4 Reasons to Join a Professional Group

If someone were to ask me what had an impact on my career, I would point to my membership in Virginia Professional Communicators and National Federation of Press Women.

Early in my career, VPC afforded me opportunities to learn and develop skills, such as publishing a newsletter and organizing events. Those skills were invaluable as a PR director for a police department. Later, I became president of both my affiliate and the national organization and honed my leadership skills. Attending conferences is where I first learned about blogging and Twitter.

The professional groups I belong to today — VPC, NFPW and PRSA — keep me from becoming stale. I have learned about using Twitter during a crisis and how drones can impact reporting, for example. I learn about new apps such as Slack.

Membership in these organizations also keeps me connected to colleagues in the profession. Sometimes you just need to share (or vent) with someone who gets the challenges of the industry. During a particularly challenging time at the police department, I was able to speak candidly with an NFPW member who had been involved with Columbine. I knew I could share anything, and not only would she would not repeat it but she would offer advice (and did).

Networking with others in the industry also promotes brainstorming and idea sharing. One idea for a conference emerged when three of us were riding in an elevator and sharing about our field. We were all working in higher education at different universities in different states and we realized we had much in common and much to share. At a future conference, we are going to have members eat lunch together based on their affinity so that they can brainstorm and share ideas.

The year is young. Why not find a group in your industry and see how it can benefit you — or how you can benefit it.

In the comment section, would you post the professional groups you would recommend to others and why?


When to Say ‘Yes,’ When to Say ‘No’

A friend emailed me the other day with the subject line, “Am I Crazy?”

She had been presented with an opportunity to take on another project that would come on the heels of another project for which she had also volunteered. She does have mad organizational skills, but I suspect that when she asked the question, she had some doubts as to whether she could do it all.

I couldn’t answer the question for her, but I could provide her with a few more questions that if she answered those, she would be able to decide if she should take on the additional project.

The first question I asked her was “Do you want to do it? Why?” Okay, it’s technically two, but sometimes we say yes to things because we are simply flattered to have been asked, and yet we may be too busy for the extra work. Sometimes we say yes because we are caught off guard. Sometimes we say yes because it is something we want to do, but it may not be the right time to do it.

However, if you say yes to the question and have a good reason — or two — then you are one step closer to a final answer of yes.

The next question is “Do you have capacity to do it without impacting your current workload?” This one is critical because if you don’t have the time, then you have your answer, “No.” It doesn’t matter how much you want to do it, how flattered you are or how it fits into your dreams. If you don’t have the capacity, you have to say “no” because otherwise, you won’t perform optimally.

If you have a good reason for doing it and you have capacity to do so, you need to ask yourself “Will my boss support me?” If your boss does not want you to do it — she may know of another assignment she needs to give to you or she’s concerned about you being stretched too thin — then unless you can convince your boss otherwise, you should say no.

The last question, I suggested my friend ask herself was “Will you make others crazy?” I suspect many of us — myself included — have taken on an extra assignment only to talk about it constantly, whine about it or ask others for help. In other words, we bother our colleagues and family. And because they didn’t volunteer for the extra assignment, it’s not fair to them.

I suggested to her that if she could successfully answer these questions, she would have her answer.

How do you know when to say yes and when to say no?

Demystifying Big Data

If you hear the phrase “big data,” do your eyes glaze over? Does your heart race?

They shouldn’t, at least not according to Scott Hicks, senior director of Data Strategy for Snag a Job, which connects workers with hourly jobs and employers with hourly workers. He recently spoke about demystifying big data.

“It’s less about the size of data and more about our ability to quickly analyze it,” he said. Thanks to mobile and social platforms, it’s easier and faster than ever to be able to do so. The other impact on big data is storage costs. Back in 1980 a gigabyte of data cost $193,000 to store. Today Hicks said, it’s 2-cents!

The result is that data is constantly being collected, analyzed and shared.  In fact, 90 percent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years, Hicks said.

He shared a quote from American biologist, researcher and theorist E. O. Wilson, who said. “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

As for privacy, Hicks said not to worry. The data collectors “don’t care about you as a person individually, it’s the collective.”

If you don’t want your data collected, you could opt out by not having a cell phone or not going online, but you would miss the advantages. “You could live in the woods off the grid, but you would miss the kitten videos,” Hicks said with a laugh.

So much big data exists today for a few reasons. One is that researchers no longer have to do statistical sampling to deal with large sets of data. Accuracy is better, and segmentation capability has increased. Today’s systems also provide the “perfect means of testing new products, messaging and positioning,” Hicks noted. This leads to mass customization and recommendation engines.

Today big data is trying to be wrong less often, Hicks said.

The result is that users of big data have access to sentiment analysis and are able to test product positioning and messaging. Other uses include isolating and targeting key influencers and measuring the impact of paid placement versus earned media.

Despite privacy concerns, Hicks said that most companies are not going to misuse the data they collect. “When you misuse data,” he said, “customers become less likely to share it.”