Less Grumpy About Vine, Google Plus & Social Business (But Still Grumpy)

I like being a curmudgeon. How much? This much:

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When new ideas, phrases, and tools come out in the social media world, I am not normally the first to jump aboard. In fact, the more people who get out their pompons and cheer the latest unproven tool or idea, the grumpier I get. That doesn’t mean I think the latest hot thing will fail. I’m happy to be wrong, but I’m also very sensitive to “too early.” That attitude is stamped all over this blog, certainly. I currently think of three (ok four) things that presently catch me at various stages of curmudgeonliness:

Vine (and Instagram): This past week, Twitter announced a product resulting from an acquisition: Vine allows people to make six second videos that loop in playback. Sounds like an animated GIF? Why yes, yes it does (I can’t stand animated GIFs). It’s also, for me, a little harder to get the hang of. Here is my review of Vine on Vine. I don’t quite squeeze it all in:

Wait, there are no visible embed links?

Creative people are doing fun things with it of course (see if you can get lucky on Vinepeek.com), but I can’t get on the “second coming of whatever this is supposed to be the second coming of” train for several reasons:

  • It’s iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) only: an app can hardly be called universal if it’s not on Android as well as iPhone. That was one of my big beefs with Instagram. I did come around once that app became available on Android; I’m sure Vine will also
  • It’s a “point tool”: Vine is on one level a silly toy: a video trick once can emulate with any basic editor, and also put on Twitter and Facebook, as you can with Vine, so what’s the point?
  • Is there a community? That could happen, but not yet. Community is what makes Instagram stand out: if I post a picture, more people “ike” it there than on Twitter or Facebook. You can’t underestimate that, and if a community pops up in Vine (the fact that it is part of Twitter is not enough), then all bets are off. Similarly, if a brand finds a good use for it, they should go for it. A stupid tool is not necessarily a useless tool.

Google Plus: As with Instagram, the occasional scorn I heaped on the Google Plus social network was based more on too much hype than not enough merit. Google Plus is actually quite good, but I’m not joining the hype train until I see what I can define for myself as a “tipping point” into Facebook-worthy relevance. Google itself has touted an “active user” base that now places it second only to Facebook. I remain a little skeptical of what construes an “active user” in a platform that builds its user base on the slavery of forced enrollment (if you signed up for a Google product like GMail, you are on Google Plus whether you know it or not), but their own post gives an indication of real activity. Regardless of what the numbers are, what they signify is growth, and that alone is worth paying attention to – at least a little more than before.

Was I grumpy about Google Plus when it first came up? Absolutely. Did that mean I thought it would fail? No.

Social Enterprise (or Social Business): I have been cautious about the use of the term “Social Business,” but organizations I respect (IBM and The Community Roundtable, to name two) have kept it above parody, at least for me. Still, the idea of social pervading the enterprise (in the face of “social business” having a well-established prior meaning having to do with social good) is a tough uphill climb. Brian Proffitt expressed such grumpy cynicism in his recent ReadWriteWeb article, “Social Enterprise is Not Living Up to Its Promise.” Just as I sniff at the bandwagoning of the latest Vine or other shiny object, I also am skeptical when people dismiss an idea outright before it has time to percolate. Pour hate on the hype, but allow things time to breathe.

Noting succeeds in an instant. Keep a healthy skepticism, but balance that with an open mind. Or not; slay me in the comments if you like.

Photo credit: Todd Van Hoosear, I’m pretty sure

Living with Lawyers; Legal Hurdles in Corporate Social Media

Lawyer Bashing Is FunIt’s popular – and way too easy – in public relations and social media to say that lawyers get in the way of everything. When preparing announcements, we dread the legal review because it holds up the process, and potentially takes the fun out of what we want to do because – what? – it might get the client sued?

In truth, when an organization is working and communicating well internally, the legal department understands the limits and, rather than being some nay-saying gatekeeper, becomes more of a guiding hand on the path to – well, not getting sued.

Still corporate legal departments are things we need to contend with on the professional side of social media, and I have seen that come up a bit more lately in two area in particular. The first, social media policies, and the second, copyright and intellectual property use.

