It’s time we brought personal back to personal branding

androidify Ari

I was recently asked to keynote and kickoff an upcoming public relations conference by talking about digital and political branding. As I was preparing my presentation, it occurred to me that transparency and authenticity are what should be at the heart of any such branding. We need to be more about personal interaction and less about brand promotion when we’re talking about a person, be that a politician or a CEO. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.

That’s no surprise though, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. When doing presentations during the past few years, I have promoted the need to consider your “personal brand” when you are participating in social media activities. I made people think about how branding is no longer just a corporate reference. Each and every one of us, I would say, is our own brand and we are personally responsible for it.

I still believe that responsibility for our actions, online and off, is paramount to a strong character. But it is transparency and authenticity that make us human and more powerful in terms of branding than anything a corporation can muster.

The avatar at the top of this post is what I now use on Twitter. It’s not a picture of me, clearly, so is it contradictory to my argument that we need to keep things more personal? I don’t think so — I actually think it tells you more about me than a standard head shot would. Take another look at it and figure out what it tells you about me. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you…

Here’s what you can learn about me from that avatar:

  • I prefer Android phones and I like ball caps — according to my wife I own more than any person needs.
  • I am a Google Glass Explorer.
  • I enjoy  am addicted to  desperately need coffee.
  • My favorite outfits involve cargo pants and hooded sweatshirts.
  • And you’ll see me walking around town on my lunch hour in bright white and black Chuck Taylors instead of dress shoes, which I gladly leave in my office.

There is an old saying about something being more valuable than simply the sum of its parts. That is especially true for businesses. Because businesses, no matter how small or large, are made up of people. And each of those individuals — from the CEO to the front-line worker — is what makes up a corporate brand. Each of their strengths and weaknesses, each of their valuable assets and their thorny flaws is a component.

But that goes for individuals, too. For years, public relations professionals have pushed to get business leaders and politicians involved in social media. But there is being involved, and then there is being involved. It’s high time PR pros kicked their clients and bosses in the rear and told them to either get with the program or stop trying. Yes, there may be missteps along the way, but if they are made by a person and not a “brand,” the public and media would – I believe – be more generally forgiving. minion

Besides, the world of social media and mainstream media attention is so fleeting and spastic that even if you screw up, someone else will end up screwing up at least as badly if not worse within a short amount of time. Social media is the electronic enabler of the attention deficit disorder the mainstream media has become seriously afflicted with during the past decade.

So get out there and take a chance on being yourself. Encourage your bosses to be a person first and a title second.

I used to work for former Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger who understood the importance of being transparent on social media but didn’t always have the time to do the posts himself. At first, I posted on his behalf, noting that it was me and not the Speaker. But as time went on, when Jase saw how much more intense the interaction was when he posted directly, he started to do more of it. He made the time because it was important. By the way, “intense” didn’t always translate to “positive,” but that didn’t matter.

One of the best interactions I ever had on Twitter was with a person who contacted me because they hated what I said and what my boss at the time was doing. And yet, by sharing our opinions honestly with each other, the two of us end up parting ways still disagreeing but appreciating the dialogue. We often debated issues after that, and always civilly — albeit sometimes with snark, which was acceptable since we both did it. We were able to have those conversations because the first one wasn’t populated with me spouting off talking points like some machine. Instead, I talked like a human being.

One thing that has not changed over the years is my insistence on being real. When people who have interacted with me only via social media eventually meet me in person, there shouldn’t be any surprises. I am who I am whether I’m standing in the same room with you or tweeting at you from thousands of miles away.

Unnamed image (2)One of my current bosses is the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. He’s a powerful leader to say the least. But, especially in terms of his personal brand, he’s a husband, a father and a runner. Unnamed image (5)Our official office Twitter account is somewhat reflective of his style but his personal account is where he really shines. Because on that account, he’s just a guy living his life, running marathons, doing what dads and husbands do — oh and he also happens to be a lieutenant governor.

We are all people. Yes, I have a personal brand that I care about, but I care more about the “personal” part of that. Which is why, for example, I never use an auto-reply for my Twitter account. If I follow someone and within seconds receive a “Thanks for following me! Please check out this YouTube video/website/great product!!” my first inclination is to just as quickly unfollow them. I am on social media to share information in a social way, not be shouted at by an automated bot.

So let’s put the social back in social media. And put the personal back in personal branding. By doing that, we just might put the human back into humanity.

Cheers!

^aba

Ari B. Adler with Glass

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(Almost ) seeing a volcano with Google Glass

91933-004-DAEEF82AI (almost) got to see a volcano up close yesterday thanks to Google Glass. What I did get to see was a forward-thinking teacher connected to a lot of other forward-thinking teachers who are putting the latest high-tech gear to use as a way to help their students learn and connect with peers around the world.

