This is an unusual post for this blog, in that it’s not going to have anything you can learn directly from it (I TRY to have something informative in most posts). And it’s fairly personal.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week in the US, and around the world, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I’m hoping you’ll read this post and that you’ll contribute to the Team Jacob fundraiser mentioned at the end. So please keep reading.
There’s a great deal that I love about this world, and I don’t really want to leave it anytime soon. Although if a bus hits me tomorrow, so it goes. But that’s not the case for many, many people. One of the people who decided to leave was my brother, around this time of year, 34 years ago. He was 19. I was 13. The loss of a sibling, of someone young, is always devastating. And our family was devastated by the loss of my brother. At that place and time, suicide and mental health were deeply stigmatized. And so there were generous helpings of shame and guilt and concealment to be shared among me, my parents, and my surviving brother. I think the stigma of suicide has been slightly reduced since then, but it’s still there.
The loss of my brother was — for better and for worse — a formative experience in my life. I was shaped in the same way as if you put wet sand into a bucket. When the bucket’s removed, the sand remains formed. And many of my brother’s friends were deeply affected — maybe scarred is the right word — by it. Flowers still show up on his grave, all these years since, anonymously. Perhaps my parents were the most affected. The loss of a child is a breaking of a natural order. The loss of a child by suicide can leave feelings of failure and guilt that can change everything after.
Suicide is an IED. There may be just a crater left, but there’s shrapnel everywhere. One of the saddest, most tragic parts of suicide is that while the undeniable pain and suffering of one person ends, loved ones and friends are plunged into anguish and grief. And while healing is possible, and, for that matter, eventual, it is among the worst of pains that can be imagined. The cliche of suicide being a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” is true, for the person who dies. But for the survivors, it is a permanent problem with only temporary solutions.
So, here’s the thing. We all know that for most people, the circumstances that cause suicidal feelings can and will change. So it’s crucial that there are ways of helping people past their moments of crisis, their dark hour. And that’s what this blog post is really about. The Kristin Brooks Hope Centre, a US-based not-for-profit, operates a unique and powerful service called IMAlive. You’re probably familiar with the idea of a crisis line. Well, IMAlive offers a virtual crisis line. For those in crisis who find it more convenient to communicate via a keyboard, they can be connected with a trained volunteer who can help them get through the darkness.
This isn’t therapy. It’s not a one-time magic solution. It’s a step. A crucial first step.
Suicide takes thousands of lives each year in the US, including more than 4,000 young people. This year, a friend, Anne Weiskopf, suffered the loss of her son Jacob. Jacob was struggling with acute depression, and in a moment of darkness, was gone. She, her husband Douglas, and Jacob’s brother Jared, and a multitude of friends and relations are now working through the grieving process.
So when I heard that the Kristin Brooks centre was doing a fundraiser called the 24-7 Giving Challenge, I wanted to get involved. If the fundraiser meets its goal of raising $50,000, the IMAlive chat service will be able to operate around the clock for a year. That means that whenever someone’s in need, there can be someone there for them. That is amazing. So another mutual friend of Anne’s, Anne Marie van den Hurk, agreed to head up “Team Jacob” to honour his memory and to help see this happen.
If you believe in this cause, if you’ve lost someone to suicide, if you’ve found yourself in that dark place and been helped out by someone — please find it in your heart to give. The amount doesn’t matter. You know what you can give. There are chances at some prizes for donations at various levels, so if that’s a motivator, use that. Pass the word, too. If you donate between September 8 and 14, your donation will get counted as part of the challenge and part of Team Jacob’s total.
What else can you do? You can visit the Team Jacob page. You can learn more about IMAlive or the Kristin Brooks Hope Centre. You could reach out to someone you know needs that support. And if you’re in that dark place, reach out and ask for that support. People care about you.
Suicide is not an answer, no matter what you’re facing.
Thanks for reading this far.
It’s something that happens to us all, probably every day: we see a news story, a blog post, a tweet, a FB update. It talks about some law or poicy that’s changed things in a way we don’t like. And we get cranky about it. We talk to a friend or our partner; we tweet about it; and either someone says to us that we should do something about it, or we say it to ourselves.
So what do you do? One thing lots of people do is write a letter to the politician in charge of the issue.
I saw this process unfold online just last week, when new regulations governing the fees non-Canadian musicians must pay to play in Canada, and the fees that promoters or venue owners must pay to have them play in Canada, became a matter of some media attention and some intense discussion in the music industry.
