Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Social Media Curmudgeon, Part I - Engagement

If you're reading this blog, chances are you know the Social Media Curmudgeon. The Social Media Curmudgeon hates – and wants nothing to do with – "social media people."

Looking around, it's hard to blame the Curmudgeon. In a space cluttered with "gurus," "ninjas," and "rock stars" spouting sheer idiocy, the competent, thoughtful social media professional risks guilt by association.

It's not just brand-damaging; it's industry-damaging.

I have been writing the Social Media Idiocy series to try to change the thinking and culture from within, as well as dispel some myths. I am now starting this series to try to undo some of the damage the idiots have caused by focusing on the Curmudgeon – who thinks all of this social media stuff is garbage.

I like my steak medium well.

"Medium well" means a minimum of – and ideally no – pink in the middle – but without any charring.

In other words, I like my steak gray.

Not black, not pink, and certainly not red or blue. Gray. Throughout.

Unfortunately, because my preference for medium well seems to be a rare one (pun unintended), lots of chefs don't quite get what "medium well" means – or, worse, they arrogantly refuse to accept that I prefer my steak medium well. Consequently, I have sent back lots of steaks in my time.

Several months ago, when my girlfriend and I were out dining at one of our favorite steakhouses, my steak came to me a very definitive rare.

Surprised and nonplussed (after all, this steakhouse had become my favorite by no accident; I was used to paying a bit extra there for a perfect steak), I summoned the waiter and politely sent my steak back.

No big deal, though. After all, this was my favorite steakhouse. They had earned enough of my confidence to allow for this unique slip-up.

My girlfriend was about halfway through her meal when my steak came back to me – burnt.

I had now moved from nonplussed to severely disappointed. Two chances – two screw-ups.

As I started to pick through my thoroughly charred steak, the house manager came to check on me, unsolicited, and ask about my steak. I admitted, a bit embarrassedly, that it was not to my liking, and asked if I could have a new one. The house manager profusely apologized and agreed to replace my steak with a new one.

Although I was very grateful and glad to get a new steak, disappointment lingered. My girlfriend finished her entrée before I had even gotten to enjoy a bite of mine (leading her disappointment to become more than empathetic on my behalf; this was now affecting her dining experience too). Wondering if the restaurant had a new (and bad) chef since my most recent visit, I was sincerely questioning how frequently – or if – I should return. After all, it was a luxury (and a pricey one at that). If I didn't thoroughly enjoy my experience, what was the point?

Eventually, my new steak came, and it was perfect. That started to make me feel better (although I was still reassessing how frequently I should be visiting the steakhouse).

What cinched the deal, however, was when the house manager came back to check on me. He fell all over himself apologizing and making sure we were happy (not in an unclassy way, but rather in a profusely sincere way). Later, he even offered us a free dessert.

The dessert was just okay, but I was so thrilled and so impressed by the way the steakhouse handled the slip-up that my girlfriend and I left that evening feeling even more positively about the steakhouse than we did when we walked in. The steakhouse had improved its brand by screwing up and then taking care of the screw-up in an extraordinary way.

It remains one of our favorite restaurants.


"I just read this article," said the Newbie. "It was about how Netflix is losing control of its brand because of its failures to engage on social media."

"Netflix isn't the only one," said the Blogger. "Lots of companies – companies you'd think would know better – are not paying any attention to what their customers are saying. It hurts their image."

The Curmudgeon sighed heavily. "I am so tired of the phrase 'social media,'" putting down his whittling to make air quotes, "and the notion that companies need to 'engage' customers." He made the air quotes again, enunciating the word "engage" with all the contempt worthy of a curmudgeon. "Sounds like marketing-speak to me."

"But Curmudgeon," the Blogger said, taking a quick puff off of her cigarette. "When a company angers loyal customers, the backlash festers and spreads when left unchecked. Instead of having any control over the conversation, customers take engagement into their own hands by doing things like tying up customer service lines and directly calling and emailing company executives."

"Now, now, little lady." The Curmudgeon held up his hand to cut the Blogger off. "Listening to customers is important. I admit that. But that doesn't mean that a company should bend to the will or kiss the butt of every whiner that pisses and moans on Twitter with some catchy hashbag."

"Hashtag," corrected the Newbie.

"Same difference," grunted the Curmudgeon, scratching his beard. He went back to his whittling.

The Blogger exhaled a couple of smoke rings and walked away, gripping her arm; she knew that the Curmudgeon considered the subject closed.

The Newbie naïvely pressed on. "Come on," he protested. "Don't you think there's some value to be gained by engaging in the conversation?"

"I engaged in this conversation, didn't I?" said the Curmudgeon, not looking up from his whittling. "Didn't get me a dang thing."

While marketers are fond of using (and misusing) the word, "engagement" is not a marketing term. It is a customer relations term.

Social media are often linked to marketing, and the two can go hand-in-hand, Nonetheless, while some social media campaigns are primarily or solely marketing efforts (Old Spice and Pepsi are two brands that immediately come to mind here – and even those brands have used social media as part of only one aspect of a multimedia marketing campaign), social media and marketing are not inherently the same thing.

Social media are also platforms for PR and customer relations. Public relations and customer relations are not new business functions invented by marketers or the digerati; it's just that the digital age has brought us a new way to perform them – and an essential one at that given current trends. Indeed, these have become the primary uses of social media for many (if not most) businesses.

