I’m Not Going to Sign Your Social Media Policy

John_Hancock_Signature_DOIFor a little context, a few years ago, I wrote a post about how you shouldn’t have a social media policy for your organization. In it, I said:

My point is that however you’d treat the employee in a similar real life situation is how you should treat them when it comes to social media. There are very few truly unique situations when it comes to social media and then it goes back to my point about not making policies for a handful of employees or possibilities.

And about a year ago, I wrote a post about how these social media disclaimers (i.e. “My views do not represent that of my employer”). In it, I said:

I’ll tell you what that disclaimer means in the real world: jack squat. Only, at least on Twitter, I never can tell people how ridiculous the whole disclaimer actually is in 140 characters without sounding like a jerk. And also because this statement is ridiculous for a wide variety of reasons, all of which need to be further explained.

Trish McFarlane asked me if my views have changed on social media policies in the last few years. Succinctly, the answer is no. I’m not going to go all, “let’s fight the man” on this one but I, for one, will not be signing any social media policy. I would recommend most people do the same.

Now that’s a bit tougher if it is embedded into a handbook, obviously. As a former HR head, I also wouldn’t necessarily advocate just breaking those rules because social media policies are dumb.

Then again, you should probably break those rules anyway.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been fired for a pure social media policy violation. I have to believe it is pretty rare. What policies like this help with is:

  • Getting people with hard-to-pin-down performance issues onto a performance improvement plan with greater ease
  • Firing people who probably needed to be fired anyway for a variety of reasons
  • Getting people on the boss’ shit list closer to the firing line
  • Firing people who were egregiously awful on social media (who – policy or not – would have been fired anyway)
  • Firing people who violated other guidelines already covered (NDAs and confidentiality agreements)

If that’s how you want to operate, you can do all of that without a social media policy. In fact, many organizations pull it off with great frequency. But can we be real?  If you’re having issues with people using social media in your organization, a policy is a super ineffective prescription. As I said in my social media post, education should always be the top priority for those who want to be a visible presence online. And you should stop hiring people that you would be worried about getting online and actually saying the words that come into their minds.

 

Happy Birthday, Stranger

2044_10100592264733793_1788374556_nI’m not a birthday guy. For my 30th, my wife and family arranged a surprise birthday party for me and it was literally the most surprised I’ve been about anything. Not because I didn’t deserve it (of course I deserved it) but because I’ve never been big on my birthday. It comes and goes.

The party was pretty great, though.

This last year though, I took my birth date off Facebook completely. It wasn’t secret. My birthday can be found (a good sourcer or identity thief could probably locate it). And a few people wished me happy birthday (thankfully, both my parents remembered without the aid of Facebook). For the most part, it went under the radar, including by a few people whose birthdays I know.

Luckily, I didn’t cut them like some would.

My main intention wasn’t to mess with people or try to play the gotcha game with them. In fact, my only hope is to relieve people of the chore of writing a meaningless happy birthday on my Facebook wall without any semblance of feeling. Happy birthday, stranger. As casually and thoughtlessly as a nod to another person as you walk by on the street.

This seems to be one of those courtesy things that made sense when Facebook was truly about a place with just your friends. When I had 25 people as friends, wishing a happy birthday was a natural thing because I’d probably find a way to do it anyway for these people. It just doesn’t scale, though.

As I have seen birthdays hit my Facebook feed, I’ve tried to calendar the ones that are more important to me. For someone with some serious memory issues at times, calendaring is the only way to go. Since I am constantly looking weeks ahead, it helps to remind me better than just seeing the date pop up on Facebook the day of the big event.

For everyone else, though? I’m not wishing you a happy birthday. Not if I’d never be invited to a birthday party or have a reason to know one way or another. Not if we’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve never connected on birthdays.

That might be bad news for Facebook, too. They are trying to make money by allowing users to gift tangible objects through Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly flipped my privacy settings for hidden birth dates.

If your birthday is a big deal to you, I’ll pick up on that. I’m not dense and I’m not uncaring. But when 200 people are wishing you happy birthday on Facebook, we should also be honest with ourselves about the depth of those sentiments. If you’re a regular birthday wisher, can you remember the people you wished happy birthday to in the last week?