You probably don’t need all the nitty-gritty on the fees. Let me summarize. It’s going to cost a lot more for US-based musicians who aren’t performing in concert halls or house concerts to legally work in Canada.
You might think that Canadian musicians would be excited about this, right? Not so fast, Sherlock. You see, folk and rootsy musicians live in a bit of an unusual niche. Cooperation and competition are teamed up in this world. And in general, folkies are vehemently opposed to the current Conservative-led government in Canada. So on Canadian music forums, these changes were greeted with outrage.
And unfortunately, that outrage made its into a number of the letters sent to the minister and subsequently shared on music industry mailing lists and the like. Some of those letters were from highly respected and senior people within the music industry.
Cynics might suggest that letters to politicians have no effect. When I started to talk about this issue with friends, someone mentioned an apocryphal tale of Congressional interns shredding baskets of letters and faxes from constituents. I haven’t been able to find that reference, and I really hope it isn’t so.
At least one man didn’t feel that way.
The late Omar Ahmad, an internet activist and politician from California, did this TED University talk in 2010.
So if you have a public affairs issue that you want to speak out on, what to do? Well, Ahmad’s video gives lots of great advice. And my friend and sometime colleague Mark Blevis has been researching and analyzing digital public affairs for the last several years through his company Full Duplex.
“There’s an old saying in politics that if you get 10 handwritten letters from constituents, it’s an issue.” Blevis says. As a letter writer, “you want to create the impression that you are reasonable, rational and understand there are multiple opinions. If the person presents themselves in a combative way, they’re almost presupposing their email will be seen as noise.” Mark says that whether by email or written by hand, letters should do three things: present a concern, propose a reasonable solution and, above all, be respectful. “Ask yourself ‘if I received this email, how would I react? If someone wrote to me using that language and tone, would I do anything more than send it to the trash?’”
A couple of examples of how people have advocated their opinion well on this music issue:
First, American singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd sent this to his email list:
“Share this with every Canadian you know, right now.
New legislation was written by people who don’t realize how it will affect venues and the grassroots culture of music in Canada. It’s a game changer. A business closer. Economically and culturally harmful, no doubt about it.
What You Can Do:
1. Call the “Office For Client Satisfaction”: 1-866-506-6806 explain to them that we need “Exemptions for the arts in regards to the recent changes to the LMO and Temporary Foreign Workers Permits”
2. Go to: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ocs/complaint_form.shtmland submit a complain under the program “Labour Market Opinion”
3. Call your local MP
4. Share this with your friends. The more calls they get, the more seriously they will take this issue.
Canada is rightly protective of its musical culture. There are Canadian-only festivals and rules for the percentage of Canadian content on the radio. However, Canadian musicians are outraged by this new legislation because it destroys cultural exchange and seriously threatens small to mid size venues who depend partly on international acts to fill their schedules and draw audience. If these rules stand, fans will notice a vastly different music scene next month. Some venues will not survive. Most American rock bands will never play in Canadian bars again.
Foreign workers (like me) already pay fees to play these venues. A 10 or 15 percent increase would go over with some grumbling, but otherwise no problem. I’d pay double without question. Americans can’t really complain because it is much harder for Canadians to tour the US. However, this legislation means a four or fivefold increase in the fees to play a single show, and exponentially more to tour. A US artist can easily make a living without going to Canada, so we just wouldn’t go. It’s like excluding California, as far as population base. This legislation does damage to the Canadian culture and economy. It hurts Canadians WAY more than Americans.
The Canadian government is very supportive of the arts. I seriously doubt that this was their intention. They need to hear from business owners, promoters, musicians, and fans. I know I have a lot of Canadian fans here and you are passionate about music! Educate yourself about the new legislation, share the information, and let your government know you care. Thank you so much!
And Canadian performer Sue Passmore of the Good Lovelies wrote this on her blog:
It’s a long note, I admit, but this is important to me, my career, and to the careers of my musician peers beyond Canadian borders.
I am an independent Canadian musician, and if I had to pay a $425 fee for every gig I played outside of Canada, my career would be over. I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries followed suit by implementing a similar fee for Canadians to play in their country, and I wouldn’t blame them for it.
