Friday, May 18, 2012

EXCLUSIVE!: @ChicagoCabbie reveals new Twitter account, prepares to further shake city's social scene

Chicago's social media scene is being shaken up by taxi driver Rashid Temuri. Rashid has seen his business increase with countless repeat customers thanks to his embrace of Twitter, FourSquare, Google Latitude, and more. He generously spent an hour with me last night to discuss his story and social philosophies, as well as reveal his new Twitter account. You heard it here first!

How do you come up with new ideas to give your customers value?

I began by packing an iPad and iPhone. I had wifi in my car for my use, and is limited to iPads and iPhones only. It’s a device that is not made anymore; it was locked for iPad and iPhones. When I got the wifi, I thought that it was something I could share it with my customers. That’s something that people find very attractive, that they don’t need to use their own bandwidth.

I also have a Ford Escape hybrid car. My hybrid is one way of letting people know that I am different and have a save-the-trees mentality. People call folks like me a tree hugger, but why not be open about it? Hybrids are good for business, and being environmentally friendly is something I truly believe in as well. For the record, I’m looking to buy a hybrid for my personal use in the next 6-8 months.

As far as multimedia goes, for my personal use I have Hulu and Netflix accounts. They are available for my customers if they want to use them. I also have XM radio in my cab.

These are the little things that really differentiate my business, even if people do not use them so much. What is important for me is to use all the resources I can to promote my business while enjoying the technology. I use my @chicagocabbie Twitter account to mention my location, talk to my customers, give weather and traffic reports, and talk about whatever is on my mind, like jokes.

I still don’t know how much I made today. I noticed that the more I focus on doing my job and providing a service, the less I have to worry about money. If cab drivers are directly connected to the customers and give them what they want, the cabbies will be fine.

What are you up to next that you haven’t revealed anywhere else yet?

I can reveal that the second account I will be running on Twitter will be @hailodriverschi, a driver’s phone and smartphone app. It’s not open to the public, because it is only for the cabbies using the Hailo app so that they can better communicate. Although it is not that active now, I will be running it soon.

If anyone wants to follow @hailochicago, I won’t be running it, but it’s going to be a pretty big thing. You’ll be able to use Hailo to get a cab from anywhere in just two taps on your iPhone or Android. You can pay with cash or card, with no charges above the meter. 

I think Hailo is the best thing for cab drivers and customers.

One thing that you do is allow your location to be tracked using FourSquare. Are you ever concerned about you or your family’s safety?

I have had people ask me about allowing myself to be tracked. Tracking is a little complicated.

First of all, I’m a public figure. It’s not my private life that I’m tweeting about, for example, my daughters’ names. I’m very strict about keeping out my personal life from Twitter. My wife is on twitter but I hardly talk about her, because it has nothing to do with my profession. I track my location using my iPad, but I don’t carry it around with me. The iPad stays in the car.

I do think that it is ok to use FourSquare to check in to restaurants and movies, but I don’t give other details about what I’m doing. If you have a question about the restaurant you can ask me, or a movie that I’ve checked in on. It’s still part of my business, because it’s about what I personally like, and my business has a strong personal brand. Of course, there is a fine line with sharing, so I always try to think carefully about what I’m about to do.

How did you come up with the idea that social media could help your business? Did a friend tell you or were you inspired by someone? Did you have a role model?

I was a cab driver for 15 years. I didn’t have any problems communicating with my customers because I was raised in the US.

I never wanted to be a “chatty cabbie”, a cabbie that never shuts up with customers. But I did discover that a lot of people wanted to talk and tell how their day was or hear how my day was.

What I started learning from talking to customers was that a lot of people didn’t know much about the cab industry. They were also very unsatisfied with the taxi industry.

Believe it or not, there are still people who think that cabbies pay a cut out of what you make to the head cab office. That is a 30 or 40 year old model. Today, we pay a weekly lease rate and the owner doesn’t care if I work as long as I make the lease. Our goal as taxi drivers is to meet the cost of the lease in 2-3 days, and then we try to earn in addition to that.

