Why Unicorns?

Sometimes you pick your memes, and sometimes they pick you. So select wisely. Why do unicorns appear so often in my Twitter stream and on whiteboard worldwide?

Unicorns are rare indeed.

Unicorns are rare indeed.

Let’s start with some functional definitions of a unicorn. At it’s core, it’s a mythical creature. Yes, breaking news, unicorns are NOT real. The mysticism and search for perfection is at the heart of the connotation of the word.

The tech world has long embraced the term to mean everything from a perfect but unattainable solution (e.g., a single pane of glass management solution) to a super high-functioning team member (see also, “rock star”) to the individual who possesses a heady blend of tech prowess and communications skills.

“Unicorn” can be used adjectivally (that’s a unicorn solution you’ve just proposed), but is most commonly a noun (see, “Interview with a Unicorn“).

A quick search led to some fun results charting common usage:

Since I need to be working on a PPT slide and not writing this blog, I’ll let someone else hunt the first use of the term. I couldn’t find it, but feel like it was coming into prominence within the last 2 to 3 years.

Beware the dark side.

Beware the dark side.

Now turn back time to the Summer of 2012 when I was developing the Engineers Unplugged concept with Brian Gracely. By developed with I mean he told me to stop being boring and produce something.  We whiteboarded out the basic concepts that very afternoon.

Brian challenged me to find some connective thread through the narrative of varying tech talks, something everyone could do and that would set the tone of an otherwise serious and technical show.

Secretly, watching highly intelligent people scramble to draw a unicorn is both highly entertaining and disarming.

The unicorn challenge was born in the second episode.

I didn’t create unicorn lingo, I just borrowed it from the community I was joining. For the record, I never owned a single unicorn-themed anything as a kid. Now I have a rich variety of unicorn items and toss the word around like a native.

Punk Rock Unicorn: My Spirit Animal Phone Case

Punk Rock Unicorn: My Spirit Animal Phone Case

Another fun fact, in 6 seasons of shooting Engineers Unplugged, with an average of 12 episodes per season, no one has ever refused to draw a unicorn.

So the better question may be, why not unicorns?


Next Up: Why bacon?

Is This Seat Taken?

It’s August again, and for me that means both preparing for back to school and kicking off tech conference season. For my kids, it’s getting school supplies, new outfits, and a pep talk about dealing with getting shuffled in with a new bunch of students.

Warming up for conference season.

Warming up for conference season. #TBT (I hear cloud is going to be big.)

Ironically, for the tech conferences, it means getting new promotional supplies, new outfits (or at least a pair of heels I can run in), and a pep talk about getting shuffled in with a new bunch of community members.

In 2011, going to my first VMworld, I knew maybe 3 people, and that’s rounding up. I was the new kid in class. Another little secret—I’m actually a rather shy person, and 50/50 on every introvert/extravert test. So I ate most lunches alone that year and sat near the booth trying to convince people to go on camera for an interview series (before Engineers Unplugged!).

What brought me out of my comfort zone was knowing I had a job to do. I was being paid to attend this conference in large part to engage with other people and I was failing at it. So I smiled brightly and went for it, remembering the wisdom of a colleague: don’t ever sit with people you know.

Is This Seat Taken?

Is This Seat Taken? Anyone, anyone?

That was very easy, as I knew so few people. “Is this seat taken?” became my new catchphrase. The advice stuck, though, and became a bit of a personal quest. I work for a big company, so there’s almost always a co-worker to sit beside, but isn’t that what the office is for?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to spend face time with all the friends and colleagues I usually see on a small screen—but what about everyone else? After all, somebody out there is the new kid this time, just like I was. Lots of people don’t come with 20 co-workers in tow, it’s just them. If you want to become influential outside of your own cube, this is your chance! (This would be the “Show Up” part of the Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up.)

Trade secret for people who manage tech events: make it easy for people who attend alone to feel comfortable and you’ll have a great turnout. 

What's a v0dgeball tournament?

What’s a v0dgeball tournament? It’s charity dodgeball event run by EMC at VMworld, and a definite icebreaker.