This fee will hurt the smaller year-round venues, all seasonal festivals, not to mention the question as to the future of any world music festivals and programs that currently exist. It’s a fee that does not benefit or protect the Canadian music scene. In fact, it isolates us, and we will be less musically rich for it. There should have been a great deal more consultation and conversation with the entertainment community prior to its passing.
This is a two-way street. Canadian audiences will miss out on a lot of exceptional music if smaller bands are forced out of the mix. International touring is an expensive venture to begin with and we should encourage those willing to put forth the effort to travel our way, not tax them for wanting to develop their fan base.
Is the government aware of the average income from a bar gig? I’ve seen it as low as $100 for a 4-piece band with an audience of 100 patrons. It isn’t too hard to do the math – that does not cover travel, food or accommodations, let alone a living wage beyond expenses. Charge the band hundreds of dollars to play that gig, and there is no longer a gig being played.
As a musician, I do not thank the government for this gesture, it sends the wrong message to all of my international colleagues. To you, my friends, my most sincere apologies. We feel as blindsided as you do.
These are examples of people writing politely but forcefully. There’s no name-calling, no invective.
If you have a public policy issue that you want to make a point about, don’t do it with insults or with sarcasm. If possible do it with a pen on paper. (Assuming your handwriting is legible). And do it with simple language and one point.
If you have longer points to make, make them in op-ed pieces, in blog posts, or in other media. But when communicating with politicians, consider the needs of the recipient. Being brief and respectful may not get you your heart’s desire, but it might keep your missive out of the recycle bin.
Here in my home town, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on about a youth league football team, the Nepean Redskins.
A local musician, Ian Campeau, has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over the name of the team, which he feels is offensive to him and to other First Nations. The complaint is likely no surprise to the team; Campeau has been lobbying for a change of name for some time.
And certainly in my dictionaries, the term “Redskin” is considered an offensive term. Here’s good ol’ Google’s definition:
Given the history of controversies over names for various First Nations sporting teams, this news story fit into a fairly convenient narrative: sports team with a name offensive to a group comes under fire. And predictably, arguments of “political correctness run amok” and some racist commentary lit up comment streams and talk radio.
In fact, it happened just a little while ago right here in Ottawa, when the new basketball team currently known as the Ottawa Skyhawks was known as the Tomahawks for about a picosecond. And of course, there’s no shortage of examples of these controversies in US college and professional sports.
So what’s different here? Ian Campeau isn’t your average dad concerned that a racist team name may have negative effects on his young daughter — he’s a musician in a hot new group, A Tribe Called Red. The trio, as they describe themselves,
“is producing a truly unique sound that’s impacting the global electronic scene and urban club culture. Since 2010 the group – made up of two-time Canadian DMC Champion DJ Shub, DJ NDN and DJ Bear Witness – has been mixing traditional pow wow vocals and drumming with cutting-edge electronic music. Their self-titled album, released in March 2012, was long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize and included in the Washington Post’s top 10 albums of the year.”
As you can glean from the musicians’ handles, their music plays with traditional First Nations stereotypes in their music. So that makes this complaint an interesting one. And another thing that makes this dispute interesting: the team had consulted an Ottawa coalition of aboriginal groups last year to ask their opinion of the name, and came away with some positive results.
According to a CBC story, Marc Maracle of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition said:
“They didn’t choose the name with any malicious intent to insult or criticise the aboriginal community here in Ottawa or the aboriginal population in general. And in our discussions with them, it was clearly a recognition of strength and pride and character in aboriginal people collectively”… The coalition recommended that the team publish literature about how the name was chosen, “as well as using the issue as a positive education tool, not only within their own executive but with the players and participants in their athletic club as well as with the coaching staff and the parents,” he said.
“Our opinion was that Nepean was using the word Redskins in a positive way, not in a negative way, and that’s really where it starts and it ends from our perspective. It’s unfortunate that it’s been presented in obviously a more confrontational way … as opposed to building a relationship and working at it from that angle. … It just takes on a different connotation that’s not entirely consistent with an approach that the coalition is currently engaged in.”
Once I learned that the team had consulted with First Nations organizations and had gotten at least a tacit endorsement, the narrative started to get muddled. I began to think about the Florida Seminoles. They have explicit approval from the Seminole tribe to use the name. So what if someone were to make similar objections to their name?
Campeau isn’t “wrong.” If he feels the name is offensive, it is, at the very least to him. The team isn’t doing it to offend, and they consulted with representatives of the community to ask if they were being offensive, and they were told they were using the term in a positive way. So they’re not “wrong”, either. So if nobody’s wrong, then who’s “right?” Maybe nobody’s right either.
