Jul 25

Big brother bursts onto the blogosphere

InternetSpyRemember that Drew University frat party photo you posted on your wall in 2007? 

How about the steamy text exchange with the woman you met at Del Frisco’s three years ago?

Or, what about the e-mail rants against affirmative action you posted on whiteisright.com back in 2009?

Well, it's all fair game to prospective employers now that a year-old company called Social Intelligence is on the case. A new software solution that would make Sherlock Holmes green with envy and George Orwell recoil in disgust is being used by organizations near and far to pry into your innermost Internet intercourse (as in the conversation, not the deed).

Social Intelligence “…scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees have said or done online in the past seven years.” That's right. It unearths EVERYTHING you've said or done on the web. EVERYTHING.

To make matters even worse, the Federal Trade Commission says this seeming invasion of privacy is perfectly legal and “…in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” whatever that is.

Max Drucker, the CEO of Social Intelligence, says his employees “…aren't detectives (at all). All (they) assemble is what is publicly available on the Internet today.” Right. And, the Gestapo was just a bunch of good-natured pencil pushers looking to find out whose Nazi party membership fees had lapsed. Gimme a break. 

I don't like this at all. And, I'm an EMPLOYER!

I definitely want to know if someone has broken the law or done something amazingly tawdry in his or her personal life. But, seven years is one helluva long time. I have to believe there isn't a single reader of this blog who hasn't done something in the last seven years that they'd rather not have a prospective employer see.

And, trust me. If you did it, Social Intelligence will find it. They go far beyond Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to conduct searches that unearth comments on blogs and smaller sites such as Tumblr, Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and, yes, even Craig's List. Good Lord!

Big Brother has clearly arrived on the blogosphere, and it got me thinking.
Will we now lose otherwise stellar candidates because they once wore a toga to a party? And, how would some of history's greatest figures have fared if Social Intelligence had existed way back when:

– Would St. Peter have been recruited to the original group of Apostles if Christ had access to S.I.? Maybe. Christ was into forgiveness, not casting the first stone and all that. But, if Jesus had had a human resources manager on staff, Peter (nee Saul) never would have made it to a first interview.
– Would Thomas Jefferson, who sired numerous children with his slave, Sally Hemmings, been elected to two terms as president? Ditto for JFK, FDR, W, Slick Willy and other presidents who misbehaved long before they entered the Oval Office.

On the other hand, S.I. might have prevented the likes of Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin from rising to power.

So, color me very concerned, but open to arguments as to why corporate America needs Social Intelligence. What about you? Would you be cool with someone digging deep into your entire online world while you were job searching? And, for you corporate types, do you think S.I. steps over the line and is, in fact, an invasion of privacy? Would you be able to support it from an ethical standpoint?

I'd ask more questions, but Ed and I need to do a deep Internet dive right now on a prospective account supervisor's personal life. Seems she once dated a member of Hamas. Does that disqualify her, or make her even more attractive since she understands how a different culture acts and thinks?

Jun 16

Communication breakdown

Blog-or-facebookI'm perplexed. I'm faced with a communications conundrum and need your help to make a  decision.
 
Here's my problem. Several months ago, we decided to simultaneously post the latest Repman blog on my Facebook page. I thought this was a smart move since the lines between the personal and professional are becoming more blurry than the meaning of Sarah Palin's latest Tweet. LinkedIn is no longer the exclusive enclave of one's professional networking life. And, the business world seems to be becoming ever more prevalent on Facebook.

So, we decided to post Repman on my Facebook page.

And, that's when my communication breakdown began.
 
Almost overnight, the number of comments decreased on the Repman blog website itself and increased on the Facebook comments section accompanying each blog post. Blogs that would sometimes generate as many as 50 comments on Repman site were now being abandoned in favor of direct postings on my Facebook page. And, all of a sudden, I started receiving Facebook alerts to new comments all day long.
 
So, here's my conundrum. Like all marketing communications blogs, Repman is rated on the quality and quantity of its content (and comments). With the latter suffering as a direct result of my simultaneous Facebook posting, Repman reader comments are becoming scarcer than positive coverage of Anthony Weiner.
 
I see three possible courses of action:

1.) Do nothing and let the blogosphere decide when and where it wants to engage with Repman/me.
 
2.) Pull down the Facebook posting and go back to the future with Repman content existing solely on www.repmanblog.com.
 
3.) Figure out some sort of hybrid solution (i.e. maybe we post the blog on Facebook later in the day?).
 
