Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of Social Media Myths

"I just want to talk to you for a minute
about your obsession with 20th century
communication tactics."
The last time I hitchhiked, I got picked up by a cop who ended up racing me back to my apartment at burglary-in-progress speed—with the sirens blasting and the lights a-flashing—because there really was a burglary in progress … in my apartment.
Earlier that night I had gone with some guys I knew from school to a genu-winehonky-tonk bar in Mesa, Arizona to ride the mechanical bull and drink Coors. This was a rare treat for a Jersey boy like me because Coors didn’t ship east of the Mississippi back then and the closest thing we had to a mechanical bull back home was the bumper-car ride at Asbury Park.
 Unfortunately, after we spent all our beer money the guys thought it would be a hoot to leave the “city boy” stranded at a cowboy bar miles from the bright lights of Arizona State University. So I had to hitch a ride home.
When this young cop pulled up and told me to get in, I figured I was going to spend the night in the drunk tank. But he was cool and offered to drive me back to Tempe. We were about a mile from home when a call came in about a “burglary in progress … La Crescenta Apartments … 1029 East Orange Street ...”
“Hey, that’s my apartment complex!”
“… large white male approximately six-foot four inches, 240 pounds has kicked open the door of apartment 209 …”
“Hey, that’s my apartment!”
“That’s really your apartment?”
“Heck yeah!”
“Some bitch. Well, hang on, boy. We’re gonna catch us a bad guy!”
True story.
As it turned out, the “large white male” who kicked open my apartment door wasn’t there to rob me. He came by to kill me. Apparently, he got it into his head that I was romantically involved with his best gal, who also happened to share the apartment with me and a couple other college kids. Why he thought we were having a fling I will never know because I sure as heck didn’t tell anybody.
I bring this up as a cautionary tale for those of you who have not yet fully embraced social media—especially my friends in the ideas industry, like trade associations, foundations and other nonprofits. You may think you’re getting along just fine with your 20th century ways, but Social Media is getting ready to bust through your organization’s front door and beat the crap out of your outdated communications, membership and fundraising programs.
Here’s a quick quiz to see what kind of danger you’re in. If you answered “yes” to even one of these myths, you’re at risk of getting your metaphoric doors kicked in.
Our target audience doesn’t use social media. You’re targeting dead people?
We don’t have the manpower to get involved in social media. Yes, you do. They’re sitting right there. See that guy working on that press release that no one will ever read? He’s a hilarious blogger with thousands of followers. And that woman next to him who has been laying out the quarterly newsletter for the past two days? She posts great things about your organization nearly every day. They’d both be delighted to stop creating products that no one reads and dive into online campaigns that will yield immediate results.
We don’t have enough content to be active online. Are you serious? You’re in the ideas industry. Everything you produce is content. Everything you’ve everproduced is content. Your biggest challenge will be digging through it all to pick out the best stuff.
There are too many platforms. We can’t be on all of them. Exactly. Nor should you be. But you do need to be on some of them, preferably the platforms that your key audiences frequent.
We already have an online presence. No, you really don’t. Bringing on an intern to tweet links to your press releases is not an online presence.
Social media is hard to learn. Riding a mechanical bull is hard to learn. Social media is easy-peasy … and a lot less painful. Remember when you had to call Dell tech support to ask them how to turn on your computer? Remember when you were afraid of email? Well, look at you now.
Social media is a fad. Yeah, Johannes Gutenberg got that a lot, too. The fact is we humans will always latch onto the latest technology that allows us to most effectively communicate with the people we need to connect with. And we will stick with that technology until something more effective comes along. We never go back.
So unless you know something about social media that Blockbuster, Tower Records, Newsweek, Kodak, and two million unemployed travel agents didn’t know, you’re going to have to stop canoodling with your 20th century tactics, open the front door and invite Social Media in for a beer. You guys are going to be working together for a long time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Candor-Intuitive: 7 steps to help you become your authentic, imperfect self

"Don't worry, Beautiful.
He's not talking about us."
I’m so claustrophobic that a half-full metro car can rattle my jimmies. So when a sudden apocalyptic thunderstorm forced me, my family and 3,000 other tourists to seek shelter in the lobby of the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park, I freaked out.

