as an opt in post purchase or as a sign up through a contest or deal. Motivation at this point is extrinsic. Let’s see how you change that to make it more intrinsic.

2: Engage with the consumer through a variety of routes. Social media channels allow consumers to interact with the brand and to build a relationship. Some tips include:

  • Post comprehensive evergreen content with high share-ability. Participate in conversations around the topic.
  • Routinely interact with consumers, engaging them with your brand’s voice and not just your product. Consumers want to know that there’s more to your product than just the product.
  • Include a surprise when you ship orders. This technique is called “jackpotting” (think of Vegas). The slot machine players get even more intent on playing for longer durations of time after a jackpot.

3: Repeat variants of Step 2. Repeat again. Try it again. Moving extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation is not going to happen overnight nor is it an easy process. Keep chugging along here.

4: You’ll know when you get here. Your consumers’ behavior will begin to change. They will start looking to your brand for information. They will start engaging your brand on topics unrelated to your products and mission. They will begin to share your email content, even the ones without deals. Congratulations. You have successfully turned a previously extrinsically motivated consumer into a loyal ambassador for your brand.

*Do be aware that motivation can also move from intrinsic to extrinsic, which can mean trouble for a brand.  We’ll touch on that in a later blog post.

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Two Types of Online Communities: Which Type do you Have?

Also cross-posted at Trendline Interactive:

Communities is one of those buzz words that has made its way onto everyone’s webpage. Are we really talking about the same thing? The traditional definition of communities doesn’t fit too well in today’s context as the internet has made anonymous and physically separated communities possible. This post won’t deal with all the psychological aspects of communities.  This blog post will deal with the two major ways I group communities. There are small subgroups of communities beyond these two, but here’s a start. Communities can either be built on a platform OR communities can use platforms to communicate.

You might be thinking, “What’s the difference? Users are users. If they are on my Facebook page, they are MY community.” Not so fast, Brand. These users don’t necessarily belong to your community. In fact, many of your Facebook likes might be people who “liked” you to complain on your Facebook Fan page.

1. Communities built on a platform. A common example is (or was) Yelp. Yelp built their own community on their platform. People spend hours and hours conversing on Yelp. Then they met in real life. They hung out with each other. They identified themselves as Yelpers. They had their own independent community, away from other social networking sites. When Twitter and Facebook became popular, some of the members migrated to other channels to converse, but they were still Yelpers.

Another example of this is World of Warcraft (WOW). This multiplayer online role-playing game had a community of their own. The players would spend hours and hours on the platforms. Some of the players met in person. They would coordinate elaborate battles in the dead of the night. I’m sure many college classes were skipped due to WOW battles. WOW player, @trianat, says that though she played five years ago, she’s still friends with some of them. While player quit actually engaging in the game, they still kept ties to people they met in that community. That’s pretty awesome.

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One might also argue that Instagram is also building a community on their platform. Interestingly enough, the community isn’t being build by a brand or the service, it is being built by the users! User lead Instagram meetups are all the rage now (though I haven’t been to any personally). These people are behaving as if they are a community, not just people using a tool for communication with other people they already know. See the hashtag #igersaustin that is being used by the location based Instagram community. This is used to track conversations within local IG communities.

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2. Communities using a platform. You’ll see plenty of these. Facebook is one of these. Twitter is one of these. These tools let people from existing communities chat with each other. If a brand develops a following (the metric not necessarily the behavior) on one of these platforms, do they have a community? I would argue, no. There may be a larger community out there, and perhaps some of the members converse on Facebook fan pages or follow a brand on Twitter. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand “owns” those users as part of their community.

The majority of new tools and services provide the a platform. They provide a platform in which communities can share information or cross promote content. The approach for these communities is very different. The service doesn’t own the community nor does the brand. It is always awkward for me to hear social media managers say things like “our Facebook community.” I’m not necessarily a part of a brand’s community. I likely belong to a larger community and have no loyalty to the brand.