Social Media Policy

It has long been good practice to tell employees not to bad mouth their employees – surely, there is no shortage of advice telling careerists to keep their opinions to themselves on their social media channels. But is bad-mouthing work or colleagues a fireable offense or protected free speech? The National Labor Relations Board recently made it clear that the latter is the case – usually. Where’s the line? Consider the source: the National Labor Relations Board is concerned about protecting speech about working conditions, while offensive and threatening speech still does not pass muster. So, to take examples from the NLRB rulings: complain about being overworked, but don’t wish a painful death on your customers. I’m sure there’s a lot of grey area yet to be examined, but this is still big news.

That sounds fair – now, expect a flurry of Tweets from social media professionals complaining about having to work late re-writing social media policies.

Further reading: “Social Media Policies Come Under Legal Review” by Chris Thilk at my employer’s VoceNation blog. I have nothing but nice things to say about my place of employment, in case you are wondering. 

Intellectual Property and Copyright

I recently read a post by my friend Julie Pippert on how to share content in social media. It’s a common sense guide for any person using social media to make sure they attribute content and images; a mini-etiquette manual. However, I came upon it while in “corporate social media mode” and immediately thought “this is not nearly enough for the lawyers.” Frequently, the wish to share something your company does not own is met with extreme caution: do you have explicit rights or permission to reproduce, is what you plan to do considered “commercial,” are you sure you won’t get a takedown notice or even sued? All of a sudden we are in a different world, where this concern can lead to over-use of stale (but paid-for) stock images on blogs and skittishness in getting into social platforms like Pinterest are common. Navigating both of those obstacles successfully takes skill but has its rewards.

Lest this be construed as a complaint about work (see the first section!), the fact is the lawyers are, generally and in principle, correct – at least in their caution. Where that line of what you can and can’t use lies is dependent on that internal communication I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

The law is our friend – one of those complicated friends that is too smart for you and requires patience to live with.

Image by rkrichardson on Flickr, used via Creative Commons license because, well, wouldn’t my face be red if I just stole it

Lance Armstrong & Livestrong: On Being Prepared to Lose Your Spokesperson

The Web is awash in stories and speculation about Lance Armstrong, his use of performance-enhancing drugs, and what that meant – and means – for the sport of cycling. I’m beyond caring about the cycling aspect, as it seems that abuse of illegal substances was rife, and the sport, I can only hope, is running relatively cleanly these days (the Tour de France remains one of the more gripping annual sports events I catch on television every year). What interests me more is Armstrong’s relationship to the Livestrong foundation, how people react to its frontman’s fall, how it moves on, and what it means for any organization that relies on an individual to reflect its public persona.

One of the big decisions companies make in terms of social media is whether the “voice” of the brand should be embodied in an individual, or be more corporate. The example of Lance Armstrong, though it goes well beyond a social media presence for Livestrong, represents the fears companies have: will identifying with an individual bite us in the butt down the line? Most likely, the “butt-bite” comes in the form of a person simply leaving the company. The spokesperson having very public legal and ethical problems is bigger, but doesn’t necessarily change the core problem. In either case, companies can take a few steps to make sure they are in front of this and can survive:

  • Take advantage of personality or celebrity, but be bigger than your spokesperson: In the case of Livestrong, the appeal of fighting cancer, and the relative lack of controversy in the foundation’s fight against cancer work in its favor. Fans are either willing to forgive Lance Armstrong in the name of fighting cancer, or are simply separate the cause from the man. Livestrong has had time to prepare, and has done a fair job of making that separation. There may be collateral damage from being associated with Lance Armstrong the Cheater, but nothing compared to the benefits originally associated with Lance Armstrong the White Knight and cancer patient. Companies need to establish their voice in terms of the company itself and its services or products, with the spokesperson providing a benefit, but not being the entire draw. Take the value, but make the person replaceable, and be prepared to do so.
  • Have a transition plan: Who is taking over if your spokesperson leaves? Internally, there are HR processes (changing access and passwords, re-designing your online presence to reflect a new spokesperson, etc). Externally, you need to let the new spokesperson be themselves without changing the brand message. (I mentioned this in a previous post, comparing the transition to M*A*S*H switching from Trapper John to BJ).
  • Treat the transition with proper proportion and perspective: LAnce Armstrong? Livestrong needs to make a statement relative to his recent admissions, and it did. Johnny spokesperson? It depends/. Most likely, you don’t need to make a big deal of it. But you do need to be able to answer, forthrightly, questions about a slight change in voice – reassuring your audience and customers, making sure that your messages remain consistent, and that your value remains clear.