I decided to use social media to communicate with customers. My wife works for a technology company that is very savvy in how it uses social media. In the beginning I was all about using Facebook. But my wife pointed me towards using Twitter. Up to this point I used to tell people that “I use FB and will respond more quickly with that then with phone calls.”

With encouragement from my wife, I opened a Twitter account. At first using Twitter was very difficult, like for most people, but very soon I discovered it might be the most powerful social network.

When I opened my @chicagocabbie account in 2011, I just wanted to communicate with people. I just looked at Twitter as a doorway to talk to people and get the consumer’s point of view. I was very lucky, because I ran into some very good social media people who are well known, like Leyla Arson (@leyla_a), and as soon as they found out about me they thought that what I was doing was unique. I just kept going and now I have nearly 4,500 Twitter followers.

Twitter is the best tool to find out anything about literally anything as soon as possible. It gets to twitter before anywhere else. The first thing you get from twitter is the info. The second thing is staying connected to celebrities, or movies or politicians. For most people, it is difficult to believe that the celeb on twitter is real. Of course they don’t respond to tweets 95% of the time, but when they do it’s, like, WOW.

I thought all the attention I got for using social media was funny, because honestly until today I don’t think that what I do is all that amazing.

My new social media pals never gave any structured lessons. Of course there were little tips they dropped here and there, but I mostly learned by just hanging out with people, for example at Social Media Club ( Social Media Club’s Chicago chapter meets once or twice a month. Before I used to go to learn. now I mostly attend to meet friends.

The most popular question I still get at Social Media Club is “Are you really a cab driver?” And of course I just smile and say, “Yes, I am.”

Friday, May 4, 2012

7 tips to send stress packing! (Hack your brain post #3)

Social media and digital PR are glamorous! Right?


Well … yes. But PR is also notoriously stressful. As social media expert Glenn Raines (@socialmoves) said at a presentation at Northwestern University last week, “you almost have to sleep with one eye open” with all the ongoing developments in the field. No surprise then that PR professionals are in particular danger of pooping out.

Stress and fatigue can give you more than just a headache. Stress and fatigue can hurt your productivity, ruin your peace of mind and ultimately shorten your lifespan. Luckily, there are ways to deal with stress, some involving mind over matter and some involving ... well ... matter over mind. These techniques all revolve around clearing the mind of clutter through better use of time, more exercise, embracing healthy eating and periodically unplugging from the internet.

As always, these are my opinions and do not replace the advice of trained medical professional. Always check with your doctor before engaging in new physical activity! My lawyer thanks you. :)

1. Breathe

Controlling our breathing is one of the best ways to defuse tension, stress and anger.

When we take a deep breath and exhale slowly, we slow down our heart rate. It is physically impossible to stay stressed when we control our breathing in this way, according to a friend who is a medical student.

My friend, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling. The breath in and breath out should be the same length of time. Even better is to focus on a boring distant object, such as a dot on a wall, and just thinking about it.

With time and practice, controlled breathing can be a quick ticket out of a stressful situation.

2. Work-life balance

Do you know what is the second-most regret the dying think of, as witnessed by a nurse who counsels those on their death beds? “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

The number one reason for having stress and fatigue is poor work-life balance. 120 hours for working, 5 hours for sleeping, 20 hours for coffee, etc. Sound familiar?

This is not healthy behavior for our bodies and spirits.

It is important to realize that we should not be consumed by our work. We need to try giving equal time for play and rejuvenation that we do for being on the job. Of particular importance is spending time with family and friends.

The fourth-most regret heard by the nurse mentioned above? “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Two out of five regrets should tell us something. If we have any choice in how much time we devote to work, we need to give more time for other activities also.

Try this: aim to divide your time into eight-hour chunks. One chunk for work, one chunk for time with family and friends, one chunk for sleep. We may not be able to keep this schedule all the time, which means that we need to make up for lost time later. If you have heavy projects that eat up family time, try to make up for that later.

Quantity of time spent unwinding is part and parcel of quality.  

3. Chunk your time

Much time is wasted in frantic multitasking. Just check your browser window. How many windows do you have open? And how many of those do you really need?