Good customer relations practice is not merely "[l]istening to customers;" it also includes talking back with those customers and openly and actively engaging with them in some fruitful discussion. This is not a new notion; social media have simply made it more obvious -- and, in some cases, painfully so (e.g., Yelp).

Any good businessperson will tell you that an upset customer is not a problem per se; it's an opportunity – an opportunity to re-instill the customer's confidence in the business (and, in many cases, give the customer even greater confidence than he had before).

In my example above, the house manager successfully took full advantage of this opportunity to make my girlfriend and I feel better about doing business with his restaurant. It worked not because he sucked up to us or bribed us or "ben[t] to [our] will" any such "demeaning" behavior. It worked because he ably demonstrated to us that he and his business takes satisfying us very seriously – that our satisfaction was extremely important to them.

In other words, he made us feel valued.

That's what much of life is about – making the people you interact and associate with feel valued by you. As human beings, we all want to be liked, to be loved, to be appreciated, and to be cherished. Those positive feelings add value for us.

If someone ignores us, however – if someone makes us feel especially small in this great big universe – then we suffer a value-loss (i.e., the opposite of a value-add). If we feel like we will continue to lose value by interacting or associating with someone, we will actively seek to dissociate from them.

So too with business. Customers that feel genuinely appreciated and valued are contented customers. Customers that feel otherwise will not be customers for long.

Earlier this year, I Tweeted to my followers that I was planning on switching banks because of some fees that I should not have been charged. My bank's Twitter team saw the Tweet, immediately contacted me, and put me in touch with a very kind, very efficient escalation executive. She readily refunded my money and remedied the issue for me. More importantly, she sincerely cared about helping me and making me a happy customer.

I am still a customer of that bank – and I let my followers know about it.

Engagement makes the difference between having a customer praise you and having an ex-customer badmouth you. When a company ignores the idea of mutual engagement on social media – when it fails to achieve Conversational Convergence – it loses control of its brand, suffers brand damage, and loses customers.

Every "wrong" that a business commits that causes it to lose business is, ultimately, perceived as a value-loss. If you don't care enough about providing customers with a sufficiently high-quality product or service, you are that much less likely to have customers.

Part of providing a high-quality product or service is making a good effort to discuss your product or service openly and honestly with your customers. Another part of it is a willingness and openness to improving the customer experience. If you can't – or won't – try to make things better, your business will only get worse.

Engagement, therefore, is vital. If you maintain a presence on a social channel, you must engage there – and not simply "talk at" your audience.

That's not marketing-speak. It's reality.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social Media Idiocy, Part III – Projection

In Part I of this series on Social Media Idiocy, I derided the stupidity of "followback etiquette."

In Part II of the series, I explained that you don't have to follow self-proclaimed experts' rules to achieve social media success -- especially if these so-called rules would interfere with your own personal enjoyment or value-add.

Today, in Part III, I use real-life examples to demonstrate the complete unreasonableness of the proponents of these social media "rules" and "etiquette."

This is where Social Media Idiocy crosses the line into Social Media Psychosis.

From about age seven to seventeen, I had a frenemy whom I shall call "Terence."

My mother nudged me into befriending Terence when I was in second grade. Even though he was sometimes annoying (and even, sometimes, an outright jerk), for some combination of reasons I continued to hang out with him over the course of ten years.

Once, as children, Terence and I were playing in his basement while our moms were in the upstairs kitchen. At some point, Terence and I got into a mild argument, which I was winning.

In the middle of the argument, Terence told me -- quite out of the blue -- "Take off your glasses."

"What?" I said.

"Take off your glasses," he calmly repeated.

Not clear on the relevance to the point I had just made, but being a pretty compliant kid, I said, "Okay..." and took off my glasses.

Terence promptly punched me in the eye.

That's not the punchline, though (pun unintended).

The selfsame instant Terence's fist hit me, Terence immediately yelled, "Oww!" and clapped his hand over his eye.

He then, quickly, ran away upstairs. Moments later, I heard Terence shout, "Mom! Joey punched me in the eye!"

Need to read that again? Don't worry; I'll wait.

(...doo de doo de doo...)


What's the matter? Doesn't make sense?

That's right; Terence had launched a premeditated preemptive strike, blaming me for doing to him what he had actually done to me (i.e., punching).

The effect of Terence's actions was that he got sympathy while I got scolded; not even my own mother believed me when I protested that it was Terence who had punched me -- not the other way around. Terence had immediately changed the conversation from one between the two of us (where I had the upper hand) to one involving our mothers (where he, by virtue of his accusation and whining, had the upper hand).

It was rather brilliant, in a psychotic way.

I would later come to learn that this was an example of what psychologists call extreme projection -- a pathological defense mechanism in which a person denies his own actions, attributes, thoughts, or feelings -- while projecting them onto others.

(A non-extreme, non-psychotic example of this might be when you respond to your significant other's criticisms of your driving by bringing up the time s/he almost got the two of you killed when s/he hesitated on a left turn.)

Like any leopard, Terence did not change his spots. Years later, for instance, when a friend of mine he was dating dumped him because of some lousy thing he did, Terence told people that he had actually dumped her because she had done the lousy thing that he actually did.

