Matt Overby, Executive Director of Summit Leadership Foundation

Matt Overby, Executive Director of Summit Leadership Foundation

Recently I’ve noticed a trend among my 30-something friends with young children. When it comes to social media, you can’t find them (or their babies.) One of those friends, Matt Overby, the 37 year old Executive Director of the Summit Leadership Foundation, decided, along with his wife, to “cut the social media cord” when their infant son was born last year. I was interested in why a very tech savvy, marketing-oriented leader would choose to do this. So I sat down to interview Matt and ask him about it. Matt has extensive training in the hospitality industry both at Starbucks and at Chick-fil-A, and he is a student of Leadership Guru John Maxwell. Our seven minute conversation is well worth the listen to see the insights into a young father’s mind as to why he did not want his baby on Facebook, twitter, instagram or any other public platform.

Although I had seen this trend with Matt and others, in researching this pos,t I found only one article about it called “No Baby on Board: Many Parents Keeping Info About Their Babies Off Social Media.” Ironically, after I left the interview with Matt I bumped into another young father and shared our discussion with him. This very tech-savvy dad told me he also quit social media when his first child was born. “Not with facial recognition,” was his comment as he shook his head “no” when asked if he posted his kids’ photos on social media platforms.

What’s been your experience with other parents of newborns? Are they staying on social media or quitting? I would love to hear from you.

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Beautiful Christmas decorations adorned the Martha Washington Inn weekend when we were there in early January.

Beautiful Christmas decorations adorned the Martha Washington Inn.

The first month of the new year is a fresh start for everyone. We all begin at the January starting line together. Many of us work on our company’s strategic plans over the holidays and prepare for what lies ahead. But how many take the time to create a strategic plan  with their spouses and families?

Four years ago my husband and I sat down for the first time in our then 16-year old marriage and wrote down a plan for the future. We have literally checked off the “action items” we created in that meeting one by one over the ensuing years.

This year over the first weekend of 2015  we took an overnight trip  to the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Virginia (one of our favorite getaway locations and location of our honeymoon night!) The Inn’s General Manager Chris Lowe gave us a wonderful meeting room space, complete with a roaring fire, to work on our family’s plan. The idea of being in a neutral, quiet location with the chance to talk is one I highly recommend. Also, by spending the night at “The Martha” we had an opportunity for some fun together time (like swimming in the indoor salt water pool) and it wasn’t “all work.”

Here are our tips for your family’s planning:

1- “Begin with the End in Mind.” That famous Stephen Covey statement is a great place to start. Decide on a family mission statement and work backward from there OR work until you come up with your family mission statement as we did during our first meeting several years ago. That gave us a starting point for this meeting.

2- Get away! Go to a neutral and preferably “get away” location where you and your spouse can have some fun too. Do not try this at home or at either person’s office. (We know we’ve tried!)

3- Ditch the Devices: Take calendars, notepads (the kind with paper) and pens or pencils. We turned off our mobile devices during our meeting and just focused on one another. We manually wrote down the tasks and goals for 2015 and beyond. We wanted to focus on each other and not on our screens.

4- Follow up: Be sure to turn the notes into an easy to reference “action item” list to refer to throughout the year. Post that list in a prominent place in the kitchen where you’re bound to see it. Then check-off items as you complete them.

5- Share with your children: Include your children in some portion of the planning process if they are old enough. Our “tween” has great insights and unique points of view (particularly about family vacation planning). When we returned from our “getaway” we shared some of our discussions with our son to get both his input and his ideas to make the 2015 Miller family plan even better.

Have you created a strategic plan for your family? If so what tips would you add?


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(Editor’s note: This post was originally written for the 10th anniversary of the day that changed our country forever. Here is a reprise.)

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001

Anyone who was an adult twelve years ago vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. Here’s my story.

It was a beautiful, clear and sunny morning in Johnson City, Tennessee, the place I had called home since moving south 16 years prior. I was the marketing director for Hunter, Smith & Davis law firm. We were hosting our large, annual employment law seminar at Millennium Centre in Johnson City. We had a good crowd that morning and things were moving along smoothly. I was standing in the back of the room watching one of our attorneys’ presentations when a Firm partner, Mike Forrester, slipped in the door and whispered, “Did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center?” Immediately my mind began processing this odd bit of information. My husband enjoys flying small planes for a hobby and I tried to envision some crazy pilot in a single engine aircraft hitting such a massive structure. “Is the weather bad in New York?” I whispered back. “No,” was his answer.