Brands don’t own the community. The community may actually exist outside of the scope of the platform. If Facebook were to disappear, would the community still exist and use other modes of communication? If yes, then community managers need to rethink how they frame their social media campaigns. If Facebook were to disappear and the following disappeared with it, that would be choppy waters for a brand that did not build their own following independent of someone else’s platform. Community managers might start thinking about how to build a following on tools they do own and control. The take away: Build your community on your brand. Grow your audience. Nurture your loyal fans. Whatever you do, don’t ONLY build a following on someone else’s tool.

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The Psychology of Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Sushi, Sushi, Sushi, one of the hottest foods (no pun intended) over the last few years in Austin, is still somewhat of an enigma to us.  I’ve eaten my fair share of sushi and other Japanese food, but still I am a beginner in the sushi realm.  I saw a preview of this movie when I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane training day.  I can’t write a review of Jiro’s restaurant, but the psychological aspects of the documentary struck me as remarkable.  There really won’t be any spoilers, as there really isn’t a traditional plot, per se.

You might have gotten from the trailer that Jiro Ono’s training is intense and brutal.  Apprentices train for years just to learn how to make rice.  Apprentices must first learn how to wring hot towels in their hands before they may touch the food.  Jiro’s attitude towards his work shows a completely different approach than what most are used to seeing.  Jiro never claims to be the best.  Jiro was never cocky.  Jiro and many of the other players in the movie approached their work as a craft.  From the fish vendors to the apprentice chefs, many of them stated that they wanted to keep improving and learn better techniques.

Here’s a few quotes from the film:

You must dedicate your life to mastering this skill. This is the key to success.”

“Even at my age in work, I still haven’t reached perfection.”

“I’ll continue to climb to try to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is!”

This attitude is vastly different from many that I’ve come across.  Often times, people say things like “I’ve done it before. Don’t tell me what to do.”  Or “I’ve been doing this for X number of years. I’m an expert.”  I’ve said it several times before.  I hate the e-word.  I don’t think there’s anything as an expert.  In my experience, people who call themselves experts are the ones who have stopped learning and stopped perfecting their art.  Experts are the ones who refuse to be flexible to change and feedback falls on deaf ears.

I’m a strong believer in being passionate about your work.  People with hardy personalities persistent and are committed to their work will fair better.  They are resilient to stress, and in the long-run, that could be better long-term health (empirical research pending).  One of my favorite hardy personalities is Randy Pausch.

There may be others who disagree.  They say that perpetually striving to achieve goals may be stressful when the goals are realized.  They claim that the constant work has a negative effect, but I would disagree.  People who have a sense of passion about their work live longer.  People who do nothing but “relax,” are the ones that are missing out.  There’s already a plethora of research demonstrating that people who retire young also die young.  There’s also a plethora of psychological work that shows that people are happy regardless of circumstances.

I recommend, instead, to stay alive by staying passionate about what you do.  Never stop learning, and never stop doing.  Without this type of attitude, Jiro Ono might not have every achieve all that he did.  Doctor’s orders!

I found a quote in a Piano Guys video that was in the same vein.  “Don’t only practice your art. Force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” – Ludwig Van Beethoven. 

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Beyond Measure, Beyond Words: A peek behind the scenes of @TEDxAustin2012

I just finished an amazing 6 month long experience.  I after it was all said and done, I spent about 175 hours over the 6 months working on the experience called TEDxAustin.  I was the xLunch producer, and I produced every aspect of the food experience. I did not get to partake in the full experience, but working on the experience was just as amazing.  I can say that I’m even more rich.

Photo by John M. P. Knox @windaddict

I did hear bits and pieces of the talks.  I heard a quote from @JCourt about preemptive love, “ Violence unmakes the world. Preemptive love remakes the world.” I was overwhelmed with the feeling of preemptive love.  My friends who participated in the lunch concept preemptively showed me love.  They dedicated their time and their craft to something I was doing without question. Thank you, friends. Thank you for showing me that preemptive love.

I did sit down for Penny’s talk. I met Penny about 4 years ago at a food blogger’s pot luck at her house.  I absolutely love her, and the idea of that we should live I’m the moment.  Our lives are made up of all these small moments.  See them. Live in them. Cherish them.  I got to meet Penny’s father, and I stole a hug.