It was exactly this kind of ongoing, manipulating behavior that made Terence such a frustrating (to say the least) person to associate with. Unsurprisingly, he was never a popular kid.

But boy, did he know how to get sympathy.

Social Projection

A blog post I recently came across entitled "Three Numbers that Prove You Suck at Empire Avenue" epitomizes almost everything that is wrong with social media.

The blogger argues that, because his engagement and amplification are lower than he expects them to be, everybody else is doing social media wrong. He bases his arrogant arguments on the myth of Twitter Ecology -- that anyone who deigns to not follow him back is making a grievous mistake.

(To be fair, the blogger offers this post specifically in the way of advice related to improving one's numbers on Empire Avenue -- but Empire Avenue is an artificial, fake social media metric anyway.)

Through this blog post, this blogger has become a figurative, social media version of my "friend" Terence -- punching hundreds of people in the face while evangelizing/whining that he alone holds the moral high ground. He has denied whatever social media inadequacies he possesses while projecting them onto all of those who have refused to return his social media attentions.

To top it all off, this blogger is doing exactly what Terence did when he ran upstairs with his hand clapped over his uninjured eye -- whining to an arbiter (in this case, his readers, and the Internet at large) for favorable judgment and sympathy.

This blogger is not alone in his projection tactics; the social media space is full of self-anointed "gurus" and "experts" and "ninjas" who do the substantially the same thing. They criticize, ridicule, and rebuke (for silly things, no less, like sheer follower numbers) those social networkers who patiently focus on organic contributions and value-adds because those are qualities that the gurus/experts/ninjas/whatevers themselves lack.

The upshot is that those ignorant about social media may come to blindly accept the evangelized position of the blogger in question (and those like him): that they should always follow back (and, especially, follow this blogger), because it is the only way to engage social media correctly.

To me, this is a worse social media sin than his tortured logic, because:
  1. There is no single "right" way to do social media, and
  2. Even if there was a single, correct way to do social media, that is certainly not it.
Follows, connections, engagement, and amplification are things that must be earned on social media -- not bought or coerced. Otherwise, the whole thing is an artificial game, devoid of the organic power that social media holds for the patient and engaging.

If you want people to pay attention to you on social media (in a good way), add value. Adding value for others is the best strategy for Empire Avenue, the best strategy for social media, and often the best strategy for life.

Guilting, shaming, whining, denying your own shortcomings, acting like an arrogant jerk -- those strategies yield only short-term victories that go nowhere. They're the kinds of things that Terence would do.

Don't be a Terence.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Interview: Claire McGonigal, Empire Avenue Addict

The social media realm is prone to a lot of hype – and overhype (in case you haven't noticed). One social media site that's receiving a lot of hype right now is Empire Avenue. Empire Avenue is a virtual stock market of social media personalities, where you can buy and sell your social networking friends. Using this model of gamification, the site purports to serve as both a social networking metric (like Klout or PeerIndex) and a social network itself.

Claire McGonigal, a blogger and office manager living in Zurich, Switzerland, writes about Empire Avenue on her blog, Empire Avenue Addict. Claire is one of the few – if not only – Empire Avenue evangelists I have found who can discuss the site with intelligence, depth, and temperance, without sacrificing passion or enthusiasm. Although she is not a public relations specialist, her brand of evangelism could well be model for others.

I recently had the pleasure to interview Claire about Empire Avenue and her experiences with it. Claire's graciously provided insights – both in her conversations with me and in her blog posts – have caused me to rethink and modify my own views of Empire Avenue.

Below, I present excerpts of my interview with Claire, lightly edited.


Joe: Could you tell me about your work [with social media]?

Claire: Actually, my work…is not primarily about social media. I'm [an] office manager[;] I deal with the day-to-day finances…and I dabble in user support and relationship management. A year ago, I was pretty ignorant about social media. I didn't have a Twitter account before I signed up for Empire Avenue. Nowadays I contribute to [my employer's] social media efforts, although I have to say there is much more that needs to be done. Empire Avenue has helped signal that to us as a company.

Joe: What drew you to Empire Avenue initially?

Claire: I was sent an invitation by my husband. He's a typical early adopter[.] I used to roll my eyes when I got yet another email invitation to the "next big thing," but I've come to trust his instincts [–] and I'm glad I did in this case. I like numbers [and] money, so the buying and selling was fun at first, trying to compete with a few friends and acquaintances that were already on the site.

Joe: What made you stay [on Empire Avenue]?

Claire: [F]irstly, the huge learning curve[.] I like a challenge, and it was really addictive trying to find out how the game worked and how to succeed at it, especially because I was pretty new to social media[. S]econdly, a little later on, I started to branch out and meet new people and (it sounds cheesy but it's true) make new friends.

Joe: What do you enjoy most about the site?

Claire: I like the banter with other users, and I love finding interesting or beautiful content – written or visual. A major part of why I play [Empire Avenue] is that I'm constantly learning from it – from people's content [and] also their style – how they engage with others. Of course, sometimes it's also a "what not to do" learning experience[,] but that's useful too.

Joe: What do you enjoy least about the site, or wish would change?

Claire: I guess what I enjoy least is that it's very much "all or nothing[.]" [B]ecause of the daily price changes and trading, if your social media activity drops for more than a day or so, you're in trouble. By that, I mean, your numbers drop, and that just looks bad. You can always recover though.