These are clearly high class problems. I love writing blogs that engender good, bad and even ugly comments in response. I'm just at a crossroads as to how best to maintain the buzz for the original Repman while still engaging with new, and different, readers on my Facebook page.
 
So, what would you do?

Sep 13

Hyperbole, superlatives and all that marcom jazz

Lost in the various trade journal hysterics about the rise of public relations and our unique  Grammar_crackers_large ability to play lead dog in the social media explosion is the simultaneous decline in the quality of the average PR practitioner's writing.

Poor writing has been the subject of numerous articles and surveys over the years. It's been blamed on everything from an underfunded primary and secondary education system to the inherent informality in blogging, texting and Tweeting. I'd agree that both have contributed to the mediocre copy many senior corporate and agency executives review nowadays. I'd also add that the word 'copy' itself is part of the problem.

As the traditional lines separating advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, digital and PR have blurred, I've noticed an alarming increase in the use of superlatives and hyperbole once reserved solely for the copy in a full-page print ad.

PR and journalism graduates from the very best schools have somehow forgotten that our press materials need to be written in an objective, factual manner. Instead, I routinely hear industry leaders lament the plethora of poor prose from juniors. They shake their heads and speak of receiving press releases and opinion pieces with endless, run-on sentences that include adjectives ranging from “thrilling” and “remarkable” to “game-changing” and “awe-inspiring.”

It's fine for the advertising and marcom types to use such hype. But, as I wrote in a recent blog ('A Wigotsky in every agency'), the generation of PR editors that included Victor Wigotsky of H&K and John Artopeous of Burson, wouldn't have permitted such an atrocity.

Today's industry leaders are not only allowing poor writing to take hold, we're enabling it. Heck, PR Week actually asked two professionals to debate whether good writing EVEN MATTERED anymore. If our leading trades aren't endorsing the need for a “back to basics, just the facts, ma'am” approach to PR writing, what hope do we have?

It's our responsibility to counsel clients on what is, and isn't, newsworthy. It's also our responsibility to write a release, a bylined article or other communications piece in a classic, objective journalistic style.

The more our product looks and reads like advertising copy, the more likely an organization is to cede control of its overall marketing communications to a digital or direct marketing shop. And, trust me, there's nothing thrilling or remarkable about that possibility. That said, it will be an awe-inspiring, NEGATIVE game-changer if our industry leaders and journalists don't step up and address the issue more seriously. Oh, and there was no hyperbole in that last paragraph. Just facts.

Sep 08

So, I had a cup of coffee this morning before hopping on the 6:44am and, oh, I bumped into O.P. on the platform…

I'm in the process of 'de-friending' and 'de-linking' from those contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn  NARCISSIST who continually spam me with useless personal information or event invitation. Who needs either?

The most egregious are the Facebook addicts who feel compelled to share such scintillating personal news as:

– “Went para-sailing before work today. What a rush! And what a great way to start my day.”
– “Summer's over and the kids are back in school. Oh well. It can't last forever.”
– “Cousin Shlomo, it was great seeing you and the entire McWorthington Clan over Labor Day.”

Two new studies show that frequent Facebook users are either narcissists or individuals who suffer from low self-esteem. That makes sense. Their daily non-news items are either saying, “Am I wonderful, or what?” Or “God, please pay attention to me.”

One of the surveys, conducted by researchers at San Diego State University, focused on 18-25 year-old Facebook users and found that 60 percent use the social media tool for “self promotion” and “attention getting.” The second report, issued by Toronto's York University, confirmed the SDSU findings and said continually posting new photographs and updating one's profiles indicate either a narcissistic personality or low self-esteem.

I'll be the first to admit that I like having my kids post photos on my Facebook page of my most recent mountain, rock and ice climbing sojourns. But, you'll never catch me posting something like, “Watched Jersey Shore with Catharine last night. How naive is Sammie?” Or “Pool water is still warm. Snuck in one last swim last night.”

I'm go further out on a limb here and guess that people aren't interested in knowing that I'm wearing green slacks and a black-and-white striped golf shirt today. Or, that I'm toying with the idea of wearing a suit to tomorrow's 8am client meeting. Who cares? Hell, I don't even care.

So, do the world a favor and save those inane, meaningless and narcissistic wall posts like, “Cannot wait for this Saturday when the girls will be over to discuss The Art of Racing in the Rain. I'll bet Lucy hated it!” No one cares about your life, but you.

