Archive for October, 2009

“Social media expert:” Women need not apply?

SM panel

A few months ago, one of my Twitter followers sent me a link to a blog post by Alexa Clark claiming there is a bias against women on the social media speaking circuit.   My friend was outraged that most panels were made up of men and she further hinted that I was part of the white male problem.

I resisted this notion violently and responded impolitely.  I abhor bigotry in any form.  But since this shot across my bow, I’ve paid attention to the notices and invitations I receive for social media events and discovered something astounding.  She’s right.  Guest speakers and panelists on the social media circuit are 90% white males between the ages of 35-45.

This is not statistically-scientific proof, but represents a tally of the same invitations you probably receive, too. As I dug a little deeper, I’ve since discovered that this phenomenon has also been noted by Fast Company magazine, and other publications/blog posts.

The problem becomes even more mystifying by looking at the line-up for Blog World, which takes place this week in Las Vegas. The representative guest speakers from the entire blogosphere are wonderfully balanced and diverse at this event.  So it’s not a problem with women being inactive.  By comparison, there were just three women out of the 30 keynote speakers at the last social media-focused SXSW Interactive Conferences.

In my previous article on social media success factors, I hinted that there might be another predictor of social media success other than personality, writing ability, confidence, and hard work.  There is. Gender.

And now that we’ve opened this topic, let’s push it a step further.  Where are the minorities?

I want to be extremely careful here so don’t skip over this sentence when you’re composing your nasty-gram to me:  I am not claiming that anybody is overtly, consciously, systematically biased.  In fact, my bias is that people in general are NOT biased. I’m also not suggesting that the very talented men who lead these conferences don’t deserve to be there.

But what conclusion SHOULD we draw? Conference organizers want to attract the best talent they can find regardless of gender or race. If they do, they will be economically-rewarded with high attendance. So either I’m wrong —  and there IS bias regardless of the economic consequences — or 90 percent of the most talented and available social media speakers are men.  Right?

Neither seems to be a reasonable conclusion.

So what IS going on here?  Why don’t social media “expert” panels reflect the demographics of the general population?

This is Part three of a series on “Self and Social Media.”
Illustration: This photo appeared last week in Valeria Maltoni’s excellent blog “Conversation Agent.” She was also a presenter at this Inbound Marketing conference.

The next social media imperative: Defining YOU


 Was I clever enough?
Was I charming?
Did I make at least one good pun?
Was I disconcerting? Disarming?
Was I wise? Was I wan? Was I fun?

From “Thoughts While Driving Home” by John Updike

I’m going off the chart a bit.  Over the next few days I want to explore your sense of “self” and social media.  This is not an easy topic but I want to engage with you to discuss:

How are you different on social media … for better or for worse?  How do you show up?  What is your “brand?”

Is social media the ultimate equalizer, the greatest democracy, or a funhouse mirror warping our view of society?

From a very intimate, personal standpoint, what does it take to succeed on the social web?

To kick things off, I need to pose a very serious question:  Who the hell am I … out here?

In my recent post about the social media “country club,” I made a comment that seemed to resonate with a lot of folks:  “In social media, the medium isn’t the message.  The messenger is the message.”

The idea of having a “personal brand” becomes enormous when everybody has their own global broadcast channel.  That’s what social media is, really. When you pay attention to somebody’s blog or tweets, you’re tuning in to their channel.  Welcome to Station M-A-R-K, spinnin’ and grinnin’ from the great State of Tennessee.

What type of station are you?  News?  Entertainment?  Sports?  Variety?  Or Talk All the Time?

I ask because I don’t know myself.  I went out to lunch with a new friend last week and he said he enjoyed following me on Twitter.  Why?  What’s my “on-air” personality?  I truly don’t know.  I think I have reasonable self-awareness in real life, but the web is another matter …

Sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m serious, sometimes I’m absent.  I hide the pain and private stuff.  I’m often pre-occupied.  How does this sum up?

One Twitter-friend referred to me as a gentleman.  It only made me wonder — what brought that on?

If 80% of communication is non-verbal and that is completely eliminated through social media, what’s the impact on perceived personality?  Pretty dramatic I would think.

How do people perceive us when they only catch snippets at certain times of the day? Believe me, the people who “tune in”  to the groggy morning Mark get a vastly different picture than those who catch the late night jokester.