They could definitely improve their FAQs and "how-to" information. A lot of new users are confused. The flip side of that is that it keeps a lot of discussion going about just how to play the game. There are other niggles, like the ease with which the system can be "gamed" – fake accounts, "buy-me" shoutouts – but I like the way in which established users have reacted to these [tactics] and spoken out against [them].

Joe: Do you use Empire Avenue for your work? If so, how specifically do you use it, and what results [or] ROI have you [or] your employer seen from it?

Claire: I use it to monitor our company's social media activity…as a reminder of what we could or should be doing, even though we don't always have the time or resources to do it. I've also found it very useful to connect with other companies and individuals active in social media within Switzerland. Many of the people who have signed up for [Empire Avenue] are good connectors and networkers. We've also got in touch with people abroad who are interested in working with us on a few projects[;] because we've met them through Empire Avenue, there is an element of trust already established, which helps when entering into a working relationship.

Joe: What is the biggest value you personally get out of Empire Avenue?

Claire: My established ideas are constantly being challenged and I'm inspired to try new things.

Joe: How do you decide whether to "invest" in someone [on Empire Avenue]?

Claire: That depends. Sometimes it's purely numbers – when someone else has given me a stock tip, for example. Other times it's because I've seen a comment or post that I like. Occasionally I buy shares as a thank you – for example, if they've tweeted a blog post or commented on a photo [of mine]. I also [buy users' stock] as a way to support and connect with people from my own area.

Joe: How helpful do you find [the analytics that Empire Avenue offers]?

Claire: I find them very useful. I like the distinction between audience and engagement. For example, my audience on Twitter is about 1,000[, which is s]maller than many other people's follower numbers[,] but my engagement level is pretty high compared to the audience. I'm happy with that, and prefer it to the other way around.

Joe: Have you paid real life money to the site for virtual, on-site benefits? If so, what did you buy, and why?

Claire: When I first joined, we had to pay eaves in order to release 5,000 new shares for sale. That was hard. You either had to sell off about a third of your portfolio or save up for weeks to pay for the upgrade. So a couple of times I spent $10 to buy some eaves and ease the pain[.] When they changed the system, we got partial refunds for that, which I appreciated. I haven't spent any more since and I don't think I will.

Joe: For you, personally, is Empire Avenue mostly a tool or mostly a toy?

Claire: It's really a bit of both. If it was "only a game," I don't think I could justify spending so much time on it. I have definitely benefited from it, and continue to benefit every day, in my professional life. It's been a fantastic year-long training session on social media, networking, marketing and blogging, all rolled into one. I have tremendous fun with it too. I've met, chatted with, [and] laughed with some wonderful people [who I met through Empire Avenue]. I like being an [Empire Avenue] multi-millionaire.

Joe: [A]nything you care to add about your thoughts on…Empire Avenue's utility?

Claire: If you feel you are already an expert on social media, and you know everyone you'll ever want to know, you may well get bored with Empire Avenue quickly. If you go in with an open mind and an engaging attitude, you'll most likely find something in it that you can benefit from. But I think that's true of life generally.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Social Media Idiocy, Part II – Social Pressure

In Part I of this series on Social Media Idiocy, I pointed out the folly of adhering to rules and etiquette on asymmetrical networks like Twitter.

Today, I offer additional elaboration on why you should go against social media conventional wisdom (a.k.a. Social Media Idiocy) – because if you're not making social media work for you, it's working against you.

If you're tired of listening to the gurus

If you've obeyed all the rules and still haven't gotten anywhere

If the word "social" gives you heartburn these days

...Then welcome to Part II.

Since I'm criticizing others' Social Media Idiocy, I may as well criticize my own.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a new blogger whose work I really liked. One of his more compelling posts was about why he had given up Twitter and closed his account.

IMMEDIATELY after reading this post, I thought to myself, without any sense of irony whatsoever, "Wow. I like this guy's work. Maybe I'll follow him on Twitter."

I then went to Twitter to try to find him there.

So, yeah. Brain fart.

The Motion of the Social Ocean

In an earlier post, I discussed how following the phony "Ecology of Twitter" depletes value rather than adds it. If you get sucked into it, Twitter becomes a lot less enjoyable and a lot more pointless. It becomes harder to actually add value for others; consequentially, it becomes a lot harder to realize value too.

The point of engaging with social media at all – like pretty much everything in life – is value-add. Nobody wants to devote hours each week to something that neither they nor anybody else is ever going to get anything positive out of.

And yet, that's how most people use social media. They Follow, they Friend, they Connect, and they become overwhelmed. They usually start out reading everything and eventually stop reading anything, using social media as a lectern from which they are deaf – shouting their own message without paying any attention to what is going on around them. They feel anxiety when people stop following them or won't follow them back. Many, like the blogger I mentioned above, finally give up on the whole thing.

This phenomenon is not strictly associated with social media. The telephone is a perfect example. When people call you, it is almost always because they want something from you – often at your inconvenience.

Nonetheless, we are psychologically conditioned to drop everything when the phone rings and see what the other person wants.

Perverse, isn't it?

The value of any technology – the telephone, social media, or anything else – lies not in how others tell you to use it, but how you choose to use it that makes the most sense for you. Sure, there are great tips people have to offer that have worked for them in achieving optimal value-add on social networks, but you should never sacrifice the quality of your social media experience in favor of rigid adherence to some know-it-all blogger's Top 5 list.