If you’re the new kid at an event this year, please say hello, to me, to other people in the community, to a speaker you admire. If you’re an established community member or a seasoned conference vet, make this the year you shake things up by sitting with someone new every day at some point. Our community is that much stronger by growing.

I’ll close with sharing one of the first videos I ever made in my conference career, which led the handful of people who watched it and recognized me to yell “hey legwarmer girl” at the show. If you’re concerned you’ll make a fool of yourself trying to meet new people, take comfort in knowing I’ve already got that covered.

Tweet Anything: My Next Role

After a few years of working with the Data Center and Cloud community at Cisco, it is time for a new challenge–the very best kind of challenge, taking what we’ve built and engaging new communities!

Here’s my attempt to answer some FAQs:

Q: What do you do exactly?
A: I serve the community that uses, makes, and sells Cisco technology. I market to and with them. I am a professional unicorn herder and bacon consumer. I build content and relationships as part of an integrated marketing strategy.  For the last few years, I’ve focused primarily on the Data Center and Cloud worlds.

In my new role, I’m taking this practice to other communities within the Cisco portfolio. Look for a couple of guest hosts on Engineers Unplugged and an expansion of that platform. I’m always hunting for new ways to promote the Cisco Champions and connect them with the latest and greatest tech info and experts. I will continue to meet and greet on Twitter and find ways to gather the tribe IRL too.

Q: How do you get a job like that?
A: I saw a business need, made a case for it, and made it up as I went along. Here’s what it looks like in my head . . .


My comms strategy pre-Twitter.

My comms strategy pre-Twitter.

Lloyd Dobler: I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

Q: So you Tweet for a living?
A: Yes. That’s what I do. Alas, “short-form copy writing” is but one aspect of my job. Like the rest of you, much of my time is spent building reports, pitching ideas, organizing and promoting content, and planning for the next thing. Think iceberg–the sparkly 20% you see conceals the 80% that looks a lot like work.

Also, every single one of my mentors that contributed to this new role I met because of Twitter.

Q: Is your job as awesome as it looks.
A: Yes, yes it is, and that’s 100% because of the people with whom I get to work everyday. Being paid to get smarter and geek out is the best. So thank you to everyone who has ever raised their hand to be part of the community, recorded a video or a podcast, shared your knowledge, or cheered your colleagues on.

Special thanks to the renegades in and around my management chain at Cisco who have agreed to take a chance on us!



The Approachable Tshirt

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and everyone was generally in a good mood. It was tshirt weather, and I wore this one:


People smiled at me. More than one person complimented the shirt. It’s hard not to laugh when you see it. In short, it’s an Approachable Tshirt.

In my line of work, people are often categorized one of two ways: suits or tees. Either you’re VP/C level/business person or you’re a techie with a more casual dress code. In marketing speak, these are the “technical decision makers” or “TDMs” (why spell something out when you can make an acronym?).


Hanging out with my fellow Geek Whisperers. (Photo credit: Nick Howell)


So this is part of a continuing effort to answer the question I’m most frequently asked, “how can I connect with this community/audience/buying center?”

First Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up. Effort matters, and there are no shortcuts. When you do dress up, consider a tshirt. It’s not the right choice for all occasions, but wearing a “Will Virtualize for Bacon” shirt is almost guaranteed to start a conversation at a tech conference. (Shirt credit and thanks to Gabriel Chapman!)

I would like to claim the concept of the Approachable Tshirt as my own, but credit goes to my mentor Brian Gracely (check out his CloudCast podcast!). When I was getting started in this industry and in the role that would become Influence Marketing, attending my first local meet-ups, I asked him about dress code. He said jeans and a tshirt.



Little did I realize then what good advice it was. If you want to know your audience, join them. Wear an Approachable Tshirt.

For more about the practice of Influence Marketing/Community: 



Influence Marketing Defined (Social Media Redefined): People, Platforms, Content

Nothing creates more discord than using the same word to mean different things. The more we agree, the harder we fight. Such is the case with social media practiioners, who often take vastly different approaches to their execution.

Here’s how I see social media:


It’s the interaction of three key elements: people, platforms, and content.

1. Social media practioners who focus on platforms enjoy driving traffic, measuring, and mapping the best content to the appropriate platform.