We take so much technology for granted these days, that I really feel like I need to repeat that last part. “…with their peers around the world.” And it wasn’t just a written connection, or a voice connection — but a video connection. Students from around the world had the opportunity to watch as Brendan Brennan took his class to visit a volcano in Hawaii.

Under the moniker of “Project Open Glassroom,” Brendan found a way to connect students with his class by utilizing computers, portable WiFi and Google Glass in a way that allowed the classrooms to interact, ask questions and see what Brendan and others were seeing, live as it happened.

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A screen shot of Brendan wearing his Google Glass, shot with my Google Glass.

We have added 3 (count ’em) Google Glass feeds via LiveStream for the field trip in addition to the Hangout On Air. One for a student, one for a teacher and one for a volcanologist.

I watched it off and on, streaming it to one of my computer screens while taking care of work on others. While it would have been fun to focus entirely on what Brendan was doing, this was a great type of broadcast for multitasking in the middle of the afternoon.

I’m sure it was a great experience for all the kids involved, even if they didn’t get to see the volcano in a live feed. Obviously, descending toward a volcano in Hawaii with no cellular towers nearby is not conducive to streaming video and the feed was lost before they got to their destination. But it was a valiant effort that really showcased the power of learning that Google is offering classrooms through Glass and Hangouts on Air. (Unfortunately, Google announced last night that the next Glass software update, due out this week, will be removing video calls as a native app. We can still opt to use Livestream, but I hope video calls return soon after Google takes on its challenge to “make them better.” Otherwise, we’ll lose opportunities like this one used by the Houston Zoo and a hospital.)

Besides showcasing the power of technology, this experimental trip to a volcano also was evidence of the power that teachers have to show students how much more there is to becoming educated than what they can see within their schoolroom walls or read about in textbooks.

You can see pictures that some of the classrooms posted at the Google Plus Event page.

Kudos to Brendan and everyone involved in yesterday’s excursion. It was a valiant effort.

Mahalo nui loa!

 

 

How to get the most heat out of your Kindle Fire HD

I had the first generation Kindle Fire and have used the Kindle Fire HD 7 for a few months. Both served me well and the increase in speed and flexibility afforded by the HD version made the upgrade investment worthwhile. I’ve had a few friends and colleagues ask Kindle Fire HD 7me about the Fire and the “must-have” apps I would recommend, so I thought a blog post was in order.

I’m not going to discuss the Kindle vs. iPad vs. Nexus debate here; there are plenty of other places to find those rants online. It’s a debate that may never end because, like many tech issues, the answer often lies in your subjective view of the world. What works best for anyone given their wants and needs for a tablet and the budget they have available differs greatly. I will say that I leaned toward the Kindle initially because I’m deeply invested in the Amazon and Amazon Prime universe. The seamless integration of these services with a Kindle made it the right choice for me.

This post is about what to do with the Kindle Fire HD after you’ve moved past the decision and have the tablet in hand. Suggesting any apps are “must have” also is a sticky wicket, because that’s a very subjective list. Nevertheless, here are my favorites, so far, broken down by category. This is not the complete list of apps on my Fire. Also, note that a few require “sideloading,” which is an easy and safe undertaking. It is not the same thing as “rooting” your Fire. I’ve included a quick tutorial on sideloading at the end of this post. If I remember sideloading an app, I’ve noted that in the description. If it’s not noted, that means the app is available for download directly from the Amazon App Store, or I simply forgot that I sideloaded it! (Tech tip: Many of the apps listed here also work well on the first generation Kindle Fire.)

Internet

Amazon improved the built-in Silk browser with the HD version of the Fire, and its integration with Amazon’s online store makes it a good choice when you’re doing Amazon-centric web activities. But it still seems to lag a bit when compared to two other options you have and it won’t play Flash on websites that use it. I have Dolphin and Chrome installed on my KFHD. Both are available via sideloading. Dolphin has some neat features, including the ability to use gesture shortcuts to reach bookmarked sites. I’m a big fan of Google Chrome and use it on all of my devices. The biggest advantage is its speed and its ability to sync your bookmarks across all your devices. No matter what I’m using, I know I can open Chrome and find my bookmarks arranged the same way everywhere. (Tech tip: Some people find that turning off the “Accelerate page loading” option in Silk’s settings speeds up the browser. I found no noticeable difference and turned it back on.) (Tech tip: No matter what browser you use, sometimes links are hard to select on a small screen. Don’t forget about the pinch and zoom feature. Also, double-tapping on the screen zooms a page in. Just be careful not to hit a link while tapping. Double-tap again to zoom out.)

