…For The Whole World To See

For as socially connected as I purport to be, the only thing I seem consistently willing to share is my music taste. And even then, I’m often reluctant to have some song that someone might misconstrue show up on my web site feed as “Ron is now listening to Something Controversial With A Swear Word!” This extends all the way to my personal presence on sites like Facebook. I’m just not comfortable with incomplete narratives and as of yet, I’m unable to find succinct ways to describe myself in bios. I’m great at helping other people — heck, I do this stuff for a living — but when it comes to me, I tend to err on the side of saying too little rather than too much.

So I was thinking today about this reticence which borders on obsessive, to where I’ll avoid posting almost anything most of the time. I’m not sure of a way around it. I think you have to be all-in or not with matters like this, unless your personality is wired a bit differently. I tend to do better when I put both feet in the puddle, rather than dipping a toe in. I’ve been dipping my toe in for years and progressively get more hesitant to expose much of anything using social media.

For years, my fear was simply that saying too much was just too open ended. But I’ve found assessing my own presence that there are times when I have things I would say, but don’t. I’m not of the opinion that we ought to be slaves to the medium; there are times when speaking up is worthwhile and times when it is less prudent. But one of the things I’ve noticed by doing a lot more reading over the years rather than broadcasting, is I find the most interesting people share more within the confines of their own comfort level.

It makes me convinced I have a place and with a platform to do it, I feel inclined to jump back into the pool and see what’s on the other side.

Navigating life without a roadmap

Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. The beat the curiosity out of the kids. They out-number kids. They vote. They wield resources. That’s why my public focus is primarily adults.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

I was thinking about this powerful quote, which didn’t come from a talk but rather from a reddit thread in response to a question about kids and science. As with many things, I felt the need to personalize it to something beyond talk of science.

Between working in higher ed and spending summers at camp, I interact a lot with kids at different ends of the spectrum. Kids entering high school with precocious hopes and dreams, often buoyed by parents who want the best for their little starlets. Then there are the kids in college who face an entirely different reality of putting into practice much of what they’ve been thinking or dreaming of; perhaps realizing along the way which of their ideas will come to fruition and which ones will not.

One of the things I think about a lot is how much I didn’t know about the barriers to entry to so many things prior to doing them. That might seem like a no-brainer. But I’m talking about things that depending on where you grew up and what kinds of schools you went to and perhaps whether or not anyone in your immediate family had gone to college; that were otherwise opaque. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who actually went to four-year school and graduated. It was a pipe dream I mostly conjured on my own. And while I talked about the ideas a lot, because from an early age I’d been reading about these places and things and decided they fit me, I didn’t really have a strong concept of how to put them into action.

One of the reasons my own personal philosophy has changed dramatically over the past three years or so, is borne out of embracing a very upstart ethos about how life works. I think so many young adults are frustrated because the secular religion has let them down. In an era where the mass media showcases the 20-something college dropout as a status symbol, there’s a not-so-subtle idea that “if you work hard enough, are smart and have a good idea, you could launch a million dollar business.” This simplistic insanity of this notwithstanding, this myth gets swaddled into the warm towels of a non-existent caste system. The notion that we are a meritocracy, that a kid from an average state school could someday become President or work for NASA or write the next Harry Potter.

There is no better time to be an icon doing amazing things, because word travels faster than it ever did before. It’s harder not to be self-conscious in a world that’s doing everything it can to make you more self-conscious in the hopes that they can sell you something to satiate whatever ails you. At some point, reality sets in. You learn that “hey, maybe you’re smart. But smarts aren’t currency.” All that snooping on the internet has done is bringing to light what people have always wanted the means to do — judge other people. It’s not always nefarious, but folks want marketers to indicate who they’re dealing with. So it trends earlier than ever before. Didn’t go to that awesome prep school in high school? Okay, fine. But college, that’s supposed to be all under your control. Can’t get into an “elite” school? Welp, I guess that’s something you’ll have to deal with. But there’s no manual for this life stuff and no one puts that disclaimer on the warning label before you swallow the pill at some early age.