The social media professionals/idiots of the world are so used to people being on Twitter and Facebook and using them in the same old idiotic ways that they are often closed-minded about new ways to use these tools – or even whether these tools should necessarily be used at all – that they have forgotten the importance of innovation and experimentation (essential ingredients to developing good social media strategy).

I think it's really unfortunate that the blogger I mentioned above felt the need to withdraw from Twitter altogether. Had he not felt the pressure of external forces to use Twitter suboptimally, he could have added great value for the Twitter community.

In the Conversational Convergence series, I discussed the importance of not attempting to control social media. Similarly, don't let others try to control it for you.

Embrace social media's organic nature. Make it your own.

Otherwise, the idiots win.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why We Should Take Paul Ceglia Seriously

I am taking pause from my current blog series on Social Media Idiocy, which will resume later this month.

I recently reported on Facebook's legal troubles with Paul Ceglia, the man who claims to be entitled to a 50% interest in Facebook.

When he filed a lawsuit against Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, naysayers immediately dismissed Ceglia because his evidence seemed weak, because his lawyer was fairly small-time, and because he has been convicted for fraud in the past.

Recently, however, Ceglia has amended his complaint, which references a plethora of new evidence and (alleged) extensive email correspondence between him and Mark Zuckerberg. He has also switched attorneys; he is now represented by law megafirm DLA Piper.

Still, many journalists, bloggers, and Internet commenters doubt that this could have any significant impact on Facebook's bottom line. They think that Ceglia is trying to pull a fast one, and that he has absolutely no case whatsoever.

This negative assessment of Ceglia's case, however, is both premature and misguided.

Speaking as an attorney – particularly one who has worked on contingency in the past and who knows many other attorneys (from firms of all sizes) who take cases on contingency – the very fact of convincing an attorney to take your case – especially on contingency (which seems likely in Ceglia's case, given his apparent financial situation) – tends to lend a certain amount of credibility to your case (even if it's not an ultimate winner).

There are several considerations here:

· The attorney has to make sure he'll get paid.

Most attorneys don't mind taking long-shot cases as long as the client can afford to pay a hefty retainer and the attorney's hourly rate. It is a different matter, however, with contingency cases. When an attorney accepts a case on contingency, he agrees that he will not get paid a cent unless the client wins some proceeds from the case (whether through judgment, settlement, arbitration, mediation, or what-have-you); if the client wins proceeds, the attorney gets some percentage of those proceeds (typically 33.3%). In many cases, particularly if the firm is large and has more resources and/or if the client is especially poor, the firm may front some or all of the client's litigation costs until the case is resolved.

Attorneys REALLY hate to invest a lot of time (and, in some cases, money) into a client's matter and not get paid. We hate this a lot. (For my own part, I hate this more than I hate Osama bin Laden and people who find a way to work into every conversation the phrase, "I was listening to NPR this morning..." combined.)

Therefore, excepting all but the greenest and most desperate of barristers, attorneys will always make sure a client's case is at least reasonably strong (if not very strong) before taking such a case on contingency.

· The attorney's livelihood depends upon not taking fraudulent or frivolous cases.

Most people know that attorneys have rules of ethics with which to comply that (1) require them to be diligent and honest and (2) prevent them from helping clients perpetrate fraud on the court.

Attorneys also have duties under rules of civil procedure that assure that they will have thoroughly ascertained the veracity of any statement on any document – including complaints/pleadings – that they sign and file with the court.

In Federal Court, this is known as Rule 11 (the full text of which can be read here).

If an attorney fails to comply with his Rule 11 obligations, he can face severe sanctions.

· The golden rule of law practice that every attorney with half a brain learns at some point in their career: Never represent bad clients.

When you agree to take on a bad client, it never ends well. If you take on a bad client and you're lucky, all that will happen is that you'll get super stressed out and you won't get paid. If you're unlucky, you can wind up getting sued, getting in trouble with the Bar, losing lots of money, losing your career, and pretty much having a good chunk of your life ruined – even if you never did anything wrong.

· Big, white-shoe firms get to be extremely picky.

Anyone who has any interest in litigation should read The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law by Mark Herrman.

In this book, Herrman observes an important truth about law practice, which I paraphrase here: Solo practitioners and attorneys with small firms with tight finances have genuine ethics problems; attorneys in big firms never have ethics problems.

(Technically, this is not entirely accurate; a better way to say it would be: "Attorneys in big firms have fewer and usually much more technical ethics problems than solo practitioners and attorneys with small firms do.")

Whenever the slightest ethical problem presents itself, major law firms have a unique luxury. They can, without hesitation, simply choose to not represent the client (or, if representation has already begun, take steps to withdraw from representation).

This is not to say they always choose this route, but it's important to note that they can (and often do; after all, when you're already making tons of money, the risk-return ratio is bad when it comes to taking on more questionable clients and cases). While they obviously would prefer not to, the white-shoe firms of the world can afford to lose any given client without batting an eyelash.

Whereas lawyers who are more "small time" genuinely have to make judgment calls all the time about how to navigate murky ethical issues and unsavory clients, "big time" lawyers are above such quandaries.

· DLA Piper is a big white-shoe firm.

DLA Piper is one of the premier, largest law firms in the entire world. They bill more in a single day than most people make in a lifetime.