News

Because of my day job as a press secretary, I’m a bit of  a news junkie. My morning routine includes using apps from USA Today, AP, NPR and BBC News. To access my  Google Reader account, and more, I use Flipboard. I really like Flipboard’s ability to send news stories via email, post them to social media outlets, and share them to many other installed apps. (Tech tip: The screen layout and access to features sometimes changes on the news apps depending on whether your screen is in portrait or landscape mode. Be sure to turn the Fire and see which layout works best for you.)

I suppose weather falls under news, too. I use AccuWeather’s app. The Weather Channel app works well enough but I’ve gravitated toward AccuWeather more for its interface. The accuracy is comparable, so find the one you’re most comfortable with.

Productivity

Having access to files throughout the day regardless of where I am or what device I have handy has proven incredibly useful. So, I’ve started to use “the cloud” for a lot of my file storage. That means that Dropbox is front and center on my list of productivity apps. I believe it’s a sideloaded app. You also can download the Evernote app from Amazon. If you aren’t using Dropbox or Evernote yet, you’re missing out on two of the best online, cloud-based products out there today.

No matter how much I love being paperless these days, I still find the need to jot down the random thought or phone number on a sticky note. The ColorNote app is what I use to bring the concept of sticky notes to my Fire.

I also recommend downloading the free Calculator Plus app. It turns your Fire into a great calculator, taking advantage of all the screen real estate to offer up giant buttons and a list of current calculations.

While you probably don’t want to write a thesis on a tablet, there are times when being able to read, edit and even draft documents on your Fire is a handy thing. OfficeSuite is a great app for that. There is a free version but I grabbed the pay version when it was on sale and it is a valuable app to have around. (Tech tip: the Fire HD has Bluetooth capabilities. That means you can sync up a wireless keyboard if you tire of using the on-screen one. I’ve yet to find one I liked well enough or increased my typing speed enough that it was worth keeping though.)

The Fire HD has a front-facing camera that’s designed for use with Skype, but you can do still photos with it, too. The trouble is the built-in way to handle still photography is a bit clunky. That’s where an app like Photo Editor has proven useful from time to time.

If you’re a blogger in the WordPress ecosystem, the WordPress app is a useful addition to your Fire, as well.

As for email, which is the core of productivity for many of us, the Fire’s built-in mail program does a pretty job handling multiple accounts from multiple sources. I still have my office email on that app, but I found out I could sideload the Gmail app and I never looked back for that part of my email life.

Finally, think about downloading Skitch, a drawing app that is now brought to us by the good people at Evernote. The big advantage with using Skitch as your drawing and sketching app is its integration with Evernote.

Social Media

The Fire does a great job helping me keep up with the social media side of my life. You should have the Facebook and Twitter apps on your Fire; I have found both to be more useful than the computer versions. I also use Hootsuite as my social media aggregator and the Kindle Fire edition is well done. There is no app yet for Google+; I’m generally accessing it via my Dolphin browser. Make sure you connect your Google+ account to your Flipboard account — then you can compose posts through that app. (Tech tip: The Google+ .apk is available for download, but after I sideloaded it I couldn’t get it to work properly. Perhaps, in time…which seems to be the story of the life of Google+ anyway.)

Entertainment

If you like movies and books, you’re going to love Amazon’s integrated system, especially if you’re a Prime member. And why not? Sure, it’s $80 a year, but besides streaming movies and TV shows, you can borrow one book a month instead of buying it and you get 2-day free shipping on a lot of products.

For other sources of TV, movies and music, the Roku app does a good job controlling your streaming player. Pandora’s app for the Fire is fantastic, too. A couple of apps that, combined, can help you find most of the radio stations and shows you might like to stream, are iHeart Radio and Tunein Radio. Both have free editions that work well; the paid version of Tunein Radio includes the ability to record what you’re listening to.

No matter how you get your movies, make sure it’s something you want to see before you stream or rent it by checking it out on the IMDB app for the Fire. It works very well.

Games

angry-birds-star-wars-review-0I’m not sure if there is any area more subjective than games. After all, one man’s relaxing fun is another man’s annoying waste of time, right? Still, I thought I ‘d share a couple of games that have entertained me and my teenage kids for a while. These include a few of the Angry Birds versions, especially Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars and Bad Piggies. For something a little more impressive for your high IQ friends, download the Scrabble app. You also might consider the Game of Life app if you want to bring family night games to the tablet instead of the table. (Tech tip: You can pinch and zoom on the Angry Birds screens to get a better view for aiming your weapons of fowl destruction.)