Has Livestrong done all this? I think so. They may have been taken by surprise at some early point, but they have had time to re-assert their independent identity. What is your transition plan for spokespeople?

Pan-Mass Challenge 2012 Fundraising Review

Last summer, I rode in my fifth Pan-Mass Challenge. This two-day ride to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston has been the centerpiece of my summer since 2008. At first, it was an excuse to do more cycling, get more fit, and benefit a worthy cause in the process. As the years went on, it became more personal, as I lost my father-in-law, then my father, to cancer, and have seen several friends’ lives affected by cancer in various ways.

The Pan-Mass Challenge requires its riders to make a strong commitment to fundraising. With over 5,000 riders, and 100% of the funds raised going to Dana Farber, it’s hard to complain, though it is a challenge on a par with the cycling itself. The Pan-Mass Challenge in total raised $37 million for Dana Farber last year; I’m glad to have made, with your significant help, some contribution toward that total. At this time each year I take a look back at my fundraising efforts and evaluate how I did, what I did to get to that level of success, and what factors influenced the results.

First, total funds raised: I set a goal of $7,500 last year, well above the minimum of $4,300 and even the “Heavy Hitter” line of $6,600 (my fundraising page is found here). I figured I could match the level set in 2011. As you can see, my total fundraising lifted significantly the previous two years. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons was sympathy over the illness and deaths of my father-in-law and father. Still, I was grateful for the extra support which gave strength to my riding, and vowed to try to keep up the new pace.

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Another metric that rose significantly in 2011 was number of sponsors. That number held fairly steady in 2012, which is great. As I said last year, more people spreading the word is a good thing, even if I’m not raising quite the amount of money I did two years ago.

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The biggest difference in 2012 was the percentage of donors who were repeat donors. This was not an accident. One of the tactics I changed last year was to send an email to previous donors early in the year (in January or February  in addition to my customary “The Ride is Coming” email in July. It made a huge difference, and meant I could spend less energy trying to recruit new donors, as I had to do the previous year. You can be certain that I will be doing something similar again this year.

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One final note: the average donation held steady, at a pace with 2011 (as well as 2009) levels, proving what I already knew, that some of the larger donors that supported my in 2010 were one-timers. I had already accepted that, which is why I set my goal to match 2011, rather than try to meet the higher levels.

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Aside from asking last year’s sponsors to join me again, what else can I do? I blogged less frequently ast year and posted fewer training-ride videos: perhaps it is time to do more of that in 2013.

Initially, my goal for the 2013 Pan-Mass Challenge is to raise $7,500, the same as last year. If early response is good, I may revise that. I’m looking forward to another year of riding and raising funds to beat cancer. I hope you’ll join me. The site to donate is: http://bit.ly/pmcdoug.

As always – Thank you!

My Career is Not a “Game”

Well, that tears it. People are writing about “Social HR” now, as if it’s a thing. The problem is, people are attaching that term to dead-ends like “gamification” of the job process,  the “death of the resume” and using Klout scores and other such nonsense to weed out candidates.

The article at Forbes linked above lays out five supposed trends for “Social HR” in 2013. I don’t like doing rebuttal posts, but sometimes easy is easy (disclosure: Monster.com is a client, and they are much, much smarter than me about both careers and recruiting thinking – but here I go anyway):

 