I’m not really lamenting unfairness here. Just awareness of the realities that make life what it is. What I want now isn’t all that different than what I wanted before. I just measure success differently than I used to. The moment you get off the rails and stop trying to impress people with how fast you can go by, the easier it gets to plot your own course to the destination that might make you the most happy. It comes with some sacrifices and often, reeks of loneliness that comes with sitting in a room full of people who aren’t wired as you are. But if you listen, there’s lessons in everything we do and every place we go.

And I’m still learning that lesson every day.

Social media, participation and the free-rider problem

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Article in the Times about blogging and how you can go from being very interested in writing, to not very active at all. It probably spends too much time talking about people who blog because they wanted to get rich and famous, but it’s a pretty good article anyway. The quote I liked most was from Nancy Sun of Saladdays.org

“The Internet is different now,” she said over a cup of tea in Midtown. “I was too Web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.”

I started my first blog, mostly by accident. I’d been writing an online newsletter from about 99 to 2001 and after I changed platforms, decided quickly to take the niche production and put it into blog format. I used Movable Type and the blog was pretty popular for what it was and I met all sorts of random people.

For me, a bigger issue is the problem of social media and the free-rider problem. I mean, we all know of the 90-9-1 rule that:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

But what does this mean for people how continue to develop a footprint in a world where they’re just not fully developed yet? You see it all of the time with these so-called social media guru who aren’t quite 30, have had maybe two jobs in their entire lives, yet have branded themselves as experts in the field and who will tell anyone who will listen the “keys to success.”

Age has nothing to do with this, but it’s sorta funny.

We’ve shifted from an era where blogging, tweeting and other sorts of venting was under the radar. It’s becoming mainstream. As a result, people who are looking for a more complete snapshot of you, will read what you write and use it to judge you. For better or worse.

The difference here is, not everyone will participate. And those who do, might only do so to keep tabs on you. So while it’s fine if your entire social sphere is interactive and on the web, it’s not as good if you’re something of a trailblazer in your own world. Your seemingly innocuous tweets or blog posts where you rant out ideas about this or that, might be evaluated by people who have no context for how you communicate ideas.

It’s a worrysome trend, but what can you do? You can’t expect everyone to start participating. And does participation really level the playing field? Not really.

It’s about exposing yourself. If you’re going to blog, tweet or use other forms of social media, you have to have a purpose and understand why you’re doing it and you need to get something measurable from it, because there are costs to that blog that you think no one is reading.

The more established you are in your career and the more integrated your web presence is to your offline persona, the more latitude you have to use social media as a tool to advance your career. But even then, there are limitations and challenges embedded in it.

I recall a few years ago, I had a job interview at an institution. The first set of interviews were almost all about my blog posts. They’d printed them and were just asking me all sorts of questions about my thoughts and insights. It didn’t seem to be a negative and I appreciated the opportunity to flesh out my ideas a bit better. But it was at that time, that I realized how serious this all was and I hadn’t prior to that.

What you have to say, really matters. So be thoughtful and conscientious about what you’re saying and why you’re saying it.

The Nightcap

The Beach Boys I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times

This year more than any prior, I’ve spent consuming a ton of older bands that I never heard or just plain missed. The Beach Boys Pet Sounds LP is quality in any era.

Where your tweets go to die…

So, rapper/actor Heavy D who mostly achieved prominence in the 90s died today suddenly. My twitter feed is being inundated sporadically with necrotweets from his feed while he was still living. I’m not sure this bothers me, it’s cathartic for folks. But it illustrates the differences with grieving in an era where we’re all connected. We saw it with Steve Jobs too, but he was such a larger-than-life figure that I think that sort of response would’ve been the same if we weren’t in such a “connected” world.