So here's what this comes down to:

Ceglia's history of fraud is common knowledge by now. He would raise flags for ANY lawyer – let alone the big guns at DLA Piper.

DLA Piper – legal powerhouse that it is – does not need to scramble desperately to take cases. They also have tremendous resources backing them up. Not only can they afford to carefully evaluate every potential client; they can't afford not to.

And with Ceglia being in the news over the past year, there is no way DLA Piper did not know about his criminal background. You can bet that they went over his case with the most finely toothed of combs.

Additionally, after their due diligence, the lawyers who signed their names to the amended complaint could be in serious trouble if the emails they alluded to don't actually exist.

Because of all of these considerations, the very fact that DLA Piper has taken this case shows that the case most likely has some serious meat to it.

(Add in the very unflattering portrayal of Ceglia in his complaint, and he starts to look downright credible.)

Is Ceglia's version of the facts completely accurate? Will Ceglia win his case (or a substantial settlement)? That's not for me to say.

But I do think we have to at least start taking Paul Ceglia seriously.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Social Media Idiocy, Part I – Twitter Ecology

In this next series, I focus on the opposite of Conversational Convergence: Social Media Idiocy.

I was looking at a friend's Twitter feed recently; we'll call my friend "Heathcliff." Heathcliff was apparently upset at a man who had sent him a Direct Message shortly after Heathcliff started following the man. The Direct Message asked Heathcliff to follow the man's blog.

Heathcliff was not upset about the Direct Message, though – not inherently, anyway. Heathcliff was upset that the man was not following him back.

Specifically, Heathcliff complained that, "[T]he ecology of Twitter demands a follow-back."

"The ecology of Twitter." Nice.

(The worst part is that it's not even a recent term.)

It is this make-believe "ecology" that allows bad social media practice to proliferate. Social media "professionals" follow hundreds of new people a day – for the sole purpose of getting more people to follow them by way of a false etiquette. Most unfollow the ones that don't follow them back. Many take additional unfair advantage of the false etiquette by unfollowing everybody – followers or not – regularly (a practice called "churning"), so as to increase their Follower-Following ratio.

Twitter is asymmetrical for a reason. Unlike other networks that require connections be mutual, Twitter purposely allows you to follow only the people whose content you find interesting or value-adding – without creating obligations for the people who already add value to you.

To treat Twitter like a high school popularity contest is to disincentivize adding value. By treating Twitter like a delicate ecology, users' focus drifts away from Conversational Convergence, and towards the least valuable social media metric: reach.

And that's not even to mention the resultant Social Networking Anxiety Disorder.

If the purity of Twitter's asymmetry is maintained, then Twitter is an extremely valuable social network because it places more incentive upon the user to contribute and add value.

Indeed, if you fall prey to the Twitter Ecology Myth, you may well find yourself with thousands of followers – but at the expense of following too many people yourself for you to keep up with, leaving you unable to realize the value others are adding for you.

And remember: Those generous Ecology-adherents that are giving you followbacks (and demanding the same courtesy from you)? If they're following thousands of people, it is almost guaranteed that they will never see your Tweets.

Follow only those who make contributions that add value for YOU. Will this stinginess cost you a few followers? Probably. But those are followers you don't want anyway – because they are following too many people and are too wrapped up in a false Ecology to engage in any meaningful push-shove with you.

This strategy will also free you to focus on what really matters: adding value for others, and realizing value from others.

That is a real ecology.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Conversational Convergence, Part III – Connection

Part I of this series on Conversational Convergence in Social Media addressed how to mentally converge social media into a singularity – one manageable entity – and why doing so is a must for anyone who works with social media.

Part II made clear the indispensable importance of listening to social media success. Only by listening and engaging in push-shove with your audience can you make social media work for you.

Today, in Part III, I show you how those essentials (singularity and listening/push-shove), when properly combined, create something magical.

I also share with you the secret of brand management that threatens the entire marketing industry. Marketing professionals deny its truth, but with this secret, you can unleash the full organic power of social media.

Finally, I briefly discuss with you how to maintain the magic and the power of your brand once you have unleashed it.

If you have read and understand Parts I and II, if you're excited about the power of Conversational Convergence in social media, and if you're ready – welcome to Part III.

In my previous post, I wrote that conversations have two primary components: talking and listening.

There is a third component however that allows the disparate components of talking and listening to converge into the singularity that is a conversation.

It is connection.

Without connection, you don't have a conversation. You just have some talking and some listening going on. Without connection, talking is to listening as oil is to vinegar.

To establish connection in a conversation, you need three things:

  • Contribution
  • Consistency
  • Relevancy

Case Study

I took part in an utterly exhausting meeting earlier this month.

The meeting included three representatives from an Internet startup (we'll call the company "DUH"), a friend of mine, and me. The whole thing lasted less than twenty minutes, it but it felt like an hour.

I won't bore you with the details, but here's the gist of how it went: My friend and I had specific questions for the people from DUH about a topic which I'll call "ABC." Unfortunately, after several attempts to get answers to our questions, we were forced to give up – and politely end the meeting.

I didn't record the meeting, but I created a dramatic reenactment of the meeting based upon what I remember. If there is any exaggeration at all, it is minor.

The meeting lasted another five minutes. I'll talk about those last five minutes in a bit.