Penny’s talk was thoughtfully placed right before lunch.  This year’s lunch showcased some of the top chefs in Austin with deep roots in the food community.  There were several goals for the lunch 1. Create an interactive food experience to drive engagements 2. Serve fantastically creative dishes 3. Highlight the leaders in our food community and 4. showcase locally sourced foods.

Paper dress. photo by John M. P. Knox @windaddict

I was told that it would be a difficult task, but nonetheless, I took it on.  I won’t go into the logistics of pulling off this feat. From table settings to sourcing the food locally, this was nothing short of a miracle. I tweeted earlier that week that I was in the car with 100 chickens.  I didn’t tweet that they were all being delivered to the restaurants and were already dead.

TEDxAustin cake balls by Austin Cake Ball.

I had several people say that I did the impossible.  And they are right.  I did what was impossible to do on my own. With the preemptive love, it was very possible.

I must tip my hat to Rebecca Scofield at Whole Foods for putting in so much time into this endeavor.  She is nothing short of amazing by bringing in Johnson’s Backyard and Vital Farms.  My  chefs wowed me with their creativity and presented a fantastic menu.  David Norman of Easy Tiger started the day with showing people how to knead dough during breakfast, which tied into breaking bread over lunch with friends.  The Natural Epicurean  brought an A team staff to support our event.  The staff was sharper than their knives.

A big thank you to the restaurants and chefs:

And our food partners:

Photo by John M. P. Knox @windaddict.  This was a view from inside the black box.  I loved the design that Jeff Sharpe and Chris Czichos made.  I want them to do that to my house.

In case you were wondering about the menus:

BC Tavern/Wink  -  Broccoli, Bleu cheese mac / Braised chicken (cachatorrie style)/ roasted carrots and spinach

Carillon   - Chicken Roulades, Bacon, Espellete, sherry emulsion / Texmati rice,dried apricots, almonds, celery, black pepper syrup / Carrots, caraway, molasses, pork jus gastrique

Fino/Asti   – Smoked Vital Farms Chicken & Spinach Morcilla Blanca / Carrot Purée / Broccoli Slaw & Egg Yolk Bottarga

Lenoir  -  The Chicken or the Egg – Chicken pot-au-feu with egg ravoili
Swift’s Attic  -  Roasted Chicken Bahn Mi / Broccoli Kimchee Spinach / Quick pickle salad
Uchi/Uchiko  – Vital farms chicken, sweet short grain rice, candied pork belly, crispy garlic / Pickled carrots, pickled broccoli /s pinach oshitaki

It must also be mentioned that just a few weeks ago, Chef Scott Kaplan of Fino was attacked and seriously injured.  While I am sad to see something like that happen, I was thrilled to see that he decided to come out to play at TEDxAustin. You can view Chef Scott’s fundraiser here.

The speakers and sponsors dinner.
Working as the xLunch producer, I got to meet some other incredible people, in very unexpected places.  The staff at the Austin Music Hall,  Pascal’s catering, and Premiere Party were fantastic to work with.  They went over and beyond with helping with the set up and loading.  We also had group of volunteers from Accenture who were amazing. I couldn’t believe how focused they were. I’d love to have them at any event.

The TEDxAustin 2012 copywriting, design, and production logistics were handled by an extraordinary team.  A big thanks goes to Kristin Bender, Leah Kaminsky, and Lisa Cogliati.  Also, Jeff Sharpe and Chris Czichos did all of the design, layout, and building to create the stunning environment at TEDxAustin 2012.  It was drop dead gorgeous.

Close up of the panels.

And lastly, I had the experience of working closely with Shawna Butler.  I must have called or texted her at least once a day during the last few weeks of production.  This woman is insightful, efficient, focused, and I’m guessing that the final singing experience was her doing.  Craig Hella Johnson lead a choir in being.  We announced our being by singing.  We sang to announce our being.  And our being was Beyond Measure.

r being was Beyond Measure.

