red balloon

courtesy Pixabay via Creative Commons

courtesy Pixabay via Creative Commons

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of going on a field trip with my second grader to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. We spent the warm and sunny morning touring the grounds and learning about biomimicry. It was fascinating to discover how people have observed and gained insight from nature, copying the successful designs that have evolved over millions of years in the plants and animals around us.

Biomimicry is defined as a “new science that studies nature’s models and then uses these designs and processes to solve human problems”, according to (which is a cool site when you have a few minutes to kill, by the way). Just as the name would suggest, biomimicry is taking designs that work in the natural word (bio), and copying and applying those concepts (mimicry) to our own challenges.

For example, we learned about a quiet, aerodynamic train that swiftly and silently cuts through the air, inspired by the long thin bill of a bird that can quietly dive into the water to catch fish without making a lot of commotion. Another example was how funnels are best for catching more rainwater, which can be likened to the shape of the agave plant. It’s shaped in a way that allows rainwater caught on the outside edges of its long broad leaves to trickle in and down toward the plant’s roots.

Last night I had a little light bulb moment when I remembered an article about social media brands mimicking people. It asserts that the most successful brands in social media are those with personality, that are self-aware, understand hyperbole and make clever jokes with followers. For example, Tesco Mobile has a personable and sometimes biting tone depending on the interaction, and Taco Bell talks to followers like a friend (see image). This got me thinking about biomimicry in social media. There are more and more brands successfully employing personality and acting like one of your friends than a brand trying to sell you something.

Can we take social media mimicking relationships further than selling? In an online article published by the Mayo Clinic, the importance of social support cannot be overlooked in the healing process: “Taking the time to build a social support network is a wise investment not only in your mental well-being, but also in your physical health and longevity. Research shows that those who enjoy high levels of social support stay healthier and live longer.” Unfortunately, developing and maintaining a social support system is challenging for chronically ill patients. Chronic pain causes fatigue and depression; mobility challenges can make it difficult to get out with friends; and some patients are geographically isolated from friends and family.

Could that real world social support system be mimicked through social media? Would patients benefit as much from the virtual support and social connections when healing if a hospital integrated social media platforms directly into TVs along with on-demand entertainment and education? Or by providing Wi-Fi and charging stations for personal electronics, or even social media training and moderated closed patient groups?

A manuscript published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information had this to say: “During the last 30 years, researchers have shown great interest in the phenomena of social support, particularly in the context of health. Prior work has found that those with high quality or quantity of social networks have a decreased risk of mortality in comparison to those who have low quantity or quality of social relationships, even after statistically controlling for baseline health status.” Further, a study cited in the publication found that those with lower social interaction and less social support were 1.5 times more likely to have a myocardial infarction (heart attack) and were twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital than patients with strong social support systems. Also of note, those providing support also benefited, according to the publication, elderly individuals who provided social support and felt more useful experienced fewer incidences of disability and mortality.

Mimicking in-person friendships and support systems for patients is the next evolution of social media. While brands sounding more like people will be the future of marketing success for the foreseeable future, we can take the true usefulness of social media further. The intersection of technology and healing are just being explored, and the concept of virtual support systems mimicking in-person relationships has the potential to revolutionize the way we look at healthcare and getting better.

Email me today to be added to the advance release list for my forthcoming publication, The Healthcare Executive’s Guide to Social Media,

I was invited to do the Tech Talk segment for Fox 10, explaining the exciting new Apple Watch, Apple’s new smart watch developed specifically for use with Apple products. Apple is expected to announce pricing and availability dates at the March 9th “Spring Forward” event, to include 3 models – a basic model (starting at about $350), the Sport version which comes with a highly durable synthetic rubber band, and the higher Edition version with 18k gold casing, predicted to start at the $5-$10,000 range for fine watch collectors and tech taste makers. All watches have a polished sapphire crytal protective face and “taptic” engine, which allows the watch to move with the use of apps or to send “taps” to other Apple Watch users.

While most users will probably not use the watch for extended conversations, calls may be answered, initiated and seamlessly transitioned to the iPhone for a longer chat. The Glances feature will boil apps down to the most important, paired back information from familiar apps for appointment keeping, maps, weather, email and social notifications. The watch is also set to compete with fitness products like the Fit Bit and Jawbone with heart rate monitoring and nutrition apps. Most exciting is the convenience of Apple Pay and Passbook, which allows users to make purchases and board transportation with the flash of a wrist. If your home environment is wired for control through apps, you can even set notifications if you forget to turn the lights off when you leave for the day.

Apple fans are excited to have a watch that is designed to specifically integrate with Apple phones, and we’ll likely see this reflected in responsive web development, with websites and apps designed not just for desktop computers, tablets and phones, but also for small watch-size screens.

While the Apple Watch will likely be met with much fanfare, there has so far been some criticism based on price, the typical Apple design and the fact that some people simply don’t need the redundant services now provided by an iPhone. Skeptics would do well to remember, though, that tablets had not yet been widely adopted prior to the introduction of the iPad – we’ll see what consumers think with the release of the Apple watch this spring.



NLRA and social media

Image courtesy NRLB,gov, read more about recent cases around the nation at


If you’re in leadership for a large organization, you may be bound by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and you may be hearing about the growing concerns around the NLRA and social media.

