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.