  • Gamification: I get the idea of badges or other signifiers of accomplishments, skills or other merits. However, my career is not a game. One must be careful not to trivialize the hopes and dreams of a job seeker, whether they be in need of work or gainfully employed but listening for other opportunities. Work is the roof over our heads, the food to feed our families, our lives. Not a game. Again, be careful not to trivialize it in the name of fun.
  • Death of the Resume: This one is a little easier. There are plenty of alternatives to the traditional resume. However they augment the traditional resume – they don’t replace it. Try to apply for a job without having to show someone a resume at least at some stage. It can happen, but if you think it will be prevalent in 2013 you have your head firmly up your Silicon Valley. Just like the death of print, the sentiment is logical but the reality is years away – and never total.
  • Klout Scores as a Job Requisite: This is the big cruel joke of the Internet. Klout scores are fun, but mean little beyond the ability to make noise online. Yes, some recruiters have used Klout as a yard stick, though it is hard to see where that has been a good thing. I play around with Klout, I’ll admit. I also like to bowl – that’s actually more fun – but I won’t be putting my 219 game on my resume, even though it probably means as much (and maybe more).Bowling- high score!
  • Personal Branding: I have this blog, am active on Twitter, Facebook and other places, so I guess you could say I play at “Personal Brand.” I say that using an online presence as an advantage and requiring it as a recruiter are two very different things, The former is a proactive career help. The latter, a shortcut to some qualified candidates but certainly no indicator of the only qualified candidates out there. Reward public smarts but don’t treat them as false gods.
  • Recruiters Using Social to Find Passive Job Seekers: This I agree with completely. To be honest, it’s more an extension of the last point about personal branding, highlighting the real advantages. It’s best used as a way to get found, rather than proof of superior credentials.

I’ll admit that I have an automatic reaction to made-up phrases like “Social HR.” Overall, there is too much bending over to make up things to fit the script of new buzzwords. There are elements of careerists’ use of social media that makes sense for recruiters and employers to take greater advantage of them than they have.

Don’t be a Knee-Jerk: On Quitting Instagram, Feedburner, & Other Rash Decisions

You're have such a knee jerk reaction to everything.

Are you a quitter? I don’t mean the kind of quitter who gives up because something is too hard, but the kind who quits an online service in a huff over a perceived piece of bad news or policy. It seems a lot of people, including several friends, have made rash decisions to quit services lately, and I’m not certain these were the right calls. They weren’t for me, anyway. The examples:

Feedburner: Feedburner is a very common tool for setting up RSS feeds for blogs and other web sites. The basic tool is simple, though there have always been possibilities for more, especially in terms of analytics (let’s not get started on the failure of Google, which bought Feedburner a few years back, to integrate these analytics with the Google Analytics tool, but that does play in to the general frustration.

Late in 2012, things started to happen – or rather, they stopped happening. The @Feedburner Twitter feed was turned off, and the separate Feedburner blog was put to rest. Surely signs of the apocalypse, no?

No. The core tool continued, and continues, to work, There was a brief outage of the Feedburner user dashboard that gave many of us the agitah, but the feeds, by and large, worked well.

Still, there was justified concern. A number of friends moved their feeds to other services, like Feedblitz, which happily charges for extras like analytics (and likely worth the cost too), but Feedburner hasn’t stopped working. The care it takes to move a blog’s feed without losing subscribers, or having to rebuild a subscriber base (granted , only part of the audience for many blogs) from scratch is a lot to consider; it’s even more to consider when you have clients using Feedburner.

I haven’t moved this blog as of this writing. It has been months, and there has been no issue, no interruption. If Feedburner were to go down, the pain in switching would likely be little or no more than if I did it now. In fact, I heard some rumblings of service issues with the alternatives, though they weren’t necessarily permanent or fatal. So there is no point in panicking and making a premature move.

Instagram: 

Instagram is a different story, one of trust, privacy and ownership. When Instagram announced a change to its terms of service, it was widely read to mean that Instagram reserved the right to (implication: intended to) use your images to sell advertising without compensating the owners. That caused an uproar, which included many people threatening to and even going ahead and eliminating their Instagram accounts. I didn’t, for two reasons:

  1.  If I were worried about intellectual property, privacy, and photo quality to such a degree I wouldn’t care about Instagram in the first place. And I don’t care; for me it’s a place to put colorful filters on otherwise crappy phone-camera photos, and share them with people who want to see them (there and on Facebook). There was never any rights management, such as the Creative Commons licensing features on Flickr, and they don’t seem to be fixing to start that now.
  2. I just don’t go for the knee-jerk bans. I was willing to wait and see (Instagram did appear to back off in a later statement, but it’s hard to say for sure what it all really means) before cutting myself off from a service – a free service – from which I got some enjoyment.

I’m not a knee-jerk person when it comes to these services. The worrying about their intentions or futures may or may not be valid, but if I ran to another service or platform every time the wind blew, you wouldn’t know where to find me online (no, I’m not on Tumblr), let alone come across a somewhat cohesive set of content. Sit tight and don’t so anything rash.

Photo credit: spencrpdx on Flickr