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?

Awesomeness

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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 12seconds.tv

The best of…. tagsmith.org

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Simpsons 138th
Troy McClure on the The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular

Too often when bands or TV shows have reached a certain pinnacle, they step back, take a look at what they’ve accomplished, and “mail-in” an episode or an album on the hopes that they’ll fill, I don’t know, minimum requirements for contracts, seasons, or just because they can. In television, it’s called the clip show – where they throw together highlights from previous episodes (my personal favorite, of course being the The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular, band it together with a narrow strip of storyline, and call it “new”. Just about every TV show of any real duration has done it, so that makes it ok, right?

The music equivalent, of course, is the “Best of…” or “Greatest Hits” album. ( Imagine my surprise to see that Wikipedia takes the time to clarify the difference between a “Best Of” album and a “Greatest Hits” one… hmm). The implication, of course, is that they’ve had some time to, you know, have actually made hits? (see the humorous breakout in the Wikipedia article about “The Best of Hilary Duff”… I kill me!)

So, in the spirit of the time (and because I haven’t finished my Web 2.0 Expo NY post yet) and still, giving people what they want (or at least think is above mediocre) I present to you the “Best of…. tagsmith.org”, a selection of posts to get to know this blog by. Hope you enjoy.

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.

…and the morning after

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Many of you have read my Dear John letter to Twitter of just two days ago, and let me start off by offering secure thanks and appreciation for all of your comments, all of the suggestions, direct messages and showing of love and support. It was by far the most read blog post I’ve ever written, and the fact that you found my words of interest, entertaining and insightful really means a lot to me. It was my pleasure to share that with you, and hope that you find future missives to be interesting.

So, I’m back on Twitter, which should serve as no real surprise to anyone. My heart is probably is always going to be where the people I love are, and since the fact majority of them are on Twitter (critical mass is a hard argument to deflect).

But, the most invigorating thing about this, was for the first real time, Twitter did active Crisis Management. From the moment the issue was discovered, the communication plan was different. Between @twitter, which had been far more active that I’ve ever seen it. Repeated updates on the Twitter Status blog, active attempts by @ev, @biz, and @jack to keep followers abreast, and the fact that the entire Twitter team went above and beyond to diagnose and fix the problem, speaks volumes about the importance of the follower loss, and the dedication to the platform and it’s continued growth. It’s as if they came up against the end game, and said, no way, and everyone was all in it together. This Twitter system failure had the aire of “no, if we don’t fix this, it’s really over”. The immediacy was clear. And this was what was different. Faced with the very real possibility of complete and total EPIC FAIL, the team snapped into action, and did the best they good to weather the storm.

Allow me to draw a parallel from personal experience. Flash back for a moment to the winter of 2007, most specifically February 14, and during notably what was dubbed the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, when, all hell broke loose for a little airline called JetBlue Airways. You may have heard about it. The upfront story through the media was the volume of stranded passengers, some honeymooners, some trying to get to funerals, reunions, vacations, you name it. And you know, it was a great story to tell, because, in fact, these too were people who were wronged by those who should have been “right”. JetBlue just didn’t do this sort of thing. The failure and perfect storm of issues that happened are not deniable. (and neither were the reasons behind some of them, a great story for another time) But, the story that was never told, was that of the many, many efforts that went on behind the scenes at JetBlue corporate (most of the entire corporate office worked the back areas of JFK for 24 or even 48 hours straight), and the Corporate Communications and Marketing teams who immediately realized the value in putting ourselves in front of the problem, trying our best their accept the blame, and as a result save the airline. And this video was born (along with my deeper obsession with social media):

That night, as Morgan Johnston spent until 2am to get YouTube to accept the video (I think on the seventh attempt it took) and I tried to figure out how to spread the word, figure out if we were violating any sort of YouTube terms of service, and put it out there, really not knowing what would happen. This was doing our part to save the airline. David was front and center, and spoke for all of us trying to make things right. And, in my very humble opinion, it worked. Customers were largely forgiving, and while David stepped aside as CEO later that year, he had bigger plans in mind anyway 😉

The parallels of these experiences were clear – trying to fix the problem involved a lot of communication, a lot of experience, hard work, a great deal of luck, crazy amounts of passion, and hope the our customers would in fact forgive us. And the last part was the biggest variable. And when the first five lined up, for JetBlue, the last one, the most intangible fortunately, fell into place.

So, I think I’m going to ask Twitter to be my friend again, and hope that we can be closer than ever. Because I’m pulling for the majority to forgive, because, who knows what the future may hold?

Dear Twitter

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Hi.

I just wanted to say something’s that have been on my mind for a while, and you know, well, we’re both really busy a lot, and we just haven’t had a time to talk lately, so, let me just come out and say it.

I miss you. You’re just not the same anymore. And, worst of all, now, you’ve taken all of my friends with you.