Moments later Mike and I and several others were piled out in the hallway watching the televisions that hung from the Centre’s ceilings. It was, in fact, a beautiful day in New York just as it was in Tennessee. And this was no small plane crash. As we watched the story unfold on CNN, reality slowly began to sink in. These were major aircraft and this was no accident. A secondary story unfolding before my eyes was the reaction of the people at the seminar. The attorneys kept their cool. One of our senior partners said, “If we stop now we give them exactly what they want.” And so the seminar went on. One person who worked at the Centre however was not so calm. I had to repeatedly reassure him that the world was not coming to an end. We did not all carry mobile phones with us ten years ago as we do today. I had to borrow a phone from a friend in order to attempt to reach my husband who was employed at a nuclear defense plant. His work voicemail said  that the plant had been evacuated and he would be in a safe area. And so I returned to the TV set and watched with horror as people ran from the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings. I recall feeling eerily that it was like watching a bad “grade B” movie. I also recall the calm steadiness of Scott Powers, an Annapolis grad and attorney for the firm as our eyes were cast upward. Our attorneys assured people who needed to go to check on their employees or loved ones to please do so but you would be surprised how many people stayed for the luncheon that concluded the session. There was comfort and assurance in being in a large group in a safe, secure building far from New York City or the Pentagon.

I recall that a close friend was very upset that her four year old kept watching the scene re-played as he stayed with his grandmother. “He keeps thinking it’s happening over and over,” she bemoaned. It was a very upsetting day for all of us who lived through it and a turning point for our country. Never again would we experience the freedoms that we had back then. If the United States were a dog we were probably a big, lovable Labrador until that time. After September 11th we became a snarling Pit Bull much more wary and cautious.

There were some good things to come from the tragedy. One first-hand example was our son. He was born in the baby boomlet that followed 9-11. He will never know the America I knew prior to that day. To him, removing his shoes at airport security is second nature, just as it is to have liquids over three ounces confiscated.

Each year when the video re-plays of the burning twin towers begin airing, I generally cast my eyes in the other direction or change the channel. “I was there. I lived through it,” I mutter, much as a veteran chooses not to watch a war film. This year avoiding the images will be nearly impossible as most every channel is already running features on the historic tragedy. Perhaps I will watch. Perhaps I’ll go for a walk with my son instead.
photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

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Theresa Decker, Jason Lamb, Mary Ellen Miller and Sarah Kinsler on the social media and teens panel.

Theresa Decker, Jason Lamb, Mary Ellen Miller and Sarah Kinsler on the social media and teens panel.

Recently I was asked to speak as part of a panel discussion on social media use and teenagers as part of a panel discussion at my church, Grace Fellowship Church. Below you will find the questions along with my answers as a parent and as someone who appreciates both the positive and the more dangerous side of social media. Of course Instagram, twitter, vine and Snapchat were named as some of the more popular platforms with today’s generation while Facebook still thrives among “old” people (read: parents.)
1. Before I share my interest in social media just a quick funny story about how the world is changing so rapidly. The other night I saw my 11 year old son doing what I thought was playing on the iPad and I asked him to put down the iPad and do his homework! Whoops! He said “Mom, I am doing my homework!” He absolutely was! He was  doing his vocabulary homework and looking up words on dictionary.com on the iPad. Point is: we must always be thinking in new and different ways and his version of how to do homework is quite different from mine (remember pencil and paper?)
I have worked in and around social media since 2008. As a parent I am very interested in staying on top of trends and keeping up with what is out there. I even look over his shoulder when he’s playing Minecraft just to see who else is or could be in on the game. I believe as parents we need to know who our children are communicating with online. It used to be we worried about the creep down the road at the playground but now that playground is a virtual playground and we need to be just as vigilant if not more so than before.

2. What has been the number one benefit of social media both in your
professional experience and your personal life?

My embrace particularly of twitter was a game changer in terms of getting me first interviewed by TV news when I first started my business and them actually creating a TV news series called “Social Media 101” that aired on the evening news. I have been asked to do public speaking on many occasions because of my knowledge and use of social media. I have been asked to speak at conferences and on this panel because of social media. Sarah Kinsler and I will be attending a conference in Atlanta this week strictly on the basis of colleagues I have met through the #soloPR twitter chat I’ve been involved with since founding my business. In terms of my clients I have assisted my political PR clients with gaining a presence on social media for the past five years. Currently I am assisting Lisa Rice in her political campaign for Criminal Court Judge Part 1. At first she resisted going on Facebook because she uses it against people in court. Her view has changed now because she sees the importance of this new “word of mouth.” On a personal note Facebook enables me to keep up with dear old friends and family.

The MarketingMel team hammed it up when the discussion turned to #selfies.

The MarketingMel team hammed it up when the discussion turned to #selfies.