And what to do when your organization comes under criticism for some form of insensitivity or offense? First, are the complaints justified? Second, have you consulted with anyone appropriate concerning the offensive material? A knee-jerk reaction to appease the offended person or group may be an immediate solution, but you may be in a position where, even if you’re not in “the right”, you’re not necessarily wrong.
Sometimes it’s not as simple as saying “no more Chief Wahoo” or getting rid of a logo. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and if the complainant is reasonable and a person of good faith, it’s likely better in the end to try to build relationships and find some common ground or at least understanding than to either double down or knuckle under.
I spent a week with my mom this month. It was the first anniversary of my dad’s death, and it had been a while since I’d seen her, and I thought it was a good time for me to be in Cape Breton. So there I was.
Spending time with an 88-year-old where my access to the Internet was distinctly limited changed my behaviour a little bit. Rather than sitting in my second-floor office typing, I spent a lot of time with her, talking. Or listening to her. I think she’s a bit lonely, and having another person in the house made her want to talk. So I let her.
And so, one day we ended up in Baddeck. Baddeck is a tourist town at one end of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. It’s probably best known for its association with Alexander Graham Bell, who lived there for a long time and built the Silver Dart, the first plane to fly in the British Commonwealth (in 1909) and the HD4 hydrofoil that held a speed record for boats for 20 years, and was a giant booster of Cape Breton as a place of pastoral beauty.
Today, it’s got lots of gift shops, ice cream, a museum or two, and a stunning bay full of pleasure boats. And an antique store. We went into the antique store, which had some interesting books (which I didn’t buy), some neat militaria (which I found interesting), and some china (my mom found a lovely cup and saucer). When she got to the counter with her purchase, I jokingly said “Thank God you don’t have any fountain pens, or I’d be in real trouble here.” At which point the proprietor brought out the fountain pens, and I walked away with a classic black and silver Parker 51 for twenty bucks.
It writes like a dream. I’ve used it in a notebook, on some paper, and in a handbound leather journal that I bought in Pisa at Legatoria Dante. Why am I telling you this long preamble? Because of a column I read in my morning paper. In the column, titled “The end of the printed word, revisited”, journalism professor Andrew Cohen argues
“Just when you thought that ink was over and paper was passé, along comes word that the world of books isn’t disappearing after all. In fact, its death has been greatly exaggerated.
Skeptics of the virtual life are scorned as Luddites or antiquarians. With the arrival of every new laptop, tablet and smart phone, we are to fall on our knees in wonder and gratitude.
In two particular but significant ways, though, we may be having second thoughts. One is how we are reading. The other is how we are writing.”
Plainly put, this is a bollocks straw-man argument, which Cohen himself proves in the column. As Shel Holtz so frequently says, “New media does not push out old media.” E-books don’t mean the end of paper books. TV didn’t end movies. The keyboard hasn’t ended the pen. About the only things that have almost entirely disappeared that I can think of are the typewriter, the floppy, and the 8-track. And even typewriters are still being sought out (by the nichiest of niche markets, mind you). The car and the motorcycle didn’t eliminate the bicycle or the train.
I suspect that nobody’s ever made the kind of statements that Cohen uses as the basis of his argument. I love technology. I started using computers with my TI99/4A and haven’t stopped since. I have an e-reader (thanks to a contest run by blogger Andrea Tomkins); I have shelves and shelves of books. I have an iPod crammed with music, and I have hundreds of CDs. I have a computer I’m using to write this post. I have my pens and books to write thoughts and ideas and stories and yes, sometimes blog posts too.
Sometimes I read things digitally. Other times I want a printed version. Sometimes I grab my iPod. Others, I pop in a CD. Or I plug headphones into my computer. It’s not about either-ors. It’s about options. None of us are binary. When it comes to technologies, we’re all omnivores. Dichotomies in this world are all false ones.
If you read or hear something suggesting that A means the end of B, or that the writer or speaker is a member of a scorned minority by virtue of not liking this or that piece of technology, or social media, or whatever — do yourself and the person in question a favour. Politely tell them they’re wrong, and that reducing the remarkable complexities and subtleties of human behaviour to a binary choice is silly.
Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.
Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.
Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:
- Two-thirds of businesses in one survey said they weren’t doing any social media monitoring for business purposes.
