A couple of weeks ago I was in a classroom full of entrepreneurial MBA students, as a guest speaker, answering their questions about me and Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, this blog, and so forth.
When they asked me how I managed my online self in social media, my response went something like this:
I don’t do social media clutter. I think of social media as publishing and I try to offer nothing that isn’t useful to a reader. When I’m on Twitter I tweet only what interests me and might interest somebody else. I highlight blog posts I wrote and posts I read that seem worthwhile. I ask questions. I sometimes share something useful about business planning, or small business. I use TweetDeck to manage my Twitter self, and I set TweetDeck up to share that with my Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Several of the students seemed troubled. One of them asked: “So you never post anything personal? What about who you really are?”
And I realized, with that question, that maybe I was lucky. I got into social media late in life. The topics I care about are business related, and my friends are business related. I was already a published author and business owner. I wasn’t ever tempted to post the kind of personal stuff that gets younger generations in trouble. I was always aware of it as publishing, not just gossip. Most of the students, on the other hand, started on Facebook as high-school or university students. Facebook was fun first, business, if at all, only as an afterthought, later.
So here’s my advice: your social media presence is public. It’s publishing. Never clutter it up with personal trivia, much less drinking parties, embarrassing pictures, inappropriate comments, or anything your adult self might not be proud of. Use phone, sms, and instant messages for playing around with friends. Build a social media presence you’ll be proud of when your next prospective employer, boss, or client looks into it.
Oh, and by the way: you don’t have to call it personal branding. You can just call it taking care of your reputation.
I took a one-hour flight over the weekend and ended up talking to a smart business owner — she has a bakery in a small town in Oregon — who doesn’t have any Web presence.
What’s really cool is that her business, as she described it, is doing just fine. She makes a good living, it’s in a small town she loves, she knows all of her customers, and she enjoys her days. She loves the actual work. She enjoys the baking and she enjoys the interaction in the shop.
She is online, but in her own way. She has personal email and uses it often to keep in touch with grown children and grandchildren.
So, what do you think? Does she need to start a blog? Should she be announcing daily specials on Twitter? Should she have a Facebook account? Should she be apologizing to me (sort of) as we talk on the plane because she doesn’t do any of that stuff?
I don’t think so.
Sure, I do see that the online world provides a great leveler, a wonderful opportunity for even the smallest business to share and validate expertise and build a reputation. I’ve known some and read about many businesses that do very well in online reputation and social media. Still, let’s not assume that everybody has to follow the same path. Are there additional opportunities for my bakery friend? Sure. Is she crazy to just do what she’s doing? What do you think?
May I call it the expert business? It’s kind of like a zoo (no offense intended). There are coaches of all varieties, from business to life to style, to executive and leadership and others. And management consultants, planning consultants, strategy consultants, marketing consultants, public relations consultants, etc. And designers and programmers, project managers, event planners, graphic artists … I’ve been both seller and buyer, and I’m thinking I can help you figure out which section to go to, and which cage to rattle, by sorting through some of the species, and some of the differences.
I worry that people use these terms indiscriminately. To me, a coach teaches you to do it better, helps you, and trains you to do things better. A consultant delivers a report telling you what you’re supposed to do.
A coach watches you do it, then reviews your performance. A consultant studies, listens, concludes, and delivers the conclusions.
Can you tell I lean towards coaching? Maybe because I made a living consulting for 20 years, both on my own and as an employee of brand-name firms. And in my specialty, business planning, having it done for you doesn’t work. It’s like paying somebody to do your exercise. Coaching is more likely to work better. I’ve done strategy consulting, and that’s very similar. Strategies are to develop and implement yourself, over a long term. A coach might help, a consultant, not so likely. I’m immersed in social media, and I think that’s another example of something you so yourself, ideally, rather than have done for you; which means it’s another area for coaching more than consulting. And PR? Maybe you have somebody do the press releases, and arrange the meetings, and suggest tips and techniques, but do you believe in anything actually said by a spokesperson?
Ideally, you look for a relationship in which you are buying, and paying for, just the expertise. Pay the expert to coach you as you do it yourself. You pay for fewer hours, but you still get the benefit of somebody else’s experience and expertise. That’s the best of both worlds.
(Note: as the conceptual author of Business Plan Pro software, I’m completely biased on this point, but I’m amazed that any business plan coaching or consulting relationship doesn’t include two copies of business plan software, one for coach and one for client. That empowers the client, who has to own the plan to implement it, and focuses the consulting work on coaching, not doing. Both sides win.)
I overheard (couldn’t help it; waiting in line) somebody complaining about social media metrics like the Klout score, a measurement of influence. She said: “What’s up with these people to try to judge and rank people?”
And I thought to myself:
1. You are always being judged and evaluated…
A couple of generations ago we were all judged on appearance, dress, diction, actual resume stuff, and perceived resume stuff. We went from being tracked through dumb class to smart class beginning in first grade through the whole high-school thing with grades and SAT scores, dating and coolness assumptions, athletics, accerated classes, or not. And then there was which college, which degrees, and, finally, for some of us, which grad degrees. And did we marry or not, and if so, kids or not. And then where we lived, what car we drove.
