Online personas and authenticity

At #tweetwyo last night, we got into a pretty vibrant discussion about whether filtering web content was somehow masking who you really are. The consensus was that there’s a place for professional decorum, even on the internet and a place for personal information.

I think it’s an even bigger issue than just a matter of personal v. private decorum. It’s about nuance and information sharing. It really depends on what purpose the social web serves for you. For many of us who have connections to higher ed, we’re often attached to more than one profile and it’s another reason to be conscientious of our audiences. Even if you’re speaking for “yourself” there are people who will quote you on the name of your institution or job. “Bob of New York Widgets says that he hates New York.” Injuring the corporate brand is an inherent risk.

“Should personal content on a personal profile really be used in a punitative way in a professional setting?” If your boss reads your Facebook profile, should it be able to get you fired? If you tweet a message about something, should it result in a public flogging all over the web?

Most agree that it probably shouldn’t. But it doesn’t matter. People still take things out of context personally. If a blog post can even be construed as being negative or directed at someone, the mea culpas will have to be distributed, sometimes “just in case.”

So what do you about? Is separating your professional and personal life inauthentic?

No. It’s a survival tactic in a world where not everyone knows you. While it can be empowering to blog all of your feelings in the off chance that someone, somewhere will read about it and care, it’s a risky move.

For me, Twitter is about networking. LinkedIn has a networking component, though the bar is set a bit higher and Facebook is for people I have existing relationships with and even that’s on a case-by-case basis. The lines are far too blurred and all you need is something to happen.

The key to social networking is realizing that 1) you’re not alone and 2) nothing is private.

Lots to learn

One of the things about blogging that I’ve always tried to remember, is that I only started doing this as an exercise in demonstrated learning. I have no designs on claiming to be some sort of “expert” on much of anything, I’ve just seen a few things and so, I share what I’ve seen. If it helps you, stupendous. But it’s not why I blog.

It’s about what you learn along the way. It’s about offering perspective, but more importantly, being part of a community. This blog opened up a wealth of opportunities for me, but a lot of it’s been simply the ability to cast a much wider net.

I’ve always prided myself on an extensive circle of people that I could talk to, bounce projects off of and get valuable advice from when I needed it. But this blog — and yes, Twitter — have really helped me cement a much larger network without really having to go anywhere else or do anything different than I was doing before.

Well, except now instead of just talking to the people who are close to me — or coworkers — I’m sharing information and learning from a much wider audience.

What are folks making?

The 2008-09 Mid-Level Administrative & Professional Salary Survey was released yesterday and the median salaries were posted online. It’s a good resource and something that I wished was online years ago, but couldn’t find. Not a meaty post, but after posting it on Twitter, I thought it might be useful to someone out there who didn’t know where to find it.

Kudos to for posting it and clicking on that link will take you there.

Workplace 2.0: Motivating and Managing Millennials

This article was published in November, but it’s still timely and over the past few months I’ve read a lot of blog posts on the web that remind me of it. So even though I wrote it, I figure it might be a good idea to dredge it up again for a whole new set of readers who weren’t subscribing to the blog back then.

What motivates young people isn’t the promise of a distant retirement check thirty or forty years after they’ve given all they have to a company that doesn’t let them have a piece of the pie. The first thing you need to keep in mind is the fundamental idea of ownership.

You don’t have to give up stock in your company, to give a young worker a feeling that s(he) is contributing to themselves, as well as the firm’s bottom line. But you do need to invest in their sense of desire to contribute in meaningful ways to institutions that matter. To them, coming to work is an exercise in mutual benefit.

The Gen Y Guide to Social Media

Texting on a keyboard phone
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I’ve complained a lot over the past year about social media weblings who post their hearts on their blogs, Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and expect that no one will read it, care or that moreover, people will somehow value their authenticity and “realness.”

Look folks, no one cares. I know you think they do. But they don’t. People only want to hear your experience if it’s valuable, only your friends want your feedback and want to hear how you’re doing and even then, you’ve got to be careful not to burn your fingers lighting the stove.

After hearing the story below, I decided that I needed to put together a little guide to help millennials navigate the social media waters. Because I know people think this stuff showed up the other day when Facebook came onto the scene, but the truth was a heck of a lot easier to network online in 1995 than it’s ever been since and I say that from experience. Social media didn’t just get here and it certainly didn’t get invented by the generation that’s probably never bought music on cassette tape.

I had lunch with a friend (and former boss) today.  We discussed a former student intern in the PR office who I knew and who decided that he wasn’t having a good time. Said boss asked him to do a bit of pinch hitting. He didn’t want to do it, because that wasn’t his job.