- Nearly half of people with smartphones look up information on a product they’re considering buying right there in the store. And more than 40% people will not return to a website with a crappy mobile experience.
- Four out of 10 businesses either seldom or never monitor online reviews about their business. And yet… sentiments expressed about a product online have been shown to reduce customers’ willingness to pay.
- Three-quarters of small business have fewer than two people dedicated to social media.
- Six out of 10 small businesses spend $100 or less on social media.
These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.
While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.
Earlier this month I wrote about taking public stands as a business. One of the elements of that post was that you want to be listening to the conversations taking place around the issue, and around your business. Ideally, you should be doing that on an ongoing basis.
I also wrote about developing a “listening strategy.” Maybe you took those posts to heart. But, you say, you don’t regularly monitor social media? Too difficult? Too expensive? Pshaw.
Yes, you can spend money on a commercial social media monitoring service. There are lots out there. But maybe you don’t have the budget for that. Well, In a few steps, you can have a listening post set up that might not be as exhaustive as some giant corporate operation, but is certainly going to be better than ignoring conversations.
Step one: Get your Google on.
There’s more to Google than just searching for that store that sells those gadgets you need. You can use tools like Google News, Google Blogsearch, in tandem with RSS feeds and/or Google alerts to know exactly what is happening in your industry, when someone writes about your competition, or when a blog covers a topic of interest to you or your business. Don’t forget about Youtube searches as well.
Step two: Say yes to RSS.
The geekosphere mourned the loss of Google Reader when it was shut down on July 1, 2013. But there are alternatives, like Feedly. What are these things? Here’s my simple description. Websites, Google searches, and all sorts of web-based tools all generate something called an RSS feed. That feed gets updated every time the site is updated. Feedly, and other RSS readers, grabs all the feeds you want and creates a newsstand on your screen. You can skim through hundreds of websites in a couple of minutes, keep the articles you think are worth keeping and forget about the rest. To try to visit an equivalent number of sites would take HOURS. This is a huge timesaver.
Step three: Make it a nest-y habit.
Make checking this part of your daily routine. My recommendation: First thing in the morning, when you turn on your computer or tablet, you check your e-mail, right? Then you do the same thing with your RSS Reader. You then flag anything that’s of importance and act on it — give it to an employee, respond, make phone calls, put it in your follow-up file — whatever works.
If you do this? You’ll be further ahead than the majority of businesses, as you’ll see by this late-2012 study that found that TWO THIRDS of companies aren’t monitoring social media for business purposes.
Got a question about setting up your listening post? Leave a comment. Like this kind of post? Click on the “SMB101″ or “Tips” tags just below! Need a little help or support setting things up? No problem – contact me.
(photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Elliott Phillips.)
Interesting example of one of the pitfalls of online advertising passed by on my newsfeed. Ottawa realtor Tracy Arnett had used Facebook’s new promoted posts feature on Facebook. Available since May, this new feature allows a specific post to be pushed into people’s newsfeeds (this is different from Facebook ads, which appear in the sidebar of a Facebook profile). The one I saw advertised a condominium apartment.
But what really caught my eye was the first comment on the post. Take a look:
To the credit of the realtor, she responded exceptionally well. Apologize for the offense, explain calmly and carefully why it happened, offer a solution.
When I went to the realtor’s Facebook page, I noted the following messages as well:
But it points out to businesses using new social media options for advertising such as sponsored posts on social networks that they may well tick off people who see them. Be prepared to receive angry — even intemperate — feedback, and to respond in a measured and factual manner. Imagine if the realtor had responded by saying “Look, if you don’t like it just hit ignore, okay? It’s not my problem”!
And in fact, depending on the type of advertising you’re planning on doing and the nature of your business or organization, the potential for negative responses might well dissuade you from doing such advertising. Proceed carefully!
It’s easy for a business or organization to shy away from taking public stands. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? But when should you take a public stand on something? And how best to do it?
I started to think about this when I saw a stand Toronto Public Health took on July 22.
Toronto Public Health went to Twitter to call for ABC to not add celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a permanent host of their morning talk show The View. McCarthy, originally a Playboy model, has developed a career as an actress, an author, and more recently as an anti-vaccination activist. She has said her son Evan was diagnosed with autism, that the autism was caused by vaccines, and that he has recovered from autism. In a CNN op-ed, she (and then partner Jim Carrey) wrote: “We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, ‘What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.’”