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The Evolutionary Psychology of Trolls

Ever wonder why some people are so mean online?  One might argue that people are inherently evil and that being anonymous online without having to physically face others gives them the ability to engage in rude behavior.  That’s a classic social psychological phenomenon.  When people are anonymous, they engage in behavior that they normally wouldn’t.  Common examples I use in class are the Ku Klux Klan.  This group masked their identities and committed horrible crimes.  Do you think that those Ku Klux Klan members would have committed those crimes if their faces were exposed?  I’m going to guess not.  This begs the question of transparency now.  Why are people who do reveal their identities still big jerks on the internet?   Why do some people make “hate” for the sake of hating something a sport?

My hunch is that this is because we aren’t evolved to life in large groups.  Our brains were evolved to live peacefully (relatively) in fairly small groups.  Most anthropologists and psychologists I know use ~200 as rough estimate by looking at historical data and examining tribal groups today.  We’re not evolved to live in groups of 1,000,000,000,000 or whatever size city you happen to reside.  Our brains just don’t work that way.  It is difficult to try to get with that many people.  Rarely will I say this, but thank goodness for a larger infrastruture (government) that keeps us relatively well-behaved and functional.

Pre-1995, social groups were still relatively small.  Enter the internet into that situation, and now we’re talking about a different story.  Online groups started on listservs, irc chat, and even *gasp* Yahoo groups.  Now that we have Facebook, Twitter, and a plethora of other social networking sites, our social networks can be gigantic.  I’m making no distinction between online and offline social networks as both are equally real and valid to me.

We now have a situation.  We have brains that are evolved to peacefully live with about 200 people, yet we are in contact with hundred and thousands of new people every day.  It doesn’t take an anthropologist to see why our brains might have a meltdown and why some people misbehave.  This perspective certainly doesn’t jive well with mainstream views in social media.  Social media takes on the perspective that we should have bigger and stronger social networks.  HUGE social networks of people are what is important to personal brands and product brands.  However, this perspective is not how our brains are designed to function.

I’m not debating on how we should change social media practices or how we could change brand management.  I don’t believe that many people in social media or in brand management on behalf a commercial brand cares about the human psyche and mental health.  For most brands in social media, they are only interested in their bottom line.  On the other hand, this post offers a different perspective on online trolling and impression management.

1. The ability to post your opinion in the form of an update, tweet, blog post, or video is a great tool that I love.  I can put my opinion out there for everyone to see.  However, the ability to post anything and everything can lead to an over inflated sense of self-importance.  Some people think that just because they posted something on the Internet, that makes them right (correct) or worse, important.  Your opinion is like your rectum.  Everyone has one.  Even @MouseTheDog has one, that doesn’t mean is opinion is correct or important.

2. Sometimes those people post mean things just to start a riot (online or offline).  I call them trolls.  These are the people to inject themselves into online exchanges (in which they are not invited) simply for the sake of causing a disturbance.  These trolls are the cancer of online communities.  I had a student who told me he frequently did this just to see how upset people get.  There are many of these types of people who say terrible rude things to others via Twitter, just for the sake of attention on themselves.  I used to have a friend who would tell me outrageous drama just to make me or others feel bad.  He reveled in starting drama, causing fights, and most of all, being in the center of it.  Some people troll offline too!  There are theories on what factors or mental disorders (narcissistic personality disorder) can lead to these behaviors, but I’m not going to talk about them in this post.  I’m not a clinical psychologist.

3. While it is difficult to ignore these trolls, you have to realize that in an ancestral environment, you might have never had contact with that jerk.  If that jerk was in your group of 200, he or she would not be welcome for very long.  The best thing to do from an evolutionary perspective is to block that jerk.

4. Conflict is inevitable in large groups.  While it is sometimes possible to get along with people in smaller groups, conflict is inevitable.  I’m in some very supportive and wonderful communities where dissatisfaction and conflict is very, very, very far and few between.  However, once you start adding more people in those groups, conflicts will arise, and they may be ugly.  This can be a great source of distress to some people as balance in attitude and sentiment is really important to some people.  You can read up more on balance theory or cognitive dissonance.  I admit that I used to find it distressing when people were fighting.  Now that I’ve served on at least 20 boards over 30 some odd organizations, I’m pretty okay with conflict in groups.  It will happen, and when it does, I’m not the one who is distressed.  I’ve been told that I have high tolerance for conflict and frustration.  Others say it seems like I don’t care.  It is simply that I view it has part of psychology.  Conflict in larger groups will happen, and that doesn’t mean that people are right or wrong for it.  It just happens.  Business should just move on.