Reading

Of course it’s odd to talk about reading apps on an e-reader, but I do have one more suggestion that isn’t so much about the books but how to read them at night. With the Fire being a backlit reader, there are times that the screen is simply too bright to read with the lights off. (Those married folks among you will appreciate the need to read with the lights off as your spouse tries to sleep while you insist on “just finishing this chapter.”) A great solution to this problem is the ScreenDim app. It allows you to drop the screen’s brightness lower than the standard brightness setting does. You can save presets for quick access to different settings throughout the day, but I find that somewhat unnecessary. Plus, if it ‘s off, it’s not using your Fire’s computing power or battery. That’s why I usually just turn it on at night for bedtime book snacking. (Tech tip: You can try Auto Brightness on the Fire but it doesn’t seem to really keep up. I’ve found the same thing on my iPhone. That technology seems to lack true functionality on most devices. If you know the secret to making Auto Brightness work better, please share it with everyone in the comments section!)

Apps, Apps, Everywhere

There are many more apps available in all the categories listed above; I mentioned earlier that I was only highlighting some of my favorites. The list of all the apps on my Fire is too long to list in one blog post. Look for what you need and give it a try. If you don’t like it you can always delete it from your Fire. It’s no loss if it was a free app. If you shelled out a few bucks for an app and don’t like it, well, next time do what I do and research things thoroughly through the user reviews and outside sources on the Internet.

If you find some apps you consider a favorite, please share that information in the comments section. By working together, we’ll soon build an awesome compilation from many favorite lists.

Sideloading

You can sideload by downloading a file to your computer and then moving it to your Kindle via a USB cable. But it’s much simpler to sideload directly to your Kindle. To do so, download a file explorer app from the Amazon App Store. I use and recommend ES File Explorer. Once that’s installed, you need to head to your settings under “More,” then “Device.” Once there, change Allow Installation of Applications from the default of “off” to “on.” I tend to leave mine in the off position for security when I’m done sideloading, but that’s a personal preference. If you want to sideload an app, you then need to find the .apk file for it, which often is available at many sites online. After downloading the .apk file to your Kindle, you can find it in the Downloads folder by using ES File Explorer. Tapping on the file usually opens the installer and, voilà, you’re sideloading! (Tech tip: once you’ve installed the app, you don’t need the .apk file anymore. I move them to my Dropbox account so they’re quickly available if I need them, but they aren’t taking up space on my Fire.)

You’re more than a business card or a Twitter handle

Angela Minicuci

The ability to network online is more prevalent now than ever and we should all be taking advantage of the many opportunities provided by the countless free services available. Your chances for connecting with colleagues online — past, present and future — are growing and expanding.

In my “spare” time, I’m an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. Last semester, I had a former intern come in to talk to my class. She’s a great example of what a go-getter can accomplish at a young age. Angela Minicuci talked to my students about her college and professional career path. She delivered a fantastic message to the students about the importance of networking. It’s a message we all need to learn and then relearn from time to time.

Here are Angela’s tips, with some added thoughts from me:

  • Internships can give you experience that you can put in your portfolio and on your resume. (I would add that this goes both ways, because professionals who are supervising interns can learn a lot, too.)
  • Networking isn’t just shaking hands and exchanging business cards. Go to events, put yourself in uncomfortable situations and show people you can handle it. Establish a personal and professional relationship with them. (“It’s not personal, it’s just business” can be true, but being a person is important.)
  • You’re a real person, not just an email address. (I would urge all of you to forget that LinkedIn provides an auto-populated message when you try to connect with someone. Please personalize those notes!)
  • You’re always going to be a student. You always have to allow yourself to grow. (That’s part of why I made this blog post. If you stop learning, you stop growing and just become stagnant, both personally and professionally.)
  • Work hard, give to the community, network and be humble. (We all know people who work hard at their day jobs and then spend countless hours giving back to their profession and communities through volunteer work or donation of professional services. When you see these people going above and beyond the call of duty, give them a shout-out on a social network or take the time to stop and thank them personally. Volunteers don’t do their volunteering for recognition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like receiving it!)

All of Angela’s tips are great ones, whether you’re a student, a young professional or a seasoned pro. Learn, grow, share, rinse, repeat…you get the idea. Online or offline, with a personal notecard, a friendly e-mail or a shout-out on a social media site – get busy networking. The rewards are well worth the effort.