It made me think about my own social presence. What do you want to happen to your accounts when you’re no longer around? There have been startups who’ve offered to take care of those issues for you, but for those of us around now…is your Facebook page the most important possession you’ll care about? Probably not. It’ll come and go like most things. One way that transparency online does help in an instance like this, is it provides people a real glimpse into your actual thinking. So it makes it easier to know where someone stands on a topic if they’re putting it out there.

I recall a guy who had a strong internet presence within a niche community, who died suddenly. His friends paid to maintain his web hosting for years and at some point, several years after decided to stop doing so. At what point does the connection extinguish? When is enough time for digital mourning? For those close, probably never. I write this because I ponder it in my own life. It’d just as well prefer to see everything deleted, rather than turning over passwords. Not because there’s anything especially secret, I’m just not sure there’s anything — journals, commentary or such — that’s really necessary to left at this point.

I can see that changing, but it’s a topic that I’m not entirely sure I’ve grasped. What say you?

To the five people who still read this blog…

I’m going to be shifting gears a bit. The content will likely be more diverse in terms of topics. This might appeal to you, this might not. But at least you’ve got a warning (heh) that I’m going to broaden my topic base, as it reflects my own personal (and quasi-professional) interests. Those topics are not limited to, but may include music, higher ed and current events. It’ll often just be riffing on articles that pass through my fingers, too.

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and so, I figure like most things that it’s sensible to get started or I’ll never do it.

Elegant Solutions to Inelegant Problems

Lots of the challenges we face as professionals don’t have Tweetable answers, can’t be blogged or don’t come with pre-packaged solutions that you can purchase off the shelf. They take elbow grease, brain power and patience.

 

Setting the social media agenda where one doesn’t exist

Last week, I was having dinner with some friends who were discussing their frustration with being in organizations where it felt as though there was no true agenda in regards to their web presence. While these folks are quite good at what they do, neither of them felt particularly strategic in their thinking and it wasn’t part of the job they felt they were taking. I told them they needed to reconsider that the thought that their only job was execution, but rather, being an asset required taking a more strategic view of things.

The conversation fired me up enough, that I had to put on my teaching strategist hat in-between bites of gluten free pizza.

Here were some of the takeaways:

1. You need to be the subject matter expert: Maybe you feel as though you’re good at specific things and feel out of your realm when it comes to trying to provide a senior leader direction on a topic. That’s understandable. But the reason you’re there is often to be the “young, fresh mind” offering up key insights and information that will help the organization move forward in its marketing digitally. In the case of these two folks, they’re working for non-profits with limited budgets, but that’s not a unique thing. Which leads me to…

2. See what others are doing well: There are so many resources online that you can spend entire days — to your peril — researching discovering and voraciously reading the pros, cons and so forth of what other people on doing online. The bottom line here is you can find people in your field and around it, doing things that can be of benefit to your organization. It doesn’t mean doing the same things, it means figuring out what’s working and what doesn’t, so you can provide a value-added benefit to the organization.

3. Assess your goals by listening and asking questions: For my shy friends who flourish designing, this one seemed the hardest. “What if I say something stupid? I mean, what if they ignore what I have to say?” Understandable fears, but you never know until you try. And the tactics involved in converting people to a new way of thinking often require showing rather than telling. It can be tempting to want to inundate folks with the bevy of new things that may or may not help. (And don’t get me started on the calls from consultants offering to change your life with this product or that one…) But it’s your responsibility to curate the best ideas, implement what you can within your responsibility and be able to show how it’s helping.

4. What’s the punchline?: Often times, it just boils down to giving someone the punchline. In organizations where people are wearing lots of hats, with leadership who might be set in a different way of doing things (read: older), it might be challenging to convince them to really propel forward with bold new innovations for fear they won’t work as well as conventional methods. That’s where it’s your responsibility to track, measure and evaluate what’s working and what doesn’t. Make sure that everything you’re doing can be tied by to goals that you established, so there’s no confusion about what time is being spent on.

Time will tell whether this recommendations from this spirited discussion — ok, spirited from my end — will necessarily help, but they’re both reported feeling more confident since our little impromptu lesson.