2. Content creators and curators have transferred a traditional content marketing skill into new mediums for social consumption.

3. The people part of social is the heart of Influence Marketing (see The Influence Diet for more). Working with the subject matter experts to create content for the platforms–that’s where I focus.

No one circle can exist in isolation, but most social media practitioners major in one or two circles and minor in the others. Unicorns emerge when the three circles are in harmony.

What is a unicorn? Listen to the latest episode of The Geek Whisperers: Unicorn Husbandry for an introduction to this mystical world of the most valuable asset in your company.

Does this definition work for you and your social media practice?


The Influence Diet

Of all the questions I’m asked, “how do I scale influence” has been the most common as of late. The concept is catching on–an acceptance that the center of power has subtly shifted from traditional organizations (AR/PR/IR) to a more distributed model of “citizen analysts.” (Term intentional, that’s a blog for a different day.)



(The new media center of power: bloggers!)

My answer (as previously blogged, Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up) is as popular as responding to the question of how to lose weight. There is no pill, no restrictive food plan, no celebrity endorsed Ab-Blaster, no magic bullet.

Distributed marketing is just that, distributed. Reaching the niches takes time, research, persistence–that’s the Influence Diet. People are not robots, by definition, and influence is about relationships, not demand generation and click-thru rates.

Whereas traditional marketing and publicity relied on a strategy of a single rock in the pond, creating as large a splash as possible, sending the wave out as far as possible, influence marketing and the social media vehicles that support it are more like a thousand pebbles.



There is no quick fix, it’s sweat equity. The good news, anyone can do it. That may also be the bad news, but it’s the future regardless. Are you prepared?

Three Influence Diet Tips:

1. Air cover. Anyone can start down the path to becoming an influencer by following the Get Up, Dress Up, Show up method, but to take it to the next level in the corplife world we live in, you’ll need someone up above you sanctioning the work. Do the work, document the results, pitch your case. Try the sales team first, they speak this language and always have.

2. Information. If you’re working with influencers, arm them with information. Make it accurate and timely. Trust smart people and accept that they’ll disagree with you sometimes.If they don’t or you don’t listen, you risk inoculation from hearing about your flaws and potential fixes.

3. Amplification. There is great value in promoting the wisdom of others. Step out of the way and help them be heard.

Inspiration for this article provided by a miniseries we have going on The Geek Whisperers. Check out these episodes, and look for some more healthy debate from colleagues across the PR/AR disciplines coming soon.

Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up

Great words of wisdom from my friend, who took them from one of those feel-good filler stories about someone who lived to be 100+ years old. Sometimes there is no unicorn, just consistently being present.



Oftentimes I get asked about the secret to growing a significant social media following (though why they are asking me and not someone who HAS such a following is a blog for another day). Or the converse, people complain that they are overlooked for an opportunity.

Get up, dress up, show up.

You don’t have to be the fastest runner, the most profound blogger, the wittiest whiteboarder, you simply have to be the whatever-est one that shows up.



So much of social media success is predicated on consistency. Yes, intelligent conversation is a major plus, as well as decency in behavior, but showing up is well more than 3/4ths of the battle.

You don’t have to be the loudest. Showing up can mean listening, learning, and sharing that with your offline community. But show up. I am always impressed by the people who take a chance on taking this advice, and do it. I have case studies, you know who you are. People who took the chance of pushing past comfortable, trying something new, and sticking with it. Well done.



I’m preparing to run my third 5k (my second was technically a 5 mile, but I’m blocking that out). For my first, I ran on one hour of sleep. Yes one. That was not my choice, but a by-product of how my job works when I’m at a technical conference–I don’t really go off the clock for a week.

I am a terrible runner. I started the habit late in the game, I am better at short bursts than distance, I have a bum knee, etc.

All that aside, I showed up for the first 5k, and I ran and completed it. Sure, a guy passed me saying “you’re going to let yourself get passed by an old, fat guy?” I showed up for what I thought was the second 5k, found out 2k in that it was 5 m, ran 5k and walked the rest. Point being, to paraphrase another friend, I’m still faster than the guy sitting on the couch.



Get up, dress up, show up.