Spaghetti-Os and Knowing Your Place

This tweet arrived on a Saturday by the folks at Spaghetti-Os. This tweet has been deleted, because of Twitter outrage over the perceived insensitivity of using a mock pasta O to commemorate a solemn moment. Probably because our fake pasta friend has a smile on its face. That’s not Mister Pasta’s fault though.

Here’s the deal with all of the mock outrage, I get it on a level. But why I get it probably isn’t for the reasons people are howling. The real issue as I see it, is about knowing your place in the landscape. Tweeting for a brand is difficult.

On the flip side, deleting the tweet is a cowardly act that people need to stop. Look, it’s in the public record. Sure, you might be tired of people replying to it. But there’s something to be said for communicating and sticking to your message sometimes. The internet mob isn’t always right.

There’s this belief that the internet mob has to always be right. But it’s a pack mentality. Someone howls and finds a problem, others follow in an effort to be part of a trend and before you know it, there are legions of folks singing the same refrain. How many people who were complaining actually eat SpaghettiOs at all? Maybe they did as kids, understand that sometimes you just have to drown out the noise and carry on.

You’re not going to please everyone, whether in social media or life. So stop trying.

I originally wanted to write this post about the fact that brands can’t be everything to everyone. I’m not sure that I’d have ever thought to use a brand like this to post about something like Pearl Harbor Day. It’s just not something you’d ever expect from your canned pasta maker brand. To be fair, you want to generate interest and I can imagine someone working behind the scenes there who was hoping to get Retweets and Favorites to show their higher ups how they’re connecting and instead; you’ll have social media “ninjas” posting that whoever did it ought to be fired.

If only all of our work foibles were so visible that strangers would think to comment based on one action how good (or not good) you must be at your job.

Understanding your audience is a golden rule and having a strategy prevents throwing darts at a wall in the hopes of something sticking. Birds and certain insects communicate with each other on frequencies we can’t understand. Brands aren’t birds. Humans hear what you’re putting out there, making what you say more important.

What To Blog About

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I’ve been blogging off and on for a really long time. In my younger days, I pretty blogged about whatever was on my mind, whether it was politics or whatever random online games I’d been creating at the time. Then I got older, social media became the soup de jour and I didn’t dip my toe in again until I thought a personal blog made sense. And by make sense, I mean that I wanted to see whether any of the stuff clanging around in my head met muster.

That led me to Twitter. Most of my connections made these days are through Twitter or conferences. The other day, it occurred to me that blogging was responsible for my ascent and I should dive back in. Except, I’ve always wanted to dive back into it and have opted against it. Why not? A fear of saying something that might offend. If you’ve ever met me in real life, you probably understand that I have a lot of energy and personality. You also realize how boring I’d come off if I restrained all of that in an effort to sanitize content so as not to seem to controversial.

Herein lies the problem friends. When I had no followers on Twitter — it didn’t exist yet — and I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever read my blog, I was free to type whatever I wanted and felt emboldened to do so. Bottom line is, I just didn’t care very much. I just figured if someone found me, great. And if not, that was okay too.

I’ve written variations of this post in the past, but it’s still a conversation that comes up a lot. Not just for individual blogging, but for organizations. Here are a few tips.

1. State your purpose. If you want a professional blog, great. But you still have to give people a reason to care. Be comfortable with no one reading. Set a personal goal for why you’re doing it in the first place, so when you’re bored of it, you have a reason to keep going. This is likely to happen within the first few days, too.

2. Recognize that it’s work. Just because you can share, doesn’t mean you should. Once you decide to do it, recognize that it’s something that requires an investment of time to be great. If you can’t commit several hours a week to it, reconsider whether you really need a blog or not.

3. Know your audience. There are going to be surprises. You might find the people you really thought would be interested in your work are less so, but others like the content. What’s more likely to happen is that no one will read at all. You need to know who you want to reach. After all, you’re sharing something and figuring out what people are sitting somewhere yearning for a voice like theirs needs to be in your head.

4. Read other blogs. I know that when you start blogging, it’s easy to want all the traffic. It doesn’t work that way, friends. You need to see what others are talking about. Don’t be jealous. Sometimes, you can get into situations where someone will blog and you can use that as a chance to respond with your own perspective. Then people are able to read your blog and theirs. Ultimately, you need to be a better reader than a writer.

5. Know when it’s over. Blogs don’t have to go on forever. At some point, you realize that it’s time to shift, pivot or stop saying anything. That’s okay. If you’ve achieved your goals (or even if you haven’t) you can walk away knowing you tried your best.

Don’t be daunted to tell your story

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We’ve all been victim of telling a story that seemed funnier or more interesting when it happened, then when we were recalling it later online or with different friends who weren’t there. It can be awkward, but no less important to feel emboldened to recall stories that have meaning for us.

