Social media is turning into your dad

Do you remember when you knew everything in your glorious teenage years? Do you remember how you despaired of your parents and then as the years passed (you mightn’t be there yet) you started to turn into your parents? :-)

Aside: My 5 (nearly 6) year old already refers to me as his “old man” – it’s very depressing.

Well I think social media has passed through the teenage years and is now getting a little flabby. 

Let me explain.

When “social media” first appeared (before it was called social media) it was all about the conversation, it was about connecting with people and it was about authentic communication.  That last one was my personal favorite.  We were going to move away from corporate-speak and instead write for people.  I love this.

However, the emergence of all our beloved social media gurus has stymied our progress.

You see there’s a lot of blog posts to write, a lot of tweets to tweet and let’s be honest limited content.  You can only talk about conversations, connections and authenticity so many times before you become repetitive or worse bore yourself.

So what do you do?

Well you do what marketers have done since the 1950s. You invent all these silly little words that mean nothing and you also overuse superlatives.

In effect, our social media gurus have left the world of plain speaking and morphed into the same old habits they decried five years ago.

I read a post this morning from a very fine man, who does a fantastic job evangelizing the importance of social media and after reading it three times I still couldn’t quite believe or understand what he was writing:

  • attention economy
  • social objects
  • human network
  • social exchange

What a load of rubbish (or trash).

Stay away from the light social media gurus.  Turn back.  Remember the old days (oh 3-4 years ago) when you railed against corporate-speak. Turn back.  Rediscover your roots.

Stop inventing silly words and trying to add science where it does not belong.

You remind me of my dad.

Going to the International Corporate Citizenship Conference 2010 in Boston?

I will be travelling to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from April 11-13 to attend the International Corporate Citizenship Conference 2010  hosted by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston.

If you’re planning on attending do let me know.  Rumor has it that they may even allow me to share some grumpy thoughts on CSR and social media. 

It’s only a rumor mind.



Re-thinking personal reputation

Yesterday Mike Arrington posted a story about a start-up who later this week will be launching a service that’s effectively a Yelp for individuals. 

Mr. Arringtron asks if – with the launch of these services, along with the growth of personal data online – we need to become more accepting of people’s indiscretions. It’s a worthy sentiment but of course the reality is different.

It’s already pretty easy to research people online whether using a search engine, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other many social services. In an environment like the internet where everyone has opinions and many aren’t shy of sharing them, managing a personal reputation becomes more difficult.

However it’s also true that managing a reputation has always been complex and it could be argued that the internet just makes it more so (Read Frank Shaw’s post: Reputation is more important than ever – some good common sense comments also). 

Valeria Maltoni had a related post over the weekend which looks at today’s reality where everyone is the “media” and everyone can share their views online.

So given it’s going to become more difficult to manage an online reputation.  What’s the answer?

Well as I wrote previously one of the ways you can manage your reputation online is by investing in it.  Be aware that before people meet you they’ll probably do some research online.  What are they finding? Engage with people online in a thoughtful manner, understand the privacy implications of your online presence.  Avoid the temptation to indulge in the knee jerk pontification that so many people seem to engage in online. (Have a read of Dave Fleet’s post today: Cut companies a break )

Yes, managing a reputation is hard.  But first and foremost you need to manage what is within your control.  The reality is that people disagree and accidents happen, but investing in yourself is a great start. Building a strong reputation has always taken time and with that investment you can deal with issues that will, no doubt, arise. This advice of course applies to organizations as well as individuals.

As always the best advice is to plan ahead.

Common sense ain’t thought leadership either

Recently I wrote about the importance of being yourself online and avoiding the temptation to call yourself a guru or a thought leader. Today I want to touch on a separate but related issue. 

A common theme from a number of highly rated social media related keynotes and posts  – which it should be said are very interesting, relevant and well written and/or delivered – that I’ve watched and read recently, have focused on the importance of things that you’ve been reading in management or marketing books since the 1960s (probably earlier):

  • The customer is king
  • Build a relationship with your customer
  • Provide great customer service

Although I’ll admit we often forget these basics, and it’s great that people remind us, and even better that they provide context for how social media can help address these issues.  It’s not revolutionary. It’s common sense.

For me, the real challenge is taking this common sense and making sure it’s part of what we do. There’s no question that there is value in that. 

Let me give you a PR example. The poor press release.

