Protecting the brand that matters most: your own

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At a wonderful day at BarCampPhilly yesterday, I was treated to a wonderful day of meeting amazing people in the Philadelphia tech scene, and a bunch of wide ranging sessions, covering the full gamut of technology – playing “Jedi Mind Tricks” to help aid cross-team/function communication,’ learning about the best practices in moving from a full-time job to a being a consultant (by the delightful, Whitney Hess, who is one of my best friends and helped NYC bring some thunder), and of course, an awesome hour spent with one of Social Media’s rising stars, the electric Walt Ribeiro.

But one of the sessions that’s always informative and refreshing speaking to maintaining your corporate brand, through the wilds of social media, was Beth Harte’s session on Brand Management. Having been part of a nascent social media “team” (if you could call two guys trying to find time to Twitter for JetBlue a team), the lessons that have been learned and the tools now available to do this sort of brand management (things like Radian6) are clearly better than anything we had a year and a half ago. Basically, the long and short of it is that, people are saying things about your brand, good and bad, and there’s no use in trying to control what people think, so you had best be listening.

So, after Beth’s session, and Walt’s before it, and based on some of the discussion after my BarCamp session on how JetBlue’s social media plan started with all out crisis, I started to think how this could this could apply to the “age of the personal brand”.

We, as individuals are always our own brand. In this world of open communication, through Facebook and the always-on lifestyle I’ve written about before, we’re always “on”, subject to the falliability of human nature, to express opinions, under emotion or duress, indeed, under less than ideal circumstances. The same filters that brands use to limit the amount of information they choose to say, and the arguments and they choose to engage in, often set by governmental, legal or corporate standards, are not always as easy to control for individuals living in an always-on world. In fact, human emotion (love, pain, suffering, emotion, frustration, exhaustion) combined with external factors (peer pressure, work pressure, excessive drinking, irrational behavior), often take down these filters, lower inhibitions, and loosens lips.

The words people choose to say (or not to say), are the hallmark of this personal brand, clearly. And the words people choose to communicate about themselves publicly often help you to understand a person well before you’ve ever met them “in real life”. Laura Fitton likes to say, “the best thing about Twitter happens off of Twitter”, after all.

But, what is also clear that, in the same way, you can’t control what people say about your company, product or brand, you can’t really control what people think or say about you either. Trying to manipulate this sort of thinking through channels (public, private or covert) just doesn’t help the situation.

So, what to do. Well, allow me to wax poetic about what I’ll dub “Matt’s Golden Rules for Personal Brand”. This, are of course, just one man’s opinion, based on my personal experience, but hopefully they are helpful to someone, somewhere!

1. Remember everyone has the right to their own opinion. Even you. People aren’t always going to agree with you, but they have the right to say what they wish. And, it sometimes will not be something you like.

2. You can always choose who you engage with. This is why Twitter has unfollow and block tools. You don’t have to engage with everyone. And, in many cases, things are better just left alone. Karma has a way of working these things out. But also, remember, you ever even attempt to change people’s opinions without engaging them. So, consider this when thinking about it. But, it shouldn’t be viewed as a personal thing if people just aren’t interested. They can “opt-out” of you as well.

3. Watch the fine line between opinion, attack and slander. Just because someone expresses an opinion based on their own personal experience, don’t assume it’s an attack. The written word is horrible for context and tone, and anyone who thinks can understand tone through the written word is kidding themselves. There’s a large amount of misunderstanding possible. Opinions are rarely attacks and even more rarely slanderous.

4. Doubt on the side of the “good thing”. The vast majority of people I’ve met over the last year or so in tech spaces, and Twitterscenes and Facebook have been good, upstanding people who have been welcoming and open to the idea of making friendships and networking happen. Always do “the right thing” by everyone you meet, because you just never know what can happen. I’ve seen incredible things ilike sm4sc come out of this openness and willingness to come together. Embrace it. Good things will come most of the time.

5. Worry most about the people you care about. There’s a finite number of hours in the day. Focus them on building yourself, your friends, your family up to do great things. No sense in wasting time on people who don’t know you, try to attack you, or worse of all, express open disdain for you. They obviously don’t like you, so why bother?

6. If external factors rule the day, turn off the channel. If you’re feeling extremely emotional or are out of control of yourself and your thoughts, don’t start Tweeting. It’s one thing to be in control and expressive, quite another to communicate when your filters are down. Don’t send e-mails. Don’t IM. Just turn the cellphone, Blackberry or iPhone off. You’ll be glad you did. These sort of communication often reaches “epic fail” status before you know it, and does more to destroy your personal brand. Twitter search doesn’t forget. Neither does Google.

7. Be true to yourself. There’s a reason authenticity, truth and honesty rule the social media world. Have principles. Stick to them. Review them. Fix them if you feel like you need to. Communicate the same way publicly and privately, and exercise extreme tact at all times. Private communications are rarely private anymore. Do the wrong thing by someone, and they will inevitably find out. Everyday, we’re faced with situations that challenge us. The lifelong battle to define who we are continues daily. But always be true to that. Fight for whatever you believe is right.