5. Do you have to be friendly to everyone?  Absolutely not!  Apple is not necessarily a friendly brand.  RIP Steve Jobs.  They market to their followers, and they alienate all others.  Dr. Youngme Moon has a section on them in her book, Different.  I highly, highly recommend the book.  *I got a copy free from the Business of Software Conference.*  Mainstream marketers and even customers balk at Apple’s attitudes and methods.  However, it makes complete sense to me from an evolutionary perspective.  Apple doesn’t have to get along with everyone.  Apple doesn’t have to like everyone.  However, Apple does a really darn good job of eliciting loyalty from their fans.  Apple gets along with their smaller (you might be thinking smaller than what!) network, and that has paid off for them.  They’ve decided that their fans are their *ancestral* social networks.  And they ignore anyone who isn’t in that network, much like we ought to ignore people who aren’t in our networks.

The take away message from this post is: We don’t all have to get along.  We’re not developed to get along with everyone, and that’s okay.  If some random troll (online or offline) tries to start drama with you, it is okay to ignore him/her.  It isn’t your problem that the troll has issues. 

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Roadblocks to Fans and Followers: Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior

You might have guessed from my business cards and blog posts that I’m an avid QR code user.  While the technology isn’t brand new and the adoption rate is still up in the air, I still urge people to use them.  The idea for this blog post began when I noticed that many businesses have the Twitter or Facebook logo in their advertising.  It looks something like this.   You might not think anything about it, but the social psychologist in my says “Why?”

You see the name of the business and two widely and easily recognizable logo.  You might think “the business wants people to know that they are on Twitter and Facebook.”  Even though smart phones and internet access 24/7 is a reality for many of us, having to look up someone’s Twitter handle or to search for them on Facebook (I still think the Facebook iphone app is wonky) is cumbersome and a roadblock to adoption.

You might also think that having the Twitter and the Facebook logo on advertising assets is branding you as a tech hip business, but it is really branding for Twitter and Facebook.  You pasting their logos for free on your ads.  That’s great for them, I’m sure.   If you’ve taken a social psychology course, you might have been exposed the Theory of Planned Behavior by Icek Ajzen.  According to Ajzen, planned behaviors such as planning to follow a brand on social media services goes through a series of complicated steps.  In a tiny nutshell, a person must endorse the behavior, the normative belief (perception of other people’s beliefs) must endorse the behavior, and the person much also believe that the behavior is within his/her control.  Those are factors that feed into intention that may actually feed into executing the behavior.

*Used with permission. Read up on the Theory of Planned Behavior here.

So, if only your brand name with a Twitter or Facebook logo appear on advertising, this process of getting people to follow you is complicated. Here’s some examples I found in a magazine.  I personally find the logos in print to be frustrating.   I can’t click the print advertising.  I can’t double tap a newspaper to go to a URL.

First, people have to notice it and intend on following you.  Then people have to go through the entire process of pulling out their phones, deciding whether or not use the appropriate app to search for your brand or to do a Google search for the link to your profile.  And then they have to actually find it.  Having a person go through the search process can be annoying, especially of the Twitter handle is nothing like the brand name or SEO for the brand name is pretty horrific.  If the person searching doesn’t include the words “Twitter” or “Facebook” in the search, it can be an even more painful process.  After the search process, the people have to decide whether or not they like you.  If the search process was painful, they probably won’t like you as much.  If the person has to remember to search for your profile on a desktop computer, the process becomes even longer.

With a QR code (or even URL), many steps of the process that would have to go through Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior are cut out completely.   Here’s some examples of better ways of integrating social media with print or non-digital advertising.

The take away message from this post is that there are already enough road blocks to desired behavior.  You can remove some of those roadblocks by giving your audience an easy way to find you on social media, even in traditional advertising.

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