3. What has been the biggest threat/abuse/downfall of social media
that you have experienced?

The biggest threat/abuse/downfall of social media is probably the people who are using it for illegitimate means and who target cyber “victims.” You have to be savvy and I don’t think young children can always differentiate between good and bad. I also see how social media targets you by the demographics they have on you. If you don’t believe me, log on as someone else. I used to log on as a male client sometimes and would get completely different ads. I met a man at a conference who was considered a “god” of social media. He spoke all around the world on the subject. He had thousands of followers and “friends.” (Zuckerberg’s rewritten the meaning of the word friend) but this man tragically took his own life. The thing that absolutely makes me want to cry was the story of the young girl who had been cyber bullied and she took her own life by jumping off a tower. That was such a needless tragedy. BTW I make it my policy to never friend anyone less than 13 on Facebook. I just don’t want to have anything to do with a child that young on Facebook for many different reasons.

4. If you could communicate only one caution about social media to
parents, what would that be?

My caution about social media to parents would be that you must be vigilant. Do not bury your head in the sand. Find out who they are communicating with and what they are putting online. We all have a digital footprint that follows us from womb to beyond the grave. Make sure you know what platforms your kids are using and friend them and follow them.

Photos from our event were live streamed via Eventstagram.  We received very positive feedback from the parents who attended. What advice do you have for parents and teens concerning social media?

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(Editor’s note: This article is co-authored by Mary Ellen Miller and Sarah Kinsler, a recent ETSU Public Relations graduate and assistant to MarketingMel.)

Sarah Kinsler,MarketingMel assistant and intern Kristen Pierce.

Sarah Kinsler,MarketingMel assistant and Mel’s intern Kristen Pierce, leaders in the next gen social networkers.

The once great love affair between America’s youth and Facebook  is over.  The social network, once the “craze” for teens a few years back, has slowly turned into a ghost town when it comes to high school aged kids.


Why you ask? It’s simple. Now that Facebook has become the chosen network for the middle aged and even seniors, teens are feeling a little “crowded.”  Now they aren’t sharing info, updates, jokes with just their friends, but with Grandma too! Another reason of course is teens are all about chasing new trends and being involved in the newest networks. So adios Facebook and Hello Snapchat, vine and Tumblr.


Snapchat, a mobile app sharing service, lets users take short video and photos, then allows users to send as a message.The unique thing about this app however is that once the message is seen, for a very short amount of time, it self destructs (or so teens believe). This is huge right now because teens find it fun that they can live in the moment and not worry about the consequences of a photo/video being taken for a permanent record.


Another popular app right now (number one on iTunes actually)  is called Vine. The is app was created by Twitter to take short video clips and mash it into one looping six second short video.  (Sarah and Mary Ellen created this video on Vine while waiting to be interviewed about recent youth trends at WJCW radio last week.)


Tumblr is also very big right now. This app is for photo blogging and creating fun profiles that represent the user. It provides teens with a since of creativity without the extended family watching their every move.

To listen to more of our discussion on youth and social media trends please listen to our podcast.  Prior to the podcast Mary Ellen posted on both her Facebook business and personal pages about youth leaving Facebook and got a resounding “yes” from parents who agreed. What trends are you seeing in social networking and youth communications these days?


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We gave out socks, a precious commodity, to the homeless people we visited.

We gave out socks, a precious commodity, to the homeless people we visited.

Last week I served on a mission trip to New Orleans. I had been to “NOLA” once previously on a business trip more than 10 years ago.  Today the Crescent City delineates time quite simply: “before” and “after” Katrina.

The hurricane that hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005 left a vivid mark on the city’s inhabitants. Like a permanent battle scar, New Orleans residents point to water marks high on school and restaurant walls and recall the day that the levees broke. Our group was mesmerized as Alf Nelson, a native New Orleanian and pastor at Crescent City Community Church, toured us through his world.

Our mission team from Grace Fellowship Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, painted playgrounds and built fences during long days that began at 6 AM and ended with lights out in a bunk room at 10 PM.  Sometimes we were still cleaning showers at 11 PM. Then we’d fall into bed exhausted and start over the next morning. We enjoyed the gestures of appreciation we received from the students, coaches, principals and teachers at the elementary schools where women and children on the team worked. The men built a seven foot high wooden fence and gate to keep tools and other precious items safe. We learned that thievery is a way of life for some in NOLA and keeping thieves out is a way of life for others.

The most memorable part of our week was our morning spent with Pastor Troy Gause, an African-American bi-vocational preacher (he is also a school bus driver) from Crescent City Community Church. Troy took us out on “street ministry.” There we confronted the problems of homelessness and addiction that Troy and Alf had described to us. We learned that New Orleans ranks second in the country for homelessness. Its warm weather and constant “vibe” draw people to the rapidly growing city.

Both pastors are highly trained and skilled at reading people and knowing when someone is ready to enter rehab and when someone is simply looking for a place to spend the night. The ministers look for people who are sincere about entering rehab so as to avoid a set-up for failure.

Ministering with bags of burgers and socks along the river in NOLA.

Ministering with bags of burgers and socks along the river in NOLA.