GM gets SM because it’s Social Media and SalesMen

Owly Images

Mary Henige, presenting to CMPRSA in East Lansing, Michigan

I heard a great presentation last week by Mary Henige, Director of Social Media & Digital Communications for General Motors, about what the car company is doing to use social media to its advantage, and to its customers’ advantage.

It’s natural for presentations like Mary’s to be uplifting and inspiring, because she only talked about the successes of various programs. I’m sure there are plenty of “Oh, if only we’d known,” or “Wow, that didn’t work!” types of stories to tell, too. It’s also understandable if companies aren’t eager to share their mishaps. Nevertheless, I’m certain that seeing practical applications brought to life was a great way to get the creative juices flowing for a lot of people at the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America meeting.

In addition to learning about some of the logistics of how GM handles social media, I also walked away with a few key points that we all need to remember:

  • The social media team at GM’s number one job is not to be on social media, or engage with customers or humanize the brand. Of course, all of those things are vitally important, but they also are all leading to one thing: making each employee a salesperson. After all, as Mary pointed out, a primary goal as an employee of General Motors should be to sell cars. No matter what your role within a company or an organization, you should have a single-minded purpose: impact sales or support your issue in a positive way. If what you’re doing isn’t accomplishing that, it’s time to rethink how you’re spending your time.
  • GM is expanding its “social assistance staff” numbers as well as the days and hours they are available to help customers. If I recall correctly, she said they’d be up to 17 employees soon and will be online from early morning to late at night Monday through Saturday, and from noon to the early nighttime hours of Sunday. As Mary said, “If that’s where people are, that’s where we need to be.” They’ve also figured out something else at GM that many other companies haven’t yet. It’s not just about where the people are, it’s when the people are. Engaging with your customers or fans in the social media sphere is a nice touch. Since many people use social media more at home than at work, though, that means being available to engage on nights and weekends.
  • The number of active users on your Facebook page is a better measure than how many “likes” you have. Mary commented that engaged users aren’t people who just showed up to get a coupon. Think about how many company pages you like on Facebook or how many brands you’re following on Twitter. Evaluate that list honestly and I bet you’ll find that you were initially drawn to those pages because there was something used to entice you. The bigger question is, when was the last time you actually looked at that brand’s Facebook page or interacted with it on Twitter? My bet is that it has been awhile. That means that neither you nor the brand are getting anything out of the relationship. And relationships that are allowed to wither soon die and fall off the vine.
  • In addition to being the front line of humanizing the brand, Mary said the social web employees act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine when a crisis occurs, “because we hear about it first.” Humanizing the brand, engaging with customers, improving relationships — these common buzz phrases are all important to a brand’s presence on social media. But one of the most valuable tools you can provide your bosses is being a listening post. By spotting a crisis as it starts to unfold, you just might prevent it from being more than a minor problem that could have been a crisis if not caught early on. People are talking about your brand, your company, your organization and your product. Just because you aren’t listening to them doesn’t mean they don’t want you to hear them. As Mary pointed out, even those people who are complaining about you publicly can still be saved because you can engage with them and maybe turn them around. “It’s the people who don’t talk about you at all that are indifferent,” she said.
General Motors certainly seems like a brand that “gets it” when it comes to dealing with customers and potential customers on the social web. So go search them out — there is a social presence for GM, its brands and its individual vehicles all over the social media spectrum. And if you have any trouble finding what you’re looking for, just start talking about it publicly and they’ll find you. After all, they are eager to humanize the brand, engage with you — and sell you a car.

Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”

Please, let me be myself

I’ve written before about the importance of being a mentor and and I’m proud to say that one of my mentees recently wrote a good educational piece on tips for a successful mentorship. But recently I’ve had more than one friend ask me not about mentoring per se, but how to help a mentor let go.

Firsthand experience as a parent and a mentor has taught me that it’s easy to get trapped into smothering someone when all you want is to protect them from harm and then help them succeed to heights greater than those you have achieved. Unfortunately, as time goes by, you lose track of how much your kids have matured or how much your mentee has grown as a professional. You see things from the inside looking out — from a place where you notice from time to time how the person you’re looking out for has changed. But from the outside looking in, other people see a child or a young professional who is blossoming and ready to burst open, sharing their beauty and brilliance with the world. The trouble is, you may be standing in their way and need to remove your shadow, letting the sun shine directly upon them.

If you do not learn this lesson the easy way, by realizing for yourself that it’s time to let your child or your mentee venture forth on their own, you might end up learning it the hard way. With kids, that’s often through rebellious acts that make you wonder what happened to the small, innocent person you’ve been trying to protect all these years. And for that young professional in your life, it might suddenly seem that they aren’t asking for help and advice as often as you are dishing it out.