People have been sorting and selecting and evaluating and judging other people for thousands of years. There is nothing new about that.
2. At least it’s objective…
So now it’s almost 2011 and we’re all doing it as much as we ever did. I don’t deny it. I google you if I’m going to meet you, check out your blog if you have one, your website if you have one, look at the “about” page to see what you think is important about yourself, see who you think you are. Don’t you?
So what’s so bad about a ranking system for Twitter and Facebook based on some algorithms, measuring how your self-published items flow to the rest of the world?
(Disclosure: one of my daughters works with klout.com)
Let’s say you’re involved in social media for your business and you’re the victim of a social-media attack. Somebody you don’t really know singles you out because he’s mad at your company, or had a bad day, or whatever; and launches an attack out of the blue, mentions you and the company you work for, and claims you treated him badly. Ouch.
So you’re just doing your job, doing your best, dealing with a lot of people at once, and suddenly somebody targets you. They are messing with your business reputation. It happens a lot. People whose job involves dealing with a lot of people do become the target of personal anger that’s really directed at the company, the situation, or life itself (sometimes it’s one of those bad day things, a last straw situation) and it ends up feeling really rotten, like having an enemy for no good reason.
So let’s say that has happened. You’ve been blindsided by one of these attacks. What do you do now?
1. Stop, breathe, think.
Remind yourself that the meanness usually shows. Assume you’re dealing with an idiot. At least the smart people who encounter one of these attacks will see through it. They’ll click links to see where it started. They’ll see the malice if they look.
2. Don’t take it personally.
I know this is hard. We talk about thick skin, but jeesh! People can be really mean sometimes. Why do they take their anger out on you? Remember that if part of your job is dealing with a lot of people, then these things come with the territory. You have to have thick skin about it because if it spoils your day then that’s bad for your health on the long term and it makes you unhappy. The idiot had the power to make you stop and think about a response. That’s all. Don’t give him the power to ruin your day, or even your hour. He ruined your moment. That’s all.
3. Decide whether or not to respond.
Sometimes the most eloquent response is silence. Be careful, though, because more often than not, silence gives the wrong impression. And it might even be bad for your health too.
4. Settle your anger and hurt first, then respond professionally.
If you should respond, take your time, be careful, clear your head first, and give a single response you can live with forever. Don’t argue, apologize. If an apology makes sense – don’t take it personally, this is business, you didn’t mean to offend, you didn’t realize, it was accidental, part of your job – make it a clear, clean apology that covers the whole issue. Make it one you can live with, without further comment, forever. Make it a response that shows the world that this was one-sided only.
Don’t get mad, get even. Expose the idiot by staying professional and not engaging.
5. Then forget about it. Let it go. Get on with your day.
If you like this job, and you like dealing with people, then of course this hurt your feelings, but you have to get over it or it continues to hurt your feelings. The idiot spoiled your moment, and that’s his fault; but if you brood over it or stay angry or hurt, then that’s your fault. Because what happens now is in your control. You can minimize the damage, or not.
And for extra credit…
Even though it’s been more than a year now since I wrote my 18-point Twitter Etiquette Primer, I believe all of it as much or more now. I did have “don’t argue with people in Twitter,” but I didn’t have “don’t use Twitter as a weapon, a threat for blackmail, or for venting.”
Have you seen that bumper sticker that says “mean people suck?” What do you think of people who blindside other people by broadcasting personal complaints on social media? Pie in the face might be funny when the Three Stooges do it in black and white film, but mud in the face in social media isn’t. It’s meanness multiplied by social media influence.
For real information, watching what people do is way better than asking them what they think, what they did, or, the worst case, what they intend to do. That’s why I like this new click-based and search-based research so much. Don’t go with what people say; go with what they do.
This particular post, for example, uses Google Trends to illustrate the comparative rise and fall of the common phrases. You can see at the bottom of this post how the trends chart shows the rise and fall of the three terms “new media, web 2.0, social media.” You can look at the chart here – taken from that post, which, in turn, highlights research done by Justin Kistner posted on socialfresh. He’s saying that social media is the new third wave of the Web, and he uses the Google trends search and news charts to illustrate. I hope you can see it on the chart below. In Web searches, on the top, “new media” gradually fades from 2004 to now. “Web 2.0” goes up fast in 2005 and 2006, but peaks, and then falls. “Social media” goes up gradually, but seems to be accelerating. In Web news reports, on the bottom, social media is taking over.
That’s done with Google Trends. Try it. Go to the Google Trends Web tool and start typing in search terms to see what the whole online world has been looking for, and finding, for the last few years. Try it with the terms “hamburger, sushi” and then with “Twitter, blogs” and you’ll see what I mean. I like what I see for “accountability,” which I think is increasing in importance these days.
This is a great tool for thinking, and planning. Educate those guesses.
I just read about a university student who was dismissed from the football team because he complained about the coach on his Facebook page.
And there, in this person’s unfortunate plight, we get a good reminder: a lot of what happens in social media feels private, but isn’t. It’s publishing.