There seems to be an app for everything so I explored the web for answers.  Who am I, Mr. Internet?  My Twitter Grader number is 99.8 out of 100. But does that mean I’m likable?  Engaging?  Cranky? My Twitter Analyzer says my celebrity rating is 72 today … but was 2 last week.  Twitterholic, Twitter rank,  and  Twitalyzer provide rankings relative to all other Twitter users.  One said I had a lot of “clout” last week but not this week.   Twinfluence says I have a velocity of 20,471 second-order followers a day and high social capital.  Huh???

While all of these scores are mildly amusing, it still doesn’t help us see ourselves in a new way:  Through the eyes of your social media audience.   How do we come across to people who have never met us, spoken to us, touched us, or observed a single facial expression … and probably never will?

I’m not asking you to literally tell me about me.  I’m thinking you may also be wondering about how you come across in cyberspace?   If personal brand is paramount on social media, how do you really know what your brand is?

This is Part one of a series on “Self and Social Media.”

The end of PR as we know it


I usually dismiss people who say that social media “changes everything.” At least in marketing, it’s a variation on a theme of “listen, react, and serve your customer” that has served us well for generations.  But in a world where everyone is a publisher and critic — and can potentially be sued for it — this DOES change everything in the world of public relations!

I’ve been honored to explore this topic with Steve Farnsworth, Chief Digital Strategist of Jolt Social Media, who is absolutely one of the smartest PR and marketing guys I know.  On Monday I wrote a post describing a real case where a marketing firm, Low and Tritt,  sued a Knoxville pizza restaurant for $2 million over alleged libelous comments on Facebook and Twitter.  The fact is, this is just the beginning — we are going to witness more and more of this kind controversy.  The marketing firm’s reputation is now spinning out of control.  Once it goes viral, what can a company do?

Steve answers this for us in a guest post, his first ever!


When Mark challenged me to respond to his post on libel lawsuits and social media, I was thrown for a loop. Crisis communications for a business who had sued a client or tenant?  Where do you even start on a self-inflicted gunshot wound like that?

It was a little like asking me to talk about safety to a young man as he recovers in the hospital burn ward, after he met the business-end of a Roman candle in a deeply misguided Jackass reenactment.   All you can really do is take pictures of the awkward injuries to show the other kids that it is just not a good idea.  You don’t want to try this at home.

Being a regularly reader of {grow} I couldn’t pass up a chance to work with Mark or his challenge.  To mix things up, Mark agreed to participate in a Twitter chat (#SM4B) with me on Wednesday October 7, 2009.  A sampling of the comments from the chat are included at the end.

Since I only have access to openly published details of the case, and lack internal insights of the cases Mark cited in that post, it is difficult to address those situations specifically. So, I am using this assumption:  The marketing firm realizes that as an unintended consequence of the lawsuit they risk potential irreversible damage to the firm’s long-term reputation, a reputation that they have spent years nurturing, and the very real potential of lost future business.

Situation Analysis

At risk for both parties

  • Loss of Money: court fees, attorney fees, and judgments against the loser by the court.  Also, vendors and banks see extending credit or loans to a business in litigation as potentially risky.
  • Bifurcated Mental Focus:  Cases can drag out for months or even years. Being involved in a lawsuit, even if you think you might win, is a drag.  It takes your mental focus off your business, family, and your life. With so much at risk you can’t think about building your business, taking care of your family, or health.
  • Time Sink: Meeting with lawyers, responding and filing court documents, and depositions all take your most valuable and limited resource: time.

Brand Impact Risk for Pizza Restaurant

  • You want people to think, “Hey you’re the guy who makes that fantastic Three-Cheese Pasta Bake.” Not, “Hey, you’re the guy who called your agency crooks and got sued for a million dollars.” Needless to say this is way off topic for your brand image.

Brand Impact Risk for Marketing Firm

  • Even if the courts decide that they are the clear victim in our scenario, the public is going to see the offending words calling them crooks and thieves repeatedly, and hear accusations that their work is subpar.  Public sentiment, as reflected by dozens of published comments, is establishing them as “That agency that sues its clients.”  There is absolutely no upside for their brand.  They could be a  very reputable agency, but this will impact new business development for years.