As a mentor, you might at first start to resent this lack of interest in your experience and your advice, thinking that the young person is starting to get a big head about their abilities. But if you find yourself going there, take a step back and look at your relationship from the outside in. Is it really that your mentee is getting too big for their britches and doesn’t appreciate you anymore? Or is that you, as a mentor, don’t want to admit that your work is done and it’s time to let that young professional be just a professional in their own right?

Great mentoring relationships can often turn into great friendships. It is sometimes difficult to accept that transition, because it means that young person you’ve been protecting, guiding and helping is suddenly speaking to you more as an equal. They have grown because as a young professional that’s what they do, naturally and with a quickening pace. But you, as a more experienced and older professional, may find that your growth has slowed. So, you take solace in knowing that while your career isn’t expanding rapidly anymore, you can at least help someone by finding them a job or “putting in a good word” for them when you hear they’ve applied someplace.

The trouble is that most mentoring relationships, and parenting relationships, will reach a point that your trying to help isn’t really helping at all, and in some ways may be hurting. As the father of two teenage girls, I’ve had to face the facts lately that my days of protecting and caring for them are far from over, but that my ability to take care of them completely are coming to a close. They are going to be reaching new plateaus in their development as people and, soon, as young professionals. I hope they find a mentor who can take over for them where I’ve left off and help guide them for a while as they start to chart the unsteady course of a career.

I also hope, however, that the mentor they find will realize that their role will change over time, as well. The letter of reference a young professional once needed from you might not help a few years later. And, certainly, unsolicited contact from a parent or a mentor to a potential employer is a recipe for trouble. The employer could wonder why this young professional, whom they are considering handing over great responsibility to, is still being protected by someone. How will they handle the stress of the job they are being considered for if they can’t even get through the interview process unassisted?

So what’s a parent or mentor to do? You are to take that seedling you first meet, water and feed them and let the sun shine upon them in doses so they grow strong but not so quickly that their stalk breaks before they are ready for their flower to enter full bloom. And when you finally see that tiny bud ready to burst forth and embrace the sunlight and all the world has to offer, you need to get your shadow out of the way. You need to let them be seen for the person and professional they are. And on those days when it rains, you can always return, offering the comfort of your shadow until the sun burns brightly again. Basically, you can be their friend but, as the band 3 Doors Down sings, you can let them be themselves…

I guess i just got lost
Bein’ someone else
I tried to kill the pain
Nothin ever helped
I left myself behind
Somewhere along the way
Hopin to come back around
To find myself someday

Lately i’m so tired of waiting for you
To say that it’s ok, but tell me
Please, would you one time
Just let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
Let me be myself
Would you let me be myself

I’ll never find my heart
Behind someone else
I’ll never see the light of day
Living in this cell
It’s time to make my way
Into the world i knew
Take back all of these times
That i gave in to you

Lately i’m so tired of waiting for you
To say that it’s ok, but tell me
Please, would you one time
Let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
And let me be myself
For a while, if you don’t mind
Let me be myself
So i can shine with my own light
Let me be myself

That’s all i’ve ever wanted from this world
Is to let me be me

Image courtesy of www.hiren.info; lyrics courtesy of 3 Doors Down.

Successful networking means redefining “friend”

When you look at my online presence via social media, you might think I have a staggering number of friends. The truth is that while I’m blessed to be able to call a lot of people friends, there’s no way that I can call thousands of people friends. Oh, sure, according to Facebook I have more than 800 “friends” and on Twitter I have more than 4,000 “followers” and on LinkedIn I have more than 500 “connections.” But how many are friends, how many people would really follow me anywhere and how many feel truly connected to me? I’d be lucky if I could say 1 percent.

The point is that we often get caught up in thinking that people we are linked to online are the same as those we have interacted with regularly in real life. News flash: they’re not. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect as much as possible, but you should consider how you do that and what’s in it for both of you. And it’s why you might consider different criteria for connecting on various social sites as well as how you interact with folks on those sites.

I’m not going to suggest there is any right way to do that, but I often am asked how I handle requests for friendship, etc. online, so I thought I’d share my thoughts in this post and maybe people would find that useful.

I’m primarily active on four main social networking outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Here’s how I handle my connections and what they are likely to see if they follow me or become a “friend.”