Well, she told he had to do it anyway. Huffy Gen Y goes home and fires up the Facebook status update and posts the following: (name changed to protect the guilty.)
Bob does not think very highly of his boss.

Some commented: “Welcome to the real world”

Then, he responded and said  If I was the kind of guy who hit girls, especially my “superior” I would’ve punched that bitch right in the face today. :) (Smile his, not mine.)

This student intern was friends on Facebook with no less than 4 staffers in the PR office, me, the President’s daughter among others. I didn’t see the post, but someone who isn’t any of those people saw the post, informed the boss (who doesn’t have a Facebook account) and who the following morning saw it and fired the student intern.

What are the lessons? Where do we start?

1. Just because you think something doesn’t mean you need to Tweet it/Blog It/Facebook It, etc.: Look, everyone has a bad day. There’s a big different between clandestine blog posts that only friends would be able to interpret and writing about your entire life story online. I get it, you want to be authentic and that’s great. But no one cares and all you’re doing is making yourself completely unhireable. You have to use discretion and you need to remember one rule of thumb about social media: “Every thing you do needs to be purposeful or you shouldn’t be doing it.”

After all, can’t you just call a friend and vent?

2. Social media does not make you invincible: Personal branding is bunk. The only think you can sell are demonstrated experiences that other people will vouch for. You’d get a lot further spending time cultivating personal relationships at work with colleagues and superiors, than you’d ever do worrying about your web site, your bio or trying to position yourself as an expert in your field. Writing stuff because you don’t think anyone is listening is the mistake of a great fool. You never know whose listening or reading. So if you can’t vouch for it to everyone from your mom to your boss to your best friend, don’t write it.

3. There’s a time and a place for everything: It’s hard to make a case for the emerging tools of new media communication when all we’re spending our time focused on is people who make grave errors in judgment believing their personal and private lives are not melded online anymore.

Rather than use these are tools to talk to the same people who otherwise talk to, why not prioritize their usage? That is, have a reason for each platform. No need to join every new web site, just because everyone else is. Identify what works, become a power user, but recognize that the minute you cede control of your personal information, is the day that you’re no longer hiding behind a cloak — no matter how good you think your hide and seek skills are.

Gen Y and millennials get a bad rap these days, because so much of what’s online about them reinforces the “me first” ethos that other generations use to try to brand them as delusional and out of touch. I don’t believe to be true of the millennials I’ve dealt with over the years, but I do see the reasons why people say it.

Staying and being well-informed requires compromise. I can sympathize with folks who believe the old rules are bunk, that “staying in your place” and “waiting your turn” are relics of a bygone era. But things like building relationships, earning the trust of your superiors and demonstrating your value through your actions rather than your words are still the sort of currency that’ll get you far in any vocation you choose.

Social media is a great venue for communicating and networking, but like any tool, the unintended consequences and mines waiting for you in the field are plenty.

Be vigilant and never get too comfortable thinking you’re indispensable or that your words can’t come back to bite you online.

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Game changing experiences

The thing I love about higher education is how different it is than any other profession. You can literally see the fruits of your labor in the form of students you come into contact with or through work you do that directly impacts the institutional mission.

I think what’s interesting is, colleges and universities have long legacies. You meet alumni who return to campus and share stories about how the school changed them forever and this is something that you find at the largest, most prestigious schools, as well as the smallest institutions. No one really cares. The fans are just as passionate (sometimes, more) at little colleges in the woods, as they are at big metropolitan institutions with name brand cache.

With other forms of marketing or communications, so much of what you have to “sell” is a product. In higher ed, I think it’s about communicating experiences. It’s not to say you’re not selling that school and why it’d be good for someone to attend it; it’s just the crux of your message is usually revolved around the idea of transforming lives and creating better citizens.

It’s both a rite of a passage and an experience that allows people from different walks of life to emerge from it completely different than how they start. This doesn’t just go for people who go to college and graduate, but for those who are behind the scenes making sure the trains run on time.

Watching that machinery work year after year, is truly a cool thing — as an insider and as an outsider.

The future of selling degrees

Agnes Scott College
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I was just reading “Help, My Degree is Underwater: In a recession, does advanced education really pay off?” and one part of it touched on an issue that I’ve heard time and time again from people who’ve completed just one degree, much less two or more:

Suddenly, it seems to me that there is a real possibility that I, like tens of thousands of others, am holding onto a degree that is actually underwater. Look at student loans, the opportunity cost of taking two (business) or four (law) or eight (medicine) years off of your working life, add in a horde of other people with the same qualifications as you who are competing for a handful of available jobs and it’s easy to see just how much the job market in these professions looks like a bubble that is about to burst. [Actually, law school is three years.]