Two other quick points:

– LinkedIn updates are equally banal. Who cares if Beckwith in accounting has updated his photo? He obviously does. But the rest of us sure don't.
– In the interests of full transparency, I've already outed myself as a narcissistic boss (see my 'Crazy Bosses' blog). But, those traits don't bleed over to the virtual world.

Facebook and LinkedIn serve a few, useful purposes. But, keep telling me your mundane, daily rituals and you'll a) undermine your image and b) find yourself de-friended by more than one disinterested party.

Oct 26

Look both ways before crossing an intersection and listen to all stakeholders before engaging in social media

October 26 I recently shared a Bulldog Reporter audio conference panel with two corporate communicators and another representative from the dark side (read: PR firms). The topic was social media and, thanks to some excellent moderating by the lovely and talented Brian Pittman, the discussion was rather lively.

I found myself disagreeing with one of the corporate panelists who advised the 150-plus listening audience to engage in social media at all costs, 'Look,' he advised, 'Social media is the future and you might as well engage sooner rather than later.'

I agreed, sort of. I think personal engagement in social media is, indeed, a no-brainer. But, an organization should think long and hard before taking the plunge. The corporate panelist said organizations can learn as they go. Well, yes, but some serious, and potentially devastating missteps can occur during that learning phase.

I likened social media to a busy intersection in a large city. Conventional wisdom holds that one should look both ways before crossing. Social media is the same: organizations should listen to all stakeholders before proceeding. Does each and every audience need/want your organization to engage with them in a social media dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe information overloaded employees don't want or need a company Facebook page. Maybe long-standing customers prefer the pleasures of a face-to-face meeting over a Don Draper-like scotch and soda. And maybe local community leaders expect a town hall type back-and-forth on issues of the day.

The social media land rush mentality can undermine your organization's image, reputation and credibility if you dive in without listening first.

Brian Pittman asked what sort of questions an organization should ask of its stakeholders during a listening phase. That's easy: the exact same questions neophyte journalists are trained to ask before crafting a news article: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Make sure your audiences want to engage in social media before you decide to flip on the switch. Just because your management wants to, or your competitors are doing it or, even worse, some expert says it's here to stay and you better engage are the wrong reasons.

In the same way rushing across an intersection can be detrimental to one's health, diving pell-mell into social media can be dangerous to one's brand.

Sep 22

The ‘it’ girl of the in crowd

September 22 - facebook

I was just friended on Facebook by the 'it' girl of my high school 'in' crowd.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal to you, but to an image and reputation guy like me, it's huge.

September 22 - facebook_golfThat's because, in high school, I had very little image and even less reputation.

My high school, like yours, had a rigorous social structure, akin to the Caste System in India. At the top were the Brahmins who reigned supreme. And at the bottom were the Untouchables who, were well, untouchable. And unlikeable. And pretty much unnoticeable.


I existed somewhere in the middle. As a very shy and introverted adolescent, I was quite content to just get by. I'm not sure why, but I made it my mission to fly under the radar at all costs. I simply didn't want to stand out.

The ‘it’ girl, on the other hand, moved in rarified circles. Like a Disco-era Marie Antoinette, she decided who she would like and whom she would allow to like her. She naturally dated the 'it' guy and together they ruled the roost as the it couple.

And, that was cool. And, that was then. And, this is now.

Since last crossing paths with the ‘it’ girl, I've lost my adolescent inhibitions, become fairly outgoing and done a few pretty cool things. Cool enough, I guess, to be accepted into the ‘it’ girl's virtual inner circle.

I feel a little like the late JFK who, after listening to Marilyn Monroe's sultry and sensuous singing of 'Happy Birthday' to mark his 45th birthday, said: “I can now retire from politics having heard the words of 'Happy Birthday' sung to me in such a sweet and wholesome way.” Ditto. I can now retire from the image and reputation wars having finally been accepted by the Brahmin of Brahmins.

Jun 30

The rules don’t apply to me

June 30 - ceo Power brokers think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s certainly true of sports stars, rock impresarios and politicians. It’s also true of executives. Take the latest findings released by UberCEO.com that reveal a near total use of social media tools by Fortune 100 chief executive officers.

UberCEO thinks CEOs are either distracted or too timid to engage in the blogosphere. Timidity (or fear) is a likely culprit. But, so too, is hubris. CEOs move in rarified worlds and breathe rarified air. As a result, most think the rules governing mortal men simply don’t apply to them. One needs only to think of, say, Bernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski or Jeff Skilling to prove the point.