Undoing The Social Media Revolution

It was cold. We had just left a lovely seafood dinner overlooking Elliot Bay in Seattle and the wind picked up. I put my wife’s jacket on her and I stepped out from underneath the building overhang.

“Hey, it stopped raining!”

It was good news for a December night. I grabbed her hand and we walked briskly down the damp Seattle sidewalks toward the symphony hall. In a few minutes, we’d be listening to Handel’s choral masterpiece Messiah.

As the symphony opened, I slowly started to realize that we were having one of our best weekends ever at home and I was feeling guilty for it.

You see, this happened the day before. It’s unbelievably tragic and the twisted nature of the whole event still makes me sick and leaves me with a lot of unresolved questions.

Right after it happened, Twitter, Facebook, and the media went into overdrive. After about an hour, I checked out of Facebook and Twitter. I followed some of the news on cable but they were doing an awful job.

My wife works four days a week so we were discussing it since she was home. We probably discussed it for over an hour. We don’t have kids but we are close to a few little ones. And we have a multitude of friends and family who are teachers, almost all at the elementary level.

I peeked my head in to Twitter once or twice over the weekend. Same thing with Facebook. And I’m glad that’s all I did. It was distressing and the response made me question the social revolution altogether.

My friend Laurie wrote a great post about it that mirrored my thoughts nearly completely. In it, she says:

After the shootings in Newtown, I wonder if social media plays any positive role. All the early news reports were wrong. My friends and colleagues responded swiftly to the tragedy by posting commentary and pictures of their children on Facebook. Some offered poems. Others offered prayers. Many are now descending into stupid political battles.

At an important time like this, what the universe demands is action. I looked at my own aggregated newsfeed and felt like a shared article or a picture on my timeline would not do any good. And for those in my life who might actually know someone who was injured, I worried that my own personal expression of sadness — mixed in with shoddy news reporting — might do some harm.

And there it is. Read the whole thing, though.

Of course, social media takes its toll on more than just tragedies. I think about how everyone seemed ground down by the election, the debates and nine months of bullshit advertising and news reporting. Social media made it worse. I’m not afraid to have a frank discussion on politics but doing it in 140 character sound bites is more aggravating than anything.

People wonder what the relevance of blogging is in an age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram? Thought. Real, actual thought before you share them with the world. Not sound bites, not sharing a funny picture, not a short update for friends and family or some rumor or innuendo that takes two seconds to send out.

The same thoughtlessness that the media displayed in trying to be first rather than being right in such a critical story is the same sort of thoughtlessness that goes into sharing articles that you don’t know are vetted or retweeting information that is uncorroborated.

The media should know better and it was a shameful display.

But if we are going to talk about a social media revolution though, we should talk about what kinds of responsibilities that holds with it. That means you can’t share a Morgan Freeman quote without verifying it first. That means you can’t share an untruthful image with a description of what issues the murderer had without understanding and knowing that for a fact. It also means you think about empathy, respect, timing and appropriateness of your message before you post it.

Right now, the media is in a confused and awful state. They don’t know how to handle day-to-day news, much less tragedies like this. And when I opened Twitter and Facebook, what I saw wasn’t a replacement for the media and it wasn’t a revolution in any way. It was an angry, frightened, sad, confused and, ultimately, noisy and overwhelming place.

I really like having Twitter and Facebook. Really. And when it works the way it should, it’s a great place to be.

This weekend wasn’t one of those times though. It makes me think social media still has a long way to go in its supposed revolution. At the very least, we either have a long way before we refine these platforms to encourage meaningful and responsible sharing or that we reconsider the realistic limits and boundaries of what any multi-million user social networking platform can do.

Comments On Blogs Are Awful But You Should Keep Them Anyway

I’ve gone on the record and said that the internet is a terrible place to discuss political issues. Here’s the meat of what I had to say about a year ago:

“[M]ost political posts are over-simplified pieces of garbage. And that’s why the comments associated with them get crazy too. And why smarmy or condescending Twitter and Facebook status updates are even worse than an over-simplified blog post.”