Missed Opportunity

DUH had a real opportunity to impress us by sharing valuable insight and information, which in turn would have led us to share with our friends and the world at large how great DUH is. Instead, our meeting with DUH left us totally unimpressed with them. We expect that we will never hire DUH; we certainly don't plan to recommend DUH to anyone else.

One of the problems is that the DUH representatives didn't listen to us as much as they could have. Meanwhile, they talked at us about topics we weren't interested in (talking over us in the process)

The biggest problem in our conversation with DUH however was the lack of contribution.


For people to willingly engage in conversation with you, there has to be some value-add (or, at least, a perceived value-add) in it for them. This is a contribution.

Contributions are what connect people to you. It's not enough to sit in a corner and wail, "Love me!" You have to offer something. You must add value – or you will languish.

In the social media space, these value-adds are typically along the lines of entertainment or valuable information. Occasionally, they may be more tangible (for instance, Redbox recently offered Facebook users who "Liked" their Facebook page a free rental). These are examples of positive contributions that get people to willingly, freely engage (there are exceptions, but they are best addressed in another blog post).

You achieve these value-adds by sharing with others not what's important to you, but what's important to them. This is what all positive "social" contributions have in common, and it exemplifies the importance of social listening (as I discussed in Part II).

Therefore, in addition to contributing to others, you must also invite and allow others to contribute to you. If you're charged with the success of a social media campaign, this is not optional. Getting others to contribute will inform your social listening (e.g., market research, crowdsourcing, etc.).

More importantly, however, getting others to contribute in this fashion will allow the organic nature of social media to take root.

This organic nature holds a secret that marketing professionals (and, unfortunately, many social media professionals) do not understand – and may never understand – about social media. Because they do not understand it, they fear it. Accordingly, to maintain their own façade of power, they disdain and ignore the secret.

If you want to be successful with social media, however, you can't afford to ignore it.

Are you ready for the secret? Here it is:

You don't define your brand; your audience does. You can lead, you can advocate, and you can suggest – but that's all.

Many marketing professionals don't like that line of thinking because they see it as a threat to their education, their experience, and the traditional marketing techniques that make up their livelihoods. They do not understand the secret, so they fear it. Effective brand-building, however, is much more than pop culture savvy, witty advertising, and market segmentation clichés. It is about sharing.

It is through your audience's contributions that you can really come into your own as a powerful brand – because when your value-added contributions beget contributions back from your audience, you and your audience become entangled in a web of sharing.

Sharing is what makes social media "social."

It is also the beginning of convergence.

When you share with someone, you let that person "in" – into your life – into who you are.

As such, once people share with you, they become connected to you. You have drawn them in with your contribution; now, they will contribute to you – and continue to do so – because they have made you a part of their lives.

Connection is magic.

The short of it is this:

You can't get people to freely engage with you if you don't add value for them.

You can't add value for someone without making a positive contribution.


Adding value for others in the social media space also creates a greater audience for you – and, with that larger audience, more fans. This happens because of Cialdini's Law of Reciprocation: if you do someone a kindness, that person will want to do a kindness for you – sometimes an even greater kindness than the one you performed for them. If you voluntarily add value for someone, you are – by definition – doing them an unpaid (or not fully paid) kindness.

This is how you create advocates.

Advocates, as I discussed in Part II, are people who take it upon themselves to promote you and evangelize your message. They are like gold in social media campaigns because they allow you to exercise less control and rely more upon the organic nature of social media that makes social media such a powerful force. Advocates are so connected to you that they are like a magical extension of your own body – seeing what you can't see, hearing what you can't hear, and touching what you can't touch.

They also contribute on your behalf – creating value for others in your name. They expand your social reach by perpetuating the cycle of sharing, virus-like. The more positive contributions towards your brand and your message (and to others on your behalf), the more your influence grows. You and your followers are connected by what you have shared, converging not only into a single conversation, but a single community – with you as community leader.

That is the value of adding value.


Both the magic you create and the value you add have to be maintained, however. That's where consistency comes into play.

People are connected by what is shared between them. Therefore, for maximum connection, what which is shared needs to not only continue to be shared, but shared in the same way.

This phenomenon is called globalization. It's how we know what to expect when we come into a new town or new country – and see familiar restaurant signs. It's also how we're able to continue to share with others about our own experiences – because they've had these experiences too, thanks to the wonder of mass media and the Internet. Globalization is a powerful, large-scale form of consistency, and if you harness it properly, you can quickly achieve social media success.

The first step to harnessing the power of globalization is building a universal presence. As you continue on your social media quest, this will come naturally as your social capital grows organically. You can accelerate the establishment of your universal presence, however, by making yourself available in more locations.

Just as you can expect to see a McDonald's in almost every major developed city, so should your audience expect to see you on most major social platforms. These days, there's little excuse for anyone in the social media game to not be on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Indeed, it may be desirable and even necessary in some cases to have multiple pages or accounts on one or more of these sites because of their ubiquity.

Branch out beyond this trinity as well. Sites like YouTube, Tumblr, Blogger, Reddit, and Flickr are similarly ubiquitous, and there's little good reason to not tap their audiences as well (indeed, YouTube is the world's most used search engine behind Google). Other, younger sites like Vimeo, Quora, and Posterous are also creating a lot of buzz. Why not establish a social outlet on those sites as well?