I think CEOs think social media is for the hoi polloi. They don’t need, or want, to dirty their hands by interacting with the masses. They already have their hands full with such irritants as analyst calls, CNBC interviews or annual meetings. Who has the time or patience to write a blog, Tweet or maintain a home page on Facebook?

Sure, one needs to factor in Sarbanes-Oxley when conjecturing why CEOs avoid social media like the plague. And, yes, there remains a solid business case why the big kahuna needs to do this citizen journalist ‘nonsense.’ But, I think the average chief executive officer thinks just like the J. Walter Thompson CEO I once worked for. He felt himself above the fray and looked down his nose at lesser mortals. Let them eat cake (or hit ‘send’).

Until, and unless, we have some truly enlightened CEOs sitting in Fortune 100 corner offices, I don’t think we’ll see any blogging or podcasting. CEOs think that’s something for the ‘marketing guys’ to deal with. In the meantime, they have bigger fish to fry: Wall Street is unhappy with the stock performance, the board is questioning the latest downsizing and the charities are demanding some sort of sustainability program. Blogging? Bah humbug!

*Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea for this post.

Apr 27

Useless

April 27 - PlaxcoUntil a few seconds ago, I was blissfully unaware that Henry Feintuch's birthday was a mere seven days away. Now, though, thanks to the fine folks at Plaxo Pulse, I'm not only forewarned, I'm forearmed. Phew! That was close.

Truth be told, I have no idea who Henry Feintuch is. I'd guess he's a member of the Feintuch clan. But, that's mere speculation on my part. He could be one of the Kentucky Feintuch's, the Iowa Feintuch's or, heaven forbid, the Dakota Feintuch's. I've heard some of the Dakota Feintuch boys ran into trouble a while back.

I wish Henry a very happy birthday in advance (and many more as well!). But, I have about as much use for this information as I do, say, for the price of tea in China (a dated expression that may be considered politically incorrect in today's PC world).

So, cutting to the image and reputation chase, what good is a service that has done absolutely nothing for me since I registered? Facebook is fun, since I can occasionally check out new pics of old friends. And Linked In is an absolutely essential new business and networking tool, or so our strategy consultant tells me (truth be told, though, my 300 or so Linked In connections really haven't done anything for me). But, Plaxo and its birthday greetings? Gimme a break.

Call me old school but, when it comes to business development and networking, I'm an F-to-F guy (that's face-to-face).

Henry, do have a happy, happy birthday. But understand that my feelings for Plaxo and its advance birthday warnings can be best summed up by the immortal last words of a mortally wounded John Wilkes Booth, who stared at his hands and sighed, 'Useless. Useless.'

Sep 29

Sometimes, it’s More Like Facelessbook

Do you ever get "friended" on Facebook by someone you’ve never met? By someone you’ve never, ever heard of?

I’ll get an alert from Facebook stating that "Smedly Q. Armbrister would like to friend me." Huh? Who the hell is Smedly Q. Armbrister, and why does he want to be my friend? 

I’ve received quite a few friend requests from perfect strangers like Smedly. These people not only want to connect with me but, in doing so, want to connect me with their friends, who also happen to be perfect strangers. Great. Just what I need, virtual friendships with people I don’t know and don’t want to know. Facebook

These friend requests are always accompanied by photos of the strangers. Some are happily sailing in their boat. Others are completing a 10k race. Then, there’s the woman holding a cat in her arms. That one always freaks me out a bit. Call me anti-social, but I’m just not into sharing Kodak moments with people I don’t know.

Could you imagine this happening in the "real" world? A woman carrying a cat and stroking its fur walks up to you and says, "Hi, I’m Sally G. Renquist and I’d like to be your friend." Oh baby, get out of my way, because I’m going to be setting a new world record for the 100-meter dash.

So, why do we practice behavior in the digital world that we’d never, ever consider doing in the real one? I’m sure it’s all about networking. But, networking first requires an introduction of some sort. One doesn’t network by walking up to a complete stranger and saying, "Hi, let’s be friends. Can you help me get a job?"

Facebook, LinkedIn and their ilk are pretty cool ways to connect, re-connect and network with people you know. But, I’m just not connecting without a prior introduction. It’s kind of like John McCain’s refusal to meet with the leaders of rogue nations without conditions.

So, here’s a quick piece of advice to all the Janes, Sallys, Dicks and Toms that I don’t know. Save us both some time and friend someone you actually know.