Now let’s get the baggage out of the way:

  • Yes, press releases are overused
  • Yes, the press release is an old format – created in a world far different to today
  • Yes, most press releases are badly written
  • Yes, most press releases are unimaginative
  • Yes, most press releases are a waste of time for the reasons outlined above and because they are mis-used and badly “shared”
  • Yes we should re-think how we use, plan, write and share press releases

I don’t debate any of these points (so save your exasperated comments) it’s common sense.

But rather than take these lessons on board, we had to go after something “new”, so we created (and I use the word we in the royal context) the social media release.

It emerged with hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts, webinars and even (I kid you not) training courses.

I’ve never bought it.  Well maybe I did for a little while.

The press release is just a tool, it serves a purpose (see some of the old links below).  Why not use our common sense and  just make it better:

  • Focus on something that’s newsworthy – not everything needs a press release what about blogs, Twitter, Facebook or lord forbid calling someone?
  • Add some real creativity
  • Invest time in the writing and more importantly the editing process
  • Tell three dimensional stories with online content and links

Obviously the list could go on. 

The core point is this – use some common sense.  Common sense is open to everyone, there’s no barrier to entry.  Adding common sense approaches to solving new or old challenges is probably every bit as effective as pretending something is bright, shiny and new, when in fact, it isn’t. The challenge is applying that common sense to the new new thing.

Just my thought for what it’s worth.  Very little probably.




Supplemental links for the press release nerds out there:

PR Blogging old timers

Earlier today I learned from Jeremy Pepper via Twitter that Phil Gomes has temporarily suspended his blogging activities.

Phil was one of the first PR folks (along with Jim Horton and Richard Bailey) that I came across when I started blogging many years ago.

In a trip of pure nostalgia I searched my old blog archives to find out when I first connected with Phil, and discovered that unknown to me, today is the eight anniversary of my first blog post.

Like Phil, my recent volume of writing has (and many would say thankfully) slowed to a trickle, but I’ve decided to keep promising myself that I’ll do better in the future.

We’ll see…

CSR, social media and your self-defending brand

One of the biggest concerns executives voice about social media is the lack of control.  The idea that anyone can comment, share or disagree with you makes people uncomfortable.  Of course the fact that you know people are having these conversations about your brand or product, and that – if you choose  – you can engage with them, is far better than not knowing at all.

As I mentioned previously, Corporate Social Responsibility is increasingly becoming an imperative for every company – big or small. CSR is not about token’ism.  It’s not about throwing a cute photo of a puppy with sore eyes on your website and donating $1,000 to an animal shelter, it’s not about pumping money at a problem.  Effective CSR is about understanding how your business can operate responsibly and what resources you have that can have a beneficial impact on your community and often more importantly help your people to have a positive impact.

There’s a lot of cynicism online.  And that’s one of the reasons many companies often shy away from “publicity” around their CSR efforts.

However, here’s an alternative view.

If you make a sincere commitment to address a real issue using your resources and your expertise, then that is something you shouldn’t shy away from communicating in an appropriate manner.

One of the interesting things that I have noticed recently, is that where it’s clear that a company is making a sincere effort to drive positive change (on any issue) the internet can be a positive environment for debate and discussion.

I am seeing more and more cases where internet citizens are actively addressing cynics and actually defending companies who are doing the right thing. 

This is a development that all communicators should be monitoring. 

There is nothing more effective than individuals standing up for your brand and calling foul on people who are making unfair or illogical criticisms of the work your are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, you will still experience negative sentiment, but if you are committed to do the right thing, then often you will be pleasantly surprised at the support you’ll receive and often from unexpected quarters.

Self-promotion isn’t and shouldn’t be your motivation for implementing corporate responsibility, but it is yet another business benefit and one that will become increasingly valuable as your brand lives and dies online.

You are a social media what?

Here’s a definition:

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

For me the key word here is recognized.  Unfortunately by this definition, 99% of our self-styled social media “thought leaders” are precluded.

That’s a shame.

As a former colleague once commented to me about their boss – who desperately desired that their PR program position him as a thought leader – there were only two problems; a lack of leadership, and a lack of original thoughts.

In case you’ve missed it there have been a growing number of posts and discussions online recently about the subject of Personal Branding.  Some from those who despair at the homogenous claims of thousands of people who are self styled thought leaders, and some seeking to provide some honest advice on the matter.

I’m not quite sure why this has suddenly become the topic-de-jour among the digerati – nor am I sure if I care terribly much. (Yes this post is turning grumpy).

But let’s face facts. 