 My Suggested Plan Of Action

  • Make It A Non-Issue
    • News, and social media discussions, thrives on conflict.  Often when words have been said, and egos bruised, it is next to impossible to have a meeting of the minds, but that would be my first effort.
    • Both sides have a lot at stake in this case, and both have a great deal to gain by putting their differences aside and coming to terms. No one is going to be happy.  However, if they can agree on settling this matter quickly they can start repairing reputations and move on to building their business.
  • Create A Listening Dashboard
    • The train is off the tracks, but you still need to know where it’s going to land so you can be prepared to engage or adjust your efforts as needed.  Using an RSS reader like Google Reader, I would create several persistent searches for terms related to the case and save them as RSS feeds. At a minimum, sites I would include are Google Alerts, Twitter search, and Technorati. Probably Social Media Firehose (Yahoo Pipes), too.
  • Speak Once On The Topic and Shut-Up
    • I would write a very conversational, from-the-heart, brief blog post from the face of the company (owner, president, or GM) on the resolution.  I would have them acknowledge, in clear, but gentle terms, their mistakes, and I would do this without mentioning Pizza Kitchen by name. No need to beat a dead horse.  I want to capture the human nature of the situation, a genuine mea culpa, so that the public would connect with the people involved.  If the client had any believability on video I would do it on camera, and then post it to YouTube.
  • Create Positive Online Content
    • Diluting the negative online content with expert content is extremely important. Any time a new customer Googles L+T they will see the negative results. So, they should publish downloadable, no sign-up required white papers, case studies, and/or e-books.
    • Also, they need to start a blog hosted on their website (huge SEO benefits), and develop a videos series to post to YouTube.  All the content must be well crafted and targeted to potential client’s business concerns.  The blog and videos must provide great usable advice and demonstrates their marketing expertise.  This will help return some positive standing to search results, and likely shorten their sales cycle.
  • Show Your Face and Become a Resource
    • It looks like L+T primarily works with local businesses. I would create a few powerful presentations designed to help local business owners generate new clients, and then take it on the road. I  would talk to any group that could put 5 or more butts in seats.  Getting management out in front of potential clients will do a lot for rebuilding the company name by putting a human face on it, and great for generating new  business.

L+T  should continue to evaluate damage to new business, and decide how best to evolve their efforts.  Also, I would seriously consider rebranding the company and changing the name.  When I suggested this during the chat it met with a number of dissenting opinions.  The general sentiment was that the negatives would outweigh the benefits because people would see it as hiding behind a different name.  However, this does not track with the effects I have seen in the real world.

Names are very powerful. Johnson & Johnson rebuilt their very damaged brand effectively after the Tylenol tampering scare, but they were the victims and got out in front of the story. It is almost impossible to rehabilitate a brand that consumers see as the bad guy.  Blackwater Security Consulting knew this and changed their name pronto.  Now, if you ask a room full of people what Blackwater’s new name is, most would be unable to tell you. It’s Xe Services LLC.

For a full listing of comments, search Twitter for #SM4B.  Here is a sampling of some of the best insights:

@Dan_Holden: So even if they are right (win the lawsuit) they’ve damaged the reputation of the firm, perhaps irreparably.

@kimmolinkama: Maybe this is simply the first highlight case of ambulance-chasing turning into tweet-chasing?

@steve_dodd: the power of an apology… fix it and move on … would generate positive press that more than counteracts negative

@NitinGuptasays: I agree that BPB has risked its reputation and future business by sueing. .. but was PD justified in defaming the agency?

@Dan_Holden: My resolution would be to get the suit out of court and have a pizza and beer … maybe even sponsor a neighborhood beer bash

@markwschaefer: My take is that suing a customer is almost always a losing proposition.  And now under the glare of SM … wow.

What have I missed?  What would you do in the event of a social media PR crisis?

Throw out the stats. Talk to people.


I’ve been reading a couple articles about the latest social media stats, which some authors suggest are not leading to the “transformational” aspects of social media many expected.  They point to differences by region and socio-economic conditions as scientists try to squeeze insight from tables of numbers.

They’re looking in the wrong places for the truth.

Obviously the results of technology will reflect the people who use it.   Yes, there will be evil, corruption, and inequality.  That comes with the species.

But the whole story, the real story, the true transformational qualities of social media don’t show up on a graph.  The beauty of this “technology of connection” is embedded in individual stories.

For the first time in history, mankind has access to free, global, instantaneous communications.  There are countless connections happening —  new friendships, business contacts, supporters.  Sources of information, consolation, and inspiration.

I’ve built a foundation of new customers almost entirely through social media connections, discovered many new friends around the world who care for me, and even found the woman I love there, too.  These relationships never could have occurred without the technology, and they will never show up in a Harvard research study.

Put away the spreadsheets.  Get out there and talk to people. The transformation is in our hearts and minds and it is real.

Illustration: Karl Hilzinger
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