It’s common that we clutter our minds with too much activity, because we are taught that such activity is a sign of productivity. But in fact, there is only so much activity our brains can handle at one time. We cannot do 10 different things simultaneously without a direct loss of focus. Worse, multi-tasking can be tremendously stressful, raising the likelihood that mistakes will be made.

Here’s what to do. Prioritize your tasks. Which ones are really important and require immediate attention? Which ones can wait? Write down the list of items and stick to your schedule!

For me, email is a huge time suck. At the same time, it’s rare that email requires immediate attention. So I set up two small chunks of time early in the morning and late at night for replying and writing. I hold myself to my time limits.

However, I first make sure that I have taken care of priority tasks: my daily quota of reading, homework, spirituality, errands and housework, family time, applying for jobs, getting exercise and social media time, including blogging. At times I move items around if something is getting neglected.

It might sound like I have a lot on my plate, but because I prioritize tasks and limit how much time I spend for each chore I end up being able to do everything, almost everyday. 

Because I am keeping my mind on one task at a time, rather than trying to do 50 things at once, the quality of my work is higher.

5. Work out stress and fatigue

The number one thing we can do to end stress and fatigue is exercise. Doctors and psychologists agree that regular exercise is vital for a healthy body and mind.

Just think about it: our ancestors were hunting and gathering for thousands of years. They spent the day moving and foraging. We may have advanced as a species, but the benefits of exercise are still literally in our blood.

Exercise helps us lose weight, make us look better, improve our mood, prevent diseases, promotes better sleep, and boosts energy. In fact, there is much research emerging that exercise can even treat mild and moderate depression! My medical student friend told me that climbing a floor of stairs can pick up a person’s energy for as much as half an hour.

The best workouts involve both strength-building and aerobic benefits. I have a workout plan that you can do several days a week for as little as half an hour at a time – all weight-bearing exercises are done as 3 sets of 8 repetitions with 90 seconds rest between sets. 

You should lift enough weight that by the end of each exercise you can’t do any more. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, always check with your doctor before beginning new exercises.

If strength-building and cardio are boring for you, you might want to take up a sport. Sports involve competition, and are a fun way to judge our athletic progress.

6. Eat right, drink right

Eating right means staying away from junk food and having a balanced diet, but it also means avoiding alcoholic and caffeine-loaded drinks. Both of these drinks can interfere with our peace of mind.

While pretty much everyone understands that showing up at work inebriated is a bad idea, at least in word if not in practice, caffeine is widely consumed as a lubricant for alertness and increased energy.

Caffeine tends to stay in the body for long after it is consumed. The Mayo Clinic reports that even a little bit of caffeine can make you jittery, and that increased drinking can increase the risk of insomnia, irregular heartbeat, irritability, restlessness, and upset stomach. Not to mention those awful caffeine crashes where energy levels bottom out.

Sound like Caffeine is a drug? That’s because it is. Cut caffeine out of your diet, increase how much you exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. You might have some withdrawal symptoms, but after a while you’ll notice that your energy level is smoother, higher, and longer lasting.

7. Make sure to periodically unplug

Remember, the internet never forgets, and a single thoughtlessmoment can undo months or even years of hard work. Better to unplug and give our minds a rest, if necessary, than post and live to regret it.

Keeping perspective on personal boundaries can be tricky when we spend so much time online. Unplugging occasionally can help us remember that the individuals we interact with online are real people, and that face-to-face contact is always going to be more important than digital relationships.

I think that unplugging can take on different forms. It can involve just taking a 10-second breather to collect our thoughts and think about what we are doing or going to do. You may feel that unplugging for vacation or even longer might be in order.

I unplugged from Facebook once for an entire year. The reasons why require another post, but basically it was because I felt that my social media experience was becoming my primary focus, rather than face-to-face interactions. Unplugging unexpectedly was one of the best experiences I have had. 

When I returned to Facebook, I felt that my social media performance was more focused, not to mention that my posts became more about providing quality content. Although I have always posted regularly, I now post less often on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn than I used to. Paradoxically, my Klout score has risenAlthough Klout is by no means a perfect way of measuring online engagement, I do think that my numbers reflect that my break has helped me connect with people better.

What do you think of these ideas and what do you do to relieve stress and fatigue? What things stress you out the most? I'd love to hear your ideas!