People have been claiming themselves as social media gurus and social media thought leaders for years.  There’s something about this social media stuff that encourages those people – who in all honesty you would typically avoid spending a lot of time with in real life – to make fatuous and in most cases uncorroborated claims about their own wonderfulness.  (Aside: This is most often observed on Twitter where someone with 12 followers claims in their bio they are a Twitter guru – expert in building followers.  Now if they had only waited until they had 15 followers that would be a little more credible – in my humble opinion.)

Can I be honest with you for a moment?

If you are peddling views on how to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to drive followers and traffic, you are the same as about 1,000,000 other people. If you’re calling yourself a thought leader or a guru based on those opinions, then by definition, you’re not.  Sorry about that.

So let’s stop all this fluffy self promotion.

The best way to build your personal brand is to be yourself.

By all means share your opinions, your experience, your time and your knowledge. Engage with people.

That’s how you’ll be successful, not by telling anyone who you happen to corner that you’re a thought leader.

Actually while we’re on the subject of personal branding, I’m not sure my own is going terribly well.

I was talking to friend and former colleague recently.  He’s a gentleman with whom I worked for many years and he made the observation, out of the blue, that he hadn’t actually realized how grumpy I was until he started reading this blog.

Subsequently another friend commented to me that I clearly “wasn’t what you’d call a thought leader on all this social media stuff”.  When I asked what had motivated that compliment she pointed to my many negative posts about Twitter and the fact it took me a long time to catch on. (of course like any good PR practitioner although I *thought* Twitter was a ridiculous fad, I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and did sign up in January 2007 – phew).

Besides discovering that I had tripled the readership of this blog and that I need to disable the search function, I thought it was a useful reminder that people can quickly have perceptions about you from your online ramblings, social network postings etc.

Luckily, in my case, the summary of my personality as a grumpy luddite, isn’t too bad at all. I’m happy with that.  It’s better than many of the potential alternatives…

Don’t be afraid of talking about Corporate Social Responsibility

Partly in response to my post about the growing importance of appropriate communications on a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, the Textifying blog over at Arizona State University (sorry there’s no bio page and the post was written by ‘tburns’ – and I tried to leave a comment but couldn’t) published a post entitled: Socially Responsible Communication Methods.

Among other things, the author expresses their conflict at the idea of an organization communicating or promoting its CSR work:

In a way, the idea of “promoting” the good a company does reminds me of people who only do generous things so they can brag about it later and create the image of a genuinely nice person. This defeats the purpose of giving and destroys the definition of a true “kind soul.”

First off let me say that I am delighted that they wrote this post.  As I mentioned previously there’s far too little discussion on the PR implications of CSR, so it’s great they took the time to share their views.

However, I should also point out that I disagree with their sentiment, and let me explain why.

Every commercial organization, regardless of its location, business or size has a social responsibility.  Why? Because every business, whether directly through its operations or indirectly through its staff is part of the local community and broader society. 

In general, good CSR means aligning corporate responsibility to the organization’s business strategy.  This is important for a number of reasons.  If CSR is aligned, then it can have a positive impact for the business – it will therefore create value and will be sustainable over the long term – that’s how CSR can deliver real measurable impact. 

Today stakeholders; from investors, to customers, employees and investors want to know what companies are doing in the community and society at large. If we can agree that it makes sense to align CSR efforts to the core business, then it becomes a central element of what that business does. That’s why communication is important.

CSR is about more than philanthropy – albeit that’s an important element.  CSR is about being a responsible business.  It’s about good corporate governance, ethics, being a great employer, reducing environmental impact and many other elements. But let’s focus on philanthropy for a moment.  In my experience, the value a company brings to a non-profit organization is three fold.  The first, and most obvious is financial support, but in many cases the expertise and resources a company can bring to bear through a strong partnership is often more important.

Companies can often help nonprofits broaden the reach and impact of their communications – raising awareness and helping them increase their effectiveness. Of course, that communication should be appropriate and transparent, but companies should not be embarrassed to tell people how they are constructively being a responsible citizen. Indeed companies, in my view, should be up front about their commitment to CSR, about how they are measuring their efforts and how they are tracking against their commitments.

There are risks.

We live in a far more transparent world where companies need to be wary of sacrificing goodwill for short term publicity.

But doing well by doing good, is not only accepted as good business practice, it’s becoming an imperative. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now given that I work in communications for Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts, you should expect me to be an advocate.  But then I see the incredible work that we and other companies do every day in partnership with nonprofits – work that positively impacts people and communities all over the world.

Communicating a company’s commitment to CSR or Corporate Responsibility or Corporate Citizenship is not only a good thing, it’s a vital thing.

Agree or disagree?

Leave a comment or ping me on Twitter at @tpemurphy.