The NLRA was enacted by Congress in 1935 because companies were growing by leaps and bounds. By the 1950s, about one-third of workers were part of a union. Today, about the same number of public-sector workers belong to a union, and their employers must abide by the NLRA. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was created to enforce the stance of the NLRA, hear disputes, and ensure that employees and employers had a level playing field when it came to bargaining about wages, working conditions and benefits.

While the NLRA has been around for 80 years, only recently has the NLRB gotten involved in disputes involving social media. “Protected and concerted activity” is increasingly taking place over social media channels — that is, activities for which employees may not be penalized. This would include employees having group discussions over social media; criticizing or sharing concerns about compensation or safety issues through written word; and images or videos posted online. With or without a union, employees have a protected right to work together to improve working conditions without losing pay, benefits or being terminated for that activity.

For example, in 2008, Rain City Contractors, based in Lakewood, Washington, terminated five employees after they appeared in a YouTube video. The employees attempted to conceal their identities as they discussed their fears of working at a Superfund site, and the requirement to wear badges that identified them as qualified to work with hazardous materials when they were not. Within days they were fired, and in 2009 the NLRB brought suit against Rain City Contractors, who chose to settle the case and restore all back pay due to the employees.

In another case settled in early 2014, an employee of Hispanics United Buffalo, which provides low-cost services to clients, posted to her personal Facebook page about a co-worker who had criticized other employees for poor job performance. Several other employees responded to the post, defending their performance and sharing frustrations about working conditions, workload and other grievances. The employees were terminated for the Facebook communications, but were later awarded $58,000 in backpay when the NLRB found that the posts were protected and concerted activity under the NLRA.

In addition to harming their reputations, companies who don’t understand the NLRA’s role in social media will be forced to shell out for backpay and penalties. Additionally, they may  be required by the NLRB to update social media guidelines and provide training for leadership and staff.

Most organizations have wised up to creating social media guidelines, but they will need to be updated as settled board law is applied to new cases. Leadership at large organizations will also require ongoing training to understand what they can — and cannot — require of employees. Managers may not forbid employees from “friending” one another or communicating with each other through social media, and dictating topics to employees is muddy and dangerous.

If you have questions about your organization’s social media guidelines, or to be added to the advance release list for my forthcoming publication, “The Healthcare Executive’s Guide to Social Media,” which covers NLRA and HIPAA concerns relating to social media, email me at

Screen shot 2014-12-30 at 2.15.43 PM

I was recently invited to the Fox 10 studio to talk about 2015 tech trends, and what we can expect to see. In this clip, I explain that we probably won’t see anything surprisingly new, but we will see improvement in the quality and price of a lot of the apps and services we’re currently using.

2015 will be the year that convenience technology meets more approachable pricing, making technology more pervasive than ever. ABI research estimates that 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, so we’ll see rapid growth in the “Internet of things” starting this year.

It will be more commonplace to see HVAC, lighting and even sprinkler systems controlled through apps. We’ll also see a new wave of affordable but decent laptops under the $300 mark – they still won’t be ideal for heavy computing, but they will operate well for day to day school, office and personal use.

There will be more services for tracking your children, and for helping them learn to use communication tools responsibly. I really like the Filip phone, it’s a paired back phone watch for kids that only allows them to send and receive calls from 5 pre-approved cell numbers, it can also receive texts, and most importantly in case of an emergency it will call the primary account holder, begin recording audio of background noises and sends an update of your child’s location every 60 seconds. The second generation of the product has just been released and the price has gone down, too, so it’s a great time to introduce your kids to phone safety and etiquette.

Health monitoring like Fitbit and Jawbone are only becoming more popular. Again, we likely won’t see anything new in this category, but the software is going to get better, the monitoring wristbands will finally get more stylish, and these services are going to try to find new ways to remain relevant by integrating with other services and  your other devices.

Healthcare providers will be offering more “telemedicine” solutions, or basic healthcare services provided via web and phone, we’ll see more businesses adopting 3D printing solutions as the quality improves and the price goes down. We’ll also see more biometric security solutions, and “contactless” payment systems, through your phone or key fob for example, and will be considered more secure than traditional debit and credit cards (at least until fraudsters catch up with the technology, that is).

2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year for technology – as prices go down we can expect to see more and more technological solutions seamlessly integrated into our lives. That excites me, what do you think?


Social Media Community Manager University
begins January 20th

I hope the New Year is treating you well! We here at red balloon are excited about lots of new offerings for 2015, like our recently launched training calendar, which includes our new certification program, Social Media Community Manager University, and this month we are beginning a new 4 month session!

If you are you responsible for your company’s social media campaigns, or if you would like to learn the secrets to successfully managing social media for other companies, this this program is for you. Get more details and register here.

You will learn:

+ our proprietary workflow from developing social media content to managing the comments you’ll receive from your audience

+ how to develop a document to direct future content creation

+ how to utilize an editorial calendar to successfully manage all deadlines and details for each social media platform

+ time-saving automation techniques

You will have access to four live educational webinars (one per month starting mid-January), four “office hour” days (one per month starting at the end of January – take the webinar and then call, email or Skype a red balloon trainer during office hours for one-on-one help), our 35 page full color .pdf guide, ‘executive’s guide to social media’, all templates we teach from during the class, and a certificate of completion.

Create a huge return on your investment for 2015 by meeting your social media goals! Register now, seating is limited for quality assurance.