 

Facebook: I have a rather open criteria for becoming friends with people on Facebook. If a request comes in, I will generally accept it, but I categorize the people on there so it’s easier for me to keep track of my truly close companions and to protect my privacy from those whom I consider just a networking connection. My friend list is broken into four sublists: A list, B list, Networking and Organizations. The A-listers are those people whom I have met in person, share some private connection with and am truly interested in keeping up with regularly. The B-listers are folks who might be friends of friends; the folks I’ve met at an event or through work and believe I should try to develop a relationship with. The Networking list is for people I’ve never met or whom I’ve met but our connection is purely work related and, therefore, with whom I’m more comfortable at arm’s length. Organizations is the list for companies and organizations that have reached out to me. My Networking and Organizations “friends” do not have full access to all of my Facebook information because I’ve not only learned how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, I actually use them.

My Facebook status updates are everything from quotes that I like from famous people to my own statements and observations on life. They are often personal and reflect my sense of humor more than my updates on other sites. I update at least once per day, and sometimes two or three depending on what’s happening that day.

Twitter: Twitter is a bit of a free-for-all, and my connections prove that. As of right now, I have 4,339 followers and I am following 3,876 people, companies and organizations. I obviously don’t follow spammers who start tracking my tweets, and there are times when someone’s Twitter feed just doesn’t contain anything I’m interested in. This includes people who aren’t necessarily spammers but whose feed consists of a constant stream of ideas on how I can make money or be more successful if I follow a link to their website. I also don’t follow or will unfollow people who do nothing but post quotes or annoy me in some way. (There are two quick ways to get unfollowed by me. First, you can abuse the direct message feature by trying to sell me something. Second, you can get on Twitter once per day and push out 20 tweets in 15 minutes as you play catch up on a service that calls for live interaction, not procrastinated responses best reserved for e-mail.)

My Twitter feed really is a hodgepodge of news and blog links, personal commentary, interactions with friends and colleagues, political debates, jokes, puns and snarky reactions to life’s many challenges. And don’t forget, if you are reading my tweets, that means you chose to follow me and be subjected to my sense of humor and my stubborn quest for an honest and nonpolitically correct debate on the issues of the day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it. I promise I won’t be offended. Honestly, there’s really no way for me to even notice you’re not there anymore, so I’ll just bid you adieu now. I update a lot on Twitter, every day. Sometimes it’s only a handful of tweets, some days you’ll see a dozen from me. It all depends on the ebb and flow of life that day.

LinkedIn: Because of many training sessions with people who know more about LinkedIn than I do as well as my own trial runs, I have locked down LinkedIn more than the previous two services. It really is the business Rolodex of social media and I think it’s best if we keep it that way. I will connect with you on LinkedIn if we’ve met or if we have some reason to be connected — a shared cause, a common goal, perhaps a mutual friend or colleague who thinks we should know each other. If you try to connect with me on LinkedIn, please don’t use the boilerplate language about wanting to become connected. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. Show me why you belong in my Rolodex. And please make sure your profile is complete so I can learn as much about you as you’ll learn about me. An incomplete profile is an easy way to get ignored, not just by me, but by hundreds of others who otherwise might be interested in getting to know you better.

Because I consider LinkedIn to be the more professional or business world service than other social outlets, my status updates tend to reflect that. I usually reserve the updates for news links, blog links or interesting observations that I believe business connections would enjoy or from which they would benefit. I try to keep my snarkiness as nonexistent as I can, which is not easy for me. I also tend to leave updates on my page for longer than Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I also tend to post updates that are a bit more timeless or at least have a shelf life of several days before they become too stale to matter.

Foursquare: To me, Foursquare is the most like electronic stalking and so I’m most protective of my presence on this service. My friend list is very small compared to the rest of my social networking outlets. You have to be someone I’ve actually met and whom I feel comfortable sharing most of my whereabouts with.

I don’t check in everywhere I go, reserving these mostly for places where I know I’ll be for a while. I don’t check in during errands that are a quick run in and out, unless it’s a coffee shop, since I figure they’ll all catch on eventually and start offering deals for frequent check-ins. If it’s a business I’m frequenting for an errand, I won’t always check in, but I try to do so if it’s a local business that I’m trying to promote because I believe they are a worthwhile place for my friends to give their business to. Any place where I’ll be for a while and think there’s a chance friends might be nearby at some point always gets a check-in. After all, Foursquare isn’t just about broadcasting your whereabouts, it’s about increasing the chances of bumping into people in real life so you can continue building your friendship in the best way possible: face to face.

 

As I said earlier, these are my methods and you don’t have to agree with them. The best social media counseling I can ever give is to tell people to find what they are comfortable with and make it work for them — whether that’s which social networking sites to be on or how best to conduct themselves there. If you can justify what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, I’ll support you. After all, what are “friends” for?  🙂

(Photo courtesy of Funny Animal Pictures.)