Then my buddy Chris Ferdinandi asks me every week if he should just turn off comments on his blog because comments on the internet about anything interesting or substantial are dumb the same way political comments are. I usually tell him to do whatever he feels like because I’m an enabler of bad decisions.

But really, what I tell him is no, you shouldn’t turn off comments. If you have a blog, you should have comments, too.

Why? Because I told you so. Also…

1. Comments ground you as a writer

Writing terrible ideas and allowing people to call you on those ideas are the best way to grow as a writer. The best way to be called out is in public. It doesn’t take cajones to write every post but it does take it to write some. You have to be willing to take heat in exchange for your post. I think it is part of an informal social contract that writers and readers should have. What used to be taken care of by community editors and ombudsmen now happen in real-time. It’s lovely.

2. Comments aren’t that awful

Yes, there is spam but it can be controlled quite easily. Yes, there are abusive comments but again, it can be controlled fairly easily. The comments I get, both on posts here and posts on SourceCon, ERE and TLNT, are typically very good and, at their best, helpful. Even ERE, which doesn’t have threaded comments or any way to vote up helpful comments, is generally very good and hosts robust discussions. People can be awful or ignorant very easily in comments but they can also be smart and savvy.

3. The actual post is the best place for comments about the post

There is a whole movement out there that believes comment sections are an imperfect mechanism for capturing discussion. In fact, they believe it is so imperfect, they ban them altogether in lieu of truly awful replacements (private e-mail conversations, Twitter conversations and dueling blog posts are really that much better?). The natural place to comment about a post is on the same page, right under the content. This isn’t even a new concept–Usenet and newsgroups that have been around for longer than I have been alive used this way of discussion online. There have been improvements but the root of the concept hasn’t changed.

4. It makes blogs much better

I know Ferdinandi drinks the Kool-Aid of these guys who think comments are so 2005 but I think they are full of shit, they ride on high horses and their blogs are boring. Having an interesting comment section saves many of the worst Deadspin posts. Some Techcrunch posts make me skip straight to the comments. I don’t read too much content where I can’t explore the comment section. And look, I’m mostly a lurker on sites with comments but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t improve my experience  When I can and do comment, you can bet that it makes my experience much better.

5. You can focus just fine with comments

I don’t remember where I saw it but some guy was complaining that a comment section made him lose focus on his writing. He felt like the maintenance cost associated with having comments on the site and perhaps even the cognitive burden was too much. So he turned it off and felt better.

Seriously?

Don’t reward people who can’t write because they can’t accept feedback or can’t manage the dumb simple technical details of running a blog. There are plenty of people who deal with comments in stride and if you don’t like running the technical details of the blog, just go to WordPress.com and pony up a couple Andrew Jackson’s for a domain name and professional level hosting for a year.

You don’t want to include comments? Fine

That’s the beauty of blogging: it is yours. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. That’s what I say to everyone. But, if you have a blog, you should have comments. The last thing we need is more smug assholes in this world who made it big due to the support of their often commenting readers only to turn off the one authentic voice that kept their crap in check: comments.

Oh, Please! Not Another “Social Media Lesson” Post…

You’ll be reading all about it today. Someone who (now formerly) worked for a brand (in this case, KitchenAid) @#$%&! up and sent a pretty distasteful tweet on the company account:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.”

Captain Hindsight to the rescue

Pretty bad, right? No, just straight bad. If someone joked about my deceased grandma, I would probably cut them. Or at least hire someone to do it since I’m a little skittish about blood.

Of course, Mashable had a story up in 3 seconds microanalyzing it and even though a clear apology was made very quickly and it seems as though swift action was taken, everyone will use this as an opportunity to grandstand, talk about the proper way to handle social media and how they obviously need to hire a new marketing agency. They’ll talk about the damage to the brand, how they can win customers back, how the rules have changed and best practices going forward. They will say they didn’t apologize soon enough, or the right way, or something (anything!) to boost their crappy blog post.

It will all be really, really annoying.

How do I know this?

It happens every. single. time

You know what you can do with your social media lesson post? Shove it. Stop writing them. They’re condescending and only add to the stupidity of the situation. Oh really? They shouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place? Great insight there, champ.