It’s that feeling of private that gets people into trouble. Sort of like speaking quietly to the person next to you, you think, and then discovering there was a live microphone right there, turned on, blasting your remark to a room full of people.
Once you’ve published something via social media, you are responsible for what you’ve said. In many cases, you’re responsible forever.
If you insist on thinking of it as conversation, then think of it as conversation next to an open microphone in a room full of people.
Somewhere in the 1980s we coined the phrase “first mover advantage.” Right or wrong, I associate it in my mind with the birth of Compaq Computer, in the middle 1980s. Compaq’s original 34-pound sewing-machine-sized computer was dubbed the first compact computer. Luggable was more accurate. And it wasn’t the first, either.
This bugs me. “But that’s not new,” people say, meaning, as they say it, “so it can’t be an interesting new business.” It’s an idea fetish. It misunderstands that underlying fact that being first doesn’t mean diddly without getting the traction to stand out, and stay.
Apple wasn’t the first personal computer. And Google wasn’t the first search engine (I read recently it was the 11th). Amazon.com wasn’t the first book site on the Web. And so it goes.
Which brings me to Google Buzz. Not first, at all. Not original. But very powerful. My favorite quote on this is Mobclix evangelist Megan Berry’s Power Trumps Innovation post on Huffington Post yesterday (bias alert: she’s my daughter). She says:
So how is Google Buzz different? It doesn’t have a character limit and conversations are threaded so you can comment below the original post. (OK so there’s actually a few more differences and you can check out Monica O’Brien’s ode to Buzz for the play by play). But, honestly, that’s pretty much it and neither of these ideas are really new. Google Buzz is decidedly unoriginal (for more on this check out TechCrunch’s superbly titled If Google Wave is the Future, Google Buzz is the Present). There’s nothing new here. Threaded comments have been around since online forums, the idea of social sharing is so 2005, and choosing who to follow is, well, have you heard of Twitter?
I totally agree. It’s not new, but it’s very important, because Google has power. We can’t ignore it.
A case in point, actually, is how many of us will revive our gmail facility just to get into Buzz. I’m annoyed, I admit it. This means that if I’m going to be absolutely up to date with everything I do in blogging and Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn these days, now I have to add Google Buzz into the mix. I’m really hoping Tweetdeck adds it into the interface, like they did with Facebook and LinkedIn, so I only have to go to one place.
What I mean is: damn! Another social media platform? Really? But this one is Google, so I don’t dare ignore it.
And that’s the point. Like Microsoft before it, Google has the power to jump into a market after it’s become important, and change it, even, in a short time, lead it. So first mover advantage? Well, not so much.
It was one of those sudden-realization moments for me.
I was talking to one of my favorite lawyers last night at a local startups event (smartups.org). He mentioned a person I’d sent to him a couple weeks ago. That person had asked me to recommend a small business lawyer, and I recommended him.
The realization was that she — the person I’d sent to him — felt like a friend. I feel like I know her, like her, and trust her. But I’ve never met her. I’ve never even talked to her on the telephone.
I’d met her on Twitter. She popped up with interesting comments in a chat I’d been in, so I followed her. I got to know her with the links she recommended via Twitter, and then her blog posts, and eventually email. I liked her writing and read her book that she recently published. And I’m glad to know her, and consider her a friend, even without ever talking to her.
Over time, at 150 characters per comment, plus reading blog posts, I can get to know a person and his or her work, and end up liking that person. Strange, but true.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I like the new world we’re calling “social media.”
This post title should be recited to the tune of “lions, tigers, and bears, oh my;” that is if you’re old enough to remember The Wizard of Oz, or young (at heart) enough to have seen it as a rerun. It’s rhythmic and its cyclical and it never stops.
Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn are potential business advantages right now. Believe it or not, Twitter offers me real productivity gains. If you don’t see it yet, you will, later on. Facebook and LinkedIn do that for others (not me, but only because I can’t deal with too many different media). Businesses that manage these facilities well are ahead of the game, for now. If you don’t believe me, look at Zappo’s valuations when Amazon.com bought it.
Soon, though, they’ll be expected. It won’t be that businesses operating on the leading edge get credit. Instead, it will be that businesses operating behind that edge will suffer.
That’s the cycle: technology boosts productivity, and that boosts expectations, so we go back to the start again.
I’ve seen that same cycle for a long time now, over and over. When I started with spreadsheets, in 1980, they were so new that my use of spreadsheets gave me competitive advantage in business school. (That image to the right is a 1979 ad for VisiCalc, the first mainstream spreadsheet). Not any more; everybody assumes spreadsheets. Complicated spreadsheets don’t buy anybody competitive advantage. The same was true, believe it or not, with word processing (yes, there was a time when business people didn’t all understand word processing). Now we all assume that. There was a time when an early personal computer and WordStar software and a daisy wheel printer was a huge competitive advantage. No longer. And the same thing happened with desktop publishing. First it was competitive advantage, but then the bar was raised, and it became merely expected. And with email, and Internet websites. Technology to productivity to expectations to back to the start again.
True, we got better output. Spreadsheets give us better business analysis, word processing gives us better writing tools, and desktop publishing gives us better output. But we don’t spend less time. We just expect more.