This is why we teach

I’ve been an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University for 10 years this December. Looking back, I had no idea how many lives I would be touching in positive ways when I walked into my first classroom and wrote my name on the chalkboard. (For the record, I think I’ve used a chalkboard once in the past five years.)

Being a teacher isn’t easy. In this era of whirlwind technological developments, every week adds another handful of things to the stack of information to share with your students so they can be as well-educated as possible when they leave your classroom. Of course, just because something new has come along, that doesn’t necessarily mean something older can now be ignored. Sure, some stuff can drop off, but it’s rare to find things that don’t retain some relevancy in a lesson plan due to historic impact or context.

The pay isn’t great for adjunct instructors, but then, school teachers in general are not at the top of the pay scale in most cities. There are plenty of issues to deal with when it comes to keeping up with lesson plans, student homework assignments, grading, testing, attendance, excuses, requests for extra help and basic politics that occur in any job. So, one might wonder, what keeps teachers coming back into that classroom day after day, week after week? Why do we teach?

It’s about the students. It’s about seeing those lightbulbs go off over their heads when they figure something out. It’s about watching them grow and mature, finding the courage to finally speak up during a class discussion to offer an answer to a teacher’s question or an opposing viewpoint for other students to consider.

At the college level I have the joy of watching young adults move from student to intern, from entry-level worker to experienced employee. I have kept up with a number of students over the years and am thrilled to see them succeed and prosper. I always like to think I have played some role in their achievements. Maybe those current events quizzes that I forced on them every week to a never-ending stream of groans and whines actually made a difference! Maybe being harsh on them with my red pen — “bleeding all over their work,” as one student once told me — helped them become better writers and editors. Or maybe just being a sounding board by responding to their requests for advice on classes, classwork, internship options and networking opportunities helped make that one big choice that led them down the right path.

I received an e-mail yesterday from a student who recently graduated. She started out with, “Just wanted to let you know that I’ve landed my dream job.” And she ended with, “I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years. I wouldn’t have been prepared for an opportunity like this without your help, advice and wisdom!”

Thank you Michelle — this is why we teach.

Having an audience is nice; having a community is worth talking about

A friend of mine recently joined Twitter and what makes that newsworthy is how adamant Laura has been about not jumping on the bandwagon. She tweeted this morning:

Has enjoyed all the comments about hell freezing over because I joined Twitter. Still need someone to help me use it properly 🙂

I’ve offered to help her learn the ins and outs of Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and other tools that can help her manage the new information firehose she just pointed at her life. But what I really need to get across to her is that we’re all just making this up as we go along anyway, so as long as she engages, that’s all the “proper” she needs to know.

This past weekend, I was listening to a For Immediate Release podcast that featured Benjamin Ellis, a “social technologist and serial entrepreneur.”

Ellis’ presentation at the Dell B2B Social Media Huddle had a lot of great content. But one of the things that got me thinking was when Ellis pointed out that “audience” and “community” are not the same thing.

Here’s where my thoughts led me: When it comes to social media, so many people are talking about gaining followers and fans and getting people to “like” their brands or organizations. But what are they really gaining from those efforts?

If people see the information you post and learn from it, that’s helpful. If people share that information with others, then more people are seeing it, which is even more helpful. Nevertheless, both are examples of having an audience of followers and not a community. The people receiving the information are passively absorbing what is being talked about and not necessarily taking action because of it.

If you have a community of followers, however, you’ll soon see those people engaging with you because of your information. Perhaps it’s as simple as not just sharing information, but commenting on it as part of that share. Perhaps it’s being compelled to take some action because of the information they now have. Or maybe it’s someone posting a comment to agree or disagree with your position or offering constructive criticism on a product or an idea.

The difference between an audience and a community is the level of engagement. Social media and social networking are about being social, using a new medium and networking. But the true power in all three of those activities is the ability to engage.

The power of social media comes from the ability to affect change due to simple and fast communication. But the only way to affect that change is to engage to the point at which people are driven to act in some way. It doesn’t have to be some life-changing epiphany. It can be simple feedback, a discussion that helps you open your mind to something new, or even inspiring people to try a restaurant in town that they’ve never visited but could use some new business.

I’ve taught at the university level for more than 10 years now. I can tell you firsthand that having an audience of students doesn’t mean they are learning anything from me. Having an audience of engaged students, however, means there’s a good chance they are learning – and so am I.

So the next time you think about how many followers you have or how many people like your product or brand on Facebook, also think about the last time you actually engaged with one, one dozen or 100 of them.

Having an audience is nice, but having a community is something worth talking about.

(Photo courtesy of Shirlaine’s photostream on Flickr.)