I miss the way things were back in the halcyon days, before everyone and their mother (literally) was on Twitter.  Before the failwhale was even conceived. In the days when a few of us got together and put JetBlue on Twitter as a “daring” social experiment (how we got it to live in the early days is beyond me, but, I’m sure glad it did). In the days when my tweets were horribly uninteresting and pretty much dumb. You were just that “thing” that people looked at me funny when I mentioned you.  I stopped trying to explain you.  People just didn’t “get” you anyway.  You were that girl that was brilliantly persuasive, wonderfully intelligent, and not afraid to open up her heart to me.  Those were the times.  Just after SXSW ’07. Before Lacygate.  It was just, me and you, and well, a few thousand other people too 😉

Now, you’ve always been good to me. Introduced me to a whole wide array of amazing, smart, talented, passionate, giving people.  Both here in New York, and Boston, but from places all around the country. You’ve helped me to believe in people again.  For years, I wasn’t sure I would belong anywhere. I found a place on Twitter. I belonged here with you.  And that was great.  You built this lifeline, you shortened the distance between countries, cultures and people. Twitter was the backchannel for technology folks. And then came the second circle of PR folks, and finally, the ordinary people looking to make those sort of connections between them.  Out of all of them, I’ve made some great friends.  And know I’ll keep them for a lifetime.

And, sure, there have been tough times between us. I’ve listened to both sides in the harrassment argument. The countless stories about you being “dead“, and washed up.  But I still believed in the greater good, the “collective good”, that Twitter was a microcosm of the good things in life – that the good so vastly outweighed the bad, that it was worth the system outages. Because, I knew you’d be there for me.

You helped me build trusting, lasting lifelines with 300 people. For someone surprised when his follower count hit 92, this was quite an achievement. To know, and share with these people was an amazing experience.

I was there, fighting through the failwhales, to stay, but I too strayed away, because, so much of life is the “being there” when you need someone. And, rejoice as I did when you married the one that you really loved, you still seemed like the girl that got away. And you wanted to be friends. And I was ok with that.

But, of course, as is life, unfortunately, you’ve led me to bad people as well. The perverbial jumping of the shark was starting. But, I still believed. A solution was coming. So, to keep the good people in and the bad people out, I turned myself into a more private person.

But, now, for some inexplicable reason, and being a person of the Internet for as long as I have, both a “netizen” (yeah, I’m dusting that one off) and a professional, and with the caveat that I certainly understand the interaction and intersection technology of living and working in a cloud of T1 lines, databases, operational data stores, PHP, AJAX and the people who are talented enough to use it, you took it all way. My followers went from 250+ to 21. The people I followed fell off by a similar amount. And what sucks is that these people who took it upon themselves to follow me, and found my tweets to be insightful, interesting, or just a little nuts; these people who’s opinions I valued, and to whom I was grateful to have an audience, were gone. These were real people. Not numbers to me.

You made me invisible. Persona non grata. Since the only other lifeline to the outside world is Twitter Search (Summize), and it doesn’t index private Tweets, I ceased to be. Without explanation to anyone.

So, now I’m left with a private page that prompts people to request to join, makes me look like I’ve left them all forever, when in actuality, I haven’t. I just trusted the wrong person. In this case, it’s not me, it really is you. I was being your friend. Now I’m left with more questions than answers. Most notably, now what?

Whether it was a database query got awry, a stored procedure failure, a middleware problem, hell, even an errant = sign somewhere (I’ve done that one a bunch), the net result, is a equivalent nuclear bomb of human capital going away. Just like that. And, sure, this is probably exaggerating the point several times over, but, I’m not alone. The trust factor here is key. If there’s ever a chance for you to be successful in your life, to make real money, this trust will be ironclad.  Uptime agreements. Guaranteed sponsorships. Third-party licensing agreements. And, violating this trust will lead to bigger issues than a few pissed off people.

When you become the string that wraps around to bind vast distances, ages, sexes, religions, beliefs, hopes, dreams, happiness and sadness, and you snap – it’s more than just a database failing. It’s worse than the telephone going dead, because, in an instant, you’ve removed me from these people’s lives.  And they from mine.  You are the telephone. You are the cellphone. In your defense against Ariel Waldman, you claimed you were merely a “communication utility“. But that responsibility is great – it works both ways. Like it or not, you’re a guest at the dinner table, at the bar, at the party where people are, but also at the board room, the conference where no one knows each other, the silly karaoke night.  You are that string that binds together the people who “have no idea” to those who “know what’s going on”  You bring these people together in life and work and fun. And if calling yourself a “communication utility” that saves you legal hot water, than great, but in the end, it seems, just maybe you’re not living up to this end of the bargain.

Nevermind the arguments about you being free, and incorrect expectations – in the end, you’ve done so much good for so many people, that people want to depend on you.   They want to believe that you can make it happen again.  And, more often than not, you do.

So, I think, for a little while at least, I’m going to see other people. Because, in the end, no one will have the same effect on me as you did. But, I hate being alone again. Especially after I wasn’t. I was less alone than ever before. And I don’t know if I can ever get that trust back again. But I’m also a patient man, and try my best to see both sides of any story. I want to believe in you again.

You’ve been great to me. Hope to come back around again soon and see you happy, healthy, and strong.

Love always,
Matt