As people jammed into the Tavern, the mob grew into a frothing sea of wild-eyed tourists that carried us deeper into the bowels of this over-priced tourist trap. Suddenly, a wave of Midwesterners crashed into us from the right, ripping Karlyn from my grasp. As I watched my daughter being swept away by a riptide of obese Iowans—her blond head bobbing up and down in a sea of “I Heart NY” t-shirts and Styrofoam Statue of Liberty crowns—I panicked.

Acting on pure lizard-brain survival impulses, I zipped around to make a dash for the exit. Unfortunately, in my blind panic I didn’t see the rather short, kind of cute, full-figured woman behind me, or her two crutches which I proceeded to knock out from under her.

I knew that if she fell, she would be trampled by the mob, so I instinctively grabbed her and held her upright. Unfortunately, all I could grab in that mob scene were her breasts. True story. Here I was, holding up a complete stranger by her Playtex Cross Your Heart bra—in full lift-and-separate mode—staring directly into her eyes which were ablaze with shock, anger and … well, I’m not quite what that other emotion was, but it was about as far from “happy” as an emotion can be.

There’s a reason we Americans are so protective of our personal space. That invisible force field that keeps us an appropriate distance from each other also keeps terrible, horrible, awful things like that from happening.

But social media is tearing down the personal space between us, stripping away the social constructs that have kept us lifted and separated from each other for most of the last 100 years. Social media has drawn us all into the crowded lobby of the Internet, scrunching us so closely against each other that our every flaw is exposed and shared with the world.

The impact of this new candid camaraderie has been most profound on the glitterati. The “experts” and “leaders” and “stars” of the 20th century whom we trusted, obeyed, and adored have been stripped of their magic by the Internet which showed us that, in a lot of ways, even the most magnificent among us really are just frightened little men and women pulling levers behind a curtain.

But there is a lot that is troubling about this new reality for those of us in the Bandwidth Generation who took some comfort in having our stars so far out of our reach. We didn’t want our heroes to be human; we wanted them to be flawless models we could emulate. 

And even though we knew we weren’t ever going to play in the big leagues or kiss Demi Moore on the silver screen, we worked hard to get as close to our dreams as possible. We perfected our game, hid our flaws, and presented idealized versions of ourselves to the world.

And now, after all that work, artificial perfection has been trumped by unscripted authenticity. It seems that Millennials--the 80 million people between the ages of 18 and 35 who are taking over the world--really do prefer red-pill reality over blue-pill perfection. Consider this: last week, Hillary Clinton's campaign launched a $2 million TV ad campaign that features a scripted, edited, and damn-near perfect 60-second commercial in which the presumptive nominee waxes nostalgic about her mom. It's gotten 80,000 views.

Meanwhile, a video of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel tearing up over the death of Cecil the lion, which came out the same day as Hillary's ad, has nearly eight million views--one hundred times more than Hillary's polished ter ... ribute to her mom.

If it isn't already abundantly clear, let me spell it out for you: it’s time to loosen the tie, unclench the fake smile and start being real. Here are seven simple things you can do right now to get back the authenticity you spent your entire career trying to hide:

1.       Praise others. (Extra points if you praise your competitor.)
2.       Apologize when you screw up. Immediately. Sincerely. And as publicly as necessary.
3.       Say “I don’t know” when you don’t know. And promise to follow up when you do.
4.       Be grateful. It will change your life.
5.       Give credit. No one can make a pencil without help. Credit those who helped.
6.       Don’t boast. Yes, it’s important to tell your story, but try not to use your Trump voice. It’s very annoying.
7.       Be nice and mind your manners.