Advanced degree folks will be okay. They’ve been consistently bumping the undergrads among us out of jobs for years now, as the value of the bachelors degree continues to be watered down. But the question I’ve had for a while, after talking to more and more people is “How will colleges sustain their marketing efforts when a generation will be lamenting their student loan debt, rather than their wonderful experiences, knowledge and the great opportunities that school provided them?”

You can laugh, but think about it. This is truly the first generation that’s been saddled with college debt that would have rivaled mortgages a decade ago. People are always quick to say “well, maybe you shouldn’t have gone to x school” or “You spent that much for a degree in basketweaving? That job doesn’t won’t ever get you any money!?

Thank you, for the soothsayers among us who could clearly see the future. Perhaps they ought to be lottery prognosticators and start taking a cut of what people win, since they’re so smart and have so much foresight.

But that still leaves colleges needing to 1) raise money and 2) recruit newbies to the great ponzi scheme that is college. (I’m joking)

We can say things like “without a degree, you’ll likely have even fewer career prospects,” but that’s not exactly a heartwarming message of “togetherness and belonging.”

Great schools will always be able to recruit, just on their brand prestige. But for small colleges that exist in rural enclaves and whose students largely rely on federal aid and loans that mortgage future are going to have a very difficult time, when the kids of this generation begin to head to college — if not sooner.

What’s my solution? Well, I’ve advocated ending the federal student loan program. I know it’ll never happen. But it would be the surest way to check the tuition increases of the past decade. I realize it’s just a fraction of what it costs to educate students, but tuition dependent schools surely resort to military recruit tactics to ensure they can enroll students — ignoring whether they graduate or not.

More trustees need to take a far more corporate look at their educational missions and assess whether more of them shouldn’t merge with other schools. While I realize this isn’t a pleasant thought, we exist in an era where many are decrying the massive bailouts of financial institutions and car companies. Schools don’t get the same sort of sympathy, as many private colleges close and lose accreditation all of the time.

It would be hard to argue that it’s an efficient use of resources to have thousands of colleges and universities, many of which would be closed tomorrow if it weren’t for federal loan programs. Schools should not be in the business of encouraging debt for their product, much less facilitating the windfalls that go to lenders who certainly aren’t “in it for the common good.”

I’m certainly not blaming schools for student debt. There are a ton of ways to save money on your education if you’re being smart, live frugally and respond to the challenges of the shifting economy.

No one in their right mind would consider lending someone right out of high school a loan to buy a house or a car;  but these same folks are perfectly fine with financing gobs of money for them to pursue a piece of paper that most won’t have a foggy clue what to do with once they get it. It might not be a problem that colleges believe they’re responsible for, but they’re going to find out soon that it’s one they’re going to have to address in the rapidly approach future.

In front of the classroom…

A university classroom. (Jones Hall at Princet...
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I taught my first college class on Saturday. I wasn’t worried too much when I agreed to teach ART 265 – The Business of Art (Web Design) because it’d never been taught before, as part of an entirely new program at the community college at which it’s being offered.

The course was envisioned for freelancers who are seeking ways to market themselves on the web. What I ended up with is a majority of the class who are interested in using the web to market existing businesses they own. We’re not talking web businesses, but bricks and mortar businesses that are have a presence on the web.

So the whole thing changed. I could’ve kept the course the way I’ve outlined it, but I’ve decided to adapt it a bit to make it more relevant to everyone. We’ll still cover everything the way it’s written in the syllabus, but the projects I developed will focus more heavily on web marketing concepts than I think I initially imagined.

Because the class meets primarily online (we only have 3 in-class sessions during the 10-week term) I really needed to figure out quickly what we’d do to ensure that no one left the class feeling like they got nothing out of it.

The front of the classroom wasn’t really that big a deal. I mean, I’ve been standing in front of classrooms for a long time now. The audiences are different and writing the syllabus was a new challenge for sure, but…once we got going I found that it wasn’t much different from giving a presentation, really.

It’ll be an interesting experience for sure, going forward. I think had I not had the experience of having taught lots of other things in the past, maybe I’d have been more daunted by all of it. But I’ve taught adult ESL, given tons of workshops and speeches and of course, taught tennis for about a decade now. So while the venue is different, it’s a lot of the same skills and about as fun as I expected it to be, too.

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