McCarthy’s hiring has sparked a significant controversy. The blog post announcing the hiring has hundreds of comments, some supportive, more critical (in my estimation).
So why would Toronto Public Health, a Canadian city agency, go public on this?
I twice asked for an interview with Toronto Public Health, but they chose not to make someone available to me. So I’m going to speculate a little, based on the media release and material they sent me (I guess if I’m wrong enough, they’ll ask for a correction.)
First is the numbers argument, which was amply illustrated by this infographic they distributed when they went public.
When you look at the reduction in incidence of some very serious, if not fatal, diseases, I would suspect that public health professionals felt the potential for misinformation by McCarthy (both explicit misinformation from her discussing her views on the show and the belief that her appearing on the show would lend her credibility) was more important than the risks of going public.
Second, I would guess that there was a discussion of whether going public with opposition would in itself lead to publicizing her views more.
Third, I would assume that while it was more or less certain that Toronto Public Health would gain some widespread attention as a result of their stand, they were more interested in raising awareness of the importance of immunization in their local market.
A media backgrounder from the agency tells of a local outbreak of measles that had been caused by parents delaying childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.
It’s uncommon for a private-sector company will take a proactive stand on an issue, and it’s rare that government departments will do the same (excluding policy decisions, which are government stock in trade, and politicians taking positions, which they do all the time – it’s kind of their job). It’s much more common to see not-for-profits or associations take on the task of taking on a point of principle. But businesses taking stands is far from unheard of: in the US, the same-sex marriage debate has seen corporate interventions on both the pro side (Starbucks’s Howard Schultz telling a shareholder unhappy with the coffee giant’s support of same-sex marriage to sell his shares) and the con side (Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy tweeting that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a “sad day” for the US), to point out just one example.
So when you see something happening that your company seems to have an interest in, think about whether you want to take a public stand. Here are some tips:
- Be aware of the risks of speaking out as well as the potential benefits. Prepare yourself for backlash or criticism. Think outside your own organization and supporters. Brainstorm what the strongest opposition to your stand would or could be.
- Decide how relevant the issue you’re looking at is to your organization’s mission. You might have a strong opinion on vaccination. But if your organization doesn’t have a lear link to some aspect of the issue, you run the risk of being accused of “newsjacking” or just making people go, “huh?”
- Ensure you have senior-level commitment to the position. This HAS to be something the leadership of the organization must be comfortable with.
- Base your arguments on information and fact, not on purely emotional appeals, and vet your messaging very carefully.
- Don’t hide any interests your company or organization has in the issue. Transparency will lessen the probability that someone will come back later and attack you for a bias you didn’t disclose.
- Have a listening post set up to monitor the progress of the conversation both before and after you intervene. (I’m going to write about this later this week).
NOTE: This is a repost from my June 18 post on the wonderful Spin Sucks blog, written by the fine people at Arment Dietrich and kept vibrant by a community of smart commenters and guest posters. Enjoy!
I am of the atheistic persuasion. So this may come as a bit of a shock, but I’m gonna do a little preaching on the Second Commandment, social media style.
For those of you who need a refresher:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…”
Before I get down to the serious preaching, let me give you some context.
Bow Down to Bad Data
First, the odd case of Mary Meeker. I heard about it via the San Francisco Chronicle. Meeker, who apparently is a big deal (a partner at the venture capital Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), did her annual Internet Trends presentation at the All Things D conference.
One of the things she told people: Smartphone users check their phones an average of 150 times daily. The issue? It appears the number comes from nowhere. But despite the problems outlined by Jeff Elder, the statistic is all over the web.
Social Media Saviors
What really threw me was this quote:
He’s redeployed an employee at VaynerMedia, his social media consultancy, to “shadow my life” by following him at conferences and key local events to record his remarks and turn them into social media content. “I’ve built the infrastructure around me to become a greater content provider,” he says. “I have someone calling me at the end of the day – there’s now someone in my life pestering me for content.”
I found the image of someone following Vaynerchuk around capturing his thoughts and “transcribing his remarks into social media” ludicrous. But when I scrolled down to the comments, I found…
- “I have a great amount of respect for Gary Vaynerchuk, the guy really gets social media – I had a fantastic experience with him where he called me up at 1am to sing me a lullaby following an interaction on Twitter…and yes I created content. I have heard other people talk about the idea of having someone capture their thoughts throughout the day, so it is not as far out there as some may think.”