Hopefully these have been helpful. I wanted to again thank the BarCampPhilly team for helping me to synthesize some great thinking yesterday, and thank you all for allowing me to share these with you.

What do you think?


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And then it was over.

More than twelve weeks, countless IMs, text messages, tweets, blog posts, direct messages, e-mails, phone calls, volunteers, supplies, bus trips, plane trips, Kinko’s runs, first winds, second winds, and third winds (I can’t tell you how much work went in after midnight) led up to the inaugural SM4SC fundraiser in Boston.

And it was outstanding.

For the entire night, the thoughts in my mind shifted between three major themes:

These thoughts speak to a lot of things – most notably the power of social media, the good hearts, minds and thoughts of people who genuinely care, and the fact that we can come together to use our collective will to make something bigger than ourselves.

And I think that’s what it’s really about.

The collective good. Doing things that benefit everyone. The “we’re all in this together” spirit. The fact that even divided by distance, passion and love know no bounds. People make all the difference.

We all had different reasons for contributing to SM4SC, and different ways of contributing. And I had a wonderful time meeting so many amazing people, who said such kind words about what we were doing, and about me specifically.

I was especially inspired by how people gave unconditionally. And how gestures small and large online resulted in tangible results in person.

My favorite thoughts of the evening:

I’d like to again thank EVERYONE who was involved.

I hope that everyone can keep the spirit of giving going – for themselves and others. It doesn’t take a big event, a large contribution to give, in fact, the small acts that are shared between us everyday can start a revolution.

I can’t wait for the next SM4SC.

sm4sc post-game report on

The battle for who could care less

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The rapture is coming.

And, at the risk of being alarmist, the truth is that it’s coming in a way many of us have never seen. This rapture manifests itself in the battle for the discovery of the self – one fought by historians, psychologists, sociologists, comedians, musicians and ordinary people.

The fundamental and most basic question of “who am I?” is now fought on two planes – the online and the “real life”, and the lines blur so constantly, so as to threaten life itself!

Well, not quite. But the truth is that what defines us as people online, is becoming a burden on those who dwell within the ranks of social media sites and networks.

I call this burden “avatar exhaustion”.   The “avatar” we hide behind online, and through the words we write, the objects we share, has started to become such a part of daily life that the once solid line between “real” and “online” is becoming ever more difficult to comprehend. And the battle to be “someone” online, often takes unforeseen victims.

Combine this with the fact that there are just so many places to be online; dozens and dozens of social networks, communities, forums, bulletin boards, blog networks, microblogging sites, streaming sites, sharing sites, most modern Internet users have to manage three totally different and often completely disparate instances of the “self” (“home”, “work” and “online”). And, to increasing numbers of people I’ve spoken with about this – it’s utterly exhausting.

This shuffling subjects the brain is subject to an increasing number of mental calculations, analysis of interpersonal relationships, caution in speaking and sharing, degrees of openness and worse of all, time management.

The debate between managing your online and offline lives becomes even more difficult considering the fact that everyone seems to be connected, most of which have real-time web access and SMS alerts.  The conversation time with offline loved ones is not as sacred anymore.

When I got my first BlackBerry, probably around 7 years ago, the novelty of always-on and instant e-mail was a cool one.  I didn’t have to interface with a full computer to communicate, and it fed the impulsive nature of information adoption and consumption.   This was “cool”, as in I would be the first to know what’s going on, and would be able to inform conversation and decision making.   But this was largely e-mail, SMS wasn’t yet popular in the United States, and turning off the Blackberry just meant a pause from work, and the home life wasn’t really as affected.  Sure, it was annoying to answer an e-mail in personal life, but these were one-off dialogues that usually took mere seconds.

But now, with the rise of Facebook, and Twitter and other social networks, it’s gone from “always-on” work, to “always-on” life.   The Truman Show analogy not withstanding, it’s extremely difficult to turn off the “online” life, since now, the “online” life has met the “work” life in many cases, and the only one left, the “home” life begins to suffer.   And so, “the battle for who could care less” (thank you, Ben Folds Five), is “always-on” too.  This battle involves real-time prioritzation of tasks, people and results at a blistering pace, and those who “care less” in this analysis, usually lose to those who would “care more” at that given moment.    These interactions all contribute to “who you are” – but which bucket (“personal”, “work” or “online) they fall into – grossly unclear.

Now, even with the never-ending pace of technology, some immortal truths remain.  We have a limited amount of hours in the day.  Our brain can only handle so much.  Human nature remains pretty much the same.  People tend not to react terribly differently when we present them with the same situation.

So, what do we do? How do you handle “avatar exhaustion” – does it take you away from what you love? Is it really possible to unplug?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.