After our training with Troy Friday morning, we picked up 50 McDonald’s cheeseburgers “to go” and headed downtown to the riverfront. Seeking the warm March sunshine all along the banks of the Mississippi on that sunny day were people, tired and dirty, without homes. I met a couple, Scotty, Kim and their yellow lab mix, Ginger, who told me  that they were living in their car. Scotty was looking for work. They enjoyed the burgers and socks we gave them and they eagerly gulped our bottles of water. My ten year old son presented them with silly bandz. His nine year old friend gave them hand-made scarves.  We learned that socks are the gold standard for a homeless person who walks miles in a day.

We were able to connect several people with Pastor Troy who ministers to them right there on the riverfront. His “church without walls” meets each Saturday morning at 9 AM in the gazebo and he encouraged people all along our route to come and join him there. If you’ve  been to New Orleans you’ve no doubt walked right past it or heard musicians playing there.

I’m back home in Tennessee now as I write this. It’s raining hard outside and I hear the drops splattering on the roof. My Jack Russell Terrier is dozing in a chair nearby. I can smell our pot roast dinner cooking in the crock pot. Soon my husband will call or text and I’ll pick up our son from school.

And I wonder, where are Scotty, Kim and their dog Ginger now?


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The flag in front our Tennessee elementary school says it all.

I first learned of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut from my iPad last Friday. I was lying on the couch nursing a bad case of bronchitis, reading an e-book when the NY Times alert jumped out at me. I checked out various sources online,  flipped on the TV and called my neighbor. Both she and I are parents of elementary school aged sons. We too have children at a K-4 elementary school. We too have a buzz-in security system. We too have children anticipating the excitement of Christmas. Together, we cried and we prayed.  Then I had to think about how to tell my 10 year old son.

I arrived at school a few minutes early Friday, got my visitor’s badge and sat quietly in the back of his classroom. His teacher gave her final Friday announcements to the group of 4th graders surrounding her on the floor as she sat in her special rocking chair. I couldn’t wait to hug my son and head out of school with him safe in my arms and then inside the car. Since both of us were recovering from “bugs” we decided to get a pizza and some Christmas movies and just “hang out” all evening by the Christmas tree. After we got the pizza, as we were driving home, I said very calmly, “I want you to hear this from me and not from the news or anybody else.  A bad guy shot and killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school and then he shot himself.” My son, who is a very high-empathy child, responded: “Oh, that is terrible!” Then he and I immediately prayed for the families who had lost loved ones.

And from that point on our normally news-addicted household has been on a news fast. My husband was in complete agreement on this and we catch each other flipping channels and turning over newspapers when my son is nearby.

Here are some tips to help you as you tell your children what happened:

  1. Talk with your spouse– Make sure he/she is on board with your joint communications about this very important issue.
  2. Be calm– Your child will pick up on your anxiety or your calmness. As in any emergency, level heads prevail.
  3. Remember you are their number one news source – Every child is different. You know yours better than anyone and how and what they can handle.
  4. Be honest but brief– Do not go into any gory details. That would be far too much for a child’s young mind to absorb.
  5. Take a news fast– When your child is around keep the TV off or tuned to something else.
  6. Use this time to watch Christmas videos– We’ve watched “The Grinch” several times together as a family already.
  7. Do not feel guilty about celebrating the holidays– (I got this tip from a mental health professional and think it is a good one.) We still must go on with our lives and our children, like all children, are excited about the coming holidays. Let them be kids!
  8. Pray– With your child, let’s all keep praying for those families in Connecticut. And, while we’re at it, let’s pray for our country too.

Do you have other items to add to this list? Then please share them in the comments box below. Thank you and may God bless you and yours this holiday season.

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Women control or influence 85% of all consumer brand purchases.

How should advertisers market to women? Stephanie Holland of the “She-econonomy” blog was one of several fantastic speakers at the recent Southeastern P.R.S.A. 12, who spoke about the changing role of women consumers, particularly since the recession.  “Women have changed and we’re not getting put back in the box,” said Holland who used as one example the need for “life stage”s rather than ages of women in characterizing them.  “A 40 year old female might be the mother of a toddler or she might have a child in college.” Advertising has changed forever thanks to social media, women and money she said. “We no longer trust the government, corporations or big business but we trust each other, ” said Holland. “The consumer is in control.”

Some other interesting facts presented by Holland:

83% of women are busier than ever but they are not willing to give up anything

36% of women hold a bachelor’s degree

28% of men hold a bachelor’s degree

70% of all new businesses are started by women

4 out of 5 stages of the purchasing process are led by women

85% of all consumer brand purchases are controlled or influenced by women

BUT 91% of women do not feel advertisers connect with them. Holland says brands need to “listen and engage with women for success.”  Holland showed this amusing video to illustrate the big disconnect between what advertisers think and women’s real consumer behavior. What are your thoughts? If you are female, do you relate to the woman in this video? (I know I do!)

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