Indeed, there are literally hundreds of social media sites with sizable audiences. You don't need to have daily activity on all of them, naturally (that would be exhausting for even the hardest working social media manager), but the more of these sites that you can build at least some cognizable presence on, the more globalized your brand will be. By extension, the more reachable you will be to your audience, and the more inviting you become to audience engagement.

Of course, this is just the first step. The second step is styling yourself – and doing so both distinctively and consistently. Anytime you have a multi-channel presence, it is imperative that the experience for your audience be consistent because:

  • A consistent style will build brand recognition, and

You can achieve this level of self-consistency with the help of a strong social media policy drafted and enforced by an effective social media manager, as explained here.


Of course, there's more to consistency than being consistent with yourself. You need to be consistent with the conversation too; otherwise, you will never achieve Conversational Convergence. To be consistent with the conversation, you can't just try to find openings in the conversation to talk about what's important to you; you have to listen to your audience to find out what is important to them, and then deliver that.

Consistency, therefore, is not inflexibility. Rather, you need to temper it with relevancy to your audience, to your brand, and to the world around you. As things change, so too must you change. Indeed, there are times when you must anticipate change, and you must be consistently innovative. Then, consistently evolve your style and your message as your brand evolves – and consistently apply it across your globalized outlets.

You will find that the more you innovate while listening to and sharing with your audience, these three elements – innovation, listening, and sharing – will converge into something truly special: Collaboration.

Additionally, the more you collaborate with your audience:

  • the more you contribute and add value (because you are sharing with your audience),
  • the more consistent you are (because you are letting the organic nature of social media kick in by releasing control to your audience to define your brand), and
  • the more relevant you are (because you are working with your audience to incorporate what is important to them into your brand management).

This is how you stay relevant to your audience and maintain your path to social media success. Connection is a perpetual cycle. Only by staying relevant can you continue to contribute to and add value for your audience – and consistency helps you stay universally relevant. If you lose consistency, you lose increments of relevancy. The more relevancy you lose, the less value you add. The less value you add, the more the conversation breaks down, and the less people will want to engage with you.

But: If you keep up with all three elements of Connection – Contribution, Consistency, and Relevancy – you will achieve and maintain Conversational Convergence into a Singular Social Community.

DUH: Epilogue

DUH made many mistakes in their meeting with my friend and me. They often did not listen to us – and frequently spoke over us. They engaged in very little push-shove, failing to appropriately react instead. It was as if the meeting was a performance of Hamlet, but the representatives were Duh were performing parts from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Worse, they did not attempt to make any contributions or add any value; instead, they tried to shove down our throats what may have been important to them but was not important to us. In failing to recognize what was important to us, they failed to achieve any consistency with the conversation, losing relevance in the process.

(Ironically, the three representatives who spoke to us worked in marketing and digital media; they should have known better.)

Eventually, however, I realized that they were not the only guilty parties. For all of their failings and incompetencies, my friend and I had also failed. Although we politely listened to DUH's pitch about "XYZ," we did not provide the appropriate reciprocal contributions. Sure, if the meeting had gone well, DUH would have had access to our network, some good PR (I do, after all, write about this sort of thing), and possibly some new business – but my friend and I did not immediately recognize that, for whatever reason, DUH valued these benefits less than they valued talking about XYZ.

When I did realize this (right around the point where the dramatic reenactment cuts off), I started asking some very leading questions in which we tried to connect the subject of XYZ (which DUH wanted to converse about) to the subject of ABC (which my friend and I wanted to converse about). After a couple of attempts at this, we were finally able to eke out a couple of useful insights and pieces of information about ABC from the DUH representatives.

What little we got out of DUH was not nearly as much as my friend and I had hoped for or needed, but it is worth noting that we would have gotten nothing out of the meeting (and might still be there listening to the marvels of XYZ) had we not changed our tactics and started making value-added contributions to the conversation that DUH wanted to have – a conversation about XYZ.

Conversation, after all, is not just one-way. It requires multiple people.

Somebody has to take responsibility for the Convergence.

Otherwise, it's just words.

Executive Summary: Keys to Conversational Convergence, Part III

  • Connection is the magic that transforms and converges talking and listening into a conversation.
  • Connection requires three interconnected elements:
    1. Contribution
      • You contribute to people by adding value for them.
        • A value-add involves something that is important to the other person.
      • Positive Contribution induces people to:
        • Willingly engage, and
        • Become Advocates.
          • Advocates will build your community – a community that you lead.
      • Encourage your audience to contribute in turn to foster:
        • Your social listening,
        • Brand evolution, and
        • A web of sharing.
          • You are connected with your audience by that which has been shared between you.
    2. Consistency
      • Achieve consistency through globalization.
        • Build a universal, multi-channel presence across as many social media outlets as feasible.
        • Achieve self-consistency through one distinctive style, developed and maintained by:
          • An effective social media manager, and
          • Strong social media policy.
    3. Relevancy
      • Be flexible!
      • Anticipate change!
      • Use consistency to stay innovative and evolve as your brand evolves.

Coming Up: Wrap-Up

Sometime soon, I will post a wrap-up summary of these past three posts. I hope you enjoyed this series on Conversational Convergence. More posts, and perhaps another series, about this topic will definitely follow.

Thanks as always to my readers. You guys are great.

- Joe