It’s hard to know where to begin, really. When I’m asked for a biography or find myself redesigning my personal sites for the 1000th time, I sometimes (always?) struggle with picking out the right information to showcase. Does anyone care about that one award you won as a sophomore in college? Or that you were office member of the year in your current role? Maybe volunteering really matters to you. Does it matter to someone reading your bio?

There are lots of blog posts out there telling the best ways to write a biography. But I’m less concerned about bios and more interested in how we construct our identities on the web. We tell our stories in myriad ways from the tweets we share, to the things we post on Facebook. For those of us with websites of our own, there’s a struggle to discover how much of yourself people need to see. Are you trying to consult? Just want folks to join you on Pinterest? It’s hard to know where the line is and so, many of us just buy a ton of domains to figure it out.

I asked a friend recently to read a sample bio I’d written for myself on LinkedIn. He looked at it and told me “this is great. Except you don’t sound like a human. I have no idea what you’re trying to say amongst all of these buzzwords. Speak human to me, Ron.” In a race to sound and be as “impressive” as possible, there’s a penchant to want to write in the third person and share as much esoteric impressiveness as one can fit into a few stanzas.

In resisting this urge, we give way to a much better way of seeing ourselves as people as opposed to characters. Our stories matter. While no one wants to read hundreds of words splayed on a page with no real end or reason, telling your story helps you stand out in a world where everyone is trying to fit into some kind of unnatural box that’s not made for them. The oddity of trying to conform to stand out, is probably a trap I’ve inhabited for too long.

While I still am not entirely sure what I’ll end up writing to replace what my friends helped me see wasn’t all that great, I realize that my best relationships online have been cultivated through the personal tidbits that people remember about me over the years. Think of your best self and project that in word and in deed. The words are likely to follow.

On Context

The other day, I was talking to a friend about LinkedIn. He’s on the job market and a recruiter told him about how necessary it was for his field (he’s not in higher ed) and that he needed to get serious about it. I was telling him that I’ve never been much of a fan of LinkedIn because it was just your resume splayed out there for whoever to read, without any real context for what it all means.

It works fine in my mind, if you went to a good school. If your career has been linear and makes sense to someone, then I can totally understand how just copying your resume with some extra words and maybe overselling your accomplishments for all to see would be worthwhile.

But how do you decide what’s important? What if your own experiences don’t quite move along that path? I’ve managed to do okay in spite of having a career that I mostly fell into. There’s no way that I’d ever encourage some kid to follow my trajectory and yet, so many of the experiences I’ve had that I value immensely came from being bold and making the moves that others would’ve admonished me not to make.

There’s no real way for a resume to explain “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just figuring it out as I went along and each place I went, I maximized my opportunities,” because well..even a cover letter saying that might be a bit strange.

Alas, this is my own dilemma of sorts. I was a non-traditional student after spending four years on active duty in the Air Force. I left college at two different times after that before finally getting my undergraduate degree while working my first job. I tried a few startups including a time when I sort of stumbled into developing an athletic brand with a Chinese company. (Yes, this actually happened.) Back since the early days of personal websites, I was never a partisan of “put your resume on your website” and so, LinkedIn doesn’t really offer me much in that way.

Plus, the competitor in me is not too keen on giving away too much of the “secret sauce.” That is, there’s a whole pitch that goes into getting you to a place where you can even get into the room to talk to people. I’m not convinced oversharing does anything other than give people more ways to scrutinize.

So what do you do? I’m more interested in it from the perspective of someone who wants to try to encapsulate a bevy of life experiences into some kind of coherent narrative. I want to provide context for the things that wouldn’t make sense (or let’s be frank, raise red flags) because while the answers might not satisfy, I’d rather people know the right answers than to assume the wronganswers.

Maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way? Everyone approaches these kinds of things in such a predictable way, maybe the right approach is to take it from a different angle? What if the answer is really to own your path for what it is and communicate that in a way that owns every aspect of what’s made me who I am and why that makes me an asset? (Now you understand why I called this post “Thinking Out Loud…”)

This all boils down to the notion that there’s no context button online. Context takes time and not everyone seems to have much of that these days. I’ve taken to segmenting my messaging on Facebook because I feel more comfortable having contextual conversations rather than just barraging everyone with inane things they may or may not care about. While this is a strategy most of us employ in our work social media lives, it’s not one that we always feel like bringing to our personal worlds. Or if we do, it’s more in theory than in practice because sites like that don’t make it easy to filter out the noise.

The trick is finding a way to provide context for strangers. Dinner guests are easy to cook for when I know they’re showing up; it’s the ones showing up unannounced (with food allergies) that I always have a difficult time preparing for.

I’m headed to the kitchen.