People’s memories are like goldfish when it comes to gaffes like this. If you are a non-marketer, how many of these online gaffes could you rattle off without checking out the above links? I even forgot about Qwikster by Netflix and that was one of the dumbest ideas ever.

We need to be realistic about the damage that we are talking about here. Is it a mess? Sure. But it can be cleaned up pretty quickly by nearly anyone with some sensible (and even old school) PR training. Fix the issue immediately, apologize, monitor, respond and move on. What’s the BFD?

Oh yeah! The rules have changed! And our web 2.0, crowdsourced, social media interwebz will collapse if you don’t read the “5 lessons from the @KitchenAidUSA DISASTER” post from a social media expert with a Blogspot account.

The self-importance? The supposed best practices grasped out of thin air? Statements about brand impact that you can’t possibly know?

Let’s make this social media gaffe our last to drop a hundred posts about. That is, until the next one.

It’s Time To Unsubscribe From Aunt Edna’s Crazy Political Facebook Posts

We’re a little more than two months away from electing a president. Are you ready for the @#$%-storm of crazy politics coming from your uncle with socialist/pig-capitalist leanings? What used to be relegated to family picnics and an uncomfortable conversation has now turned digital. Thanks to Laurie, you can relieve yourself of the crazy pretty easily:

…Human Resources professionals are weird. It’s an undisputed fact that they absolutely hate talking about politics.

So if you work in HR and hate hearing about the upcoming presidential election in America, I want to remind you that you can unsubscribe from a Facebook feed without disrupting a friendship.

Here’s how you do it

Want to keep them from posting comments to your political posts? Stop talking about politics online. Seriously, you aren’t changing anyone’s mind. Unless you don’t have better things to do. And don’t take that the wrong way, either. I used to do that all of the time. I’m reformed now. Now I just talk about HR, recruiting, technology and digital media.

Totally. Reformed.

Doin' Work: Looking Beyond Social Influence

There are something along the lines of one trillion articles about the social influence measuring tool known as Klout. There are also a bunch of pieces about trying to understand influence in our own little niche in the HR and recruiting space. There are lists and criteria and posts dissecting how influence is measured. Or maybe some tips on increasing influence (which, why would an influencer want to tell you how to unseat them?) or how to use influencers and Klout to sell bullshit and B2B software.

This isn’t one of those posts.

Oh sure, I’ve been on those lists (well, the good ones, heh). And I know that whenever I go to a conference and tweet a lot, I become a LOT more influential than I was the day before according to services like Klout. It seems like a system that can be pretty easily gamed, right? Right.

I want to look beyond that, though.

There was a documentary by Spike Lee a few years back called Kobe Doin’ Work. I don’t think it was Lee’s best work but it did an admirable job capturing a game day for NBA star Kobe Bryant.

There was something fascinating to me that, as a full-out Kobe hater™, I couldn’t shake. He’s a basketball geek and he loves playing and competing. I don’t think he has a social life outside of basketball. You get the impression that he spends his off time watching game tape, working out, and thinking about basketball. The literal eat, sleep, breathe character.

Bryant’s rewards have been incredible, of course. Five championships, an Olympic gold medal and various individual honors as well as the league’s most recognizable and best paid star (by more than $4 million per year, before endorsements).

He’s had some missteps, obviously. He isn’t the most likable guy in the world. He doesn’t ooze charisma like another Lakers legend (Magic Johnson).

Bryant is influential because he is good at the game. And if you’re thinking that should be a no-brainer, it should be.

In real life, we don’t reward people because of activity on social media. To be sure, Bryant has a fairly significant presence on Facebook but I doubt he actually does much with it himself. But do I believe for a second that Ricky Rubio is more influential, even though he has 8 times as many followers on Twitter than Bryant?

Not influential in anything that matters. Winning games, selling sports products, whatever…

Of course, what you do in social media matters somewhat. How much? I don’t know. My grandma knows who Kobe Bryant is and it’s not because of his sparkling personality or his social media presence though.

Do the work. I won’t pretend that social media is a meritocracy but doing real work of value is better than being named influential every day of the week. If you are great at what you do and you have a decent social media presence, more power to you. But don’t ever forget which is the most important.