- “Kevin hit the nail on the head with this article. Gary V is amazing. His book “Crusth IT!” is a must read. Gary started as a little kid understanding to accomplish your dreams you must work VERY hard. He is a perfectly example of the American dream. If u r in to social media follow everything Gary says to do!!”
- “Gary V is right on. I especially like his perspective on micro-content and the many forms of communicating through video or music – it’s not just about being a great writer anymore but being able to communicate your message in (sic) through all the great social media vehicles is becoming increasingly more important in the B2B world. The other great point is you need to re-prioritize your time (hey, maybe less meetings) to invest in social media no matter what your role is in your company.”
- “My 2 cents: One can NOT argue with success.”
- “To be clear, I like Gary and consider him a friend. This is in no way a personal attack; I just happen to disagree with his prediction and thinking, based on what I’ve read.“
Monty went on to say a scheme like this was “the last thing the world needed;” a position he moderated after Vaynerchuk explained himself on Twitter, “Yeah some confusion most likely my fault for sure, but u should know me better, its more not to miss things than to force things…”
Thou Shalt Not Believe Everything You Read
We love social media success stories. Perhaps too much. Perhaps so much that even when they say stupid things, we cheer them. And perhaps so much that when someone decides to criticize them, they feel compelled to preface the criticism with sentences like “this is in no way a personal attack…” because the anticipated reaction is a firestorm of criticism from the army of Vayniacs or otherwise cutely-named followers who will defend the honour of their hero.
Just because someone has a good idea once doesn’t mean ALL their ideas are good. Just because someone has a good track record as an analyst doesn’t mean they can’t be wrong or make stupid mistakes.
When someone commented on the Vaynerchuk Forbes article “My 2 cents: One can NOT argue with success,” I responded, “Yes you can. And you should.”
I meant it. Gary Vaynerchuk is an undeniable phenomenon. Does that make everything he says worthy of support?
In a fast-paced world such as social media, it’s easy to listen to the emphatic people, the ones with the profile, the ones who go to the hot conferences, and are friends with the other important people. But NONE of that means they’re right about everything. And it does nobody any good to blindly parrot their statements.
And if you think my argument is full of more holes than a piece of cheesecloth…tell me so!
Peace be with you, social media brothers and sisters.
It’s hard not to love crowdfunding. I’ve participated in a pile of them. Musicians trying to record a CD? Where do I click? Woman turning a cancer diagnosis into a movement to advocate for more research and to provide items of comfort to folks with cancer? I’m in.
In a nutshell:
- In 2009, a woman in New York named Britta Riley came up with an idea for a “window farm” where people could grow food in their windows – perfect for apartments and small spaces.
- In 2011, she went to Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to make a more commercial version of her Windowfarm. She hit the jackpot and raised more than $250K!
- By today, there’s a Windowfarms company that claims more than 40,000 people worldwide are growing food in their windows. Yay, right?
- There’s also a Windowfarms community online that is used to further develop the product.
In the meantime, Britta Riley became celebrated for her idea and her work. Here she is speaking at a TEDx conference:
But there’s a fly in the ointment. If you look at the most recent comment on the TEDx video, it’s about people who donated to the company’s Kickstarter and still haven’t gotten the benefits promised. And that’s what the CBC story focused on.
According to CBC, more than 150 people in Canada donated and expected rewards. The Kickstarter page for the campaign is pretty clear on what people would get, when they could expect it, and the like. And it’s been more than a year.
The bigger problem here is that the company seems to have stopped talking to these disappointed people, which has made them angry. If you need to see how angry, check out some of the messages on the Windowfarms Facebook page.
So there are some problems here. First off, Windowfarms is breaking the agreement that they made when they did their Kickstarter campaign. They’re legally in the wrong. And they’re morally in the wrong too. Founder Britta Riley apparently issued a statement to CBC, but there’s no real attempt to address the issues that people are bringing up, and they seem to be ignoring those complaints. In the meantime, they’ve also gotten themselves an “F” rating from their Better Business Bureau.
I want this to get better. I’d like to see Windowfarms FedEx 153 kits to their Canadian stakeholders. And then apologize to them. We all fail from time to time. Even when we’re trying to do good. The key to this is not that you failed. It’s that you picked up the pieces and moved on.
One of my favorite quotations is from Samuel Beckett. And it’s not about success. It’s about failure.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Hope you’re listening, Windowfarms. Because it’s time to fail better.